Eastern a Top 25 Public Regional University in U.S. News and World Report

The class of 2023 gathered for a group photo during the Fall 2019 Warrior Welcome weekend–Eastern draws students from 160 of Connecticut’s 169 towns

 Eastern Connecticut State University is again the highest ranked institution among Connecticut’s four state universities in this year’s U.S. News and World Report’s edition of “Best Colleges.” The 2020 rankings were released on Sept. 9.

This is Eastern’s highest ranking ever as it was ranked 21st among public universities in the North Region. Eastern moved up five spots among public institutions over last year’s rankings and moved up 13 spots when both public and private institutions were considered.

Under the mentorship of Biology Professor Vijaykumar Veerappan, Roshani Budhathoki ’19 was selected for an undergraduate fellowship by the American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB).

.The North Region includes colleges and universities from New England, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland, and is known as the most competitive among the four regions that make up the U.S. News and World Report ranking system.

Regional universities such as Eastern are ranked based on 15 criteria that include peer assessment, graduation and retention rates, class size, faculty resources, admissions selectivity, financial resources and alumni giving.

“Given the uncertain times facing the higher education community, I am delighted to see Eastern achieving its highest ranking ever,” said Eastern President Elsa Nunez. “This is a testament to our commitment to high standards and the faculty and staff’s focus on providing students with personal attention. Our improved ranking this year is due to our rising graduation and retention rates as well as the continued quality of our incoming classes.

 Environmental earth science students traveled to the mountains of Wyoming and Idaho this summer for a geology field course led by Eastern faculty.:

“Students and their families turn to the Best Colleges rankings to help decide where to attend college. These newest rankings reaffirm that Eastern is providing a relevant and high-quality education on our beautiful residential campus.”

This year’s U.S. News and World Report rankings included reviews of upwards of 1,400 schools nationwide and are available at www.usnews.com/colleges. They will also be published in the Best Colleges 2020 Guidebook, published by U.S. News & World Report and available on newsstands on Oct. 15.

For the past 35 years, the U.S. News and World Report rankings, which group colleges based on categories created by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, have grown to be the most comprehensive research tool for students and parents considering higher education opportunities.

Written by Ed Osborn

Eastern Alumna Publishes ‘Planet Earth is Blue’ with Penguin Random House

Thousands of children across the country gathered around the television on Jan. 28, 1986, to witness the Challenger Space Shuttle take the first schoolteacher into outer space. The joyous occasion quickly turned to tragedy as the shuttle exploded one minute into flight. Among the onlookers was Nova, the fictional main character in “Planet Earth is Blue,” the debut book by Eastern Connecticut State University alumna Nicole Panteleakos ’08.

Published by Penguin Random House and Wendy Lamb Books this past May, “Planet Earth is Blue” is the story of an often misunderstood character. Nova is a 12-year-old nonverbal autistic girl with a passion for astronomy. As the Challenger launch approaches, Nova finds herself living in a new foster home and worse, her big sister has gone missing — the one person who understands her.   

“Planet Earth is Blue” is a historical fiction for middle-grade readers. On that tragic day in 1986, classrooms across the country were tuned in to see Christa McAuliffe make history as the first teacher in space.

“It was traumatic,” said Panteleakos of the explosion. “Teachers didn’t know what to do. A lot of schools closed early. Kids didn’t know how to deal with it, which is something that Nova is dealing with in the book.”

Coping with life is especially hard for those who have difficulty communicating. Panteleakos has spent a good deal of time working and volunteering with people with autism and strives to bring a voice to this largely unheard community.

“There’s this pervasive belief that autistic people don’t have any imagination, which is just wrong,” she said. “But a lot of kids like Nova couldn’t express it—especially back in the ’80s when they didn’t have the assistive communication that we have today. So people didn’t know.”

