43 Strong, Eastern Represents in Georgia at National Conference

With 43 student presenters, Eastern was among the top 20 schools nationwide for NCUR participation, and the only school from New England to make the list.

Forty-three students from Eastern Connecticut State University traveled to Georgia on April 11-13 to present original research at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR). The 2019 conference occurred at Kennesaw State University and featured hundreds of undergraduate students from across the country.

Eastern was among the top 20 schools nationwide for NCUR participation this year – the only school from New England to make the list – and one of the few with a student population of less than 6,000.

Eastern students from a range of majors presented artwork, music performances and oral/poster presentations. Research questions probed topics such as the microbiome of scorpions, the link between casual sex and online dating, pop-culture glamorization of eating disorders, and much more.

Adella Dzitko-Carlson presents “Finding Faith in the 21st Century: The Search for the Sacred in John Luther Adams’ “In the Name of the Earth.”

Music major Esther Jones ’20 commented on the experience of performing a lecture-recital. “This experience at NCUR was a milestone in my life because I didn’t think that I could actually do it when the time finally came around. I thought that I would be trembling so badly that my mind would go blank.”

Jones’ piano performance was titled “‘Theme and Variations on an Egyptian Folksong’ by Gamal Abdel-Rahim.” She added, “This experience helped to boost my confidence and has given me courage to face new challenges.”

“One of my greatest takeaways from this conference is how it pushes you and makes you a better academic,” said Michael Tuttle ’19, who majors in psychology and mathematics.

“Presenting at a conference subjects your research to a higher level of scrutiny, challenging your thoughts and ideas. When audience members ask questions and offer suggestions, it pushes you to think critically and creatively.” Tuttle’s presentation was titled “Overconfidence and Impulsivity of College Students in a Cognitive Reflection Task.”

Theresa Parker presents “Echo Chambers in Social Media: Why do People Seek or Reject Opposing Viewpoints.”

Biology major Chris Shimwell ’20 presented “Molecular Identification of the Scorpion Telson Microbiome.” He said, “Presenting at a national conference is a valuable experience because it allows you to synthesize information into an audio-visual format and present it to others who are highly educated and knowledgeable about your field.”

Jacob Dayton ’19, a biology major who presented two projects – one on the genetic diversity of a migratory bird group and one on the behaviors of strawberry poison-dart frogs – added that the value of presenting at national conferences is threefold.

“One, it provides students with the opportunity to practice communicating their research to a diverse audience. Two, questions and comments from audience members challenge students to defend and/or expand their thinking. And three, it provides the opportunity to publicize Eastern and the quality research that its students are conducting.”

Students also cited being exposed to new research questions during others’ presentations, interacting with peers from across the country, and sharing the NCUR experience with their Eastern friends as highlights of the conference. Psychology Professors Carlos Escoto and James Diller and Biology Professor Patricia Szczys accompanied the Eastern group.

NCUR was established in 1987. From a pool of several thousand applicants, students are accepted into the conference if their research demonstrates a unique contribution to their field of study. NCUR offers undergraduates the opportunity to present their research findings to peers, faculty and staff from colleges and universities across the nation, providing a unique networking and learning opportunity.

Written by Michael Rouleau

Mohegan Tribal Chief Named Eastern’s Commencement Speaker

 Marilynn “Lynn” Malerba, chief of the Mohegan Tribe, will be the Commencement Speaker at Eastern Connecticut State University’s 129th Commencement Exercises on May 21 at the XL Center in Hartford. Malerba will also receive an honorary doctorate degree at the ceremonies.

Malerba has achieved an exemplary career in the health care and tribal governance fields. Not only has she served her community with distinction, she has brought national recognition to the State of Connecticut.

Chief Mutáwi Mutáhash (Many Hearts) Marilynn “Lynn” Malerba became the 18th Chief of the Mohegan Tribe on August 15, 2010, and is the first female chief in the tribe’s modern history. The position is a lifetime appointment made by the tribe’s council of elders. She previously served as chairwoman of the tribal council and was also executive director of health and human services for the tribal government.

