Eastern Announces New Head Baseball Coach

Brian Hamm joins Warriors after nine seasons leading Amherst College

Former Amherst College head baseball coach Brian Hamm has been named the seventh head baseball coach in the 71-year history of the Eastern Connecticut State University baseball program.

“We are very excited to welcome Brian Hamm to the Eastern family,” said Director of Athletics Lori Runksmeier in making the announcement. “Brian emerged as our leading candidate from a highly competitive pool, and I am confident he is going to do great things. The Eastern baseball program has a tradition of success, and the expectations that accompany those successes are high,” added Runksmeier. “Brian has shown he can produce teams that win with character, and he has the passion to succeed as a Warrior. I believe he will meet our expectations and create great experiences for our baseball players.”

Hamm averaged nearly 25 wins a year with a .662 winning percentage in his nine-year career with the Mammoths. He replaces Matt LaBranche, who was 124-77 with two Little East Conference tournament titles in five seasons. LaBranche resigned in June to become the director of athletics at Western New England University.

Hamm expressed his thanks to Eastern President Dr. Elsa Núñez, Vice President of Student Affairs Walter Diaz and Runksmeier, as well as the search committee “for the opportunity to serve as Eastern’s baseball coach. Under Lori Runksmeier’s leadership, the department enables its athletes and coaches to be successful through a supportive and positive culture. The great energy and spirit associated with the University and Athletics Department is exciting to join,” added the new head coach. “Our goal is to win championships and to do so in a way that honors the legacy of the baseball program and is in line with the mission of our university.”

A 2002 graduate of Middlebury College and a native of Terryville, Hamm spent the past 14 years at Amherst, the first four assisting legendary head coach Bill Thurston before succeeding the Hall of Fame coach in 2010. In nine years as head coach at Amherst, Hamm oversaw the winningest period in Amherst baseball’s 156-year history, winning 221 games and losing 113 (.662), leading the program to four NCAA Division III tournaments and two NESCAC (New England Small College Athletic Conference) tournament championships. Hamm’s teams were 96-35 (.725) in conference play and set program records for highest team batting average (.323) and lowest team ERA (3.12).

Hamm left Amherst after the 2018 season to return to Connecticut where his wife, Maija Cheung, is a surgeon at Yale-New Haven Hospital. “Returning to Connecticut and coaching at one of our great public institutions is important to me,” noted Hamm, a product of the Terryville Public Schools System. “My family has a long history in sports in Terryville and in Connecticut, and to join the Eastern baseball family and represent our alumni is a privilege that I will do my best to honor. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to do so with the young men that are on the team now. I’ve spoken with some of the players and it is clear that I am joining a wonderful group.”

During the 2018 season, Amherst compiled at least 20 wins for the ninth straight year in 2018 and won its second NESCAC championship in six years with a final record of 24-14. The No. 1 seed in the East Division of the NESCAC this past year, Amherst defeated Tufts, the No. 1 seed in the West, twice after a 3-2, 12-inning tournament-opening victory over Bates College to claim the title. At the conclusion of the season this past year, Amherst was ranked sixth in the final NEIBA Division III poll. The Mammoths made their first appearance in the poll – sharing fifth place – after claiming the NESCAC tournament crown.

Hamm was named NESCAC Coach-of-the-Year in 2011 and 2018. In 2014, Amherst won a program-record 30 games and was ranked as high as No. 3 in New England and No. 22 in the final ABCA national poll. During his tenure at Amherst, four players were selected in the MLB First-Year Player Draft, two of them signing after their junior seasons.

As a college athlete, Hamm played baseball and soccer at Middlebury. After graduating, he spent three seasons as an assistant baseball coach at Middlebury before moving on to Amherst in 2006.

Hamm inherits an Eastern team that finished 25-16 last year – 10-4 in the Little East Conference – reaching the championship round of the Little East Conference tournament as the No. 2 seed. Six of the nine starters in last year’s final game are expected to return, as are all but one of last year’s pitchers. Top senior returnees are two-time all-region third baseman Alex Parkos (Meriden) and all-conference right-handed pitcher Jordan Muchin (West Hartford) and all-conference shortstop Dale Keller (Oxford).

