Eastern Honors 3 Advocates at Cesar Chavez Awards

Stefan Keller, Maribel Sanchez and Freddy Cruz

Written by Jordan Corey

WILLIMANTIC, CT (04/24/2018) Eastern Connecticut State University’s annual Cesar Chavez Distinguished Service Awards Ceremony occured on April 18. Those honored at the event were student Freddy Cruz ’18, Eastern academic advisor Maribel Sanchez and Stefan Keller of CT Students for a Dream. The keynote speaker was Latino poet José B. González.

Chavez was a prominent Latino-American civil rights activist, and his effective tactics made the struggles of farm workers the center of national attention. He co-founded the National Farm Workers Association, later the United Farm Workers union, in 1962, and his public relations approach to unionism has left a long-lasting impact on the Latin-American community.

Eastern President Elsa Núñez gave a welcome address that called attention to Chavez’s impressive legacy, and connected his role to those having a similar influence on today’s society. As a Hispanic woman, Núñez was well aware of the activist’s influence at an early age. She highlighted three of his values that are upheld at Eastern: advocacy for education, commitment to service, and preservation of culture.

While the fight for Latino rights is far from over, especially equal access to academic opportunities, Núñez pointed out that it is because of people like Cruz, Sanchez and Keller that there is hope for progress. “I think Mr. Chavez would look at the three recipients today and smile,” she said.

Cruz was the recipient of the student award. Consistently engaged in campus community, Cruz is the president of the Eastern club OLAS – Organization of Latin American Students – as well as a resident assistant (RA) and member of the Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. Cruz challenged his peers to take advantage of all the opportunities offered on a university campus. “Get involved with anything that’s going to take you to the next level,” he said. “Find those students who might not be where you are and help them elevate themselves.”

Sanchez, who works in Eastern’s Academic Services Center, received the faculty/staff award. She serves as an advisor to Eastern’s Dreamer students. Sanchez noted the power of the mentors she has encountered in her own life and said Chavez himself was a universal inspiration. “I can only hope to be half the person these people are to me and my students,” she said.

Keller, recipient of the community member award, graduated with his master’s degree in social work from the University of Connecticut in 2015, and works for CT Students for a Dream. An ally of undocumented students (Dreamers), Keller believes in working with students and educators to create open spaces for Dreamers on college campuses. “Part of that work is educating others,” said Keller. “All of us need to move to a place where we see that our world is not going to be what we want it to be without justice for all.”

Cruz was the recipient of the student award. Consistently engaged in Eastern’s community, Cruz is the president of the

Jose B. Gonzalez

Eastern club OLAS – Organization of Latin American Students- as well as a resident assistant (RA) and member of the Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. Cruz challenged his peers to take advantage of all the opportunities offered on a university campus. “Get involved with anything that’s going to take you to the next level,” he said. “Find those students who might not be where you are and help them elevate themselves.”

The ceremony’s keynote speaker was Latino poet José B. González, who was born in San Salvador, El Salvador, and immigrated to New London at age eight. Gonzalez has authored numerous publications and received accolades including the New England Association of Teachers of English Teacher-Poet-of-the-Year award. He spoke on the importance of honoring service work, as the Cesar Chavez awards aim to do.


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 Announces Commencement Speaker/Honorary Degree Recipient

HHS Secretary Tom Price/National Foundation for Infectious Diseases Conference

WILLIMANTIC, CT (04/23/2018) Dr. Elinore McCance-Katz, assistant secretary for mental health and substance use in the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), will be the commencement speaker and honorary degree recipient at Eastern Connecticut State University’s commencement exercises on May 15 at the XL Center in Hartford.

McCance-Katz graduated magna cum laude from Eastern in 1978 with a degree in biology. Her sterling career in medicine, psychiatry, academic achievement and public administration culminated in August 2017 with her DHHS appointment, which made her the first assistant secretary-level director of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at DHHS.

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.