Prior to her work for the Mohegan Tribe, Chief Malerba had a distinguished career as a registered nurse and served as director of cardiology and pulmonary services at Lawrence and Memorial Hospital. She earned her Doctor of Nursing Practice degree at Yale University and was named a Jonas Scholar. She holds a master’s degree in Public Administration from the University of Connecticut, and has an honorary doctorate from the University of St. Joseph in West Hartford.

Chief Malerba has achieved a national reputation as an advocate and supporter of health issues and the welfare of Native Peoples. She is chairwoman of the Tribal Self-Governance Advisory Committee of the Federal Indian Health Services; is a member of the U.S. Justice Department’s Tribal Nations Leadership Council; serves on the Tribal Advisory Committee for the National Institute of Health; is a member of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Tribal Advisory Committee; and serves as a technical expert on the Commission for Environmental Cooperation. She also serves as the United South and Eastern Tribes board of directors secretary, and is a member of the board of directors for the Ms. Foundation for Women.

In Connecticut, Chief Malerba serves as a trustee for Chelsea Groton Bank, as a board member for the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut, as an advisory committee member for the Harvard University Native American Program and served on the board of directors for Lawrence Memorial Hospital for 11 years.

More than 1,200 undergraduate and graduate students will receive their diplomas at Eastern’s graduation exercises on May 21, with an audience of more than 10,000 family and friends expected. In addition to Malerba, dignitaries expected to attend include Eastern President Elsa Núñez; Mark Ojakian, president of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities System; and Merle Harris, vice-chair of the Board of Regents for Higher Education.

Written by Ed Osborn

Annual CREATE Conference to Showcase Student Art, Research

 

WILLIMANTIC, CT (04/08/2019) Eastern Connecticut State University will host its premier academic and artistic conference of the year on April 12. CREATE – Celebrating Research Excellence and Artistic Talent at Eastern – will take place from 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. in the Student Center and surrounding venues. An award ceremony with remarks by Eastern President Elsa Núñez will take place at 12:30 p.m. in the Betty R. Tipton Room of the Student Center.

Hundreds of student researchers, artists and performers will present their talents at CREATE. Students from all majors will lead oral and poster presentations, participate in panel discussions, showcase music and dance performances, exhibit their art and photography, and present documentary films and more.

Registration will take place at 8 a.m. at the Student Center Café. President Núñez will present two undergraduate awards and two mentor awards to outstanding students and faculty members at the 12:30 p.m. award ceremony.

For more information, visit http://www.easternct.edu/create/, where you can view the day’s agenda and download the event’s cell phone app for iPhone and Android.

Written by Michael Rouleau

Annual CREATE Conference to Showcase Student Art, Research

Eastern Connecticut State University will host its premier academic and artistic conference of the year on April 12. CREATE – Celebrating Research Excellence and Artistic Talent at Eastern – will take place from 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. in the Student Center and surrounding venues. An award ceremony with remarks by Eastern President Elsa Núñez will take place at 12:30 p.m. in the Betty R. Tipton Room of the Student Center.

Students present research during the poster session of the 2018 CREATE conference.

Hundreds of student researchers, artists and performers will present their talents at CREATE. Students from all majors will lead oral and poster presentations, participate in panel discussions, showcase music and dance performances, exhibit their art and photography, and present documentary films and more.

Registration will take place at 8 a.m. at the Student Center Café. President Núñez will present two undergraduate awards and two mentor awards to outstanding students and faculty members at the 12:30 p.m. award ceremony.

For more information, visit http://www.easternct.edu/create/, where you can view the day’s agenda and download the event’s cell phone app for iPhone and Android.

Written by Michael Rouleau

Computer Security: Eastern Students Prepare for New ‘Arms Race’

Professor Tim Hartley teaches the new computer science course “Data and Computer Security.”:

In response to the continued threat of cyberattacks on corporations and individuals on a global scale, Eastern Connecticut State University has created a new course, “Data and Computer Security.”

“It’s almost impossible to imagine spending an entire day without contact with some form of computer technology,” said Sarah Tasneem, professor of computer science and chair of the Computer Science Department, who was instrumental in designing and implementing the new course. “Current events – cyber breaches, identity theft, ransomware – dictate the need to provide awareness of the problems that exist with respect to computers and the use of technology.”

