Bacholle and He Wrap up Fall Faculty Scholars Forum

French Professor Michèle Bacholle                                                                        Gary Bozylinsky Photography

Written by Dwight Bachman

Eastern faculty continue to showcase their scholarship on a wide range of research topics, which they share during lunch presentations at the Faculty Scholars Forum.

On Dec. 5, French Professor Michèle Bacholle ended the fall series of presentations by creating an interactive discussion on “Suicide Survivors or Captivating Your Audience with Counter-Presentations.” Bacholle asked audience members to play her version of the television of “Family Feud.”

Bacholle, as an activist from the feminist “Party of the Circle,” in her counter-presentation on Chloé Delaume’s “The Republic’s Witches,” U. of Guelph, Canada, April 2018

Questions focused on suicide and suicide loss, a topic Bacholle has been writing on for the past five years. Bacholle then explained that “counter-presentations” are performances based on serious research, the goal of which is to keep the audience engaged and more likely to retain information. Bacholle showed how counter-presentations can be effective at conferences and in the classroom.

Kedan He

On Nov.14, Kedan He, assistant professor of physical sciences, gave a presentation titled “From Quantum to Classical Mechanics, the Application of Computational Chemistry to Understand, Predict, and Design.” She presented on computational chemistry and how it could be applied to understand, predict and design chemical systems. Computational chemistry is a branch of chemistry that uses computer simulation to assist in solving chemical problems.

This is an interdisciplinary field that merges chemistry and physics, theoretical chemistry, computer science, as well as data science, and uses efficient computer programs to calculate the structures and properties of molecules and solids.

Professor He explained the difference between classical and quantum mechanics, how each physics law is used in answering chemistry-related questions, and the advantages and disadvantages of both methods. She then demonstrated the application of using Ab Initio electronic computation in illustrating the difference between the thermodynamics vs. kinetic control of a chemical reaction. She demonstrated how high-accuracy computation, in conjunction with cutting-edge experimental techniques, discovers the third reaction mechanism – “Tunneling control.” Under this mechanism, she said, the reactant with extremely low thermal energy can penetrate a narrow activation barrier and produce the unexpected product.

The second half of her talk focused on molecular docking, one of the most commonly used methods of the computer-aided drug design. The computer-aided drug design takes advantage of the freely available database on protein structures and drug-like small molecules, using a fast screening process to help identify possible drug candidate, and reduces the time required in developing new drugs. In the structure-based drug design approach, she said, the structure of a target protein is well characterized. The target protein and small drug molecule candidates are docked to simulate the interaction pose. The interaction binding affinity between the protein and small molecules are also calculated using molecular-docking software to identify the best performing drug molecule candidates. 

First Star Show of the Semester—a Sell Out!

The Robert K. Wickware planetarium recently hosted its first public star show of the semester. The star theater was full of a mix of faithful attendees and newcomers, as planetarium co-director and Physical Sciences Professor Russell Sampson gave the visitors an overview of the latest highlights in space science, and then, a tour of the night sky, including an examination of the bright variable stars visible at this time of year.  Included in the show was a discussion of the strange red ring observed around the total solar eclipse in August 2017, above. Sampson showed the illustration that he produced of the eclipse and the enigmatic red ring.  At the end of the show, a packed house peppered Dr. Sampson with questions on the cosmos.

Students Study within Jungles of Costa Rica

Student group near the continental divide in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.

Written by Dwight Bachman

On May 20, 14 Eastern Biology students and professors Patricia Szczys and Matthew Graham travelled to Costa Rica to conduct research in that country’s tropical forests.

The group hiking in Arenal Volcano National Park, the ceiba tree is estimated to be 300 years old and sporting iconic rainforest tree butresses.

The group had been planning the 12-day trip since January, using the spring semester to read scientific literature and prepare research proposals for studies they would conduct while in Costa Rica.

Male (left) and Female (right) Green and Black Poison Dart frog Dendrobates auratus, the focus of two student research projects this year.

During six days in the humid lowland rainforest at Selva Verde, the students completed experiments on leaf-cutter ant foraging strategies; individual recognition cues by the strawberry poison-dart frog; effectiveness of aposematic warning colors and patterns in snakes; population density and sex ratio of the green and black poison-dart frog; and avian predator avoidance behavior by poison frogs. Several of these experiments will be presented at undergraduate research conferences during this coming academic year.

“The experiences and knowledge that I have gained during my eleven days in Costa Rica on Eastern’s Tropical Biology Global Field Course were invaluable,” said Murphy’ 20. “Not only did the trip allow me to see and explore places I’d never imagined seeing, but it also allowed our whole class to perform scientific research projects that involved real world data collection and experimentation that would not be possible in the United States.”

