Eastern STEP/CAP Students Perform Ntozake Shange’s “For Colored Girls”

Lefto to right,Tatiana Stokes, Tyanna Soto, Jackie Verian, Myrdline Nourrissant, Liddy Siggia, Tajmarnie Appolon, & Norine Andrade

Eastern Connecticut State University STEP/CAP students performed a staged reading of Ntozake Shange’s “For Colored Girls” on Aug. 9 in the Fine Arts Instructional Center’s Proscenium Theater. The Summer Transition at Eastern Program and Contract Admissions Program (STEP/CAP) was designed to help prospective Eastern students prepare for the rigors of college coursework the summer prior to beginning college.

Center, Jackie Verian; left to right:. Tajmarnie Appolon, Tatiana Stokes, Myrdline Nourrissant, Norine Andrade, Liddy Siggia, & Tyanna Soto

Students in the STEP/CAP program worked with Eastern’s performing arts staff for four weeks to rehearse pieces from Ntozake Shange’s “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf.”

Left to right, Chasidy Eubanks Perry, Brooklyn Ortiz, Jahney Dudley, Myrdline Nourrissant, & Tatiana Stokes

“For Colored Girls” is a choreopoem made up of a series of poetic monologues that follow the stories of seven women who have faced oppression in a racist and sexist society. The series of poems address issues such as rape, abusive relationships and racism.  Some of the poems that students performed included “Dark Phrases”, “No Assistance”, “I’m A Poet Who”, “Latent Rapists’”, “Somebody Almost Walked off Wid Alla My Stuff”, “Sorry”, “A Nite with Beau Willie Brown” and “A Laying on of Hands.”

The final show highlighted African and Hip Hop dance performances choreographed by senior, Jaqueline Verian ‘20.  Professor DeRon S. Williams, who directed

Left, Tatiana Stokes and Myrdline Nourrissant

and also choreographed pieces, expressed how instrumental Verian was in the process. “Initially Jaqueline was merely providing an outlet for students to free themselves from the stresses of the STEP/CAP program, but Professor Morgan and I thought I thought it would be a robbery to not showcase Jackie’s outstanding work, leadership and passion.”

The students rehearsed several days a week for four weeks prior to the performance. Rehearsals consisted of learning choreography, stage directions, designing lighting and projections for the performance. One of the challenges students faced was getting the right pronunciation for the poems, but they practiced on their own time and helped each other get the pronunciations down in time for the performance.

Professor Kristen Morgan, who helped design the performance, noted that the students involved grew immensely in a short period of time. “They accepted the challenge of working with a script that was new to all of them and it was rewarding to see their confidence improve,” she said. “Their relationships with each other also grew, and their creative sparks were ignited.”

Williams, also commented on the changes students experienced by the end of the four weeks. “From day one, the students were a bit shy and reserved, but throughout the process, I witnessed their growth as individuals and the development of their confidence,” he said.

Students also commented on how performing the pieces allowed them to grow and feel more empowered. Liddy Siggia ’22 said, “Performing these pieces felt empowering and it was also a good way to spread the message to everyone, both men and women, that these are common struggles that women face every day.”

Tyanna Soto

Tatiana Stokes ‘22, who was also a part of the performance commented on the experience. “The play itself was something that stood out to me because I had never heard about it before, but by the end of it, it had affected me in an enlightening way that left me surprised.”

Jaqueline Verian ’20, who took part in several pieces commented on how the pieces allowed her to connect with other women’s experiences. “I appreciate the fact that these poems realigned my understanding of abusive relationships,” she said. “They also showed me how manipulative and misconceiving abusive relationships can be to an outsider’s eye.”

Verian said that by the end of the experience she felt more empowered and prepared to start the new school year. “Since I am a new actor, being involved in these strong and very powerful pieces helped influence me to push myself,” she said. “These performances became both learning experiences and releases of emotions. I wish I could personally thank Ntozake Shange for her work.”

Written by Vania Galicia

‘College Consensus’ Ranks Eastern Among Best Colleges

College Consensus, a college review aggregator that combines the latest results from the most respected college ranking systems with actual reviews of college students, has recognized Eastern Connecticut State University for the second year in a row. Eastern has been ranked among the “Best Colleges and Universities in Connecticut for 2019” and the “Best Regional Universities in the North for 2019.”

“Congratulations on making the Best Regional Universities in the North for 2019 and Best Colleges and Universities in Connecticut for 2019,” said Carole Taylor, marketing director for the College Consensus. “Your inclusion in the lists shows that you are making an impact on students that will have a transformative effect on their lives and the lives of others.”