“What stands out to me during the many conversations that I have with alumni, players and coaches is their passion and love for Eastern Connecticut and its baseball program,” said Hamm. “I have great respect for the many coaches and alumni who have worn the jersey and contributed to its meaning, and I look forward to learning more about Eastern’s long history from them.”

Hamm holds a B.A. Degree in Political Science from Middlebury and an M.S. Degree in Sport Management from the University of Massachusetts Isenberg School of Management.

Written by Bob Molta

Runksmeier named NADIIIAA Vice President

Written by Mckenzie Maneggia ’20 / Sports Information Office

WILLIMANTIC, Conn. – Eastern Connecticut State University Director of Athletics Lori Runksmeier was recently named vice president of the National Association of Division III Athletic Administrators (NADIIIAA). She was nominated for this position by her colleagues.

Runksmeier has been a member of the NADIIIAA organization for many years. “I believe the creation of NADIIIAA was very important. I believe in it because it addresses the specific challenges of DIII athletics,” said Runksmeier, who has spent the last three years of her 30-year career in athletic administration in her current position at Eastern. Runksmeier came to Eastern in the summer of 2015 after 16 years as Director of Athletics at Division III New England College.

Runksmeier will serve a two-year term as vice president for NADIIIAA before advancing to the position as association president. She is excited to have started this position.“Having this opportunity serve NADIIIAA is an honor. I look forward to working with NADIIIAA’s leadership to further support DIII athletic administrators,” she says.

In addition to Runksmeier’s appointment, Keri Alexander Luchowski was elected NADIIIAA president and Kiki Jacobs secretary and named as at-large executive committee members were Shana Levine, Michael Lynch, Pam Samuelson, Mike Snyder and Portia Hoeg. Luchowski is currently executive director of the North Coast Athletic Conference and Jacobs director of athletics at Roger Williams University.

As she sees it, Runksmeier will focus upon planning education sessions specifically catered to Division III athletics. The vice president position includes programming panels at the NCAA convention and the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA) convention, which are held once a year. “Our relationship with NACDA has already proven beneficial, and I expect we will continue to strengthen those ties. I look forward to serving.”

One goal that Runksmeier hopes to achieve while she is serving is to increase membership in this organization. There are currently over 700 athletic administrators that are part of NADIIIAA and she strives to increase this number so more Division III voices can be heard nationwide.

In three years under Runksmeier, ten intercollegiate programs at Eastern have combined to win 17 Little East Conference regular-season and playoff titles or one-day championship events. Twice, Eastern has won the Commissioner’s Cup for conference athletic supremacy and twice has earned the Presidents’ Trophy for academic supremacy.  Runksmeier has also spearheaded recent fund-raising drives to name the softball field in memory of softball founder Clyde Washburne and the turf field in honor of lacrosse founder Rick McCarthy.

This past summer, two facilities are undergoing upgrades. Field Turf is being installed at the soccer, field hockey and lacrosse field  at the Mansfield Outdoor Complex – replacing the original material – and a new surface has been installed on the swimming pool deck and walls. 

NADIIIAA athletic administrators are from over 350 institutions and conferences competing at the NCAA Division III level. The association encourages the continued development of athletic programs focused on the student-athlete and based on sound educational principles and the Division III philosophy. NADIIIAA is administered by NACDA, which is in its 53rd year.

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.”

Eastern Repeats as LEC Commissioner’s Cup Winner

The women’s cross country team captured its first-ever LEC title in fall 2017 and was a major contributor to Eastern winning the 2017-18 Commissioner’s Cup.

PAWTUCKET, R.I. – For the second straight year, Eastern Connecticut State University has claimed the Little East Conference (LEC) Commissioner’s Cup, the league’s top honor for overall institutional athletic performance among the LEC’s eight primary member institutions in its 19 sponsored sports. The Warriors captured the 2017-18 Commissioner’s Cup after accumulating a point average of 5.62 among their 17 programs that compete in the LEC.