Tasneem said the new course “will introduce students to practical concepts and principles of data security. We will consider issues such as protecting access to data, ensuring proper protection of data, both when it has been stored and when it is being moved across a network. We will cover the steps needed to ensure the privacy of data that has been recorded about us.”

In addition to individual identify theft and personal email hacking that takes place on a daily basis, widespread cyberattacks in the past five years have ranged from attacks during the 2016 U.S. elections to the compromising of nearly 50 million Facebook user accounts this past September.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has described the battleground to protect computer systems as the new “arms race.” Similar personal account attacks and security breaches at Equifax (2017), Target (2013) and Neiman Marcus (2013) impacted millions of people.

Tim Hartley, assistant professor of computer science, teaches the course, which is at capacity for the spring 2019 semester. He has also taught classes in government agencies and companies in the private sector. In his class, students learn everything from infrastructure and security software to on-device analytics to rapid detection and accurate identification of a potential or actual attacker.

“My motivation in delivering this course to Eastern students is based on my experience in industry,” said Hartley. “Working with businesses and organizations across the United States and internationally, I recognize the importance of security in various forms. I hope that exposing students to cybersecurity issues will prepare them for what lies ahead in the job market and in their own personal lives.”

Department chair Tasneem says that application developers, project managers, database administrators and security administrators are in need of computer security education and skills in today’s computer environment. “The new course will equip students with the perfect skill set employers are looking for. Knowledge of security matters and the methods of thwarting would-be attackers is quite important in today’s workplace. The fact that computer software industries showed genuine interest in the subject, together with daily newspaper stories reporting cyber breaches, stolen laptops, identity theft, ransomware and more, confirms the importance of enlightening computer graduates about security issues and the consequences of taking them too lightly.”

Some students enrolled in the new course have had their own private accounts compromised. “The first time, I didn’t realize that the link I clicked on to watch a hockey game online was fake, and I accidentally downloaded malware,” said John Funk ’19, of Southbury, who is majoring in computer science. “To get rid of the malware, I used an antivirus program. On the second occasion, I received several emails from different students and faculty members at Eastern, asking me to click a link. I did not click the link because I knew it would lead to a security breach.”

Funk believes the computer security course will also enhance his career goals. “Having knowledge in cybersecurity would be a valuable skill for me to have when looking for jobs because security breaches are more relevant than ever as cyberspace continues to grow.”

Natalia Romanenko ’19 of Niantic is preparing for a career in cybersecurity. “This is a core course for me,” she explained. “Knowledge of data and computer security are critical in this field. I believe this course will make me more employable as a solid networking and cybersecurity professional.”

Mary Wishart ’19 of Pomfret agrees. “Technology is moving faster than the methods we have to protect it – we live in a world where people hack into light bulbs! Any student taking this class and gaining an interest and knowledge of cyber security should have no problem finding a job.”

Written by Dwight Bachman

Eastern Holds Third Civic Action Conference

Eastern President Elsa Nunez

Written by Dwight Bachman

Eastern students have a reputation of service to community that goes back decades. But at the Third Annual Civic Action Conference on Nov. 14, it was demonstrated how much students actually learn as a result of their service.

Eastern President Elsa Nunez introduced the idea of structured service learning in 2009, when she established the Center for Community Engagement (CCE), directed by Kim Silcox.

Nunez celebrated Eastern’s faculty for its commitment to organized, systematic service learning. “Students need to ask why people are suffering, and truly reflect on what they can do,” she said. “Getting faculty involved by connecting class curriculum to community needs will increase civic action in a meaningful way. It is so gratifying to see our students embrace this, as it reflects Eastern’s core values”

A wide range of speakers focused on four themes at the conference: 1.) writing assignments to promote civic action; 2.) employability and community engagement; 3.) higher education as a public good; and 4.) community engagement research.

“The conference highlights the amazing work Eastern faculty have achieved in engaging students in the community,” said Silcox, who organized the conference along with Nicolas Simon, assistant professor of sociology. “Students participating in service learning projects are engaging in research, thinking critically and expressing themselves as they reflect on the experiences. These are key marketable skills in today’s job market.”

Part-time lecturer Lucy Hurston and Nicholas Simon, assistant professor of sociology.