Eastern began in 1889 as a normal school preparing teachers for careers in Connecticut’s elementary schools. Today it is known as Connecticut’s public liberal arts university. Eastern is home to 5,200 students, with more than 90 percent of them coming from Connecticut.

To identify standout colleges, College Consensus averages the latest results from the most respected college ranking systems, including U.S. News and World Report, along with student reviews to produce a unique rating for each school. Read more about the organization’s methodology at: https://www.collegeconsensus.com/about.

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

Written by Vania Galicia

Students Learn How to Budget and Manage Their Money

Jason Kahn, director of campus relations for SOFI Company, explains the importance of budgeting and managing credit to 91 STEPCAP students.

Aware of the challenges of paying for college that students frequently experience, the Office of Financial Aid presented “Budgeting & Managing Your Credit” on July 24, 2019, in the Student Center Theatre. The presentation to 91 STEP/CAP students was part of the office’s Summer Project. It targeted STEP/CAP students but was open to the campus community; it was designed to help students become more effective at managing student loan debt and finances. Students listened attentively as Jason Kahn, director of campus relations with SOFI Company (Social Finance), led the presentation.

June Dunn, assistant dean of the Office of University Opportunity Programs, shares her personal experience with budgeting and managing credit with STEP/CAP audience.

Eastern’s Summer Transition at Eastern/Contract Admissions Program (STEP/CAP) combines an intensive, six-week summer bridge program with year-round counseling and academic support. The residential summer program includes academic courses in mathematics, public speaking and time management skills; cultural activities; and other support. STEP/CAP students passing the summer program enroll at Eastern in the fall.  

“Understanding how to budget and manage one’s credit should be very high on one’s list of priorities, as good credit leads to a successful experience,” said Neville Brown, assistant director of financial aid.  Due to lack of experience, many students are often vulnerable to credit pitfalls. “Our students learned that if used effectively, a budget could be a very useful tool to avoid unnecessary debt and improve credit. It can help one to discover ways to find money and plan for the future.”

Earlier on July 10, the Office of Financial Aid presented a session, “Student Loan Information Session,” exclusively for Eastern professional colleagues, to enhance their awareness of the invaluable contribution they can make in assisting students with managing their college careers.

Brown said the Office of Financial Aid will present the sessions again later this fall in response to positive feedback and popular demand.

Written by Dwight Bachman

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 Graduates 1,250 Students at XL Center

Marilynn “Lynn” Malerba

Hartford, CT — Marilynn “Lynn” Malerba, chief of the Mohegan Tribe, told the 1,259 graduates at Eastern Connecticut State University’s 129th Commencement to “Allow yourself the faith to ‘dream ahead’ as you embrace the next chapter in your journey.” Noting that college graduates have greater job security, live longer and have greater social mobility, Malerba told the graduates that they had made “a smart decision” in pursuing their educational dreams.

The annual graduation ceremony was held at the XL Center in Hartford on May 21, with more than 12,000 family members and friends cheering on their sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, as 1,175 undergraduates and 84 graduate students received their diplomas.

Malerba told the graduates “Your education has just begun, as you have ‘birthed’ a career that will only grow and mature over time.” She also reminded graduates to set aside time for the “keepers of your heart” — family and friends who share life’s challenges. “When you meet others on the path of life, offer a kind word, encourage someone, comfort someone, and celebrate someone’s joy.”

The commencement speaker also received an honorary doctor of science degree from Eastern in a special hooding ceremony during the graduation exercises. 

Malerba was appointed the 18th Chief of the Mohegan Tribe in August 2010, becoming the first female chief in the tribe’s modern history. She previously was chair of the tribal council and executive director of health and human services for the tribal government.

Prior to her leadership roles in the Mohegan Tribe, Malerba served as director of cardiology and pulmonary services at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital. She earned her Doctor of Nursing Practice from Yale University and her master’s degree in public administration from the University of Connecticut.

In addition to a distinguished career as a registered nurse and her leadership positions with the Mohegan Tribe, Malerba is also a national advocate of health issues and the welfare of Native Peoples. She serves in a number of national roles, including positions with the Federal Indian Health Services; the U.S. Department of Justice; and the National Institutes of Health.

Other speakers at the Commencement exercises included Eastern President Elsa Núñez; Merle Harris, vice-chair of the

President Elsa Núñez

Board of Regents for Higher Education; and Mark Ojakian, president of the Connecticut State Colleges 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.