Panteleakos’ first author talk talk occurred at Eastern this past April. Education Professor Susannah Richards welcomed her to speak with students enrolled in her course on middle-grade literature. The students read “Planet Earth is Blue” and devised creative ways to implement it in the middle school classroom setting.

Panteleakos also wants to show a different image of autism. “I wanted to show a more realistic autistic character than the characters, or caricatures, that are seen in the media. I wanted to get away from the trope where the autistic person is this academically brilliant, socially awkward, not very nice character who can’t relate to or love anybody. I wanted to show a more nuanced, realistic person.”

The title of the book recalls the famous David Bowie song “Space Oddity.” “It’s kind of like the Challenger,” said Panteleakos. Speaking of the song, she added: “There’s all this hype for this astronaut, then he goes up and gets jettisoned into space. There’s this line, ‘Planet Earth is blue and there’s nothing I can do.’

“That’s what I was thinking when I wrote the whole book. These bad things happen to Nova and there’s nothing she can do about it. All you can do is metaphorically pick up the pieces and move on. You can’t go back and make it not blow up. You can’t go back and save those people. You can only go forward.”

Tragedy aside, Panteleakos says the themes of the book are hope, resilience, family and friendship. Being able to broach such difficult subject matter is the reason Panteleakos likes writing for the middle-grade age group, as it’s the transitional period between elementary school and the teenage years.

Panteleakos with Eastern student Jakira Wilson.

“It’s an age where kids have the freedom to start striking out on their own and standing out, but also have the comfort of going back home where somebody makes their dinner and takes care of them.”

Stories for this age group are more complex than early childhood literature, but stay away from teenage romance and “saving the world,” topics Panteleakos says often characterize young adult (YA) books — “stuff I’m not too keen on writing.”

“Middle-grade books are about the characters finding themselves or finding their place… figuring out where they belong and how they’re going to be the best version of themselves — which is the challenge for Nova.”

A 2008 graduate of Eastern’s performing arts program, with minors in English and theatre, Panteleakos was first focused on playwriting —and has had many scripts produced and performed. Those formative courses with Communication Professor Edmond Chibeau, who teaches script writing, helped her to master the craft of writing dialogue.

Her trajectory as a writer changed course upon returning to Eastern as a graduate to take a course with English Professor Lisa Fraustino. “I really liked her as an author,” said Panteleakos, “so I was excited to take her class and meet her.”

Fraustino convinced her to pursue a graduate program in children’s literature at Hollins University, which resulted in her landing an agent who got her a two-book deal with Wendy Lamb Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House.

Fittingly, the debut novelist’s first author talk occurred at Eastern this spring semester, speaking with Education Professor Susannah Richards’ class on middle-grade literature.

“It was very exciting,” she said. “A lot of the students had read the book and asked great questions. Questions about my characters I’d never considered. Insights that made me delve deeper into my own work. It showed that they’re really thinking deeply and connecting with the story, which is very exciting for me.”

“Planet Earth is Blue” was published in May 2019 and is available wherever books are sold.

Written by Michael Rouleau

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 Celebrates’ Alumni at Annual Reunion Weekend

The class of 1969 leads the Alumni March to the Big Tent BBQ.
The annual Young Alumni Bash commences at Blarney's.
Alumni, families and President Núñez gather for lunch in the Big Tent BBQ.
Hundreds of the Eastern community enjoy lunch.
Alumni, including the jubilee class of 1969, gather for a reception in the Student Center Cafe.
Alumni from the 80s, 90s and 00s celebrate at Blarney's during the Reunion Happy Hour.
Graduate students are honored during the Hooding Ceremony.
Graduates from the past 10 years gather at Blarney's for the Young Alumni Bash.

 

Hundreds of alumni converged on the Eastern Connecticut State University campus on May 17–18 for the 14th annual Eastern Celebrates reunion weekend. The class of 1969 celebrated its 50th reunion as graduates young and old partook in festivities on and off campus.