Part-time lecturer Lucy Hurston focuses on learning outcomes rather than just the student-volunteer experience. She had students conduct research on numerous issues, including homelessness and poverty. Students volunteered on a Habitat for Humanity housing project. The activity helped students change their perceptions of lower-income populations.

Sociology Professor Cara Bergstrom-Lynch

Sociology Professor Cara Bergstrom-Lynch’s intensive writing course requires students to focus on social inequalities and to identify solutions. “Students then develop a research project through a sociological lens and write a research paper,” said Bergstrom-Lynch.

English Professor Miriam Chirico

English Professor Miriam Chirico’s students focused on urban revitalization. “The goal,” she said, “is to have students come together to create a social network that helps enhance writing about tourism and increase pride in community.” Through the experience, students reinforced their civic commitment and simultaneously developed writing and rhetorical skills.

Education Professor David Stoloff

Addressing the theme of employability and civic engagement, Art and Art History Professor Terry Lennox’s students creatively design with the intent “to advance the communication and marketing outcomes of non-profit organizations. It is a collaborative, guided effort designed to learn the value of art and also show what we all can do, working together,” she said. Through these projects, students build portfolios, which contributes to their employability upon graduating.

Fatma Pakdil, associate professor of business administration, examined employability from a market perspective. She presented statistics showing that “only 11 percent of business leaders agree that today’s college graduates have the skills and competencies their businesses need, while 96 percent of chief academic officers say their institutions are very or somewhat effective at preparing students for the world of work.” Pakdil proposed affording students courses that enable students “to study on projects analyzing real problems, issues and bottlenecks faced by business organizations,” which she believes will better prepare students for the work place.

Associate Professor of Business Information Systems (BIS) Alex Citurs and student Rebekah Brancato, a BIS major, with a minor in Healthcare Informatics, showed how community-based projects help students gain practical experience and make meaningful contributions to communities. Students also gain insight into new ways of doing things and building relationships for future collaborations. The work in information systems that he and his students do, which many organizations cannot afford from professional consultants, improves the operations of non-profit organizations.

Education Professor David Stoloff examined pre-service education as a positive dimension of civic engagement. His students participate in projects in local school and community centers. They write reflections on these experiences at mid-term and at the end of the semester. Stoloff said the goal is to teach students “knowledge, skills, responsibility and commitment within social justice views of civic engagement.”

John Murphy, lecturer in the Department of Communication

John Murphy, lecturer in the Department of Communication, uses local radio, television, web sites, social and print media to demonstrate the value of service learning. Students use various media — digital platforms included — to share stories about the important assets of organizations and people served. This creates opportunities for students to build portfolios and provides information to the community on valuable, underutilized resources available in the community.

Geography Professor Patrick Vitale’s “Geography of Food” class made community-engagement research a campus project. Their results suggest that many students on campus experience food insecurity. The students examined the impact of food insecurity, the resources that are available to support students, and what other universities are doing to address this crisis. “Their research shows the political and educational potential of a class that engages students to take on a pressing concern in their community,” said Vitale.

Yolanda Bergstrom-Lynch, a campus librarian, said “It is vital that librarians have a seat at the table as service learning partners.” She introduced a “Service Learning and Community Engagement” library research guide that was created in collaboration with the Center for Community Engagement. The publication serves as a resource guide of the various ways in which librarians promote community engagement. “Librarians serve as bridges, connecting the library to other campus organizations and the campus community to service learning resources in the library.”

Scholar-Activist Speaks on ‘Forgotten’ Bangladesh Genocide

Mofidul Hoque is an author and activist who has written 15 books on history, liberation and genocide studies. In 1996 he and seven trustees established the Liberation War Museum in Bangladesh.

Written by Raven Dillon

WILLIMANTIC, Conn. —Mofidul Hoque, acclaimed scholar and founder of the Liberation War Museum, came to Eastern Connecticut State University on Nov. 7 to give a presentation titled “The Forgotten Genocide of Bangladesh in 1971: Lessons for the Future.” Hoque spoke on the atrocities committed in 1971 by the Pakistani government, which resulted in the death of some three million Bangladeshi people, and how his activism efforts have culminated in the Liberation War Museum in Bangladesh.

“The more we talk about it, the more it enters the public domain,” said Hoque of the genocide. “And we must talk about it, because if we are to say ‘never again,’ we need to know how it began.”