Students stand near a tree recently cleared from the trail. On Saturday, May 19, tornado-like winds damaged the forest at the La Selva Research Station in Costa Rica, toppling hundreds of trees, several canopy research platforms, and changing the forest for 100 years or more. This tree is probably more than 200 years old.

“The Costa Rica trip was absolutely unforgettable, not only for the invaluable in-field experience gained, but, additionally, for the mutually shared memories that I made with my classmates and professors that I’ll remember forever, said Kukla ’19. “I am grateful to Eastern, as this opportunity has definitely sparked a permanent interest in Rain Forest Biology. The biggest thank you must be given to Dr. Szczys and Dr. Graham for constantly answering all of our questions, pointing out small details that could easily be missed, and lastly, just being amazing professors who inspired us as students throughout the entire trip.” 

In addition to their research, the group spent time hiking, observing animals and identifying plants that interact to produce the rich biodiversity of the tropical rainforest. The group visited the world-renowned La Selva Biological Research Station; toured an organic export-oriented pineapple plantation; hiked the lava fields at Arenal Volcano National Park; toured the Don Juan coffee plantation; and hiked to the Continental Divide in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.

“This trip was so valuable to me because it forced me to come out of my comfort zone in all the best ways,” said Pinto’19. “It’s not every day that you can say you conducted your own research in such a beautiful place filled with amazing biodiversity!”

The Tropical Biology course and field trip to Costa Rica is offered in alternating spring semesters and fulfills an upper-level course requirement for Biology majors. In other years, biology students travel to San Salvador, Bahamas, continuing the Biology Department’s tradition of offering the Tropical Biology course every year since 1968. Professor Szczys has been leading groups to Costa Rica since it replaced Belize as the course location in 2008 and Professor Graham joined in 2016. “This year’s students were especially excited to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Tropical Biology program at Eastern,” said Szczys

Eastern Named a 2018 College of Distinction

WILLIMANTIC, CT (06/18/2018) Eastern Connecticut State University has been recognized as a 2018-19 College of Distinction by the college-guide/ranking organization Colleges of Distinction.

The organization praised Eastern for its student-centered approaches and high-impact educational practices. High-impact practices of note include Eastern’s community-based learning programs, intensive writing courses, living-learning communities for residents, undergraduate research, internships and other hands-on learning experiences.

“We are absolutely thrilled to recognize Eastern Connecticut State University as a College of Distinction for its effective dedication to student success,” said Tyson Schritter, CEO for Colleges of Distinction. “Colleges of Distinction is so impressed with Eastern’s curriculum, which is enriched with the kind of high-impact educational practices that are most crucial for student development. Such innovative engagement is preparing the next generation of young adults to thrive after college.”

Colleges of Distinction’s selection process consists of a review of each institution’s freshman experience and retention efforts alongside its general education programs, alumni success, strategic plan, student satisfaction and more. Schools are accepted on the basis that they adhere to the Four Distinctions: Engaged Students, Great Teaching, Vibrant Community and Successful Outcomes.

“Colleges of Distinction is far more than a ranking list of colleges and universities,” said Schritter. “We seek out the schools that are wholly focused on the student experience, constantly working to produce graduates who are prepared for a rapidly changing global society. Again recognized as a College of Distinction, Eastern Connecticut State University stands out in the way it strives to help its students to learn, grow and succeed.”

Top U.S. Mental Health Official Speaks at Eastern’s 128th Commencement

                                                                            Eastern Graduates 1,200 Students at XL Center

Written by Ed Osborn

Elinore McCance-Katz

Hartford, CT — Eastern Connecticut State University alumna Elinore McCance-Katz, assistant secretary for mental health and substance use in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), told the graduates and their families at Eastern Connecticut State University’s 128th Commencement exercises that the current opioid crisis facing the United States is “the nation’s greatest medical challenge since the AIDS epidemic of the 1990s. It is a tragedy of major proportions, and we need to work together to help those addicted get treatment and recover from this disease.”

Eastern’s annual graduation ceremony was held at the XL Center in Hartford on May 15, with more than 12,000 family members and friends cheering on their sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, as 1,105 undergraduates and 85 graduate students received their diplomas.

McCance-Katz told the audience that Eastern had grown from a small college when she attended Eastern Connecticut State College in the 1970s to become “a comprehensive university that has flourished.”

