Top U.S. Mental Health Official Urges Audience to “Get Involved” in Responding to National Opioid Crisis

                                                                            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.

Eastern to hold Annual Ella Grasso Awards on March 28

Governor Ella Grasso

Written by Jordan Corey

WILLIMANTIC, CT (03/20/2018) Eastern Connecticut State University will hold its annual Ella T. Grasso Distinguished Service Awards ceremony on March 28 from 3-4 p.m. in the Student Center Theatre. The event is open to the public. Born in Windsor Locks, Grasso became the governor of Connecticut in 1974, making her the first woman-elected governor in the United States. She was notable for her policies on education and health.

This year’s award recipients will be Eastern student Laurel Cannon of Ellington, who double majors in biology and psychology; Eastern 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.

The Grasso Awards, established in 2009, recognize people who demonstrate courage, perseverance and leadership by promoting justice and peace. Previous recipients include 2014 winner Betsy Wade, the first woman to be a copy editor at The New York Times; 2015 winner Cara Bergstrom-Lynch, Eastern professor of sociology; 2016 winner Leigh Duffy, director of the Windham No Freeze Hospitality Center; and 2017 winner Valerie Vance, Eastern sociology student and veteran of the United States Navy.

Written by Jordan Corey

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 Student Presents Research

            Compare Effects of Sexual Assault on Rape Myth Acceptance and Empathy

Potter 1Jolene Potter ‘18 was one of two Eastern Connecticut State University students to present her research study as an oral presentation at Eastern’s Annual Psychological Science Afternoon On Nov. 27. This is Potter’s second research study on sexual assault and her latest study is titled, “A Comparison of the Effect of Sexual Assault Micro-Interventions on Rape Myth Acceptance and Empathy.”

A Dayville native who majors in psychology, Potter became inspired to study the effectiveness of sexual assault programs following her first research study in which she examined how students defined, perceived and perpetuated notions about rape culture.

“Sexual assault is a major public health concern in the United States and across the globe. Every 98 seconds another person in America experiences sexual assault,” said Potter. “Due to the prevalence of sexual assault on campuses around the country, many universities have implemented more education and prevention programs. As a result I wanted to examine the effectiveness of different programming strategies in a college student sample.”

For her research Potter wanted to examine rape myth acceptance and rape victim empathy across two sexual assault interventions – one that designed to increase sexual assault knowledge through definitions, statistics and policy information and another that was a testimonial from a sexual assault victim.

A cornerstone of Potter’s research is examining rape myth acceptance. “Rape myths are false beliefs aboutPotter Jolene rape that serve to deny and justify sexual aggression,” she said. “Rape myth acceptance occurs when an individual supports beliefs consistent with rape.” Common examples of rape myths include the notion that most perpetrators of sexual assault are strangers to the victim, that provocative clothing provokes rape, and that false reports of rape and sexual assault are common, all of which have been refuted in past research.

Potter’s research also examined rape victim empathy. “In the context of rape, victim empathy is the capacity to understand the point of view, emotions and reactions of the victim.”

“While programs focused specifically on risk reduction, definitions, statistical data and institutional policy tend to be successful in increasing sexual assault knowledge, prior research has shown them to be less successful when compared to programs designed to decrease rape-supportive attitudes, reduce acceptance of myths and increase empathy,” said Potter. “Therefore, I wanted to compare two types of interventions.”

Potter reports that her findings suggest that “testimonial-based interventions may be more effective at decreasing rape myth acceptance and increasing rape victim empathy when compared to programs that are more definition, statistic and policy-oriented.”

These findings have the potential to foster an environment where victims feel safer reporting an assault, thereby leading to the utilization of more support services.

“I would like to extend my gratitude to Dr. Kristalyn Salters-Pedneault for the opportunity to conduct this research as well as for her continued guidance in the completion of this study,” said Potter.”

“I hope to continue researching these issues so that I may contribute to policies and practices that provide more protection to victims as well as more comprehensive, organized and useful information to students,” added Potter. “Eastern has continually supported my research, illustrating their commitment to increasing knowledge and advocating for survivors.”

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’s Applied Behavioral Analysis Program Recognized Nationally

Written by Ed Osborn

behavioral analysisEastern Connecticut State University is one of 57 institutions in the United States recognized for its applied behavioral analysis program by Applied Behavior AnalysisEdu.org.  The first Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst program in Connecticut and one of only three in the state, Eastern’s program is a concentration offered within the Psychology major.  The program has been certified by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) and given the BACB’s Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA) credential.

“We are big fans of Eastern Connecticut University because of the many undergraduate research and creative activities available to students,” wrote ABAEdu.org. “In fact, students (at Eastern) enjoy the opportunity to work closely with faculty mentors on an array of projects that contribute to the growing body of research in the field of applied behavior analysis.”

Certification is usually required for employment in the field of applied behavioral analysis, especially when working with children with autism.

“Dr. James Diller continues to do an outstanding job leading this program,” said Carlos Escoto, professor of psychology and chair of the Psychological Sciences Department. “We are grateful to be recognized by a national organization and pleased to be able to offer our students this special professional credentialing opportunity.”

2 Students Awarded Eastern Summer Fellowships

Written by Michael Rouleau

Eastern students Jolene Potter ’18 and Julie Leitao ’18 participated in Undergraduate Research/Creative Activity Fellowships this summer. Potter, a psychology major, prepared her research study, “Awareness and Understanding of Rape Culture among College Students,” for publication. Leitao, a theatre and early childhood education double major, worked to devise the script and choreography for the upcoming Eastern theatre production “Thread City.”

Jolene Potter '18

Jolene Potter ’18

Potter began her research in fall 2016, and aspired to submit her 9,000-word manuscript to an undergraduate research journal at the conclusion of the summer fellowship.

“Through in-depth interviews with Eastern students, my research examines how students define, perceive and reproduce notions about rape culture,” said Potter. “The study explores student acceptance of rape myths, their victim-blaming behavior and their tendency to defend the perpetrator. I also assess feelings regarding campus safety, beliefs regarding the necessity and efficacy of campus programs regarding sexual assault, and awareness of services for victims of sexual assault.”

Potter reports that her findings suggest “an association between awareness and understanding of rape culture and decreased rape myth acceptance and victim-blaming behavior, increased concerns pertaining to campus safety, and increased awareness of services offered to victims of sexual assault.”

Julia Leitao '18

Julia Leitao ’18

Leitao worked on the upcoming theatre production “Thread City,” which will be performed at Eastern Oct. 11-15. The show aims to tell the story of the immigrants who came to Willimantic to work in its historic thread mills. During one of Leitao’s spring semester classes, she interviewed local residents, learned about theatre companies and completed “moment work”—a theatrical technique in which individual moments are dissected and explored.

“We delved deeper into the research and used it to create the characters, storyline and movement pieces of the show,” said Leitao. “‘Thread City’ will focus on movement and sound rather than being a text-heavy performance.

“Devising a piece of theatre that tells the story through the body is something I am very excited to be a part of,” added Leitao. “Our characters and movements will represent immigrants from various locations who have traveled to a new, strange world and are adapting to a new life.”

Eastern’s Summer Research/Creative Activity Fellowship program is administered by the Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity Advisory Council. Students from all majors can apply for the competitive fellowship. Participants receive a $1,000 stipend and $250 for travel.