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

Eastern Recognizes Ella Grasso Award Winners 2019

Left to right, community activist Anne Ash; Shawn Ray Dousis ’19; State Sen. Mae Flexer; June Dunn, assistant dean in the Office of Continuing Studies and Enhanced Learning at Eastern; and President Elsa Núñez

Shawn Ray Dousis ’19 of East Lyme, president of the Foundation for Campus Ministry at Eastern Connecticut State University; June Dunn, assistant dean in the Office of Continuing Studies and Enhanced Learning at Eastern; and community activist Anne Ash, were named recipients of Eastern’s annual Ella T. Grasso Distinguished Service Awards on March 27. The event took place in the Paul E. Johnson Sr. Community Conference Room of the J. Eugene Smith Library.

Dousis won the student award category. She will graduate this May with a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education and a second major in Liberal Studies. At Eastern, she has served as a manager for Eastern’s men’s ice hockey team and as public relations officer of People Helping People. She currently serves as president of The Foundation for Campus Ministry. In 2017, Dousis established, planned, coordinated and facilitated “Shawn’s Cupboard,” Eastern’s Food Pantry.  The cupboard now serves many students, and has recently introduced a “Swipe It Forward” program that works through Chartwells, Eastern’s food service.  

Eastern President Elsa Núñez

“I am honored and grateful to have been chosen for this award and want to thank everyone involved for considering me,” said Dousis. “Our efforts with Shawn’s Cupboard have made food insecurity at Eastern less of a problem today than it was yesterday.”

Dunn won the faculty award. She has overseen the Bachelor of General Studies (BGS) program, along with several grant initiatives to assist students from marginalized communities in achieving their educational aspirations.  Prior to Eastern, she was the women studies conference and special events coordinator at Southern Connecticut State University. She also previously served as assistant to the director for the University of Connecticut’s Upward Bound Program, as well as Program Coordinator for Girls, Inc., in Stamford.

Dunn had an Ella T. Grasso story to tell. Her fifth-grade class at Hindley Elementary School suggested the sperm whale be made the state’s official animal. Hundreds of other schools and organizations across the state supported her, and Grasso signed the sperm whale bill in May 1975. Dunn eventually met the governor: “She was so authentic, down-to-earth and kind. This memory is why this award has additional special meaning and great honor to me.”

Rash, who won the community award, grew up in the 1940s and 1950s when girls playing basketball were limited to two bounces and could only play on half the court. Those challenges inspired Rash to become an educator, which provided a backdrop for working to make a difference in the lives of women and girls, locally and internationally. Her hands-on volunteer efforts include mentoring women in the Windham Area Interfaith Ministry (WAIM) Learning Partners Program; helping with fundraising efforts for Ecole Agape, the only free school for girls in Haiti; promoting the programs for women and girls as part of the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut (CFECT) Windham Women and Girls Fund; and encouraging literacy with Altrusa of Northeast Connecticut projects.

“It takes a village, so this award is shared with the people in this room,” said Rash. “My fellow awardees, my friends from Altrusa, the Windham Women and Girls Group, Ecole Agape School for Girls in  Haiti and the Community  Foundation, we all work together to make the world more equitable. We know that basketball has progressed, but there are still women who only have access to half court. We need to continue to work for full court access for all women!”

State Sen. Mae Flexer

In her welcoming remarks, Eastern President Elsa Núñez cited statistics showing women still earn “only $.81 for every dollar men make. Minority women make far less.” She engaged the audience in a series of cheers of “We Have Room to Grow!,” reminding those in attendance of “the special skills women possess.”

State Sen. Mae Flexer delivered the keynote address. Flexer said Grasso embodied what it means to live a life of commitment and service to others and to advocate for a more just and equal world. “Her dedication towards an issue like the underrepresentation of females in government – at a time when that issue was considered to be unimportant – is incredibly inspiring and meaningful, especially, as I stand here before you as a female elected official. She left an indelible mark on the state of Connecticut, but it also makes us think about our own legacy. In a hectic, ever-changing world, what are we doing to make our communities and our society just a bit better? I encourage everybody in this room to find what lights a spark within you and to pursue it. It may not always be easy, but it will always be worth it.”

