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 Present ‘Body+Image’ Dance Concert

Written by Michael Rouleau

WILLIMANTIC, CT (04/20/2018) The Theatre Program at Eastern Connecticut State University will present “Body+Image,” a spring dance concert, from April 27-29 in the Proscenium Theatre of the Fine Arts Instructional Center. The Friday and Saturday shows will occur at 7:30 p.m., with Sunday’s show at 4 p.m.

“Body+Image” is an evening-length dance concert featuring originally composed dance choreographies and musical compositions by Eastern students, alumni and faculty. The two-act show will feature 10 multimedia dance and music pieces that explore themes related to “body and image.”

The show highlights students in the Dance and World Performance concentration as well as the New Media Studies program.

Tickets are free for Eastern students; $5 for other students and groups of 10 or more; $10 for senior citizens; $12 for Eastern faculty, staff and alumni; and $20 for the general public. To purchase tickets online, visit http://easternct.showare.com/bodyimage/. For more information call the box office at 860-465-5123 or email theatreboxoffice@easternct.edu.

 

Eastern Drama Society Presents ‘Coldcock Cafe’

Written by Michael Rouleau

WILLIMANTIC, CT (04/17/2018) The Drama Society at Eastern Connecticut State University will present its second-annual spring performance, “Coldcock Café,” on April 20 and 21 in the DelMonte Bernstein Studio Theatre of the Fine Arts Instructional Center. Both shows start at 7 p.m. and are free admission (donations are appreciated). The Drama Society is Eastern’s student-led theatre club, and “Coldcock Café” is an original feature-length production that is written, directed and performed by Eastern students.

The play follows barista Dana Green, who finds herself in control of the coffee shop while her boss is out of town. On this day, however, a freak snowstorm leaves her and several peers stranded.

“As the storm worsens and the likelihood of rescue lessens, the café becomes ideologically divided,” writes the Drama Society of the plot. “Being forced to remain in each other’s company for an extended period of time brings forth the group’s inner nature and, when pushed to the limits, their true personalities are revealed and certain schemes are put to use… as well as a wild haymaker.”

Drama Society members report that “Coldcock Café” is like the sitcom “Friends” mixed with “Lord of the Flies.”

The play is written by Matthew Bessette of Lebanon and Patrick Loller of Brooklyn, NY; directed by Samuel Boushee of Andover; and features Jake Buckley of Terryville, Harold Gagne of Storrs, Caraline Louise, Emily Kelly of Meriden, Sara Lafrance of Waterbury, Sam Nicefaro of Hamden, Ashlyn O’Boyle of Killingworth, Andrew Rich of Berlin, Alexis Schacht of Enfield, Austin Washington of Wallingford and Hanna Zammarieh of Vernon.

The Drama Society’s spring show offers students the chance to develop their playwriting, directing, acting and design skills. “Coldcock Café” is a fully staged production with a cast of characters taking place in one of Eastern’s premier performance venues. For more information, visit http://www.easternct.edu/performingarts/category/theatre/.

Written by Michael Rouleau

‘Youth’ and ‘Chitra’ Awaken Eastern Theatregoers

Andrew Rich plays the Duke in “Youth”

Written by Michael Rouleau

WILLIMANTIC, CT (04/13/2018) Themes of youth, love and enlightenment were on display in Eastern Connecticut State University’s latest theatrical production, “Awakenings: ‘Youth’ by Thornton Wilder and ‘Chitra’ by Rabindranath Tagore.” From April 5-8, the two one-act plays – by Pulitzer Prize-winning authors from the East (Wilder) and West (Tagore) – transformed Eastern’s DelMonte Bernstein Studio Theatre into a tropical island and then into a lush Hindu dreamscape.

Both plays were directed by graduating theatre students Matt Bessette of Lebanon (“Youth”) and Emily John of Woodstock (“Chitra”).

“The play I chose to direct for my theatre capstone project was a satirical allegory for youth culture of the 1960s; therein, its characters take the decade’s resentment of old age to the extreme,” said Bessette, director of “Youth.” “What results is a dramatic comedy on a tropical island with equal parts over-the-top humor and thought-provoking drama.”

The story unfolds when a shipwrecked middle-aged man stumbles upon the shores of an island inhabited only by young people. The islanders are repulsed by his gray hair and wrinkly skin, and demonize him for coming from a world with values of which they disapprove. The naivety of the islanders is clear, however, as the worldly man exhibits compassion and wisdom that changes the fate of some of the youth.

