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.

Eastern Named a ‘Great College to Work For’ for Eighth Time

Written by Michael Rouleau

2013GCWF_4CsingularWILLIMANTIC, CT (07/17/2017) Eastern Connecticut State University has again been named a “Great College to Work For” by The Chronicle of Higher Education, a top trade publication for colleges and universities. Released today by The Chronicle, the results are based on a survey of 232 colleges and universities. This is the eighth time Eastern has received “Great Colleges” distinction since it first began participating in the program in 2009.

Only 79 of the institutions that applied for the program achieved “Great College to Work For” recognition this year. Eastern was also named to the national Great Colleges “Honor Roll,” one of only 42 institutions named to this exclusive club. This is the third year in a row that Eastern has been named to the honor roll. Eastern was also the only public four-year university or college in New England to gain “Great Colleges” distinction.

The Chronicle’s Great Colleges to Work For survey is the largest and most comprehensive workplace study in higher education. Now in its 10th year, it recognizes the colleges that get top ratings from their employees on workforce practices and policies.

The survey results are based on a two-part assessment process: an institutional audit that captured demographics and workplace policies, and a survey administered to faculty, administrators, and professional support staff. The primary factor in deciding whether an institution received recognition was employee feedback.

Eastern won honors in six survey categories this year: Collaborative Governance; Compensation and Benefits; Facilities, Workspaces, and Security; Confidence in Senior Leadership; Teaching Environment; and Tenure Clarity and Process.

“It is gratifying to know that our employees continue to value the positive working atmosphere we share on our campus,” said Eastern President Elsa Núñez. “The ‘Great Colleges to Work For’ recognition is not only a symbol of the common purpose found among our faculty and staff, it represents the welcoming and supportive environment that our students experience every day.

“To know that Eastern has consistently received this honor – winning ‘Great Colleges’ recognition in each of the eight years we have participated – is an indication that our commitment to campus unity is an enduring value firmly embedded in our culture.”

“Ten years in, the ‘Great Colleges to Work For’ distinction is well-known by academic jobseekers as a sign that an institution’s employees are valued and given opportunities for growth even when they face financial constraints,” said Liz McMillen, editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education. “Any college or university that’s on the list is showing that they emphasize one of their most valuable assets: their faculty and staff.”

To administer the survey and analyze the results, The Chronicle worked with ModernThink LLC, a strategic human capital consulting firm that has conducted numerous “Best Places to Work” programs, surveying hundreds of thousands of employees nationwide. “It’s easier to be a great workplace during good times, but it’s when times are tough that the commitment to workplace quality really gets tested,” said Richard K. Boyer, principal and managing partner of ModernThink LLC. “Those institutions that measure up during times of economic hardship reinforce their already strong cultures and put even more distance between them and their peer institutions for whom they compete for talent.”

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About Eastern Connecticut State University

Eastern Connecticut State University is the state of Connecticut’s public liberal arts university, serving more than 5,300 students annually at its Willimantic campus and satellite locations. In addition to attracting students from 163 of Connecticut’s 169 towns, Eastern also draws students from 23 other states and 20 other countries. A residential campus offering 39 majors and 64 minors, Eastern offers students a strong liberal art foundation grounded in an array of applied learning opportunities. Ranked the 26th top public university in the North Region by U.S. News and World Report in its 2017 Best College ratings, Eastern has also been awarded “Green Campus” status by the U.S. Green Building Council seven years in a row. For more information, visit www.easternct.edu.

About The Chronicle of Higher Education

The Chronicle of Higher Education is dedicated to serving the higher-education community with insights, understanding, and intellectual engagement. Academic leaders and professionals from around the world trust The Chronicle’s analysis and in-depth exploration to make informed decisions.

About ModernThink LLC

As a research and consulting leader in workplace issues, ModernThink has supported a wide variety of “Best Place to Work” initiatives. Through these programs, the firm has gained substantial survey and industry expertise, including specific insight into higher education. ModernThink knows what it takes to build a great place to work and shares that know-how with its clients. The ModernThink team of organizational development experts is dedicated to helping colleges follow through and capitalize on feedback from employees and benchmark data from peers to drive meaningful change at their institutions. Learn more at http://www.modernthink.com.

View Online: http://easternct.meritpages.com/news/eastern-named-a–great-college-to-work-for–for-eighth-time/691

Eastern Warriors Win Top Conference Honors On and Off the Field

Written by Ed Osborn

•Men's basketball player Tarchee Brown '18 and women's volleyball player McKenzie Maneggia '20 pose with Willi the Warrior and the two LEC Cups

Men’s basketball player Tarchee Brown ’18 and women’s volleyball player McKenzie Maneggia ’20 pose with Willi the Warrior and the two LEC Cups

WILLIMANTIC, CT (07/06/2017) For the first time, student-athletes at Eastern Connecticut State University have won the Little East Conference’s (LEC) two top honors – the Presidents’ Cup and the Commissioner’s Cup – in the same year.

