For Lynda Petrides, Dreams Really Do Come True

Lynda Petrides now holds an IT position at SPIROL International Corporation.

Lynda Petrides ’17 is living her dream these days. After years of working at part-time jobs, the 59-year-old Eastern graduate is finally working full time in her chosen career field of information technology, recently landing a position as a systems analyst at Danielson, CT-based SPIROL International Corp., a leading manufacturer of engineered fasteners and components used primarily in automotive and aerospace applications.

The position is the culmination of a long journey. Instead of going to college right after high school, Petrides decided to join the workforce. She took a job as a cashier in a grocery store and quickly learned she wanted a better job with better hours, enrolling in Hagerstown (PA) Community College. Her classes in accounting and business administration paid off, as she was promoted to the accounting office with better work hours.

The college experience had another benefit; she met her husband! He was in the Army, and life happened. “We got married, moved to Georgia, then to Germany, back to Georgia, and finally, to eastern Connecticut. We had four children and I became a stay-at-home mom for many years. Eventually, I worked part time at my children’s elementary school as a library aide and later as an assistant computer instructor. This work supported the school and fed my interest in technology.”

Petrides and Professor Kunene at the national EDSIGCON conference in Austin, TX.

In 2010, Petrides found a part-time job as an administrative assistant for Loos & Co. in Pomfret, which manufactures aircraft cable and other stainless-steel products. “This job supported my interests in computer technology and increased my desire to expand my horizons in information systems,” said Petrides. “When my youngest child graduated from high school in 2013, my new dream was to complete my associate degree at Quinebaug Valley Community College.

Petrides graduated summa cum laude from the community college in 2015 and set her sights on her next goal — obtaining her bachelor’s degree. Unsure of what to major in but still interested in technology and business, Petrides learned about Eastern’s business information systems (BIS) major. In summer 2015, she took her first foundation class at Eastern with Sukeshini Grandhi, associate professor of business information systems.

“Life was good! In the spring semester of 2016, I was offered an internship through Cigna’s Technology Early Career Development Program. My role was in project management and I learned valuable skills working with large datasets. This was a great experience for me.”

In her senior year, Petrides worked with Nikki Kunene, assistant professor of business information systems and health information management, on a research project that culminated with Petrides co-presenting at a national conference.

Lynda Petrides on graduation day.

“Our project was on the usability of the Blackboard interface from the instructor’s perspective. Dr. Kunene and I worked on the project throughout 2017 with research, lab testing, data analysis, surveys and write-ups. Our research paper was accepted for inclusion at the EDSIGCON Conference (Information Systems and Computing Education) in Austin, TX.”

“To meaningfully contribute in a research project a student must be able to think, be ready to learn the research skills needed, write well, and quickly learn the technologies we use,” said Kunene. “Lynda had all those qualities. She worked hard, thought critically, and learned new skills readily. She was the ideal student in a STEM major with a liberal arts grounding.”

Crediting her position at SPIROL to her internships, research experiences and BIS classes, Petrides says, “I thank all the great professors at Eastern for providing wonderful learning experiences to students, especially part-time students like myself.”

Petrides’ job at SPIROL challenges her on many levels, “but I’m learning something new every single day. I’m probably the oldest person ever to major in Business Information Systems at Eastern. I hope I broke some gender and age stereotypes along the way! Just know this — dreams really do come true no matter what your age. You just need to take that first step.”

by Dwight Bachman

Visiting Professor Discusses VR Technology for Students with Autism

Written by Jordan Corey

Visiting professor James Lawler of Pace University came to Eastern on Oct. 17 to discuss the use of virtual reality as a tool to help people with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). At Pace’s Seidenberg School of Computer Science and Information Systems, Lawler has been conducting a study centered on young adults with developmental intellectual disabilities.

“What we’re attempting to do is determine the benefits of virtual reality for high school students with autism spectrum disorders,” said Lawler. “Does this technology help them to learn? Does it help them to socialize?” Lawler’s focus is on students with mid-spectrum ASD. He has worked with a number of special education high schools in New York City. “Those students come to my course every Tuesday,” he said. “They’re mentored by my students on different technologies.”

For the study, Lawler and his team first identified the best class of virtual reality headsets, deciding on the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift systems. Then, they determined three particular applications (apps) to use for testing — 3D Organon VR Anatomy, Ocean Rift and Star Chart. His study subjects then come to Pace each week over the course of a month and spend two-hour sessions using the devices. Lawler and his group of information-systems student researchers use a survey to gauge the effectiveness of each app and system.

“The idea is to make the subject matter more engaging for those students who may not benefit from traditional lecture-style teaching.” Lawler admits that at this time — in the beginning stages of the study — that what they have is a descriptive study. Descriptive studies attempt to gather quantifiable information that can be used to statistically analyze a target audience or a particular subject. He poses the questions, “How do we apply virtual reality to this particular population? How do we apply augmented reality to help children with autism become focused? How do we apply technology to help students with developmental disabilities?”

Lawler’s study, while still progressing, has evoked clear enthusiasm from students with disabilities that suggests a positive impact in using virtual reality for both academic and social learning. “For kids with disabilities, virtual reality is not a game,” he concluded. In 2010, Lawler was the recipient of a national Jefferson Award for Community Service. He has been with Pace University for more than 35 years.

Lawler was invited to campus by the business information systems (BIS) program as part of Eastern’s University Hour series. Many BIS students and club members of the Association of Information Technology Professionals (AITP) attended the event.