McCance-Katz is board certified in general psychiatry and addiction psychiatry, and is a Distinguished Fellow of the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry, with more than 25 years of experience as a clinician, teacher and clinical researcher.

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.

She also was the Chief Medical Officer of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration from 2013-15; State Medical Director of the California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs from 2007-13; and Medical Director and Chief Operating Officer of the Virginia Health Practitioners’ Intervention Program from 2003-07.

Dr. McCance-Katz has published numerous articles on clinical pharmacology and, along with her husband Michael, holds a patent for a method used to prevent specimen substitution in substance use screening.

More than 1,000 undergraduate and graduate students will receive their diplomas at Eastern’s 128th annual graduation exercises at the XL Center on May 15, with an audience of more than 10,000 family and friends expected. In addition to McCance-Katz, dignitaries expected to attend include Eastern President Elsa Núñez; Mark Ojakian, president of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities System; Yvette Meléndez, vice-chair of the Board of Regents for Higher Education; and Victor Funderburk, mayor of the Town of Windham.

Written by Edward Osborn

Record Number Eastern Students Present at Prestigious NCUR Conference

Written by Jolene Potter

WILLIMANTIC, CT (04/19/2018) A record-breaking 41 Eastern Connecticut State University students presented their research at the 2018 National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR) from April 4-7 at the University of Central Oklahoma.

Chosen from more than 4,000 submissions across the country, 100 percent of Eastern’s NCUR submissions were accepted at the 2018 conference. In the past four years, Eastern has sent more students to NCUR than all other public universities in Connecticut combined. These achievements have resulted in Eastern being recongnized by the Councit on Undergraduate Research (CUR) as a campus that is “leading the way” in undergraduate research.

“Learning to conduct research is a major component of a liberal arts education,” said Eastern President Elsa Nunez. “That is why Eastern is committed to supporting our undergraduate students so they can conduct research and present it at regional and national conferences. To know that every Eastern student’s proposal was accepted at this year’s NCUR is a testament to the support students receive from our faculty.

“The fact that Eastern had more student representatives than any other college or university in Connecticut shows that we are serious about giving as many of our students opportunities to conduct meaningful, scholarly research as possible,” continued Nunez. “We know that undergraduates at larger institutions don’t get these opportunities, but we also know that students who are engaged in applied learning activities such as research projects get better grades and graduate at higher rates.”

Carlos Escoto, psychology professor and coordinator of Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity, chaperoned students on the NCUR trip. “The students got a lot out of the conference. The trip had a great sense of comradery and students showed up to support one another.”

Students are accepted into NCUR if their research demonstrates a unique contribution to their field of study. Established in 1987, 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.


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 to hold Annual Cesar Chavez Awards

WILLIMANTIC, CT (04/11/2018) Eastern Connecticut State University will hold its annual Cesar Chavez Distinguished Service Awards Ceremony on April 18 at 3 p.m. in the Johnson Room of the J. Eugene Smith Library.

This year’s three award recipients will be student Freddy Cruz of East Hartford, a senior who is the president of Eastern’s Organization for Latin American Students; staff member Maribel Sanchez, a student development specialist with the Advising Center; and Stefan Keller, a college access program manager with CT Students for a Dream.

These awards recognize members of the campus and local community whose actions promote advocacy and service to the Latino community while working toward the ideals and legacy of Cesar Chavez. Members of the public are invited to attend.


Eastern Presents Education, Advocacy and Immigrant Youth Discussion

Written by Anne Pappalardo

 Willimantic, CT — Eastern Connecticut State University hosted “Education, Advocacy and Immigrant Youth,” a discussion about supporting the educational aspirations of newly arrived immigrant students, in the Betty R. Tipton Room on April 4. The event was cosponsored by the Center for Children’s Advocacy in Hartford.

The event featured a panel of experts including Kathryn Meyer, director of SpeakUp Initiatives, and Sue Tenorio, educational consultant, both from the Center for Children’s Advocacy. Keynote speaker and law student Denia Perez, Ken Nienhusser from the University of Hartford and Andrea Spencer of the University of St. Joseph were also featured speakers.