Written by Dwight Bachman

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

Student-Leader Katelyn Root Selected for Newman Civic Fellowship

Katelyn Root, a third-year student at Eastern Connecticut State University, has been selected for the Newman Civic Fellowship, a program of Campus Compact, a national coalition of colleges and universities. The year-long fellowship recognizes and supports high-potential students who have demonstrated a commitment to their community through a record of public service. Fellows are nominated by their university president based on their potential for public leadership.

The 2019-20 class of fellows includes 262 community-committed students from across the country, Mexico and Greece. Root is one of six selections from Connecticut, and the only from the state university system.

Root is a student leader at Eastern’s Center for Community Engagement (CCE). Through her CCE activities, she has played an integral role in developing a volunteer program with the Windham Recovery Community Center, a branch of the Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery (CCAR). As a regular volunteer, she leads job-readiness trainings and group sessions, and has recruited more than 60 student volunteers over the past two years.

“Katelyn has been a vocal advocate for the recovery community and has created a welcoming and understanding corps of volunteers who support the center’s staff and guests,” said Eastern President Elsa Núñez. “She has worked effectively to reduce the stigma associated with addiction and to support individuals in recovery.”

“Volunteering in the Willimantic community has changed me entirely,” said Root, who hails from Stratford and double majors in elementary education and liberal studies. “Without these experiences I would not be the person I am today. Working at the recovery center has allowed me to impact the lives of many adults facing recovery from drugs, alcohol and other addictions.

“I’ve had an overwhelming number of guests approach me with news of interviews, second interviews and job offers after my sessions. In addition to resume and job-search assistance, I chair recovery meetings and provide telephone support to guests attending other centers.”

Root was named CCAR’s “Volunteer of the Year” in 2018 and received the CCE’s “Strengthening Communities” award in 2017.

She will be mentored by CCE Director Kim Silcox through the duration of the fellowship. In addition to exclusive learning opportunities with a national network of similarly engaged student leaders, fellows are invited to attend the Newman Civic Fellows National Convening this November 2019 in Boston.

The Newman Civic Fellowship was created in honor of Frank Newman, one of Campus Compact’s founders and an advocate for the role of higher education in preparing students for active and engaged citizenship. The fellowship is supported by the KPMG Foundation and Newman’s Own Foundation.

Campus Compact is a coalition of more than 1,000 colleges and universities that are committed to the public purposes of higher education. The Newman Civic Fellowship is meant to nurture the next generation of public leaders through exclusive virtual and in-person learning opportunities.

Written by Michael Rouleau

Eastern Students Provide a ‘Jumpstart’ to Local Preschoolers

Jeniel Edmonds is an Eastern Jumpstart volunteer who majors in early childhood education and psychology

 In a Willimantic, CT, classroom, more than a dozen preschoolers listen eagerly as an Eastern Connecticut State University student reads a book to them. It’s a ritual that both the student and children are familiar with, and when reading time is over, they will transition to other activities with their teacher. It can be hard to handle a room full of excitable preschoolers, but the Eastern student has been well trained, thanks to a national early-education program called Jumpstart.

Jumpstart, an AmeriCorps affiliate program with a strong chapter at Eastern, was created in 1993 to provide preschoolers from low-income areas the tools they need to succeed in kindergarten and beyond. By providing language, literacy and social activities, Jumpstart aims to help preschoolers get an equal start in life regardless of zip code.

“Kids from under-resourced communities enter kindergarten 60 percent behind their classmates from more affluent areas,” says Meaghan Penrod, the Jumpstart site manager at Eastern’s Center for Community Engagement (CCE). “You’d think that gap would close when they go to elementary school, but it doesn’t – it just gets wider.”