The commencement speaker also received an honorary doctor of science degree from Eastern in a special hooding ceremony during the graduation exercises.  She graduated magna cum laude from Eastern in 1978 with a degree in biology. Following a sterling career in medicine, psychiatry, academic achievement and public administration, McCance-Katz’s DHHS appointment in August 2017 made her the first assistant secretary-level director of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

After earning her degree from Eastern, Dr. McCance-Katz went on to earn a Ph.D. at Yale University in Infectious Disease Epidemiology in 1984, and then received her M.D. from the University of Connecticut in 1987. 

After completing a residency in psychiatry, she held teaching positions at the Yale School of Medicine, Brown University, Virginia Commonwealth University, the University of California in San Francisco, the University of Texas and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

Prior to her HHS appointment, McCance-Katz was Chief Medical Officer of the Rhode Island Department of Behavioral Health, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals from 2015 to 2017, and served as professor of psychiatry and human behavior and professor of behavioral and social sciences at the Alpert Medical School at Brown University.

Describing how her professional journey had taken her from treating AIDS patients in the 1990s to her current national leadership role in treating substance abuse and mental illness, McCance-Katz described federal and state efforts to develop new recovery services and support services.  “We will turn the tide on this epidemic,” she said, urging graduates to get involved as medical professionals, nurses, counselors and social workers.

 “Be adventurous. Take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way. Be an advocate for those who have not had the advantages you have had.  There is no greater satisfaction than helping others.”

Eastern President Elsa Núñez

Other speakers at the Commencement Exercises included Eastern President Elsa Núñez; Yvette Meléndez, vice-chairof the Board of Regents for Higher Education; and Mark Ojakian, president of the Connecticut State College and Universities System. Additional members of the platform party included Justin Murphy ’98, president of the ECSU Foundation; Father Laurence LaPointe; and other Eastern officials.

Núñez told the graduates their liberal arts education at Eastern was highly prized by American employers.  “In five separate surveys conducted by the Association of American Colleges and Universities over the past decade, the vast majority of employers — over 90 percent! — say they are less interested in specialized job proficiencies, favoring instead analytical thinking, teamwork and communication skills — the wide-ranging academic and social competencies available through a liberal arts education.”

Núñez also urged the graduates to give back to their communities, saying, “I know that the majority of our seniors have found ways to donate their time and good will to making our community a better place to live.  Wherever you end up — in Connecticut or beyond — make sure you continue to give a portion of your time to make a difference in your community.” 

Lastly, Núñez encouraged the Eastern seniors to be active citizens as they participate in the American democratic system of self-governance. She quoted New York Times columnist Bret Stephens, who has written that disagreement is “the most vital ingredient of any decent society. It defines our individuality, gives us our freedom, enjoins our tolerance, enlarges our perspectives, makes our democracies real, and gives hope and courage to oppressed people everywhere.”

“So never abdicate your responsibilities as a citizen to someone else,” said Núñez. “Be willing to question the status quo.  And stand up for the values you believe in.”

More than 40 percent of the graduates were the first in their families to earn a bachelor’s degree. As Connecticut’s only public liberal arts university, Eastern draws students from 163 of the state’s 169 towns. Approximately 85 percent of graduates stay in Connecticut to launch their careers, contribute to their communities and raise their families.

Senior Class President Charlotte MacDonald presented the Senior Class Gift to President Nunez — an annual Class of 2018 scholarship — and thanked her classmates’ families, friends and faculty for supporting the senior class in its journey. Recalling the Eastern tradition where freshmen toss a penny into a fountain on campus as they make a wish — presumably to graduate in four years — MacDonald shared her own three wishes with her classmates. “My first wish is that you go confidently in the direction of your passions . . . the education you have received at Eastern has prepared you for this.  My second wish is for you not only to better yourself but others around you. Contribute to your community, offer things you no longer use to those in desperate need, volunteer your time . . . My last wish is that you find a path to happiness. . . your willingness to conquer challenges is what will separate you from the majority.”

Meléndez, former vice president of government and community alliances for Hartford Hospital, spoke on behalf of the Board of Regents for Higher Education, expressing gratitude to all who had supported Eastern’s graduates — parents, family, friends and especially Eastern’s faculty. “Their commitment to your success is what makes this university so special. Today is a significant milestone.  We hope today is merely a catalyst for a fulfilling life as each of you pursues your goals.”

Michele Bacholle, Distinguished Professor of the Year

 

Ojakian also offered remarks, commending Eastern President Núñez, her administrative team and “an exceptional faculty that guided you onyour journey to get to today.  The journey is now yours. It is your own path and your own truth that will motivate you . . .  Trust your instincts . . .  You have an obligation to leave this world a better place.  Take charge!”