Panelists discussed proactive approaches to support the achievements of new arrivals in schools, barriers to their achievements and community organizational efforts. 

During her opening remarks, Eastern President Elsa Núnez said, “There are millions of people today who want the same opportunity but fear the uncertainty of deportation, imprisonment and separation from their families. I am proud to tell you that Eastern continues to be a national leader in supporting undocumented students. We have more than 100 ‘Dreamers’ on our campus, supported by a private foundation, Opportunity Scholars, located in Washington, DC. The Dreamers’ educations are being fully funded by TheDream.US foundation. They have earned their passage—these are hardworking students with a cumulative 3.5 GPA on this campus. They have become student leaders as they are preparing for careers as doctors, scientists, lawyers, accountants and teachers.  No school in America has more Opportunity Scholars than Eastern.”

As moderator and coordinator of the event, Professor of Social Work Isabel Logan, welcomed and introduced important questions for the panelists to address.

“There is a need to improve parents’ ability to advocate for their children’s educational needs. Schools must improve in terms of identity for English Language Learners, inform parents in their native language, provide ESL or bilingual courses and continually evaluate student progress,” said Meyer.

Tenorio emphasized the challenges that immigrant parents and their children face navigating the educational system, calling it “a maze,” especially in terms of language barriers.

In her presentation, “From Aspirations to Achievement,” Perez discussed the challenges she faced as a youth fighting deportation and issues she encountered pursuing her education in California. She credited supporters who helped her during her educational journey and encouraged others to “not only pull themselves up by their bootstraps, but to seek support from their communities. Study history, but also write your own.” She is currently concluding her studies at the Quinnipiac School of Law.

“We have a long way to go,” said Nienhusser, a professor of educational leadership. “We must reframe our values and the existence of discriminatory policies in education that have affected deserving students solely based on their immigration status. We need to eradicate these policies and stop treating undocumented students as undeserving and villainous.”

Spencer discussed what she called the three best practices which she said schools need to focus on—recognition, relationships and resources. “Teachers need to collaborate and think about how they deal with the immigrant challenges these students bring to the classroom including rethinking curriculum, encouraging teachers to form closer relationships with students and providing them with improved bicultural language and activity opportunities.”

Barbara Lopez of Make the Road CT and Stefan Keller of CT Students for a Dream, both representatives of nonprofit groups that work in communities such as Bridgeport and Hartford, spoke about their respective community-based efforts and challenges immigrants encounter in communities that have large number of undocumented residents. 

Eastern’s Spring Career Fair Connects Students to Employers

Written by Jordan Corey

Eastern Connecticut State University held its spring semester career and internship fair on April 5 in the Geissler Gymnasium. The fair was attended by more than 300 hopeful students who browsed the career opportunities of more than 70 employers.

 Companies in attendance ranged from local police departments to Mohegan Sun Casino, and spanned a variety of industries such as education, finance, medical, and the armed services. 

“I really appreciate that Eastern gives us this chance to connect with all these companies,” said Junior Kevin Zeppieri. “It’s great to be able to talk with professionals; hopefully one of them will want to hire me.”

Senior Kyle Chung, who is graduating in May, said, “This event is great. It’s really one of the only times that students get a chance to meet employers and figure out what they really want from us, without a full interview.”

The fair was sponsored by Eastern’s Center for Internships and Career Development (CICD), which organizes career and internships each fall and spring semester.


The Eastern Chamber Singers Tour Post-Hurricane Puerto Rico

The Chamber Singers pose for a group photo in San Juan

Written by Michael Rouleau

A group of talented vocalists from Eastern Connecticut State University embarked on a unique tour of post-hurricane Puerto Rico this spring break. From March 9–15, members of the Chamber Singers performed in concerts and worked on service projects in the slowly recovering island.