His presentation detailed how the people of Bangladesh became liberated after long struggling to obtain democratic and national rights, but at the expense of millions of lives. Initially many western countries were outraged at these acts of violence, however, interest in Bangladesh quickly faded. Now, Hoque says, it is considered the forgotten, or “lost,” genocide.

From 1975 to 1996, information regarding the Bangladesh genocide was suppressed, in a period academics refer to as “The Dark Era.” Hoque and other activists have taken steps to correct the misinformation and propaganda spread during this period.

Hoque and seven trustees established the Liberation War Museum in 1996 to commemorate the heroism of the Bangladeshi people as well as reestablish the facts and reality of the Bangladesh genocide. The Liberation War Museum, with its team of researchers, has collected more than 50,000 stories of recorded oral history.

Once a mobile museum contained within a bus, the Liberation War Museum now has a permanent location in Bangladesh. Hoque hopes to partner with other researchers and scholars who are interested in the historical events surrounding the Bangladeshi genocide, as well as other genocides which go largely ignored or unreported, such as the Rohingya persecution in 2016. In 2017, the Liberation War Museum sent researchers to interview Rohingya refugees to add to their oral history collections, and published a paper titled “The Rohingya Genocide: Compilation and Analysis of Survivor’s Testimonies.”

Although the museum collects artifacts from some of the worst atrocities in humanity’s history, Hoque still has a message of inspiration: “When we tell this story, it is not a story of victimization,” he said. “We talk about the struggle and the resilience of our people. That is what we wish to commemorate in this museum.”

This event was organized by the Office of Equity and Diversity and the Departments of Computer Science; History; and Political Science, Philosophy and Geography.

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. 

 

Cigna Holds Info Session about TECDP Program

Eastern grad Brittany Noonan ’17, a business analyst at Cigna, addresses a crowd of Eastern students interested in IT fields.

Cigna representatives who previously attended Eastern came to campus on Sept. 18 to host an information session about the Technology Early Career Development Program (TECDP), an on-campus collaboration between Eastern and Cigna that often serves as a pipeline to full-time employment. Assistance was provided by the Business Information Systems — Association of Information Technology Professionals Student Chapter.

The session began with an introduction of representatives, all of whom interned at Cigna while at Eastern. The event proceeded with a short presentation about Cigna, detailing the company’s goals, employee benefits, community engagement and the company’s hopes for the future.

TECDP offers many opportunities to students and young professionals looking to get into the biz-tech fields of IT. They brought out the five current TECDP areas of focus: digital, security, agile, analytics and networking.

The session was a special opportunity for Eastern students to learn more about the career options available to them at Cigna in Connecticut, with potential rotations around the globe. Cigna provided pizza and soda for the event, along with merchandise such as water bottles, band aids and pencils.

Eastern Welcomes New Full-Time Faculty, Staff

Eastern Connecticut State University welcomed several new full-time faculty and administrative staff to the campus community this fall. They include Eastern alumni, former adjunct professors and scholars from across the country and beyond. Their knowledge and expertise will benefit students and the University as a whole as they settle into departments across campus. Eastern’s new hires include:

Academic faculty

Education

Caitlin Tenney

Caitlin Tenney is a new assistant professor in the Department of Education.  She is interested in working on projects that advocate for women and minorities in science and science education. Tenney has taught science at the high school level and served as an adjunct instructor in Eastern’s Biology Department. She has a master’s degree in secondary science education from the University of Massachusetts.

“Eastern is a special place and teaching here is a privilege,” said Tenney, who enjoys working with students of different backgrounds as well as her passionate and supportive colleagues. “I hope to bring a powerful energy and love of learning to my students. I want to prepare them to be great teachers who will make a positive and lasting impact in this world.”

Outside of academia, Tenney loves to travel and enjoys outdoor activities such as snowboarding and swimming in the ocean. She also loves spending time with her four-year-old twins and cheering on her husband’s hockey team.

Heather Bassett

Heather Bassett ’09 is a new assistant professor in the Department of Education. A graduate of Eastern’s early childhood education program, she is currently working on her doctoral degree in early childhood special education at the University of Connecticut. She is interested in family-centered practices and the infusion of creativity into the classroom.