Eastern students who apply for Jumpstart are interviewed and divided into teams that work together in local classrooms. Each goes through several weeks of early childhood education training, as well as classes about the Willimantic community and the families who live there. Every team is expected to follow an assigned curriculum, as well as create stimulating activities to engage the children in their classrooms.

“A lot of our own personal time is spent planning and creating things for the children we teach,” says Jumpstart member Kimberly Vitka, an elementary education and liberal studies major at Eastern. “Once we’re in the classroom, we’re responsible for teaching the session plan for that week.”

Some of this year’s cohort of Eastern Jumpstart volunteers pose for a group photo.

These plans engage children in educational activities such as reading, name writing, singing vocabulary words, and active or dramatic play. Arts and crafts projects and reading time are particularly popular among the preschoolers.

Vitka and 41 other students dedicate personal time to their students and the classrooms. For most of the volunteers, teaching children and helping the community is both a potential future occupation and a lifestyle.

“My involvement in Jumpstart has made a tremendous impact on my life,” says Frances Zelez, an early childhood education and English major. “Getting the opportunity to further a child’s education is one of the most fulfilling opportunities I could ask for.”

The time commitment for students involved in Jumpstart is significant. If they join AmeriCorps and donate 300 volunteer hours, they receive a federal stipend at the end of the year that goes toward books, housing or tuition. Non-AmeriCorps volunteers commit to 200 hours of service. With more than 40 volunteers, Eastern students donate thousands of hours to preschoolers over the course of a year — all of which are in under-resourced areas.

Despite the hefty commitment, Jumpstart has exploded in popularity at Eastern. When the program first came to campus in 2014, 21 students enrolled. Now, five years later, the number has doubled. Although many students are early education majors, any student is welcome to apply. This year, the Jumpstart members at Eastern major in everything from art to environmental earth science, united by their passion for educating children.

Tai Adorno majors in elementary education and women’s and gender studies.:

Jendayi Nelson, who majors in general studies and communication, originally applied to Eastern as a pre-nursing major. She cites Jumpstart as the reason for her shift in major and career aspirations. “If it wasn’t for Jumpstart, I wouldn’t have found what truly makes me happy,” she said. “Some of my peers realized this was not the field for them, but for me, it was simply reinforcement that the classroom is where I belong.”

Jumpstart has been a national success, with classrooms across the country reporting marked improvements. Ninety-one percent of children in the program made significant language and literacy gains last year, according to Jumpstart teachers. In Willimantic, based on assessments by the CCE, children attending Jumpstart show significant gains in areas critical for academic success.

Aside from embedded support in local community classrooms, Jumpstart also gets involved with children’s events. Eastern Jumpstart members recently hosted an event in collaboration with AmeriCorps MLK Day of Service, in which more than 100 children painted “kindness rocks,” which are rocks painted with inspirational messages that are meant to be left in unexpected places. The children hid their rocks throughout the East Brook Mall, and then returned for story time, leaving with a free book.

“People come up to us at community events all the time and say how much Jumpstart has impacted their lives,” says Penrod. “A grandmother once came up to me and told me how her granddaughter had previously been struggling in preschool, but now that she’s involved with Jumpstart, she’s thriving.”

Stories like these are common. Lizbeth Macias, an elementary education and liberal studies major, reflected on her reasons for joining Jumpstart and the passion she now has for children’s education. “Jumpstart intrigued me from the start due to its mission statement, that all kids should have an equal start,” said Macias. “Children are the future. They hold tomorrow in their hands. They deserve access to education regardless of their socio-economic background.”

Written by Raven Dillon

Eastern Announces Results of 2018 TIMPANI Toy Study

The stackable, magnetic, bottle-shaped “Magz Clix” scored highest for engaging children in mindful play and was named Eastern’s 2018 TIMPANI Toy of the Year.

Written by Ed Osborn

On Dec. 4, Eastern Connecticut State University’s Center for Early Childhood Education announced that “Magz Clix” (previously known as “Bottle Clix”) by Magz® has been named the 2018 TIMPANI toy. TIMPANI stands for “Toys that Inspire Mindful Play and Nurture Imagination.”