In addition to three performances in San Juan, the group volunteered in the hurricane-battered neighborhood of La Perla, just beyond the walls of Old San Juan. Divided into three work crews, they cleared away debris from the residential section of the neighborhood while others repaired roofs and restored gardens.

Eastern students repairing roofs
Eastern students sorting through rubble in La Perla


“We witnessed the devastation firsthand while sorting through the rubble in La Perla,” said Jenny Lindquist ’20 of Tolland, who sings alto. “Piece after piece, we picked up the left-behind memories and belongings of families.”

Hannah Bythrow ’18 of Bolton, alto, remembers seeing new electricity poles being installed along the roads—flown in by helicopters—a stark reminder that many people are still living without power. “Exploring outside the city was eye opening,” she said. “I realized how long it might take for the island to return to its former glory. It made me realize the privileges we take for granted on the mainland.”

On a lighter note, during a roofing project, Bythrow recalled, “I remember us hammering nails in the heat of the day, singing at the top of our lungs and thinking to myself, ‘This is happiness.’”

The Chamber Singers performed for enthusiastic crowds at Stella Maris Parish and Escuela Libre de Música (Music School in San Juan).

“The high school-ers were shouting and dancing in their seats the entire time, itching to get up and sing with us,” said Halie Poirier ’18 of Putnam, soprano. “I’ll never forget those amazing kids.”

The Chamber Singers perform at Escuela Libre de Musica

David Belles, conductor of the ensemble, said of the demands of the tour: “Seeing our students have to kick it up a notch and adjust immediately to a new environment, new audiences, new spaces—having music be the only language many of us had in common—was a moment when all the work preparing for this endeavor really paid off.”

“Much like the colorful buildings and landscapes of the island,” added Bythrow, “our audiences’ faces lit up when they heard us and it was clear that they were truly thankful be a part of our singing.”

For Poirier, a graduating senior, this was her final tour with the Chamber Singers. “Puerto Rico was the perfect ending to a magnificent run with these truly awesome and talented people. I have laughed and cried with them while singing many wrong notes but still making beautiful music. I’ve toured with them for three years and no matter where we go, we always have a fantastic time.”

The Chamber Singers is Eastern’s premier vocal ensemble, composed of 20-25 auditioned singers from various academic departments. Performance repertoire encompasses chamber music from more than four centuries. The annual spring tour serves to enrich the musical lives of audiences near and far, and enhance the cultural experience of members of the ensemble while studying at Eastern.

The Artists of ‘Mom and Dad’ Explain their Work

Kalen Na’il Roach stands before one of his pieces in the Art Gallery.

Written by Casey Collins

The Art Gallery at Eastern Connecticut State University is exhibiting “Mom & Dad” from March 8 to April 19. The exhibit features a collection of long-term photographic projects from artists Nelson Chan, Kalen Na’il Roach and Mariela Sancari. On March 22, Chan and Roach held an artist talk at the opening reception to discuss the motivations behind their snapshots.

Nelson Chan addresses the crowd at the exhibition’s opening reception.

For Chan, a picture is priceless. The thought and precision needed to capture exactly what he wants within the 8×10 frame exceeds any sort of limits he could imagine. Yet he assigns very specific values to each photo that stem from a reason, a memory, a longing or desire to understand the true meaning of family.

For decades, Chan’s parents lived apart from each other. While his mother resided in New Jersey, his father often spent his time running the family toy business in Hong Kong. Their relationship was one of cold and silence, yet some equal level of understanding. For Chan, it was especially difficult to understand this at such a young age, all the while splitting time between the two homes.

To better understand his parents’ relationship, Chan undertook “Mom & Dad,” a photographical exploration of his parent’s relationship. Now 13 years into the project, Chan explained what it has taken for him to reach this point in the work where he is ready to share the shots.