This year’s graduation ceremonies again reflected Eastern’s Commencement traditions, ranging from the Governor’s Foot Guard Color Guard, to the plaintive sound of the bagpipes of the St. Patrick’s Pipe Band and the pre-event music of the Thread City Brass Quintet. University Senate President Maryanne Clifford presided over the commencement exercises; seniors Halie Poirier, Michael Beckstein and Hannah Bythrow sang “America the Beautiful”; Senior Nathan Cusson gave the invocation; and French Professor Michèle Bacholle was recognized as the 2018 Distinguished Professor Award recipient.

CREATE Conference Shows Breadth and Depth of Eastern Students

Written by Michael Rouleau

Displays of research and creativity filled the Student Center at Eastern Connecticut State University on April 13 for the annual CREATE conference. CREATE stands for “Celebrating Research Excellence and Artistic Talent at Eastern,” and is the University’s premier undergraduate conference of the academic year.

CREATE featured more than 200 students of all majors who led oral and poster presentations, panel discussions, music and dance performances, art and photography exhibitions, as well as documentary viewings and new-media demonstrations.

Students give a musical performance.
A student gives an oral presentation.
Conference patrons peruse the CREATE art gallery.
Students give a theatrical performance.

 

“This conference really cements our slogan that Eastern offers a ‘liberal arts education, practically applied,’” said Brian Oakley, conference co-chair and professor of environmental earth science. “It’s evident when you look around and see the breadth and depth of the work being done by our students.”

“There is no event on campus more important than CREATE,” affirmed Eastern President Elsa Nunez. “Some of the work on display represents three or four years of problem solving, testing and intellectual pursuit. This event is more than a source of pride; it’s a validation of our university’s mission.”

Midway through the conference, two students and two faculty members received awards for undergraduate research and faculty mentorship.

Julie Underhill ’18, who majors in labor relations and human resources management, and Tess Candler ’18, who double majors in political science and economics, received the undergraduate research awards. The faculty awards went to Underhill and Candler’s mentors, respectively: Business Administration Professor Niti Pandey and Political Science Professor Courtney Broscious.

Award recipients Julie Underhill (middle) and Niti Pandey (right) with Provost Dimitrios Pachis.
Award recipients Courtney Broscious (middle) and Tess Candler (right) with Provost Dimitrios Pachis.

 

“Without the professors we cannot celebrate the success of the students,” reminded Provost Dimitrios Pachis, “and without the students we cannot celebrate the success of the professors. This is how the world works, the yin and the yang. With this sort of partnership, we create the future.”

The CREATE conference advances Eastern’s strategic plan by reinforcing high-impact practices such as mentored research and creative projects; increasing the percentage of students who present scholarly work; raising awareness of the accomplishments of Eastern students; and contributing to the intellectual richness of the campus community.

Eastern to hold Ninth Annual Service Expo and Awards Ceremony

WILLIMANTIC, CT (04/11/2018) Eastern Connecticut State University will hold its annual Service Expo and Awards Ceremony on April 19 from 2-5 p.m. in the lobby of the Fine Arts Instructional Center. Sponsored by the Center for Community Engagement (CCE), the event will showcase the numerous service projects being spearheaded by Eastern students in the Windham area.

Student volunteers will present posters describing their projects, which have occurred at more than 30 sites in the region. Guest judges from the community and Eastern faculty and staff will present awards for the best programs.

Awards will be given to the following individuals: Service Learning Award – Denise Matthews, professor of communication at Eastern; Community Program Award – Christy Calkins and Journey House Program at Natchaug Hospital; and Community Engagement Awards to Nancy Brennan, Interfaith Campus Ministry, Erin Corbett and student Makayla Mowel.

The expo will kick off with keynote speaker Erin Corbett of Second Chances, an education program within the Connecticut prison system. The event is open to the public. For more information, contact the CCE at (860) 465-0090.

Eastern Makes “College Consensus” List of Top Colleges in Connecticut

Written by Ed Osborn

WILLIMANTIC, CT (01/26/2018) College Consensus, a unique new college review aggregator, has recognized Eastern Connecticut State University in its ranking of “Best Colleges in Connecticut for 2017-18.” Eastern was ranked in the top 10 schools in Connecticut, and was one of only two public institutions chosen, the University of Connecticut being the other.

To identify the Best Colleges in Connecticut for 2017-18, College Consensus averaged the latest results from the most respected college ranking systems, including U.S. News and World Report among others, along with thousands of student review scores, to produce a unique rating for each school. Read about the organization’s methodology at https://www.collegeconsensus.com/about.

“Congratulations on making the list of Best Colleges in Connecticut for 2017-18,” said Carrie Sealey-Morris, managing editor of College Consensus. “Your inclusion in our ranking shows that your school has been recognized for excellence by both publishers on the outside and students and alumni on the inside.”