Now in its ninth year, the annual toy study investigates how young children learn as they play with a variety of toys in natural settings. The toys were placed in preschool classrooms at the University’s Child and Family Development Resource Center, and student researchers used hidden cameras to videotape children playing with the toys. Faculty and undergraduate student researchers then coded the footage according to the study’s evaluation rubric, which includes four subscales: thinking and learning, cooperation and social interaction, creativity and imagination, and verbalization.

“The opportunities that Eastern undergraduates have to conduct faculty-mentored research are a strength of our liberal arts education,” said Eastern President Elsa Núñez. “The TIMPANI toy study is a wonderful example of the sophisticated nature of student research on our campus. For the past nine years, students from the early childhood education, psychology and other departments have observed children at play with a variety of toys. In the process, they have developed a criteria-based assessment of what toys are best for the cognitive, social and creative development of young children. Parents, preschool educators and others around the world are turning to Eastern for direction on how best to support children’s play. At the same time, our students are conducting empirical research of the highest quality.”

The 2018 TIMPANI researchers included (left to right) students Allison Lundy ’19 and Morgan Winship ’18, Professor Emeritus Jeffrey Trawick-Smith, CECE Director Julia DeLapp and student Dominique McLean ’18. A fourth student was involved as well: Nicole Green ’18.

For this year’s study, researchers also investigated how teachers introduce new play materials into their classrooms and the effects of those introductions on children’s play quality. To study that aspect effectively, it was important to select toys that had similar characteristics, so the researchers selected eight construction toys to study.

Magz Clix received the highest overall score in this year’s study and was the highest-scoring toy in the social interaction subscale. The toy includes colorful, magnetic, bottle-shaped pieces that can be connected side-to-side or stacked. Children were often seen stacking the pieces in very tall towers. According to Morgan Winship, a psychology and early childhood education student involved in the study, “That was a huge problem that they had to solve together. How were they going to get high enough to stack the pieces when the towers were taller than them? They needed to interact and help each other.”

Children were also observed using the Magz Clix to create microphones, rocket ships, and guitars with their peers. “It provided them the opportunity to express themselves open-endedly through object transformations and play narratives,” said Allison Lundy, another psychology and early childhood education student involved in the study. “I wasn’t expecting this toy to score the highest, because it didn’t really seem like there was much to do with them. But watching the videos, I was surprised to see the different ways that children utilized them.”

According to Professor Jeffrey Trawick-Smith, principal investigator of the study and retired Phyllis Waite Endowed Chair of Early Childhood Education, toys that appear simple to adults often inspire some of the highest quality play. “We’ve found over the years that toys that are quite basic and can be used in multiple ways do very, very well.” He also noted that like many construction toys, the Magz Clix consist of many small parts, which leads to more social interaction and problem-solving. “Children need to coordinate their activities with peers as they’re building with them.”

Notably, Magz Clix also held children’s attention over time. “With many toys, we see high-quality play the first day that it’s in the classroom, but then the play quality wanes over time,” said Julia DeLapp, director of the Center for Early Childhood Education and co-investigator of the study. “But with Magz Clix, we actually saw an improvement in the play quality the second week that it was in the classroom.” Magz Clix was also the highest-scoring toy for Hispanic children and for children from families with high levels of financial need.

Study co-investigator Julia DeLapp gave the opening remarks at the 2018 press conference.

The TIMPANI toy study provides undergraduate students at Eastern a unique opportunity to engage in primary research – an opportunity that ensures they are well prepared for graduate school and the workforce because of the professional experience that research projects provide. In addition to Winship and Lundy, two additional undergraduate students were involved in this year’s study: Dominique McLean, a psychology and early childhood education student, and Nicole Green, an English and elementary education student. April Doolan, a communication student, was the student editor for this year’s video.