“I hope to bring out my students’ unique talents and strengths,” said Bassett. “It is my mission to empower students so they have what it takes to teach in the ever-changing 21st century.”

Outside of work, Bassett enjoys spending time with her husband and two young sons. She and her husband are also licensed real estate agents who buy, sell and renovate properties. 

Matthew Puhlick is a new assistant professor in the Department of Education. A two-time graduate of Eastern (undergraduate degree in 1993; master’s degree in 2001), he has a doctoral degree in curriculum, teaching, learning and leadership from Northeastern University. Puhlick has taught at the elementary school level and has expertise with educational technology for curricular planning and delivery.

“I am thrilled to return to the campus that has provided me with so many opportunities,” said Puhlick. “I hope my many years of experience in education allow me to help prospective teachers challenge their assumptions, learn new skills and think critically about the world of education.”

Puhlick also enjoys cooking, traveling and exploring the world with his wife and three children.

Biology

Derek Laux is a new assistant professor in the Department of Biology, specializing in cell biology. Laux earned his Ph.D. from the University of Pittsburgh and was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Edinburgh. His research has focused on the role of innate immune cells in early cancer development.

“I am excited to help Eastern students grow and to train the next generation of biological scientists,” said Laux. “I love the field of biology. I hope my students develop a love of science, an appetite for discovery, a passion for hard work, and learn that all of us can contribute a verse to the records of life and learning.”

Outside of the lab, Laux enjoys being outdoors, surfing, reading and playing the piano.

Performing Arts

DeRon Williams

DeRon Williams is a new assistant professor for the Theatre Program, specializing in directing. Williams received his master’s in arts administration from Eastern Michigan University and his Ph.D. in Fine Arts-Theatre at Texas Tech University. He is a director, arts administrator and scholar of 20th– and 21st-century American drama and Black expressive culture.

“Eastern is student-centered and committed to diverse perspectives, which I believe is the purpose of higher education and imperative for future leaders, arts supporters and global citizens,” said Williams. “It is my hope to engage students in diverse perspectives of the arts, imparting my knowledge and love for Black theatre and performance through seminar and practical courses.”

Outside of academia, Williams enjoys going to the theatre, traveling and spending time with family and friends.

David Ballena

David Ballena is a new assistant professor for the Music Program, specializing in piano. A native of Peru, he received his early training at the Conservatorio Nacional de Musica before traveling to the United States where he earned a Doctor of Musical Arts in Collaborative Piano from the University of Maryland-College Park.

“I am excited to be more involved in the life of the campus community,” said Ballena, who has taught at Eastern for the past five years as an adjunct professor for the Music Program. “I look forward to sharing with my students the many things I’ve learned from my own teachers and professional experience—I hope to help them understand the resilience and work ethic required to succeed in a career in music.”

Outside of work, Ballena and his wife enjoy playing tennis and attending tournaments. They drive every summer to Colorado, where he works at the Aspen Music Festival.

Business Administration

Jean Cooley

Jean Cooley is a new assistant professor in the Department of Business Administration, specializing in accounting. Cooley earned master’s degrees in business administration and accounting at Northeastern University, and has more than 20 years of experience as a certified public accountant.

“I hope to encourage students to use their time at Eastern to truly discover their passions,” said Cooley. “I want to get them excited about their futures and learn to use their talents to impact others’ lives.”

Cooley also enjoys listening to music, riding roller coasters, traveling and spending time with family.

Erik Christensen ’07 is a new assistant professor in the Department of Business Administration, specializing in accounting. An Eastern graduate, he also holds a master’s degree in accounting from the University of Connecticut. Christensen is a certified public accountant who has served as the finance director for the Town of Griswold.

“I hope to impart in students the knowledge students will need to be successful,” said Christensen. “I hope to bring my industry experience into the classroom and share some of the experiences I’ve had as a CPA.”

Outside of work, Christensen enjoys watching and playing sports, traveling and being on the ocean.

Computer Science

Tim Hartley is a new assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science. He holds a master’s degree in computer science from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and a master’s degree in linguistics from the University of Connecticut, as well as a diploma in Mandarin Chinese from the Defense Language Institute, which he earned while serving in the U.S. Air Force. Hartley has held full-time appointments as an assistant professor at the University of Hartford and as an associate professor at Rensselaer at Hartford. He has also co-authored three textbooks on database technology.