For the third year in a row, Eastern was awarded the LEC Presidents’ Cup for overall academic performance during the 2016-17 academic year. In addition, for the first time in its 17-year existence, the LEC’s Commissioner’s Cup, awarded for the most successful athletic program in the conference, was won by Eastern.

The LEC Presidents’ Cup measures the highest cumulative grade point average of all eight institutions in the conference. Each institution calculates the cumulative grade point average for all its student-athletes who competed in the league’s 19 championship-sponsored sports. The Eastern Warriors registered a cumulative grade point average of 3.12, narrowly beating out Keene State College and Plymouth State University. The women’s cross country and soccer teams performed the best among all Eastern teams with 3.43 cumulative GPAs.

During the year, Eastern athletes achieved LEC All-Academic recognition (minimum GPA of 3.30) a total of 118 times – 47 in six fall programs, 36 in six spring programs, and 35 in five winter programs. Additionally, a record 68 Eastern student-athletes earned an E-Club Scholar-Athlete Award, 38 of them receiving an Outstanding (cumulative 3.50+) Scholar-Athlete Award.

The Little East Conference began awarding the Presidents’ Cup following the 2009-10 academic year, and this year Eastern became the first school to win four LEC Presidents’ Cups (2010, 2015-17).

“I congratulate the scholar-athletes of Eastern Connecticut State University for earning three consecutive Little East Conference Presidents’ Cups, the LEC’s highest academic award, as well as earning the institution’s first-ever Commissioner’s Cup in the same academic year,” said LEC Commissioner Cora H. Crumley. “This prestigious award clearly demonstrates intercollegiate athletics’ ability to enhance the academic mission of our member institutions. The Warriors’ staff is to be commended for their role in facilitating their student-athletes’ achievements.”

Eastern is the first program since 2012-13 to win the Little East Conference’s top honors in the same year. “It is gratifying to win both the Commissioner’s Cup and the President’s Cup for the performances of our student-athletes,” said Lori Runksmeier, Eastern’s director of athletics. “Division III is all about balance, and I am so proud that Eastern could achieve these results on the field and in the classroom.”

In winning its first Commissioner’s Cup, Eastern won five LEC regular-season titles and one LEC tournament championship in 2016-17, with 9 Eastern teams in the ten LEC sports that keep regular season standings finishing fourth or higher and two teams going undefeated in LEC regular-season play. Moreover, nine individuals won a major LEC award (Player, Rookie or Coach-of-the-Year) and 114 were named to All-LEC teams.

Former Washington Post Publisher Addresses Eastern Graduates

Written by Ed Osborn

                                                     Eastern Graduates 1,238 at XL Center

David Graham

David Graham

Hartford, CT — Former Washington Post Publisher Donald Graham told the graduates at Eastern Connecticut State University’s 127th Commencement exercises to “treasure this college. Eastern has given you a wonderful education . . . once you are making a living, give something back so that you can help Eastern continue to be great in the future.”

The annual graduation ceremony was held at the XL Center in Hartford on May 17, with more than 12,000 family members and friends cheering on their sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, as 1,180 undergraduates and 58 graduate students received their diplomas.

Graham also told the graduates, “Throughout our history, American leaders have stood up in times of peril — during the American Revolution, during the Civil War, confronting Hitler, standing up to Communism, and advancing civil and women’s rights.  At some time in your life, you will be asked to stand up for what is right, and I know you will answer the call.” Noting that the American political system has worked very well for more than 200 years, Graham said, “Future politicians will say, ‘I will fight for you.’  That’s fine. But ask them, ‘What will you do when you are done fighting?’”

Commencement 2017 Crowd_7167The commencement speaker also received an honorary degree from Eastern in a special hooding ceremony during the graduation exercises. Graham is chairman of Graham Holdings Co., formerly the Washington Post Co. A graduate of Harvard College, he is a veteran of the Vietnam War, serving as an information specialist with the First Cavalry Division from 1967-68.  He later served as a patrolman on the Washington, D.C., police force before joining the staff at the Washington Post in 1971 as a reporter.  Graham assumed the position of publisher of the Washington Post in 1979, following in the footsteps of his mother, Katherine Graham, who led the newspaper following her husband Philip Graham’s passing in 1963. In 1991, Donald Graham took over leadership as chief executive officer of the Washington Post Co.

