Eastern Alumna Salutes Inclusive Excellence Award Winners

On May 9, Eastern recognized more than 100 students with a 3.5 cumulative grade point average or higher, and an additional 11 students who have demonstrated exemplary co-curricular engagement at the University’s Seventh Annual Inclusive Excellence Student Awards Ceremony. The ceremony recognized the achievements of African, Latino, Asian and Native American (ALANA) students at Eastern.

Eastern President Elsa Núñez said the ceremony was not just about inclusion, but also spoke to the University’s other core values of academic excellence, integrity, social responsibility, engagement and empowerment. “It is important for each of you to stand tall and be proud of who you are and what you are capable of. Never, ever, ever let anyone attempt to diminish your worth or your talents.

“Today’s honorees join thousands of other successful Eastern alumni who are making their own personal contributions out in the real world, including our guest speaker today, Dr. Kawami Evans. Today, we show respect and celebrate the accomplishments of students who too often have been forgotten in the past.  Thank you for being part of this celebration; to our honorees, congratulations.  We are very proud of you.”

Keynote speaker Evans ’97 serves as associate director at the Center for African Diaspora Student Success at the University of California at Davis. She earned her bachelor’s degree in history and social science at Eastern, her Master of Education in educational policy and research administration from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and a doctorate in educational management and leadership from Drexel University.

Evans encouraged the students to use their curiosity and optimism to persevere through unseen psychological struggles that can become their staunchest challenges. She said many high- achieving students fall prey to chasing individual achievements, accolades or material gain as their goal, even confusing their self-worth with what they can accomplish.

“This is dangerous; it can lead to anxiety and depression. Don’t let this be your reality or focus,” said Evans. “Who you are is what we are celebrating today. All the earned accolades you are receiving are but a byproduct of the brilliance within you . . . You are the promise of our ancestors’ prayers and walk with the wisdom and swag of those who have grit, resilience, the social and emotional intelligence, curiosity and hope.”

Evans told the students the most important element they need to resurrect in discussing their future success is their spirituality, ways in which students discover their destiny — answers to the big questions of who they are, what is their life purpose and how do they make difference in the world.

“Much of the world right now is relegated to systems and polices. We have to raise the bar with our vision of what’s possible,” Evans said. “It will take hard work, community, love, bravery, unrelentless effort and celebration.  I sincerely believe that we can create a world that works for all.”

A total of 280 students qualified for an Academic Excellence Award with a 3.5 cumulative GPA or higher, and more than 100 of them were able to attend the May 9 event. During the ceremony, several students received service awards. Adrianna Arocho and Mayra Santos Acosta was presented the Volunteer Service Award; Aiyana Ward, the Athletic Excellence Award; Kimberly Allen and Sommer Bachelor, the Career Development Award; Jenilee Antonetty, the Resident Assistant Diversity Impact Award; Rafael Aragon, the Residential Community Leadership Award; Tristan Perez, the Social Justice Advocacy Award; Emma Costa, the Inspirational Leadership Award; Ishah Azeez, the Resilient Warrior Award; Kimberly Allen and Vishal Jungiwalla, the Advisor’s Choice Award; and the Freedom at Eastern Club, the Building Bridges Award.

By Dwight Bachman

Eastern Alumna Onika Harry Recognized among ‘100 Women of Color’

Eastern Connecticut State University alumna Onika Harry ’03 of Windsor was honored last month at the 100 Women of Color Black Tie Gala and Awards ceremony hosted by June Archer & Eleven28 Entertainment Group – named for musician, author and motivational speaker June Archer. The gala recognized the contributions that women in business, education, entrepreneurship, entertainment and service have made to impact communities in Connecticut to Massachusetts.

Harry, a native of Guyana in South America, is passionate about giving to those in need. She has received several recognitions this year for her efforts, including citations from the Connecticut General Assembly and Connecticut Office of the Treasurer for positively impacting the lives of people in Connecticut. While at Eastern, she had a notable presence, participating in clubs and extracurricular activities, including tutoring.

“When I started at Eastern I didn’t know my purpose,” said Harry. “I was the first in my family to attend college, along with only being in the United States for four years at the time. Eastern led me to my purpose in life. There are many who assisted me through my journey, such as the faculty and administration. Those same individuals assisted in pushing me through adversities that I faced, allowing me to gain leadership principles and teach me how to handle conflict as I continue to grow professionally.”

In addition to working as an eligibility services worker for the Connecticut Department of Social Services in its Division of Eligibility Policy and Economic Security/Escalation Unit, Harry was appointed to serve on the statewide Affirmative Action Employee Advisory Committee. She regularly volunteers for the Literacy Volunteers of Greater Hartford, where she helps low-literacy adults learn how to read, write and speak English.

With all of her achievements, Harry is humbled by her experiences. “I went from sharing my nightly dinner with my brother, which was served on the size of a salad plate, to now owning my own business and serving food abundantly.” Her knowledge about health and human service programs and the importance of perseverance have fostered a flourishing career path that is still evolving. Harry is in the process of obtaining her PhD in psychology from Capella University.