“The most important lesson I hope you have learned at Eastern is the knowledge that our great American democracy is only great because of the involvement and participation of our citizens,” said Núñez. “Being a citizen means debating the issues with your friends and in public forums — wherever you get a chance to voice your opinion. Most importantly, be willing to say no to whatever doesn’t feel right.

“You have learned how to think critically on our campus. You have learned how to ask questions, conduct research and analyze the results.  Do this in your workplace, in your community, and as a citizen of our great country.  I know you can do it . . . and I am counting on you to do so.  We need your enthusiasm, commitment and knowledge more than ever.”

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 160 of the state’s 169 towns, with approximately 85 percent of graduates staying in Connecticut to launch their careers, contribute to their communities and raise their families.

Senior Class President Michael Theriault (right)

Senior Class President Michael Theriault presented the Senior Class Gift to President Núñez — an annual Class of 2019 scholarship — and thanked his classmates’ families, friends and faculty for supporting the senior class in its journey. He recalled registering for classes in the early morning hours, “trying to stay silent on the third floor of the library” and Thursday night pancakes. Looking to the future, Theriault said the arena floor was a sea of graduation caps, but “While they may look the same from the outside, the reality is that we all will wear different hats. Some of us will go on to be future educators and make differences in the lives of students. Others will become journalists, historians, psychologists, broadcasters and so much more. No matter what hat you will wear, we will all be Eastern Warriors now and forever.”

In speaking on behalf of the Board of Regents for Higher Education, Vice-Chair Merle Harris reminded the audience that “commencement” means “beginning.” She told the graduates they “have gained the skills needed to make wise decisions. . .” and were ready to “make your community, our state, and our nation a better place. I am gratified that I can greet you tonight as you begin the next phase of your life’s journey.”

CSCU President Ojakian also offered remarks. Pointing to the “transformational academic journey you have just completed,” he called the graduates “change agents for the future and the next generation of leaders.” Ojakian went on to say, “Connecticut needs bright, talented individuals to stay here, fill the jobs of the 21st century, purchase homes, and raise their families here in the state. Connecticut needs your creativity, your entrepreneurial spirit and your ingenuity. You are the future of Connecticut — and because of that, Connecticut’s future is bright.”

From the colorful Governor’s Foot Guard Color Guard in attendance, to the piercing sound of the bagpipes of the St. Patrick’s Pipe Band and the pre-event music of the Thread City Brass Quintet, this year’s graduation ceremonies reflected Eastern’s longstanding Commencement traditions.

University Senate President Andrew Utterback presided over the commencement exercises; seniors Andrew Hofmann, Tiara Lussier, Austin Stone, Ryan Michaud and Sara Ann Vega sang “America the Beautiful”; senior Shawn Ray Dousis gave the invocation; and Environmental Earth Science Professor Dickson Cunningham was recognized as the 2019 Distinguished Professor Award recipient.

Written by Ed Osborn

Mohegan Tribal Chief Named Eastern’s Commencement Speaker

 Marilynn “Lynn” Malerba, chief of the Mohegan Tribe, will be the Commencement Speaker at Eastern Connecticut State University’s 129th Commencement Exercises on May 21 at the XL Center in Hartford. Malerba will also receive an honorary doctorate degree at the ceremonies.

Malerba has achieved an exemplary career in the health care and tribal governance fields. Not only has she served her community with distinction, she has brought national recognition to the State of Connecticut.

Chief Mutáwi Mutáhash (Many Hearts) Marilynn “Lynn” Malerba became the 18th Chief of the Mohegan Tribe on August 15, 2010, and is the first female chief in the tribe’s modern history. The position is a lifetime appointment made by the tribe’s council of elders. She previously served as chairwoman of the tribal council and was also executive director of health and human services for the tribal government.

Prior to her work for the Mohegan Tribe, Chief Malerba had a distinguished career as a registered nurse and served as director of cardiology and pulmonary services at Lawrence and Memorial Hospital. She earned her Doctor of Nursing Practice degree at Yale University and was named a Jonas Scholar. She holds a master’s degree in Public Administration from the University of Connecticut, and has an honorary doctorate from the University of St. Joseph in West Hartford.