“Youth” is part three of “The Ages of Man,” Wilder’s unfinished series of plays that symbolize infancy, childhood, youth and middle age. According to Bessette, “Of the completed four parts of ‘Ages,’ the first two – ‘Infancy’ and ‘Childhood’ – were published during his lifetime and widely produced. The third and fourth, however, were made public only after his death.”

Bessette decided to direct “Youth” because it’s not very well known. “… therefore, I would get the chance to prove myself and, to a certain extent, set a precedent for any future productions. Furthermore, its thematic presence is so strong and yet it’s so cleverly written that it comes across as nothing more than a meaningless farce to the unobservant viewer. Because it effortlessly blends humor and horror, I interpret it as a drama deliberately masquerading as a comedy to hide its more serious intentions from the unworthy eye.”

After a brief intermission, theatregoers returned to a dimly lit, green-tinged set for “Chitra.” The tale centers

Actors perform a dance number in “Chitra”

upon Chitrangada, a princess torn between the demands of being a warrior and the desires of embracing her femininity. With the help of the gods of love and youth, Chitra is transformed into an image of beauty that attracts the attention of the great warrior Arjuna. But she is not true to herself or Arjuna, living a double life, until the powers of love and honesty unite them.

“When I first read this play I felt very much connected to Chitra,” said director Emily John. “As a young woman on the brink of new beginnings, about to start on the next stage in her journey, I felt a kinship with the warrior princess. Just as Chitra questions how much she knows of life and love, I also have big questions about where my own path is leading me.”

The playwright Rabindranath Tagore was born in India in 1861. “It has been said that he was very much ahead of his time,” said John. “Coming from a time when women were seen as less than equal, the warrior princess is one brilliant mind’s call to the masses for a change for which we still fight, even now.

“The message does not stop with Chitra, however. Just as intriguing and important a character is Arjuna. As Chitra is an example to women to be true to themselves and to embrace their strength as much as their grace, Arjuna is a call to men to allow their gentler, loving nature to come forward without fear or embarrassment. Tagore shows Chitra and Arjuna to us not as the stereotypical prince and princess who simply find their happily-ever-after. Rather, he lets us see them as people.”

“Awakenings: ‘Youth’ and ‘Chitra'” involved a cast and crew of more than 50 Eastern students, staff and faculty who created elaborate sets, costumes, projections, sound effects and dance choreographies.

Eastern to hold Ninth Annual Service Expo and Awards Ceremony

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

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

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

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

Eastern Theatre Presents ‘Awakenings: Youth and Chitra’

Written by Michael Rouleau

WILLIMANTIC, CT (03/19/2018) The Theatre Program at Eastern Connecticut State University will present its first Main Stage production of the spring 2018 semester from April 5-8 with “Awakenings: ‘Youth’ by Thornton Wilder and ‘Chitra’ by Rabindranath Tagore.” These two one-act plays, written by Pulitzer Prize-winning authors of the West (Wilder) and East (Tagore), will be shown in the Del Monte Bernstein Studio Theatre in Eastern’s Fine Arts Instructional Center.

The sets, costumes, lighting, projections, music and dance will fill the theater with the tropical island ambiance of “Youth” and the lush Indian aura of “Chitra.” “Awakenings: Youth and Chitra” is being directed by Eastern students Matthew Bessette of Lebanon, CT, and Emily John of Woodstock, CT, respectively.

“Conceived in the 1960s, amid a youthful population that had discovered for the first time its social and political clout, ‘Youth’ might well have been Wilder’s satirical meditation on the excesses of America,” writes the publishing company Samuel French, Inc. “More than just a jab at a particular decade and the foibles of utopian idealism of young people everywhere, however, ‘Youth’ demonstrates Wilder’s ever-generous spirit, his life-long belief in community and the value of the contributions every individual can make.”

In “Chitra,” Tagore explores “the balancing of the physical and spiritual aspects of love and the power of a woman’s physical charm against her inner strength,” writes Zafar Anjum in the analysis “Tagore’s Chitra and Folklore’s Hidimba: Power of the Feminine.” “At some crucial point, these aspects converge when Chitrangada stands forth as man’s mental and spiritual equal, strengthening Tagore’s concept of womanhood. Tagore’s depiction of women is bold and experimental; the portrayals are ideologically oriented but the feminist inclinations are obvious.”