“We are thrilled and honored to win the Commissioner’s Cup again as the top performing school in our conference,” said Eastern President Elsa Núñez. “Eastern’s student-athletes work hard in the classroom to prepare themselves for rewarding professional careers, and they compete with the same commitment and enthusiasm on the playing field. For Eastern athletes to perform at a consistently high level across all varsity sports in the Conference is a tribute to them, their coaches and our Athletic Department staff. Well done Warriors!”

Lori Runksmeier, Eastern’s athletics director, added, “We are very proud to receive the Commissioner’s Cup for the second straight year. The LEC has proud athletic traditions and earning the Commissioner’s Cup is a testament to the hard work and dedication of our student-athletes and coaches.”

Eastern’s women’s cross country team captured its first-ever LEC title in the fall, while the men’s basketball team won the outright regular season title and the women’s soccer team finished tied for first place in the final regular season standings. The Warriors recorded a second-place finish in five sports, all during the spring season—baseball, men’s and women’s lacrosse, softball, women’s outdoor track & field—and finished third in field hockey, women’s volleyball and women’s swimming & diving.

“Congratulations to the Eastern Connecticut State University administration, coaches and student-athletes on earning back-to-back Commissioner’s Cups,” said LEC Commissioner Cora H. Brumley. “The Warriors exemplify the NCAA Division III philosophy by excelling both on and off the field of play and are continuing to usher in a new era of competitive parity across the LEC!” 

Second place for the 2017-18 Commissioner’s Cup was UMass Boston with a point average of 5.34, while 16-time LEC Commissioner’s Cup winner Keene State College finished third with a point average of 5.18. Rounding out this year’s Commissioner’s Cup standings were the University of Southern Maine (fourth, 4.89 points), UMass Dartmouth (fifth, 4.71 points), Plymouth State University (sixth, 4.67 points), Western Connecticut State University (eighth, 4.31 points) and Rhode Island College (eighth, 4.26 points).

For sports in which the LEC conducts in-season play (baseball, basketball, field hockey, lacrosse, soccer, softball, tennis and volleyball), points are determined by the ranked order of finish in the final regular season standings. For sports that do not conduct in-season play (cross country, swimming & diving, track & field), points are awarded based on the order of finish at the LEC championship meet.

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The Little East Conference (LEC) was formed in 1986 when six public institutions gathered to create a single sport athletic conference and has expanded into what is now New England’s premier athletic conference for public institutions in NCAA Division III. The LEC features 19 Championship Sports and sponsors quality competition in every season for our student athletes while following the Division III mission of passion, responsibility, sportsmanship and citizenship.

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.

Eastern Celebrates NCAA Division III Week

Written by Megan Silver-Droesch

Eastern Connecticut State University is celebrating Division III Week from April 2-8. The week is held each year in Division III schools across the country to build greater awareness of Division III athletics.

“Division III Week is a great way to celebrate the positive impact that collegiate sports have on Division III athletes,” said Athletic Director Lori Runksmeier. “Eastern student-athletes are committed to their sports and still find time to achieve academically, build lifelong friendships and contribute to their community. That is really what sport is all about.”

Division III Week opens on April 2 with Warriors@Work, an opportunity for Eastern student-athletes to visit with alumni who played varsity sports while at Eastern. Warriors@Work will be held in the Paul E. Johnson Sr. Community Room in the library at 6 p.m. and will be moderated by Eastern Head Soccer Coach Greg DeVito.

Although the program is open to all Eastern student-athletes, Warriors@Work is intended for current juniors and seniors to participate in a panel discussion with recent graduates. This year’s panelists are Chris Robitaille ’13, men’s basketball; Sarah Froehlich ’16, swimming; Julia DePoi ‘’17, women’s basketball; and Alejandro Tobon ’17, men’s soccer.

Michael Stenko, director of alumni affairs, encourages current student-athletes to engage with this unique opportunity. “Listening to the stories of the alumni panelists and understanding the skills that you have developed as a student-athlete will help you be better prepared when it’s your turn to start your own career after you graduate. There’s so much competition out there for jobs; our students need every advantage they can get.”

