Eastern Students Study Literature 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.”

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

Hiking from Vernazza to Monterosso.

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.

Summer Fellowships Delve into Industrial Psych, Music Performance

Among her percussion instruments, Emily Miclon trained with the marimba during her summer fellowship.

Two Eastern students participated in Undergraduate Research/Creative Activity (UGRCA) Fellowships this summer, which are intensive research experiences on the Eastern campus that pair students with faculty mentors. Psychology major Kelly Bielonko ‘18 conducted a project on employee support groups while music major Emily Miclon ‘18 prepared for advanced percussion performance.

Bielonko partnered with Professor Peter Bachiochi to execute her study titled “The Relationship Between Employee Resource Groups and Occupational Health Outcomes.” She has prior experience as a research assistant in Bachiochi’s industrial and organizational (I/O) psychology lab. I/O psychology focuses on human behavior in relation to work.

Bielonko attended the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology conference this past April in Chicago.

“I became personally interested in I/O psychology over a year ago when I realized we spend nearly one-third of our lives working,” said Bielonko. “I’ve always been one for statistical representations or nuanced ways of looking at everyday occurrences, and this one hit home. Workplace behavior and health are very interesting topics that are often overlooked, yet they are a critical component of any successful business infrastructure.

“Within any workplace, there are a variety of backgrounds, from gender to race, ethnicity, religion, talent, disability and more,” she added. “The question is, how can an employer support such a diverse workforce?”

Miclon, on the other hand, partnered with Music Professor Jeff Calissi on a project titled “The Preparation and Performance of Advanced Percussion Repertoire.” Their research included preparing advanced pieces of music on marimba, snare drum and timpani.

“Throughout the program, I had intensive lessons that focused on performance practice, with the goal of preparing me as a musician for performance and competition,” said Miclon. “This advanced repertoire — including transcription works — helped me properly understand how to approach the instruments in a musically effective manner to be presented in front of audiences.

“I believe this will help my contribution to the ensembles I play with at Eastern,” she continued. “Musical performances can unite people and communities, and I hope that I can use my skills to impact others.”

With each fellowship experience came different goals, ranging from personal development to enhancing the lives of others. Miclon, for instance, wants to move on with increased confidence as a performer.

“Musical performance can be a vulnerable thing,” she said, “and I hope to not only feel comfortable taking on challenges in my musical career, but also to feel more comfortable presenting myself as a musician.”

Bielonko noted the possibility of refining workplace environments through her analysis, calling attention to the effectiveness of employee support groups (ERGs). “Not feeling supported by an organization can lead to negative outcomes for both employer and employee. We want individuals to feel happier and healthier in their place of work, and we hope to highlight with our study that the conceptual framework of an ERG can enhance everybody’s experience.”

She also acknowledged her own professional growth. “Going through the entire grant and fellowship process, along with generating an I/O research study from beginning to end, has allowed me to better understand the life of a psychology researcher in academia. The ultimate goal is to publish and present our findings at the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology conference next spring.”

Miclon concluded, “Working closely with faculty over an extended period of time is an incredible opportunity. Professors at Eastern are so willing to spend time doing research with students, and it’s amazing that the school provides opportunities like this fellowship.”

Those selected for the competitive UGRCA fellowships each receive a stipend of $1,000 and $250 to be used for their projects or travel to present/exhibit their projects. Students and faculty members must apply as a pair.

Written by Jordan Corey

South Dakota to Kentucky, Eastern Students Conduct NSF Research

Taylor Brown and a team of researchers in the East Fork Indian Creek.

Two Eastern Connecticut State University students have spent the summer working on National Science Foundation-sponsored research projects in Sioux Falls, SD, and Menifee County, KY. Psychology major Kelly Bielonko ’18 has been learning about the challenges faced by rural Native Americans in Sioux Falls, while biology major Taylor Brown ’18 has been monitoring river restoration efforts of the East Fork Indian Creek in Kentucky.

Both students are participating in 10-week Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REUs), a program of the National Science Foundation (NSF).

In South Dakota, Bielonko has tackled a number of projects at the Sanford Research institute in Sioux Falls. Among them, she’s been conducting an analysis of the factors and outcomes of burnout-related teacher attrition in tribal and rural schools in the United States.

Kelly Bielonko at Sanford Research in Sioux Falls

“The focus of my topic comes from my passion for organizational psychology, occupational health and serving those who are underserved,” said Bielonko. “I am looking at cultural, community, school-level and student-level factors that contribute to teachers becoming ‘burned’ out, as well as the outcomes that follow.”

Brown, on the other hand, has been examining the impact of “cross-vanes” on fish diversity and habitat quality along a restored site of the East Fork Indian Creek in Kentucky. Cross-vanes are U-shaped structures made with rocks or boulders to direct energy toward the center of the channel rather than toward the stream bank, which is supposed to reduce erosion, improve habitat and provide stability of the channel.

“This interests me because my goal is to work in conservation,” said Brown. “By doing this project, I am able to provide information to researchers of organizations, such as the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, regarding the impact that their stream management structures are having. I get to see if these structures are actually benefitting the area.”