The weekend kicked off Friday night as graduates from the past 10 years gathered at Blarney’s for the annual Young Alumni Bash.

Saturday morning opened with a jubilee reception for the class of 1969 in the Student Center Café. President Elsa Núñez congratulated the jubilee class and gave them golden diplomas.

The morning continued with guided tours of campus, the newly reopened Communication Building and the Fine Arts Instructional Center—with a pitstop in the Art Gallery for an exhibition of student art work.

The festivities shifted focus midmorning to graduate students during their hooding ceremony, which celebrated soon-to-be graduates from master’s programs in accounting, organizational management and education.

Lunchtime gathered all patrons to the Big Tent Barbecue for a spread of all-American classics. The class of 1969 led a parade of generations of alumni in a march to the barbecue. With class banners in hand, they entered the tent to music and cheering families.

Classes from the 80s, 90s and 00s closed the celebration at Blarney’s with a reunion happy hour.   

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

FBI, Military, Social Work: 3 New Eastern Fellows Inducted


Charlotte Braziel, Shawn Meaike and Raymond Hill sit on a panel moderated by Interim Provost for Academic Affairs William Salka

Written by Jolene Potter

Three distinguished alumni from Eastern Connecticut State University were inducted into the Eastern Fellows Program on Oct. 19. In addition to joining the ranks of the University’s most successful alumni, Charlotte Braziel ’80, Raymond Hill Jr. ’83 and Shawn Meaike ’95 returned to campus to meet with students and share career advice during a panel discussion.

Braziel is a retired FBI agent who now leads an investigative consulting firm; Hill is a professor at the Air Force Institute of Technology with an extensive military background; and Meaike is a former social worker-turned-entrepreneur who leads the multi-million dollar organization Family First Life.

A public policy and government major at Eastern, Braziel served 26 years as a special agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). She specialized in organized crime, domestic and foreign terrorism, and bank and healthcare fraud.

“My father saw an advertisement in the paper for the FBI, recruiting women,” reflected Braziel on her life three decades ago. “When he told me he thought I’d be a good candidate, I laughed and said I would never get in. His response was, ‘Not with an attitude like that.’ But after a two-and-a-half-year application process, I got hired as an agent in December 1987 and had the career of a lifetime.”

Braziel continued, “As a young student at Eastern I never in my wildest dreams would have thought that I’d make it to the FBI. I didn’t even know that women were FBI agents. The lesson I learned was to listen to people who have suggestions and encouragement for you. They may see talent in you that you don’t see yourself.”

In her current occupation as head of Braziel & Associates, LLC, Braziel advises defense attorneys as an investigative consultant. She also teaches courses in crime scene investigation and criminal justice ethics at St. Leo University in Florida.

“Because of what started at Eastern,” concluded Braziel, “I went from being a wallflower to an FBI agent who teaches internationally.”

Hill graduated from Eastern in 1983 with a degree in mathematics, went on to earn a Ph.D in industrial/systems engineering from The Ohio State University, and served as an active-duty lieutenant colonel in the United States Air Force for 23 years. He continues to have a decorated career in the air force and academia.

Currently a professor of operations research at the Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT), Hill conducts research to support the U.S. Air Force and Department of Defense, advises air force and army graduate students pursuing master’s and doctoral degrees, and teaches graduate-level courses in statistics and mathematical modeling.

 The new Eastern Fellows pose for a photo with President Elsa Nunez

“When I started thinking about the type of professor I wanted to be, I thought back to Eastern,” said Hill. “My professors’ doors were never closed. I could go to any of their offices for help both academically and personally. I’ve adopted that same philosophy.”

Hill has published nearly 90 peer-reviewed journal articles and more than 250 technical works. He has advised more than 150 graduate projects at the master’s and doctoral levels, and been involved in another 125 projects. His extensive research background led to his management of more than $7.9 million in research funding. He is the principal lead investigator for an eight-university research consortium, as well as an associate editor for six journals and co-editor for the Journal of Defense Analytics and Logistics.