Runksmeier encourages the campus community to support Eastern athletes by attending home athletic events scheduled during Division III Week. On April 3, the softball team hosts in-state rival Wesleyan University at 3:30 p.m. The baseball team will follow with their own home game on April 4 against Bridgewater State University at 4 p.m.  On April 6, student-athletes are encouraged to join Athletic Department staff and coaches for coffee in the Athletic Department Conference Room from 9-11 a.m.

Division III Week concludes on April 8 with the annual Student-Athlete Awards Ceremony, which takes place at 7 p.m. in the Betty R. Tipton Room.  This is an opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments of student-athletes as they balance academics, athletics and community engagement. Juniors and seniors with cumulative GPAs above 3.15 will receive the Scholar-Athlete Award. Those who have earned a GPA above 3.5 will receive the Outstanding Scholar-Athlete Award and be inducted into the Chi Alpha Sigma Honors Fraternity. Seniors who will graduate during the 2017-18 academic year will be presented with a plaque commemorating their time as Eastern athletes. Faculty Athletics Representative (FAR) Charles Chatterton will also present the FAR award to the team that best represents the Division III mission by demonstrating academic achievement and community engagement.

In addition to academic awards, several athletic awards will be presented at the Student-Athlete Award Ceremony.  The Morell Service Award recognizes a student worker who demonstrates outstanding service to the Athletic Department while maintaining good academic standing. The Bonnie Edmondson Female Sports Person of the Year and the Francis Geissler Male Sports Person of the Year are awarded based on “athletic excellence, dedication, community service, loyalty, enthusiasm, integrity, spirit and devotion to the team.”

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.

Kathy Manizza, Coach-of-the-Year

Written by Casey Collins

Eastern Connecticut State University cross country coach Kathy Manizza was named Little East Conference (LEC) Cross Country Coach-of-the-Year this fall after leading the Warriors to their first-ever LEC title. Manizza, who resides in Lebanon, has been coaching at the university level for more than 24 years, serving as head coach of Eastern’s cross country and track and field teams for the past six years. She is the first LEC Cross Country Coach-of-the-Year in Eastern’s history.

At this year’s LEC championships, the Warriors found themselves matched up against a daunting field of competitors. Eastern’s main rival, Keene State College, entered the championship as the 17-time defending conference champions. In the end, Eastern placed all five of its scoring runners within the top 14 finishers, out of a seven-team field from seven schools. As a result, the Warriors edged out second-place Plymouth State University by a mere eight points to take home the championship.

“This was my dream team,” said Manizza. “We had been building this team for the past five years, and we had an outside chance of winning the conference last year. We knew that it was a small chance, but we also knew that we had the talent to do it.”

Junior Christina Gosselin has been running for Manizza for the past three years. When asked about her head coach she said, “Coach Manizza has been a great mentor and coach to me. Not only has she helped me become a stronger runner, but she has led our team to achieve success and many accomplishments over the year.”

Sophomore Samara Johnson just concluded her first year running on the team, and said of her coach: “Coach Manizza is always supportive, encouraging and pushing us to do our absolute best. If anyone deserves coach-of-the-year, it’s certainly her.”

Eastern Hosts 7th Marrow Drive

University Partners with DeCasanova to Find Life-Saving Matches

•Members of the men's soccer team with Coach DeVido (left) and Willy the Warrior

Members of the men’s soccer team with Coach DeVido (left) and Willy the Warrior

 Written by Michael Rouleau

In its ongoing support for people with life-threatening blood diseases, Eastern Connecticut State University hosted its seventh marrow registry on Dec. 6. Organized by the men’s soccer team, 140 people were registered into the “Be The Match” database – the largest marrow registry in the world – bringing Eastern’s total to 1,650 registrants over the past five years.

The campus’s first marrow drive occurred in 2012, when student and soccer player Jon DeCasanova was diagnosed with aplastic anemia and lymphatic cancer. DeCasanova, a senior at the time, was given less than a one-percent chance of survival by some doctors.

Jon DeCasanova '16 explains the registration process

Jon DeCasanova ’16 explains the registration process

“One of the treatments I needed was a marrow transplant,” said DeCasanova ’17, who graduated last spring and now works for the Rhode Island Blood Center. In his role as an assistant account executive, DeCasanova helps run Be The Match events throughout the region. “I was able to receive a stem cell transplant, which is a science that we’re supporting here today. It’s a science that saved my life.”