Both students have had to navigate certain challenges during their REU. For Bielonko, the lack of existing research available on American tribal teacher attrition has made it difficult to carry out a systematic literature review. Meanwhile, Brown has had to familiarize herself with previously foreign topics of study and work around weather conditions that impact the data collection process.

Taylor Brown

Each challenge, however, has made them stronger researchers, as has conducting research out of state versus doing it locally.

“It’s been a wonderful experience to travel to Kentucky, specifically the central Appalachia,” said Brown. “I had never been here before, so I’ve gotten to learn about the environment while simultaneously doing research, which I really like. I’ve also met a diverse group of people that I most likely wouldn’t have met without doing this REU. I’m the only person out of the 10 interns from the Northeast.”

Bielonko concurred, “The experience of being away from home has been incredible, even though I miss Connecticut greatly. Being in a new place, with new people and new things to do, is refreshing and widens your perspective. In the past nine weeks I have learned an incredible deal about myself, industry, academia and the world itself. I will be coming home refreshed to take on my senior year and am motivated to bring back to Eastern what I’ve learned here in Sioux Falls at Sanford Research.”

Some objectives of the NSF-funded program are to enhance students’ overall knowledge of the research process, develop their communication skills and assist them in short- and long-term goal setting to increase future educational and research-related career success.

“The REU has had a significant impact on my research insight,” said Brown. “I have done a considerable amount of fieldwork, learned new techniques and have figured out the direction that I want to go in from here. I am excited to do more research in the future.”

NSF REU participants work directly with faculty mentors and collaborators, including agency professionals, and engage in all aspects of research including study design, data collection, analyses and presentation of results. Those accepted into the program include individuals from the study region, and from other parts of the nation, often from diverse socioeconomic, racial and ethnic backgrounds.

Written by Jordan Corey

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.”

Psychology Professor Carlos Escoto Elected to CUR Executive Board

Written by Ed Osborn

WILLIMANTIC, CT (05/29/2018) Carlos Escoto, professor and department chair of psychology, and coordinator for Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities at Eastern Connecticut State University, has been elected to the executive board of the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR). A member of CUR’s Psychology Division, Escoto will begin his three-year term on July 1, 2018.

Escoto received his associate’s degree from Irvine Valley College, his bachelor’s degree in psychology from Chapman University, and M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in psychology from Loma Linda University. He credits his ability to conduct research while enrolled at a private liberal arts college as instrumental to his acceptance into a doctoral program.

As a faculty member at Eastern, he has mentored many undergraduates to complete and present their research. In leading the University’s undergraduate research programs the past four years, he has successfully grown research support in a challenging fiscal climate. A CUR councilor, he serves as chair of the organization’s internationalization task force.

“I am honored to serve CUR as a member of the Executive Board,” said Escoto. “I am committed to contributing to CUR in this new capacity and to bringing my experience with undergraduate research across several domains to this work.”

Written by Ed Osborn

Summer Research Institutes Expose Students to New Fields of Inquiry

Using motion-capture technology, the student in the background is rendered as a 3D image on the computer.

Eastern Connecticut State University held three inaugural Summer Research Institutes from May 14–18 to engage promising and high-achieving students in intensive, weeklong research programs pertaining to the fields of new media, network science and English. A fourth research institute for psychology occurred during the same time, although this has been an annual program.

The New Media Studies institute challenged seven students to develop a short film using motion-capture technology. The group made a three-minute noir-esque film that showed a 3D-rendered detective frog (the frog being a symbol of Willimantic) performing motion-captured actions such as drinking a martini, smoking a pipe and dancing.

Under the supervision of faculty members Kristen Morgan and Travis Houldcroft, as well as student mentor Zachary Parisella, students utilized a variety of motion capture equipment and animation software, including Motive, Blender, Adobe Premiere and After Effects, and Pro Tools for audio.

“In terms of the software, this project really forced me to utilize everything I know and consider solutions that I had never thought of before,” said Wasan Hayajneh ’19, who majors in new media studies and visual arts.

Students were also introduced to the fundamentals of animation post-production with an introduction to character visual design, voice-over recording, and the use of diegetic sound in an animated environment.

A student presents on his group’s network analysis of “The Chronicles of Narnia.”

The network science institute challenged nine students to perform network analyses of character interactions in a movie to evaluate a hypothesis about the movie’s social structure. Broken into three groups, the students analyzed “The Matrix Trilogy,” “The Chronicles of Narnia” and Disney’s “Mulan.” 

Under the supervision of professors Megan Heenehan (mathematics) and Garrett Dancik (computer science), and student mentor Haley Knox ’18, students found their movie’s script online, wrote code to extract information and analyze that script, then used the software Gephi to visualize their network analysis.

“Our initial hypothesis for ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’ was incorrect,” said Oliver Chase, who majors in New Media Studies. “At first we thought that Edmund was the most important character, due to his connection to both sides of Narnia. However, we discovered that Peter in fact had more interactions and scenes than any other character.”

Professor Allison Speicher works with her research institute students.

The English research institute challenged 10 students to select a work of literature and then pair it with other works and sources to craft meaningful arguments. Under the mentorship of English Professor Allison Speicher and student mentor Jessica Maloney ’18, students used their pairings to devise research projects based on intertextual analyses.