Health Science

Paul Canavan is a new assistant professor in the Department of Health Sciences. An expert on the lower extremity of the body, Canavan earned a Master of Arts and Ph.D. in Kinesiology from the University of Connecticut as well as a Doctor of Physical Therapy from Northeastern University.

“I’m excited to join Eastern full time,” said Canavan, who has taught at Eastern as an adjunct professor for three years. “I hope to bring to students a desire to learn and provide opportunities for them to practically apply class information.”

Outside of academia, Canavan enjoys hiking, fishing, reading and spending time with his wife and son.

Mitchell Doucette is a new assistant professor in the Department of Health Science. He received his Ph.D. in Health Policy and Management from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and was selected as the 2017-18 William Haddon Jr. Fellow in Injury Prevention. Doucette’s research interests include injury prevention and control and longitudinal panel analysis.

Sociology

Rachael Pesta is a new assistant professor in the Department of Sociology, Anthropology, Criminology and Social Work, specializing in criminology. She received her master’s degree in criminal justice from Youngstown State University and her Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Akron. Pesta’s teaching interests include criminological theory, research methods and social inequalities in the criminal justice system.

“I am excited to join an institution that provide students with a top-quality liberal arts education that extends beyond the classroom and brings ‘textbook learning’ to life,” said Pesta. “I am eager to engage students in critical and abstract thinking by using active learning. It’s important that students see how theory impacts the world around us and informs our everyday life.”

Pesta enjoys reading, hiking the beautiful trails around Connecticut, and listening to podcasts. 

Administrative faculty

Admissions

Dempsey Schott

Dempsey Schott is the newest admissions counselor for the Office of Admissions. She graduated from Muhlenberg College in 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in English and creative writing, and has experience as a head tour guide with Muhlenberg’s admissions office during her undergraduate career. This fall, Schott will be travelling to Fairfield County and Long Island to recruit students.

“I am excited to be a part of a community that cares about shaping graduates who are informed and successful global citizens,” said Schott, who is attracted to Eastern’s public liberal arts mission. “I hope to showcase the institution to prospective students who otherwise might not have considered Eastern.”

Outside of work, you can find Schott running, hiking, baking vegan desserts, singing and drinking excessive amounts of coffee.

Financial Aid

Velma Walters

Velma Walters is an assistant to the director in the Office of Financial Aid. She earned her master’s degree in public administration from American International College and has more than 20 years of experience in higher education and more than 15 years in financial aid. Among her duties, Walters will work with the STEP/CAP Program.

“I am excited to be part of a fantastic liberal arts university that is rich in diversity and producing well-rounded leaders who make their mark on society,” said Walters. “I bring to Eastern my experience, my passion for education and my commitment to helping students realize their dream of a college degree.”

Walters is also a member of the public service organization Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., as well as an independent beauty consultant for Mary Kay Skin Care & Cosmetics.

Registrars

Mary-Francis Ricks

Mary-Francis Ricks ’11 is an assistant degree auditor in the Office of the Registrar. An Eastern graduate with a degree in communication, she earned a master’s degree in human development and family studies from the University of Rhode Island. Ricks has higher education experience in advising, career services and housing.

“Eastern is the place that sparked my passion for student affairs; I’m excited to be working at a university that aligns with my values,” said Ricks, who often interacts with graduating seniors in her new role. “I hope to be a guiding, clarifying resource for these students.”

Ricks loves to travel, and recently visited Ireland. In February she plans to explore Spain.

Academic Services Center

Carlos Castillo is a professional advisor with the Academic Services Center. He holds a master’s degree in organizational management and leadership from Springfield College and comes to Eastern after being a family and community engagement liaison with the Capitol Region Educational Council in Harford. Castillo is currently completing his dissertation for a doctorate in adult learning.

Lauren Eddy is a professional advisor with the Academic Services Center. She joins Eastern after working at the University of Maine as an athletic academic counselor. She is a graduate of Central Connecticut State University where she earned bachelor’s degrees in history and English and a master’s in counseling with a concentration in student development.

Written by Michael Rouleau