Chief Malerba has achieved a national reputation as an advocate and supporter of health issues and the welfare of Native Peoples. She is chairwoman of the Tribal Self-Governance Advisory Committee of the Federal Indian Health Services; is a member of the U.S. Justice Department’s Tribal Nations Leadership Council; serves on the Tribal Advisory Committee for the National Institute of Health; is a member of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Tribal Advisory Committee; and serves as a technical expert on the Commission for Environmental Cooperation. She also serves as the United South and Eastern Tribes board of directors secretary, and is a member of the board of directors for the Ms. Foundation for Women.

In Connecticut, Chief Malerba serves as a trustee for Chelsea Groton Bank, as a board member for the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut, as an advisory committee member for the Harvard University Native American Program and served on the board of directors for Lawrence Memorial Hospital for 11 years.

More than 1,200 undergraduate and graduate students will receive their diplomas at Eastern’s graduation exercises on May 21, with an audience of more than 10,000 family and friends expected. In addition to Malerba, dignitaries expected to attend include Eastern President Elsa Núñez; Mark Ojakian, president of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities System; and Merle Harris, vice-chair of the Board of Regents for Higher Education.

Written by Ed Osborn

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’s New PASS Program Offers ‘Academic Reset’ for Students

Academic advisors and study-skills specialists in Easterm’s Advising Center help students develop individualized action plans.

Eastern Connecticut State University is going the extra mile to ensure that African American and Hispanic students who end up on academic probation are provided the support they need to succeed. The new PASS (Promoting Academically Successful Students) program is funded through a $75,000 grant from the Connecticut State Office of Higher Education.

PASS recognizes that African American and Hispanic college students are often first-generation college students without college-educated parents to provide support and personal knowledge of what it is like to attend college. Trying to juggle supporting a family, working to pay for tuition, room and board, and books, and studying can be stressful. Adjusting to campus life is also a challenge. The result can be academic probation and can even lead to dropping out.

PASS is managed by Eastern’s Office of Continuing Studies and Enhanced Learning (CSEL) in collaboration with the Center for Internships and Career Development (CICD) and Eastern’s Advising Center. The program uses a hands-on advising model and an active career development program to inform students of available support services.

“While the PASS Program’s immediate goal is to return participants to good academic standing by the end of the semester, its ultimate goal is to reset how students perceive themselves academically and professionally so they put in place learning practices that will sustain them through to graduation,” said June Dunn, assistant dean in the Office of Continuing Studies and Enhanced Learning. 

Dunn says PASS helps students take charge of their own learning. “This is particularly crucial for first-generation students on probation who may not have family members or mentors who are college graduates to prepare them for college success. They have repeatedly heard it’s important to get good grades, and they will tell anyone who asks that their intention is to get good grades. What’s unique about Eastern’s PASS program is that we are putting in place the infrastructure that helps students internalize the connection between their education and career goals,” said Dunn.

PASS requires weekly mandatory advising sessions, skill development workshops, and group meetings for all participating students to review their schedules and make any necessary adjustments. Academic advisors and study skills specialists help students develop individualized action plans that may include more appropriate course selection and/or majors Students must show how they plan to keep up with coursework and meet professor expectations.

Eastern’s Center for Internships and Career Development helps students internalize the connection between their education and career goals.

The CICD also has an important role. “Participating students have to take the FOCUS 2 assessment, and then come into the office to meet with a career advisor to assess results,” said Cliff Marrett, CIDC director. “The assessment helps each students identify a major and explore career clusters that align with their interests. Students work with their career advisor and check in weekly after they complete their career development assigned tasks.”

Participating students also attend workshops on resume development, interviewing skills and dressing for success, and use interactive online job search tools and mentoring programs to connect to potential employers and alumni mentors.  “We believe this rigorous academic/career routine will ensure the motivation needed for students to come off and remain off academic probation,” said Dunn.

by Dwight Bachman

Eastern Welcomes New Full-Time Faculty, Staff

Eastern Connecticut State University welcomed several new full-time faculty and administrative staff to the campus community this fall. They include Eastern alumni, former adjunct professors and scholars from across the country and beyond. Their knowledge and expertise will benefit students and the University as a whole as they settle into departments across campus. Eastern’s new hires include:

Academic faculty

Education

Caitlin Tenney

Caitlin Tenney is a new assistant professor in the Department of Education.  She is interested in working on projects that advocate for women and minorities in science and science education. Tenney has taught science at the high school level and served as an adjunct instructor in Eastern’s Biology Department. She has a master’s degree in secondary science education from the University of Massachusetts.

“Eastern is a special place and teaching here is a privilege,” said Tenney, who enjoys working with students of different backgrounds as well as her passionate and supportive colleagues. “I hope to bring a powerful energy and love of learning to my students. I want to prepare them to be great teachers who will make a positive and lasting impact in this world.”