The results of the study were first announced at the annual meeting of the National Association for the Education of Young Children in Washington, DC, on Nov. 14. Findings will be disseminated to preschool teachers nationally to inform their decisions about the toys to include in their classroom. Findings will also be shared with families. The investigation on how teachers introduce play materials will continue for another year; results are expected in late 2019.

For more information on TIMPANI as well as the 2018 video, visit http://www.easternct.edu/cece/timpani/. Contact the Center for Early Childhood Education at (860) 465-0687.

Previous TIMPANI toys include Animal Kingdom Mega Pack by Animal Planet (2017); Plus-Plus® by Plus-Plus® (2016), Wooden Cash Register by Hape (2015); Paint and Easel (easel by Community Playthings), and Hot Wheels Cars by Mattel (2014); Magna-Tiles by Valtech!, and My First Railway by Brio (2013); Duplo Blocks by LEGO (2012); Tinker Toys by Hasbro (2011); and Wooden Vehicles and Signs by Melissa and Doug (2010).

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Disclaimer: The TIMPANI toy study does not consider, nor does it test, the safety of toys. The study makes no claims about the safety of any toy studied. Neither the Center for Early Childhood Education nor Eastern Connecticut State University is liable for any mishaps related to the use of toys mentioned in study findings. Concerns about any toy listed in the study findings should be directed to the Consumer Products Safety Commission.

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.”

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

English Students Study in Italy

Eastern’s Creative Writing Abroad group at Piazzale Michelangelo, overlooking Florence.

Written by Dwight Bachman

A group of Eastern students, under the guidance of Professor Christopher Torockio, recently traveled to Italy to participate in the Creative Writing Abroad course. The students spent five weeks, from June 25 to July 31, writing fiction stories inspired by their travels and experiences at the Studio Arts College International (SACI) in Florence.

A quick break from one of our class workshops, which were held in the beautiful garden of Studio Art College-Florence’s main building, Palazzo dei Cartelloni, a Renaissance-era palazzo that was remodeled in the 17th Century as a residence for the mathematician Vincenzo Viviani, who had been a pupil of the astronomer and scientist Galileo Galilei.

 Michael Merrow, a junior majoring in Communications, was one of the students who used Italy’s Tuscan views, scenery, art and architecture to inspire their writing. “The creative writing study aborad course is an amazing way to gain cultural perspective,” said Merrow. “The art and lifestyle of Florecne provided great inspiration. This was truly a life changing experience.”

Colleen Deely, a junior majoring in Psychology, agreed: “Since taking this creative writing course, I’ve explored not only a new and beautiful place, but a different, more creative side of myself. Through my classmate’s inspiring stories and breathtaking surroundings, I’ve gained a deeper appreciation and greater knowledge for Italian culture. This trip has really encouraged me to get out of my comfort zone and travel more!”

The group took intensive, creative writing workshops in the lovely Renaissance-era palazzo garden at SACI, where they also critiqued and edited each other’s original works of short fiction.

Somewhere in Tuscany.

“Florence is a great location for creative writers, as it’s not only a beautiful, historic and artistically rich city,” said Torockio. “Florence is the birthplace of the Renaissance, and is also centrally located in Italy, allowing the students to take lots of day trips almost anywhere throughout Italy.”

Abby Murren, a junior majoring in English, said the course was the one of the best adventures she will ever take: “As an English major with a concentration in creative writing, this course gave me the perfect opportunity to improve my writing while experiencing one of the most beautiful cities in the world. The amount of inspiration I had from experiencing Florence’s people, culture, and history only strengthened my love for writing, and I’m beyond grateful to have had that opportunity.”


Hiking-from-Vernazza-to-Monterosso

Guided by SACI art historians, the students also visited Italian destinations ranging from Fiesole to Siena, Venice, San

Gimignano, Lucca, Pisa the Amalfi Coast and the Colosseum in Rome. Trips to other European destinations included Barcelona, Dublin, Amsterdam and more, where the students visited museums, galleries and other cultural landmarks.