Part of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities System, Eastern began its life in 1889 as a public normal school. Today the University is recognized as one of top 25 public universities in the North Region by U.S. News & World Report, and has been named one of the nation’s Green Colleges eight years in a row by the Princeton Review.

Eastern is Connecticut’s public liberal arts college, with a student body of 5,300 students; more than 90 percent of Eastern’s students are from Connecticut. Eastern’s size gives its students an uncommon degree of individualized attention, aided by a 15:1 student/faculty ratio and a strong commitment to student success.

In addition to a strong liberal art foundation, Eastern has many opportunities for students to engage in practical, hands-on learning, ranging from internships to study abroad, community service and undergraduate research. For instance, Eastern has sent more student researchers to the competitive National Conference on Undergraduate Research in the past four years than all the other public universities in Connecticut combined. In 2018, 41 of the 44 students from Connecticut who will present their research at the conference in April are from Eastern.

With its history, Eastern is also one of Connecticut’s foremost educators of teachers, and its professional studies and continuing education programs have made it an important institution for Connecticut’s working adults.

To see Eastern’s College Consensus profile, visit https://www.collegeconsensus.com/school/eastern-connecticut-state-university.

Eastern Breaks Into List of Top 25 Public Regional Universities

Written by Ed Osborn

eastern_front_entranceFor the first time, Eastern Connecticut State University made the list of the top 25 regional public universities in the North in this year’s U.S. News and World Report’s 2018 edition of “Best Colleges.” Eastern was the highest ranked university among the four Connecticut state universities. The annual rankings were released on Sept. 12.

•Theatre students perform Cervantes' "Pedro, The Great Pretender," as the first production in the Proscenium Theatre of Eastern's new Fine Arts Instructional Center

• Theatre students perform Cervantes’ “Pedro, The Great Pretender,” as the first production in the Proscenium Theatre of Eastern’s new Fine Arts Instructional Center

Regional universities such as Eastern are ranked on the basis of 16 criteria that include peer assessment, graduation and retention rates, faculty resources, admissions selectivity, financial resources and alumni giving. The North Region includes colleges and universities from New England, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland.

•Biology major Elizabeth DelBuono '17 is in the graduate program in Genetic Counseling at Sarah Lawrence College.

• Biology major Elizabeth DelBuono ’17 is in the graduate program in Genetic Counseling at Sarah Lawrence College.

“I am gratified to see Eastern ranked in the top 25 public institutions in the North in this year’s U.S. News and World Report’s 2018 Best Colleges report,” said Eastern President Elsa Nunez. “Our commitment to high standards, our focus on providing students with personal attention, and the introduction of new academic programs have resulted in our favorable ranking. Students and their families turn to the Best Colleges rankings to help decide where to attend college.  These newest rankings reaffirm that Eastern is providing a relevant and high quality education on our beautiful residential campus.”

This year’s U.S. News and World Report rankings included reviews of 1,389 schools nationwide and are available at www.usnews.com/colleges. They will also be published in the Best Colleges 2017 Guidebook, published by U.S. News & World Report and available on newsstands on Oct. 10.

For the past 33 years, the U.S. News and World Report rankings, which group colleges based on categories created by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, have grown to be the most comprehensive research tool for students and parents considering higher education opportunities.

Eastern Announces Star Show Schedule for Fall 2017

Written by Casey Collins

Professor Russell Sampson leads a star show in Eastern's Planetarium

Professor Russell Sampson leads a star show in Eastern’s Planetarium

Willimantic, CT (09/07/2017) —The planetarium at Eastern Connecticut State University has just announced its fall 2017 series of star shows, “Celestial Wonders and Cosmic Conundrums.” The public is invited to attend the free events, but tickets are required.

During the first show on Sept. 11 at 5:30 p.m., Physical Sciences Professor Russell Sampson will discuss the constellations, planets and special sky events of the season, as well as talk about his expedition to Wyoming, where he viewed the recent total solar eclipse.

The second show of the season will occur on Oct. 23 at 5:30 p.m. and will focus on scientific discoveries from the Cassini Mission to Saturn. This show will highlight the rings, moons and storms of Saturn.

The third and final show of the fall semester will occur on Dec. 4 at 5:30 p.m. Sampson will explore The Big Bang Theory and discuss how the universe was born and what it was like 13.7 billion years ago.

Every show concludes with a Q&A session. Shows last about an hour-and-a-half and are free to attend, but tickets are required. To reserve seats, contact Zosia Carlquist at CarlquistZ@easternct.edu.