Outside of academia, Tenney loves to travel and enjoys outdoor activities such as snowboarding and swimming in the ocean. She also loves spending time with her four-year-old twins and cheering on her husband’s hockey team.

Heather Bassett

Heather Bassett ’09 is a new assistant professor in the Department of Education. A graduate of Eastern’s early childhood education program, she is currently working on her doctoral degree in early childhood special education at the University of Connecticut. She is interested in family-centered practices and the infusion of creativity into the classroom.

“I hope to bring out my students’ unique talents and strengths,” said Bassett. “It is my mission to empower students so they have what it takes to teach in the ever-changing 21st century.”

Outside of work, Bassett enjoys spending time with her husband and two young sons. She and her husband are also licensed real estate agents who buy, sell and renovate properties. 

Matthew Puhlick is a new assistant professor in the Department of Education. A two-time graduate of Eastern (undergraduate degree in 1993; master’s degree in 2001), he has a doctoral degree in curriculum, teaching, learning and leadership from Northeastern University. Puhlick has taught at the elementary school level and has expertise with educational technology for curricular planning and delivery.

“I am thrilled to return to the campus that has provided me with so many opportunities,” said Puhlick. “I hope my many years of experience in education allow me to help prospective teachers challenge their assumptions, learn new skills and think critically about the world of education.”

Puhlick also enjoys cooking, traveling and exploring the world with his wife and three children.

Biology

Derek Laux is a new assistant professor in the Department of Biology, specializing in cell biology. Laux earned his Ph.D. from the University of Pittsburgh and was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Edinburgh. His research has focused on the role of innate immune cells in early cancer development.

“I am excited to help Eastern students grow and to train the next generation of biological scientists,” said Laux. “I love the field of biology. I hope my students develop a love of science, an appetite for discovery, a passion for hard work, and learn that all of us can contribute a verse to the records of life and learning.”

Outside of the lab, Laux enjoys being outdoors, surfing, reading and playing the piano.

Performing Arts

DeRon Williams

DeRon Williams is a new assistant professor for the Theatre Program, specializing in directing. Williams received his master’s in arts administration from Eastern Michigan University and his Ph.D. in Fine Arts-Theatre at Texas Tech University. He is a director, arts administrator and scholar of 20th– and 21st-century American drama and Black expressive culture.

“Eastern is student-centered and committed to diverse perspectives, which I believe is the purpose of higher education and imperative for future leaders, arts supporters and global citizens,” said Williams. “It is my hope to engage students in diverse perspectives of the arts, imparting my knowledge and love for Black theatre and performance through seminar and practical courses.”

Outside of academia, Williams enjoys going to the theatre, traveling and spending time with family and friends.

David Ballena

David Ballena is a new assistant professor for the Music Program, specializing in piano. A native of Peru, he received his early training at the Conservatorio Nacional de Musica before traveling to the United States where he earned a Doctor of Musical Arts in Collaborative Piano from the University of Maryland-College Park.

“I am excited to be more involved in the life of the campus community,” said Ballena, who has taught at Eastern for the past five years as an adjunct professor for the Music Program. “I look forward to sharing with my students the many things I’ve learned from my own teachers and professional experience—I hope to help them understand the resilience and work ethic required to succeed in a career in music.”

Outside of work, Ballena and his wife enjoy playing tennis and attending tournaments. They drive every summer to Colorado, where he works at the Aspen Music Festival.

Business Administration

Jean Cooley

Jean Cooley is a new assistant professor in the Department of Business Administration, specializing in accounting. Cooley earned master’s degrees in business administration and accounting at Northeastern University, and has more than 20 years of experience as a certified public accountant.

“I hope to encourage students to use their time at Eastern to truly discover their passions,” said Cooley. “I want to get them excited about their futures and learn to use their talents to impact others’ lives.”

Cooley also enjoys listening to music, riding roller coasters, traveling and spending time with family.

Erik Christensen ’07 is a new assistant professor in the Department of Business Administration, specializing in accounting. An Eastern graduate, he also holds a master’s degree in accounting from the University of Connecticut. Christensen is a certified public accountant who has served as the finance director for the Town of Griswold.

“I hope to impart in students the knowledge students will need to be successful,” said Christensen. “I hope to bring my industry experience into the classroom and share some of the experiences I’ve had as a CPA.”

Outside of work, Christensen enjoys watching and playing sports, traveling and being on the ocean.