In advising Eastern students, Hill said, “Make the best of your current situation, always keep an ear out for other opportunities and move to something new when it feels right.”

Meaike graduated from Eastern with a degree in sociology/applied social relation in 1995 and then worked for the Department of Children and Families for 13 years as a social worker. “My social work experience here was raw and real,” he said. “We were challenged to speak and work with passion; it helped shape who I am today.”

In 2013, Meaike launched Family First Life, a multi-million dollar independent marketing organization located in Uncasville, CT, that generated more than $10 million in sales in its first year. The company is a network of agencies represented by 6,000 licensed agents around the country that markets life insurance, retirement planning and investments. After five years of continuous growth, the company is posited to finish 2018 with more than $175 million in paid life and annuity business and expects to reach more than $200 million in sales in 2019.

With an abiding desire to give back, Meaike launched the Family First Life Scholarship in 2014, which is aimed at helping students from New London County who have good academic standing as well as financial need. Meaike is also the founder of CT Affordable Waste. Since launching in August of 2018, the company is providing local Connecticut businesses and residential homeowners with an easier and more affordable way of completing renovations.

The Eastern Fellows Program was established in the 2008-09 academic year to recognize and engage distinguished alumni in the life of the campus community. Including the three newest honorees, 32 Eastern alumni have been inducted into the program.

Eastern Named a 2018 College of Distinction

WILLIMANTIC, CT (06/18/2018) Eastern Connecticut State University has been recognized as a 2018-19 College of Distinction by the college-guide/ranking organization Colleges of Distinction.

The organization praised Eastern for its student-centered approaches and high-impact educational practices. High-impact practices of note include Eastern’s community-based learning programs, intensive writing courses, living-learning communities for residents, undergraduate research, internships and other hands-on learning experiences.

“We are absolutely thrilled to recognize Eastern Connecticut State University as a College of Distinction for its effective dedication to student success,” said Tyson Schritter, CEO for Colleges of Distinction. “Colleges of Distinction is so impressed with Eastern’s curriculum, which is enriched with the kind of high-impact educational practices that are most crucial for student development. Such innovative engagement is preparing the next generation of young adults to thrive after college.”

Colleges of Distinction’s selection process consists of a review of each institution’s freshman experience and retention efforts alongside its general education programs, alumni success, strategic plan, student satisfaction and more. Schools are accepted on the basis that they adhere to the Four Distinctions: Engaged Students, Great Teaching, Vibrant Community and Successful Outcomes.

“Colleges of Distinction is far more than a ranking list of colleges and universities,” said Schritter. “We seek out the schools that are wholly focused on the student experience, constantly working to produce graduates who are prepared for a rapidly changing global society. Again recognized as a College of Distinction, Eastern Connecticut State University stands out in the way it strives to help its students to learn, grow and succeed.”

Top U.S. Mental Health Official Speaks at Eastern’s 128th Commencement

                                                                            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.

Leadership Luncheon Recognizes Outstanding Donors and Alumni

The award winners of the 2018 Leadership Luncheon pose for a group photo. Front row: Eileen Ossen, Patricia McGrath (Geraldine Spillane’s daughter), Geraldine Spillane, Eastern President Elsa Núñez, Jack Spillane, Sean Spillane, Ken DeLisa, Vice President. Back row: Lorraine Scanlon (Mike’s wife), Mike Scanlon, and Debra Spillane

Written by Ed Osborn

A spirit of celebration and good will was in the air when Eastern Connecticut State University held its annual President’s Leadership Awards Luncheon on March 16 to honor the University’s leadership level supporters. The luncheon is Eastern’s premier donor appreciation event of the year and also recognizes the University’s most distinguished Eastern alumni. An appreciative crowd of Eastern supporters enjoyed this year’s event in the Fine Arts Center’s Susan Sukman McCray Foyer, named after a major donor to the University’s Theatre Program.