In the future, Harry hopes to become a college professor, author her first book and open a community center that provides resources for troubled youth. “Life is full of ups and downs. Use it as a tool to order your steps to success,” she concluded.

Through June Archer’s nonprofit organization, Concerned Citizens for Humanity, part of the proceeds from the 100 Women of Color Black Tie Gala and Awards event went toward scholarships for young women who graduate from high school and plan on attending college, leadership and mentorship programs. Contributions also promoted healthy living for women and supported groups that need funding for cervical and breast cancer research.

Written by Jordan Corey

43 Strong, Eastern Represents in Georgia at National Conference

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Michael Rouleau

Annual CREATE Conference to Showcase Student Art, Research

 

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

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

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

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

Written by Michael Rouleau

Annual CREATE Conference to Showcase Student Art, Research

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Michael Rouleau

Eastern Represents at ‘Women in Psychology’ National Conference

Antuanett Ortiz, Professor Jennifer Leszczynski, Joanna Casuccio and Alyssa Sokaitis present at Association for Women in Psychology.

Three psychology students and two professors from Eastern Connecticut State University presented two research posters at the Association for Women in Psychology (AWP) national conference from Feb. 28-March 3 in Newport, RI. Students Alyssa Sokaitis ’19, Antuanett Ortiz ’19 and Joanna Casuccio ’19 presented alongside Psychology Professors Jennifer Leszczynski and Alita Cousins.

“Generational differences in feminist self-identification & liberal feminist beliefs” was presented by Leszczynski, Cousins and Casuccio.The research analyzes how feminist identification, descriptions and attitudes changed between 2011 and 2018. The researchers found that participants were more likely to self-identify as feminists and describe feminists as liberal in 2018; whereas in 2011, participants described feminists as radical. Additionally, participants reported higher beliefs in liberal feminism in 2018 as compared to 2011.

“Feminist identity and liberal feminist attitudes and beliefs” was presented by Leszczynski, Sokaitis and Oritz. The research analyzes how self-identified feminists differed from those who did not self-identify as feminists. The study found that those who self-identify as feminists were more likely to endorse liberal feminist attitudes and describe feminists as liberal rather than radical.

The AWP convened during the 1969 meeting of the American Psychological Association (APA) because the APA was not responding to issues raised by the new women’s liberation movement. Today, they remain one of the leading feminist voices in the field of psychology, working closely with the APA and other organizations.

Written by Raven Dillon

Psychology Student-Professor Duo Co-Authors Research Paper

Kaylee DeFelice presents an earlier version of the research at a conference at the University of Massachusetts.

Eastern Connecticut State University alumna Kaylee DeFelice ’19 recently co-authored a paper with Psychology Professor James Diller titled “Intersectional Feminism and Behavior Analysis.” The paper will appear in an upcoming issue of “Behavior Analysis in Practice,” a prestigious transnational journal.

The paper analyzes human behavior in the context of intersectional feminism, which is a feminist movement that encompasses the different experiences between race, gender and sexuality. DeFelice and Diller examine the field of psychology and behavior analysis through this feminist lens, noting that intersectionality is imperative to understand the human experience. By adopting intersectional practices, they argue, the field of behavior analysis would be significantly advanced.

“It’s incredibly rare for undergraduate students to publish in scholarly journals, especially as first authors,” says Diller. “I’m very proud to have published this paper with her.”

DeFelice, who has aspirations of becoming a school psychologist, originally began this paper for an assignment in Diller’s class. Together, they expanded the topic into independent research, resulting in numerous drafts, rewrites and eventual publication. DeFelice even presented a previous version of the paper at the Berkshire Association for Behavior Analysis and Therapy (BABAT) conference in October 2018.

“This experience was extremely valuable to me,” says DeFelice. “I found the study of this topic especially relevant in light of the Me Too and Time’s Up movements, and believe that this paper, as well as others, can help push further social advancements.”

Written by Raven Dillon

Revelations Abound in Hawaii for Eastern Students

Photo by Kristalyn Salters-Pedneault.

Twenty psychology students expanded their worldview over winter session during a global field course in Hawaii. Titled “Cross-Cultural Well-Being and Relationships in Hawaii,” the course ran from Jan. 2–11. Students were immersed in the local culture and visited some of the island chain’s most breathtaking sites.

“This course was designed to provide an overview of cross-cultural issues related to well-being and relationships,” said Psychology Professor Madeleine Fugère, who led the trip with Professor Kristalyn Salters-Pedneault. “Aspects of well-being and relationships were examined from Western and native-Hawaiian perspectives.”

The Eastern students examined differences in attachment styles, social support, parenting, psychological disorders, personality and emotional expression, physical attraction, romantic relationships and compassionate love.

“I came to realize some of my own cultural biases,” said Danielle Gallagher ’20. “Being aware of these biases will enable me to interact better with individuals from a multitude of cultural backgrounds, which will not only help me in achieving my career goals, but in my daily interactions in general.”