“They were embracing in their office, and I thought it was a very tender moment between the two of them,” he recalls. “I remember saying to myself that I would give the shot to my mother as a gift. When she came back to New Jersey I gave it to her and she was not happy about it at all. This photograph that I describe as my parents embracing each other was actually my mother embracing my father, and my father, who was very distant, looking out into the distance. When she opened it, she whispered something to herself, and I heard it. She said, ‘He doesn’t love me anymore.'”

Chan described the moment as earth-shattering to him. At the time he was simply a college student trying to figure out what it meant to be a photographer. For a truth like this to come from a gift of good intentions was mind-blowing to him, and helped him discover the unintentional power that photographs can truly contain.

An arrangement of photographs by Nelson Chan.

“In that moment I realized pictures can mean so many different things to so many different people,” said Chan. “I decided I would begin this project of photographing my family after college. Not just to better understand my family, but to better understand myself.”

While Chan takes a more traditional approach to presenting his work, Kalen Na’il Roach has mastered the unorthodox. His art hangs from the gallery walls in the form of vibrant cloth banners. Images of men from decades past center the streamers, a collage of different backgrounds and colors laid out behind them. It is as dazzling as it is confusing to the eye. The men are Roach’s family members, a theme central to his art.

Art had been an integral part of Roach’s family lineage dating back generations. His father was a photographer and his grandfather was a painter and jazz musician. Before he became a photographer Roach was a talented painter himself, but, “It was my father who put the camera in my hands first.” His father passed away in October 2017.

Roach’s fascination with his family’s work stems from a vast collection of photographs left behind by his father and grandfather. “I had found these images that my father took at parties. He would take these portraits of people and sell them for $5 a pop,” said Roach. “One day I found these images that he hadn’t sold, and they were all pictures of my family, I was shocked at the performance of it all and how much photography can be performance; how it relates to portraiture; and how it related to my experience with my family members. In the pictures they were putting on their best selves, but I knew so much more.”

The more he mined this archive of photos, the deeper his understanding grew, but it was never enough. While Roach’s ultimate goal of his art is to honor the legacies his father and grandfather, he also yearned to fully comprehend the relationships of his family especially that of his mother and father. While the two were close, they were not together- separating when Roach was three years old. Despite all the photos of his family he had unearthed, one of the hardest things for Roach was that he did not have a photograph of him and his parents. It was only a short time ago that he set out on one of his most ambitious projects yet- to take that coveted photograph.

A photograph by Mariela Sancari.

“I tricked them into doing a shoot together,” explained Roach. “I told them to wear black and meet me at my mom’s basement, and that it was an emergency and that I needed them both. I knew there was no other way to do it. I needed to create this image of them together because we didn’t have it.”

Roach describes how he used this photo for his first-ever solo show, the deeper motivations behind the shot, and what it took to capture this elusive moment. “I was playing with the idea of what our family really was and what our family looks like,” said Roach. “I thought it was going to be like pulling teeth, but once we got together they were all-in. We had a great time, but I forced them to be stoic. I told them what to be, how to look and how to act. I was so controlling with it because I wanted it to be as made up of a picture as possible, so when you looked at the awkwardness of it you could see the tension. It was an acronym of what two people who have a kid together and aren’t together anymore- but love each other- is.”

Although she was not able to attend the opening reception, Sancari did leave a message explaining the meaning behind her portion of the gallery. Her photography explores how memory shapes identity, and how it shades into fiction. In her photographic series “Moisés,” Sancari confronts the lingering uncertainties surrounding her father’s life and death by photographing men in their 70s- the age her father would be today had he not committed suicide when she was a child.

The Art Gallery is located in Room 112 of the Fine Arts Instructional Center, on the Eastern Connecticut State University campus. Gallery hours are Tuesdays and Wednesdays, from 11 to 5 p.m.; Thursdays from 1-7 p.m.; and Saturdays and Sundays from 2-5 p.m. Parking is available in the Cervantes parking garage and in the Student Center parking lot. For more information regarding this and other exhibitions at The Art Gallery, please call (860) 465-4659 or visit www.easternct.edu/artgallery.