Ken DeLisa, vice president for institutional advancement, opened the luncheon by speaking to the University’s fundraising achievements of the past year. Total giving to the ECSU Foundation, Inc., exceeded $2 million for the sixth straight year, with student scholarship awards totaling $2.1 million over the past four years.  Projected scholarship awards in fiscal year 2019 will approach a record $700,000.

In recognizing the awardees as well as the many donors present, DeLisa said, “Because of your professional achievements, personal philanthropy and unwavering commitment to Eastern, you inspire our passion for higher education. You serve as role models for our students and you create opportunities for them to succeed.”

In her remarks, Eastern President Elsa Núñez told the audience that their generosity was contributing to Eastern’s improved reputation, indicating that the University had entered the ranks of the top 25 universities in the North Region for the first time in last fall’s U.S. News and World Report “Best Colleges” rankings. Eastern was also the only public institution in New England named a “Great College to Work For” by the Chronicle of Higher Education, and was named a Green College by The Princeton Review for the eighth year in a row. 

Núñez also noted the growing philanthropy of Eastern supporters. “Since I arrived here 12 years ago, we have added 52 new endowed scholarships totaling $6.7 million; we have doubled the number of donors making annual gifts of $1,000 or more; and the percentage of alumni making gifts has grown from three percent to nine percent, the highest giving percentage among Connecticut’s four state universities, and higher than private institutions such as the University of Hartford, Sacred Heart University and Quinnipiac University.”  

In applauding the generosity of leadership donors, Núñez said, “Your contributions to student scholarships make a world of difference in the lives of the individual students who benefit from your generosity.  Over time, endowed scholarships at Eastern will benefit not only the thousands of students you are helping to fulfill their personal dreams, but will also have a great impact on Connecticut and our great American Democracy. As John F. Kennedy said in 1961, ‘Let us think of education as the means of developing our greatest abilities, because in each of us there is a private hope and dream, which fulfilled, can be translated into benefit for everyone and greater strength for our nation.’”

Following the luncheon service, Núñez was joined by Justin Murphy Esq., president of the ECSU Foundation, Inc., Board of Directors, to announce this year’s awards.

Elinore McCance-Katz ’78 was honored with the Distinguished Alumni Award.  A graduate of Eastern’s Biology program, McCance-Katz has been a national leader in mental health and addiction policy for decades, and recently was appointed as the assistant secretary for mental health and substance use at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, DC. She is the first assistant secretary-level director of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. 

In addition to her Eastern degree, she holds a Ph.D. from Yale University and an M.D. from the University of Connecticut.  Prior to her federal appointment, McCance-Katz held senior medical officer positions in Rhode Island, Virginia and California, and has taught at Yale School of Medicine, Brown University, the University of Texas and other universities.

Michael Scanlon ’75 (right) received the Distinguished Service Award. Justin Murphy, president of the ECSU Foundation Board of Directors, and Eastern President Elsa Nunez join him for a photo.

Michael Scanlon ’75 received the Distinguished Service Award.  A native of Manchester, CT, Scanlon earned his M.S. in organic chemistry from the University of Connecticut, and went on to have a distinguished management career in the chemical engineering industry. In addition to years of service as a member and later as president of the ECSU Foundation, Inc., Board of Directors, Scanlon and his wife Lorraine volunteer for Meals on Wheels in their hometown of Redding, CT, and are active with the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, site of the historic Woodstock music festival in New York State.

“I am truly humbled and honored to be recognized today,” said Scanlon. “I was blessed with a quality education at Eastern, where I learned the value of social responsibility and how to think critically in real-world settings.” A first-generation college student, Scanlon followed three friends to Eastern, where he majored in biology. He thanked several professors who had inspired and supported him, including two — retired Mathematics Professor Steve Kenton and retired Chemistry Professor Max Ferguson — who were on hand to congratulate him.  “Some of my best years were at Eastern,” concluded Scanlon, sharing that the day was also he and his wife’s 27th wedding anniversary.