English major Julia MacKinnon selected the novel “A Thousand Splendid Suns” by Khaled Hosseini, a story about the struggles of two women living in Afghanistan. She paired it with book reviews, other novels and historical texts.

“I researched people’s stereotypic views of Afghanistan and its refugees by looking at media depictions,” said MacKinnon. “I also researched the history of the country to get a better understanding of the wars and how the fighting affects civilian’s lives. Then I compared the novel to other works by Hosseini in order to understand his purpose for writing about Afghanistan. I also read critical readings about the text in order to learn what others concluded about the novel.”

Reflecting on the institute, Kaylee Blackwood ’20 said, “I realize now how deep the pursuit of research can be. You can take one topic, start simple, and fall so deep into research that you end up with 20-30 pages of knowledge and arguments to use to write an essay.”

A student presents on her project during the conclusion of the research institute.

For the psychology research institute, nine students were introduced to topics in sensation, perception and cognitive neuroscience. Students dissected cow eyeballs, explored taste by blocking perception of sweetness with the herb gymnema sylvestre, and explored visual processing by working with an eye-tracking device. They also learned how to search and review peer-reviewed literature, develop a research question and design an empirical study to answer that question. A poster presentation concluded their institute.

“My favorite part of this experience was learning to collect data from your own experiment and choosing the correct test to run the analysis,” said Genesis Ramon ’20, who researched how social media influences the eating behavior of women. “This has shown me the value of research and the hard work that goes into developing a research project.”

The institute was led by Psychology Professors Luis Cordón and Lyndsey Lanagan-Leitze, as well as student mentor Malvina Pietrzykowski ’18.

The Summer Research Institutes were born of the university’s mission to foster student success and retention through structured research and creative activity. The institutes were a product of Eastern’s Undergraduate Research & Creative Activity Council as well as the University Retention Committee.

To see all of the Summer Research Institute final projects, visit Eastern’s undergraduate research website.

Written by Michael Rouleau

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.

4 Women Honored at Eastern’s Annual Ella Grasso Awards

Award-winners Laurel Cannon, Donna Mims and Regina Lester-Harriat

Written by Jordan Corey

WILLIMANTIC, CT (04/03/2018) Eastern Connecticut State University’s annual Ella T. Grasso Distinguished Service Awards ceremony took place on March 28. Those honored included student Laurel Cannon of Ellington; English Professor Maureen McDonnell; and community members Donna Mims and Regina Lester-Harriat, who are leaders of the Pretty Brown Girl Club #85 at Metacomet Elementary School in Bloomfield.

Eastern student Laurel Cannon won the Student Award at the 2018 ceremony

The Student Award went to Laurel Cannon of Ellington, a senior who is double majoring in biology and psychology. Passionate about uplifting women in diverse ways, she founded the Cannon Project, an organization with a mission to educate, empower and support women of color. By promoting academic excellence and healthy lifestyle choices to ensure future success, Cannon hopes that the group can become a beneficial resource for minority women. “I plan to nurture this organization to its full potential,” she stated.

Regina Lester-Harriat and Donna Reed Mims received the Community Award for their work with the Pretty Brown Girl Club at Metacomet Elementary School in Bloomfield. The club is a component of the Pretty Brown Girl movement, which is dedicated to empowering girls at a young age.

“It’s an honor and it’s an obligation to be part of the community,” said Lester-Harriat, the school’s social worker and supervisor of the Student and Family Assistance Center. She noted that as somebody with a good upbringing, and good teachers to guide her along the way, she feels it is her mission to give something back to the children she works with. “They are so excited because they are a part of something special. It’s a blessing to be part of that journey.”

The recipient of the Faculty/Staff Award was English Professor Maureen McDonnell, who actively focuses on gender equity, anti-racist work and disability rights as the director of Eastern’s women’s and gender studies program. She played a major role in establishing Eastern as the only Connecticut public university that grants a degree in women’s and gender studies. Unable to attend the ceremony due to a conference, McDonnell pre-recorded a video message expressing her thanks and assuring her dedication to intersectional studies.

Keynote speaker Shelby Brown addresses the crowd

The keynote speaker – described by Eastern President Elsa Núñez as a “community activist in the best sense of the word”- was Shelby Brown, managing director of Everyday Democracy, a national organization dedicated to building an equitable, participatory democracy at all levels. She previously served as executive administrator of the Connecticut Office of Governmental Accountability.

Brown called on the audience to consider how a woman from a marginalized group might gain access to certain domains and how her experiences could differ from those of others. “How would she know that her voice matters?” She discussed the experiences of her mother, an “entrepreneur and fashionista” who worked tirelessly in pursuit of her own aspirations and instilled in Brown an understanding of why women are remarkable.

Brown touched on the necessity of assisting those who cannot claim their own voice, something that Everyday Democracy aims to do. “We have all contemplated the question ‘How can we do better?'” she asked. “‘Who can help us make a difference?'” She emphasized the power of “seeing yourself in the solution” and encouraged everyone to take ownership of public issues.