In the past five years, 20 Eastern registrants have made life-saving donations to people with rare blood diseases – a rate much greater than the national average of one in 300 being selected as a best possible donor, and one in 430 actually going through with the procedure.

People identified as matches have two options for donating. One method is via a peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) donation, a nonsurgical procedure similar to giving blood. The other method is via a bone marrow donation, a surgical procedure in which bone marrow is extracted directly from the pelvic bone.

On the day of the event, members of the soccer team spread throughout campus, asking everyone they saw if they’re willing to help save a life. They even recruited the school’s mascot, Willy the Warrior. “Without the promotion of the team, there wouldn’t be as much success as there is,” said Greg DeVito, head coach, who reports the team volunteered approximately 70 hours in advance and during the event. “It’s an honor to see the team use their free time to help out a good cause.”

Volunteer Lauren Landry '20 takes a minute between mouth swabs for a photo.

Volunteer Lauren Landry ’20 takes a minute between mouth swabs for a photo.

“Most current students weren’t here in 2012, so they don’t quite understand what it did to this campus,” said DeCasanova of his diagnosis, remembering the fear and outpouring of support across the Eastern community. “Most people don’t experience cancer at such a young age; I was only 20 years old at the time. None of us really understood what was going on.”

While the men’s soccer team spearheads the effort with Be The Match, several other student organizations help the event run smoothly. Among them this year were the Social Work Club and Love Your Melon, a nonprofit organization with a chapter on campus that is focused on pediatric cancer. Among other tasks, student volunteers prescreened interested donors for eligibility – using a questionnaire concerning general health – and administered mouth swabs.

“I don’t get emotional too much these days,” said DeCasanova, “but when it comes to this event and Eastern in general, and the family we have here, it’s amazing… the passion everyone still has for this event, and their continuing support, not only for me, but for all the patients out there that need matches.”

With DeCasanova’s story and Eastern’s support, the soccer team won the 2016 National Association of D3 Athletic Directors Community Engagement Award. In 2014, the University was honored with the National Marrow Donor Program/Be The Match Awareness Award. Representatives from the organization have commented that Eastern outperforms schools with much larger student populations.

“It’s not about me anymore. My life is saved,” concluded DeCasanova, adding that there are more than 70 diseases that are curable via marrow transplants. “It’s about all the other patients out there who are still looking for matches.”

Eastern Breaks Into List of Top 25 Public Regional Universities

Written by Ed Osborn

eastern_front_entranceFor the first time, Eastern Connecticut State University made the list of the top 25 regional public universities in the North in this year’s U.S. News and World Report’s 2018 edition of “Best Colleges.” Eastern was the highest ranked university among the four Connecticut state universities. The annual rankings were released on Sept. 12.

•Theatre students perform Cervantes' "Pedro, The Great Pretender," as the first production in the Proscenium Theatre of Eastern's new Fine Arts Instructional Center

• Theatre students perform Cervantes’ “Pedro, The Great Pretender,” as the first production in the Proscenium Theatre of Eastern’s new Fine Arts Instructional Center

Regional universities such as Eastern are ranked on the basis of 16 criteria that include peer assessment, graduation and retention rates, faculty resources, admissions selectivity, financial resources and alumni giving. The North Region includes colleges and universities from New England, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland.

•Biology major Elizabeth DelBuono '17 is in the graduate program in Genetic Counseling at Sarah Lawrence College.

• Biology major Elizabeth DelBuono ’17 is in the graduate program in Genetic Counseling at Sarah Lawrence College.

“I am gratified to see Eastern ranked in the top 25 public institutions in the North in this year’s U.S. News and World Report’s 2018 Best Colleges report,” said Eastern President Elsa Nunez. “Our commitment to high standards, our focus on providing students with personal attention, and the introduction of new academic programs have resulted in our favorable ranking. 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 1,389 schools nationwide and are available at www.usnews.com/colleges. They will also be published in the Best Colleges 2017 Guidebook, published by U.S. News & World Report and available on newsstands on Oct. 10.

For the past 33 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.