The Eastern group volunteered at an ancient fish farm that is damaged by storms and invasive plant growth. They helped rebuild a portion of the wall that surrounds the pond, and cut and burned invasive mangrove. Photo by Madeleine Fugère.

One of the students’ most impactful realizations was how the native people relate interpersonally. “Hawaiians have a strong sense of family and community,” said Erica Mchugh ’19. “They call everyone cousin, uncle and other familial terms. Throughout our trip, many of the locals referred to us as cousins, even though we had never met them before.

“Hawaiians put a lot of emphasis on the ‘aloha spirit’ and treating everyone with kindness,” added Mchugh. “We’re not used to this concept in the Northeast. Most of the time we don’t think to stop and say hi to a stranger.”

Cooled lava from the eruptions of summer 2018 cover a roadway. Photo by Brianna Starkey.

What struck Brianna Starkey ’19 was how the natives regard members of the LGBTQ community. “Native Hawaiians have a much more accepting approach to individuals in this community, especially transgender individuals,” she said. “We learned that individuals who identify with both masculine and feminine genders are called ‘mahu,’ which means having the spirit of a male and female. These people are not judged as having something wrong with them like they often are in our culture.”

Another revelation was the people’s connection to the land, and their respect for volcanic activity. “We spent so much time in nature — restoring an ancient fish pond, exploring lava tubes, hiking the ancient petroglyph trail — it was impossible to ignore the respect for the land all around us,” said Gallagher, who remarked on the prevalence of signs reminding nature goers to be respectful of wildlife, as well as the cultural emphasis to live more sustainably.

“‘Pele’ is the goddess of the volcanoes, who is credited with creating the islands,” said Gallagher. “There is a lot of respect for Pele and her land because Hawaiians feel it is a gift that they are able to be there. There is no sense of entitlement or ownership over the land, but gratitude and respect toward it.”

Signs dot the Hawaiian countryside telling people to respect the land. Photo by Danielle Gallagher.

During a tour in which the Eastern group saw a road covered in hardened lava from the volcanic eruptions of summer 2018, the guide informed them that Hawaiians don’t divert the lava’s path, out of respect for Pele.

“This mindset was incredibly hard for me to relate to because there is a strong sense of land ownership in our culture and it’s rare to see such passivity in relation to natural events,” added Gallagher. “Our culture attempts to exert control over events as much as possible, rather than accepting and embracing them as they come.”

Another highlight of the trip was a volunteer project at the 800-year-old Pae Pae fishpond, which is a source of food for the locals but currently damaged by storms and the growth of invasive plant species.

The Eastern group also went on several excursions to sites such as Pearl Harbor, Puako Petroglyph Field, Rainbow Falls, Imiloa Astronomy Center, Volcanoes National Park, Punalu’u Black Sand Beach, Pu’uhonoa o Honaunau National Historic Park, and St. Benedict’s Catholic Church (Painted Church). 

Written by Michael Rouleau

Eastern Alumna to Volunteer in China with Global Autism Project

Brielle Heinl, left

WILLIMANTIC, CT (09/10/2018) Eastern Connecticut State University alumna Brielle Heinl ’13 has been selected to participate in a Global Autism Project in China in July 2019. One of only four people selected from hundreds of applicants, Heinl is currently working on her master’s degree in Psychology and Applied Behavior Analysis from Capella University.

The Global Autism Project’s mission is to support individuals with autism to reach their full potential, no matter where they live. China currently does not have a method for preliminary autism screening and effective intervention measures. There is also a shortage of teachers and clinicians, leading to a lack of services for children with autism.

Heinl will be volunteering at Huicong School in Nanchang, China, for two weeks in July 2019. Huicong provides 1:1 services for children with autism in a classroom setting and currently serves 128 students. “Huicong was founded by a mother of a child with autism,” explained Heinl. “The mother continues to be a passionate advocate for children with autism throughout Nanchang and all of China, where there is an urgent need for increased awareness of autism and access to services.”

Heinl’s career goal is to become a board certified behavior analyst (BCBA) and serve children with autism in a school system. She has been working in the field since graduating from Eastern, while earning her master’s degree and logging the required supervision hours to sit for the BCBA exam. She will be completing her degree in March 2019.

“Attending Eastern shaped who I am and how I work with individuals with autism,” said Heinl. “Classes at Eastern are where my love for psychology and ABA began. Thanks to an exceptional Psychology Department, I was able to hold two amazing internships within the field of psychology. My professors supported my passion in the field and helped me gain as much experience as possible.”

Heinl must raise funds to support her trip and seeks to raise at least $5,000. To contact her, visit https://www.facebook.com/brielle.heinl or email brielleheinl@hotmail.com. Heinl’s fundraising page can be found at https://www.crowdrise.com/o/en/campaign/skillcorps-china-july-2019/briellecadrin. The Global Autism Project website is at www.globalautismproject.org.

Written by Ed Osborn

English Students Study in Italy

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

Written by Dwight Bachman

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

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

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

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

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

Somewhere in Tuscany.

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

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


Hiking-from-Vernazza-to-Monterosso

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

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