Commencement 2017 Nunez and BabyIn 2013, Graham and his wife, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Amanda Bennett, joined Carlos Gutierrez, former U.S. Secretary of Commerce, and Henry R. Munoz III, chairman of Munoz & Company, to co-found TheDream.US, a national scholarship fund that helps undocumented immigrant youth get access to a college education. Since its founding, TheDream.US has raised $91 million in scholarship funds, providing financial support to 1,700 college students nationwide. Graham also co-founded and served as chairman of the District of Columbia College Access Program; he remains a member of the board.  The program has helped double the number of District of Columbia public high school students going on to college and has helped triple the number graduating from college.

Commencement 2017 Nunez Shakes HandOther speakers at the Commencement Exercises included Eastern President Elsa Nunez; Matt Fleury, chair of the Board of Regents for Higher Education; Mark Ojakian, president of the Connecticut State Colleges and University System; and Senior Class President Abigail Caselli, who delivered the Senior Class Address. Other members of the platform party included Willimantic Mayor Ernie Eldridge; Justin Murphy ’98, president of the ECSU Foundation; Ellen Lang ’81, president of the ECSU Alumni Association; Father Larry LaPointe; and other Eastern officials.

Commencement 2017 BEST BalloonNunez told the graduates she was confident they would impact the world in three ways,  first as professionals in the workforce, equipped with “. . . a highly desired set of skills” sought by the majority of American employers — “analytical thinking, teamwork and communication skills, the broad intellectual and social competencies available through a liberal arts education.” Nunez also urged the graduates to give back to their communities, quoting Children’s Defense Fund founder Marian Wright Edelman, who once said, “Service is the rent we pay for being. It is the very purpose of life, and not something you do in your spare time.”

Waving BESTLastly, Nunez encouraged the Eastern seniors to “. . . exercise your duties and rights as American citizens. Our nation remains a beacon of freedom and a guiding light for other nations to follow, not because of our military might or our economic power, but because of the political, religious and personal freedoms we enjoy.”

Commencement 2017 Four LadiesNoting those freedoms must be protected, Eastern’s president went on to say, “Being a citizen of this great nation is clearly an investment of time, but it is the only way we can protect the freedoms we hold dear. Never abdicate your responsibilities as a citizen to someone else.  Be willing to question the status quo.  And stand up for the values you believe in.”

Commencement 2017 FamiliesMore 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.

Commencement 2017 Student PresidentSenior Class President Abigail Caselli presented the Senior Class Gift to President Nunez — an annual Class of 2017 scholarship — and thanked her classmates’ families, friends and faculty for supporting the senior class in its journey. “To a room filled with the next great doctors, nurses, actors and actresses, genetic counselors, presidents of universities, human resource managers and professors, just to name a few of the success stories to be written about my fellow graduates, I encourage you to use the opportunities that Eastern has given you and make the world around you better.  As someone once said, ‘Service is the highest form of leadership.’ May each of you find and share that leadership within you.”

Matt Fleury, president and CEO of the Connecticut Science Center, spoke on behalf of the Board of Regents for Higher Education. “Today is a significant milestone for you,” he said. “We are proud of your accomplishments and applaud the many sacrifices you have made to get here. Your journey to this point was not easy, but for that reason, it is so much more satisfying. Whatever path you have chosen, you can make a difference.”Commencement 2017 SelfiesMark Ojakian, president of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities System, also spoke to the graduates. “You have come a very long way since the first day you arrived at Eastern,” said Ojakian. “Life will take you in many different directions after you leave here tonight. The road in front of you is undefined. But I am hopeful that our state and our nation will be in a better place — as you become your future.”Commencement 2017 Christina

Commencement 2017 Foot GuardFrom the Governor’s Foot Guard Color Guard in attendance, 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, this year’s graduation ceremonies again reflected Eastern’s Commencement traditions.

Commencemetn 2017 SingersUniversity Senate President Maryanne Clifford presided over the commencement exercises; seniors Abigail Perreira and Kristin Uschkureit sang “America the Beautiful”; Senior Leigha Grushkin gave the invocation; and Environmental Earth Science Professor Peter Drzewiecki was recognized as the 2017 Distinguished Professor Award recipient.

MEDIA ADVISORY: 300 Students to Participate in Eastern Research Conference

WILLIMANTIC, CT — The Third Annual CREATE Conference at Eastern Connecticut State University will take place this Friday, April 21, from 8:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. CREATE stands for “Celebrating Research Excellence and Artistic Talent at Eastern,” and is the University’s premier conference showcasing student research and creative activity.