The Hermann Beckert “Friend of the University” Award was given to Rheo Brouillard, recently retired President and CEO of the SI Financial Group, Inc., a role he assumed in 2004 after being the president of the Savings Institute Bank and Trust (SIBT) since 1995.  Under Brouillard’s leadership, SIBT has contributed more than $60,000 to support Eastern students and University initiatives.

Through the SI Financial Group Foundation, established in 2005, Brouillard and his colleagues have also provided financial support for local organizations such as the Covenant Soup Kitchen, Camp Horizons, and the Northeast Connecticut Community Development Corporation, which is providing safe, affordable housing for local Windham residents and working to revitalize downtown Willimantic.

Eileen Ossen speaks on behalf of her family foundation after receiving the ECSU Foundation’s Board of Director’s Award.

Local philanthropist Eileen Ossen and the Jeffrey P. Ossen Family Foundation received the Foundation’s Board of Director’s Award. Jeffrey Ossen, a local businessman who built a successful company in the manufactured housing industry, passed away in 2007. A lifelong philanthropist, Ossen made a $500,000 leadership gift that led to building the $8.5 million Jeffrey P. Ossen Emergency Center at Windham Community Memorial Hospital. 

Ossen’s widow Eileen has continued her late husband’s work through the Jeffrey P. Ossen Foundation, which has been instrumental in creating and supporting a variety of endowed scholarships at Eastern. The scholarships have a cumulative balance of $240,000 and have supported 53 students with scholarships ranging from $1,500 to $3,000 each of the past three years.

“I believe in Windham and Willimantic,” said Eileen Ossen in accepting the award. “Supporting education is the best way to help this community, because it can empower our residents to fulfill their dreams for a better life. Jeff would have a light in his eye if he saw how many young people we are helping through the foundation.”

The Spillane family: (first row) Jack Spillane, Geraldine (Shea) Spillane ’57, Debra Spillane (Sean Spillane’s wife), Patricia McGrath (Geraldine Spillane’s daughter). Second row: Sean Spillane, nephew Steve Spillane.

Pawcatuck, CT, resident Geri (Shea) Spillane, Class of 1957, her brother-in-law Jack Spillane, and his son, Sean Spillane, were honored with the ECSU Foundation’s Distinguished Donor Award. Gerry Spillane’s late husband, Robert “Buddy” Spillane ’56, served as superintendent of schools in Boston, as well as in school districts in Virginia, New York and New Jersey. He later worked as the European regional officer for the U.S. State Department’s Office of Overseas Schools. 

In addition to his distinguished career in education, Buddy Spillane served on the ECSU Foundation, Inc., Board of Directors for more than a decade, and was the first recipient of the University’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 1969.

Following his passing in 2015, Spillane’s brother Jack, and nephew Sean, joined with Geri Spillane to create an endowed scholarship in Buddy’s honor, and have funded it with gifts in excess of $150,000. Sean and Jack Spillane are successful businessmen in the Minneapolis, MN, area, and Jack serves on the Board of Trustees of the University of Minnesota’s School of Nursing.

In speaking for his family, Jack Spillane recounted how he and his brother grew up on High Street in Willimantic upstairs from what is now Blarney’s Cafe. In the 1950s, the family ran a lunch counter on the first floor of the building. “The Campus Shoppe” was frequented by many Eastern students at the time, including Buddy Spillane’s future wife, Geraldine Shea.

“Bud’s heart was in this school,” said Jack Spillane, “and we are pleased that we can create a long-lasting legacy for him at Eastern.  Bud is not gone . . . he is still in all the places where he made an impact.”

In concluding the day’s festivities, DeLisa thanked the donors in attendance: “You honor Eastern through your continued faith in the University and your ongoing commitment to giving our students access to all the opportunity that comes with higher education.”

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.