“Awakenings: Youth and Chitra” will be performed on Thursday, April 5, at 5:30 p.m.; Friday, April 6, at 11 a.m. and 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, April 7, at 7:30 p.m.; and Sunday, April 8, at 4 p.m. Tickets at free for Eastern students; $5 for other students and groups of 10 or more; $10 for senior citizens; $12 for Eastern faculty, staff and alumni; and $20 for the general public. For tickets and more information, call the box office at (860) 465-5123 or email theatreboxoffice@easternct.edu. To purchase online, visit http://easternct.showare.com/awakenings/.

Eastern Theatre Program Honored at Kennedy Center Theatre Festival

“Thread City” took the stage in the fall 2017 semester.

Written by Jolene Potter

WILLIMANTIC, CT (02/08/2018) A number of creators and performers behind Eastern Connecticut State University’s recent theatre productions were awarded at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival (KCACTF) Region 1. Held from Jan. 30 to Feb. 4 at Western Connecticut State University, the annual festival was attended by more than 1,000 students and faculty from colleges across the Northeast.

Eastern’s Performing Arts Department’s fall 2017 production “Thread City” was widely praised, receiving three merit awards. Ted Clement, the KCACTF regional festival co-chair, said that “Thread City” was the most visually spectacular and moving production of the many college productions throughout New England and New York he has seen this year.

Directed by theatre professors Alycia Bright-Holland and Kristen Morgan, “Thread City” explored the ever-relevant topic of immigration with a dialogue-free play that blended choreographed movement, visual projections and folky-electronic soundscapes to convey a heartfelt and historically representative tale of immigration in America. “Thread City” is the popular name of Eastern’s hometown of Willimantic, CT, which is known for its rich history as the largest thread-manufacturing city in the United States in its heyday.

The creative team of “Thread City” included several students and adjunct faculty members Travis Houldcroft and Jen Rock, who received merit awards in the categories of Conceptual Collaboration, Excellence in Original Music Composition and Exceptional Choreography. Theatre Professor Anya Sokolovskaya was also acknowledged for her costume design for “Thread City.” “It was Anya’s costumes that so beautifully placed our actors in time and grounded our often-surreal production into a plausible reality,” said Chase Rozelle, professor of theatre.

“Two Gentlemen of Verona” took the stage in the spring 2017 semester.

Also achieving success at KCACTF was Eastern Professor David Pellegrini, whose spring 2017 production of “Two Gentlemen of Verona” received three awards. The production was a musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s early comedy about young people exploring love, friendship and the temptations of city life.

Students took the lead on many design and management aspects of the production, including set, lighting and costume design and as a result three Eastern students were honored for their contributions to the production. Eastern student Troi Barnham received a merit award for her coordination and staging of the fashion show scene, student Hannah Garrahy received a merit award for her work regarding the production’s Live Feed Videography and commercial and student Sinque Tavares received a merit award for his work as Assistant Choreographer and Lead Dancer.

Among the Eastern students recognized at the festival was Kerri McColgan, who won a scholarship to attend the Stage Craft Institute of Las Vegas for her hand-operated alligator winch, which was used in “Thread City.”

Additionally, a number of Eastern students were also awarded scholarships, served as technical interns for the festival and competed in the festival’s Technical Olympics. Eastern student Kerri McColgan won a one-week scholarship to attend the Stage Craft Institute of Las Vegas for her hand operated alligator winch in “Thread City.” McColgan made a winch suitable for use in the movement of rolling stage scenery components. The device allows the frames to open similarly to how an alligator’s mouth opens. “Thread City” Stage Manger Katerina Mazzacaine also received a $1,200 scholarship for her presentation on her experiences in “Thread City” as well as for her service in the festival’s Stage Management Fellowship program.

“We’ve all had very rewarding experiences here. Faculty and students alike have found profound opportunity and fellowship,” said Rozelle. “I can’t truly describe what it’s like to be a member of a 500 plus audience made up of only patrons who are also all theatre practitioners passionate about their work without the use of cliché: It’s thrilling, affirming and hugely inspirational.”

KCACTF recognizes and celebrates the finest and most diverse work produced in university and college theatre programs. Eastern Connecticut State University congratulates all Eastern students and faculty for their contributions to performing arts and for their tremendous success at this year’s KCACTF.

Eastern Music Program to Host 4 February Concerts

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.