Computer Science

Tim Hartley is a new assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science. He holds a master’s degree in computer science from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and a master’s degree in linguistics from the University of Connecticut, as well as a diploma in Mandarin Chinese from the Defense Language Institute, which he earned while serving in the U.S. Air Force. Hartley has held full-time appointments as an assistant professor at the University of Hartford and as an associate professor at Rensselaer at Hartford. He has also co-authored three textbooks on database technology.

Health Science

Paul Canavan is a new assistant professor in the Department of Health Sciences. An expert on the lower extremity of the body, Canavan earned a Master of Arts and Ph.D. in Kinesiology from the University of Connecticut as well as a Doctor of Physical Therapy from Northeastern University.

“I’m excited to join Eastern full time,” said Canavan, who has taught at Eastern as an adjunct professor for three years. “I hope to bring to students a desire to learn and provide opportunities for them to practically apply class information.”

Outside of academia, Canavan enjoys hiking, fishing, reading and spending time with his wife and son.

Mitchell Doucette is a new assistant professor in the Department of Health Science. He received his Ph.D. in Health Policy and Management from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and was selected as the 2017-18 William Haddon Jr. Fellow in Injury Prevention. Doucette’s research interests include injury prevention and control and longitudinal panel analysis.

Sociology

Rachael Pesta is a new assistant professor in the Department of Sociology, Anthropology, Criminology and Social Work, specializing in criminology. She received her master’s degree in criminal justice from Youngstown State University and her Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Akron. Pesta’s teaching interests include criminological theory, research methods and social inequalities in the criminal justice system.

“I am excited to join an institution that provide students with a top-quality liberal arts education that extends beyond the classroom and brings ‘textbook learning’ to life,” said Pesta. “I am eager to engage students in critical and abstract thinking by using active learning. It’s important that students see how theory impacts the world around us and informs our everyday life.”

Pesta enjoys reading, hiking the beautiful trails around Connecticut, and listening to podcasts. 

Administrative faculty

Admissions

Dempsey Schott

Dempsey Schott is the newest admissions counselor for the Office of Admissions. She graduated from Muhlenberg College in 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in English and creative writing, and has experience as a head tour guide with Muhlenberg’s admissions office during her undergraduate career. This fall, Schott will be travelling to Fairfield County and Long Island to recruit students.

“I am excited to be a part of a community that cares about shaping graduates who are informed and successful global citizens,” said Schott, who is attracted to Eastern’s public liberal arts mission. “I hope to showcase the institution to prospective students who otherwise might not have considered Eastern.”

Outside of work, you can find Schott running, hiking, baking vegan desserts, singing and drinking excessive amounts of coffee.

Financial Aid

Velma Walters

Velma Walters is an assistant to the director in the Office of Financial Aid. She earned her master’s degree in public administration from American International College and has more than 20 years of experience in higher education and more than 15 years in financial aid. Among her duties, Walters will work with the STEP/CAP Program.

“I am excited to be part of a fantastic liberal arts university that is rich in diversity and producing well-rounded leaders who make their mark on society,” said Walters. “I bring to Eastern my experience, my passion for education and my commitment to helping students realize their dream of a college degree.”

Walters is also a member of the public service organization Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., as well as an independent beauty consultant for Mary Kay Skin Care & Cosmetics.

Registrars

Mary-Francis Ricks

Mary-Francis Ricks ’11 is an assistant degree auditor in the Office of the Registrar. An Eastern graduate with a degree in communication, she earned a master’s degree in human development and family studies from the University of Rhode Island. Ricks has higher education experience in advising, career services and housing.

“Eastern is the place that sparked my passion for student affairs; I’m excited to be working at a university that aligns with my values,” said Ricks, who often interacts with graduating seniors in her new role. “I hope to be a guiding, clarifying resource for these students.”

Ricks loves to travel, and recently visited Ireland. In February she plans to explore Spain.

Academic Services Center

Carlos Castillo is a professional advisor with the Academic Services Center. He holds a master’s degree in organizational management and leadership from Springfield College and comes to Eastern after being a family and community engagement liaison with the Capitol Region Educational Council in Harford. Castillo is currently completing his dissertation for a doctorate in adult learning.

Lauren Eddy is a professional advisor with the Academic Services Center. She joins Eastern after working at the University of Maine as an athletic academic counselor. She is a graduate of Central Connecticut State University where she earned bachelor’s degrees in history and English and a master’s in counseling with a concentration in student development.

Written by Michael Rouleau