All activities take place in the Student Center except for an exhibit of student art taking place in room 223 of the Wood Support Services Center from 3:30-4:30 p.m.

From art to zoology, Shakespeare to social media, tax law to terrorism, Eastern students of all majors explore important concepts and produce exemplary research and creative work; the culmination of their work this academic year will be on display at CREATE. The one-day conference will feature more than 300 Eastern undergraduates, who will present talks, professional posters, live music, dance performances, art and photography exhibits, documentary films and panel discussions.

“CREATE is a reaffirmation of Eastern’s commitment to undergraduate research as Connecticut’s only public liberal arts university,” said Niti Pandey, business administration professor and conference co-chair. Reflecting on this year’s record number of participants, she added, “There is a wonderful variety of presentations and performances for people to see. CREATE 2017 showcases the hard work and talent of our students and demonstrates the dedication of their faculty mentors. We look forward to an excellent event!”

Members of the Eastern campus and surrounding communities are invited to browse the conference’s many cultural and academic offerings. “CREATE will be a superb learning experience for all who participate and a true celebration of our student’s achievements,” said Patricia Szczys, biology professor and conference co-chair.

Registration takes place at 8:15 a.m. in the Student Center Café, and the opening ceremony will begin at 8:45 a.m. in the Student Center Theatre. Those interested in the event but unable to attend the whole conference can view the schedule and presentation details at www.easternct.edu/create. Ample parking is available in the University’s two parking garages.

NOTE TO NEWS MEDIA:  The news media is invited to attend and cover the conference. This event is a marvelous collection of academic presentations, plays, musical performances, art on exhibit, and other student work — more than 300 students in all. Students and faculty mentors are available for interviews, and there will be host of photography opportunities. Come and see how undergraduates at Eastern are doing research commonly found only in graduate programs at larger institutions!

Making a Splash in Windham: The Special Olympics and Eastern

butterfly

A Special Olympics athlete competes in the butterfly stroke at the Windham Invitational Special Olympics Swim Meet.  Photo by Eastern graduate Linda Ouellette ’89

Written by Michael Rouleau

When Charlie Wynn was a new chemistry professor at Eastern Connecticut State University in 1979, he and a group of competitive swimmers were in the campus swimming pool when they received an unexpected proposition. They were asked to volunteer as timers for Windham’s first Special Olympics swim meet. Now, 38 years later, Wynn and many more members of the Eastern campus community continue to support the annual event, which has become a community tradition and source of pride.

“Volunteers are the backbone of the Windham Invitational Special Olympics Swim Meet,” said Wynn, who has served as meet director for 23 years. In its inaugural event, the meet had 40 swimmers. Today, more than 200 swimmers compete from seven teams across Connecticut and four from Massachusetts.

More than 350 volunteers were on hand at the March 11, 2017, event, with nearly one-third of them being members of the Eastern campus community. Students, alumni, faculty and staff were paired with Special Olympics athletes as they navigated the day of competition, volunteered as lifeguards, or helped out with sports clinics and other activities.

volunteers

A fleet of Eastern volunteers, alongside State Representative Susan Johnson (middle, wearing gray), poses for a group photo in the Windham High School gymnasium. Photo credit Linda Ouellette ’89

The Windham Invitational — held annually at Windham High School — is a regional qualifying meet. Those with the best times move on to Connecticut’s Special Olympics summer games. But winning and qualifying is not what the Special Olympics is about. The official oath reads: “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”

Wynn

Meet Director Charlie Wynn addresses the crowd during the 38th Annual Windham Invitational opening ceremony.  Photo by Linda Ouellette ’89

“That really says a lot,” said Wynn. “Not everybody wins, at any level, with any kind of ability. But what we should expect of ourselves is the best we can do, and we should be proud of reaching the level that we are capable of. That, I would say, is an important message for all athletes.”

Special Olympics swimmers compete in a variety of strokes — freestyle, butterfly, breaststroke, backstroke — but what best embodies the meet’s oath are its less expected races. “We have events in the water for people who can’t swim,” said Wynn. “In the shallow end of the pool, they compete in walking races from side to side. Those who aren’t able to walk compete in floating races and vigorously paddle along the water in flotation devices.”

Wynn continued, “They are Special Olympians, and those races are as competitive and enthusiastically watched as the regular races.” The athletes in these competitions are awarded the same medals and ribbons as other winning athletes.

Much of the day’s fun occurs outside of the pool. For the past several years, Eastern’s Greg Kane, professor of kinesiology and physical education (KPE), has had his students lead sports clinics in basketball, bowling, volleyball and more. “We want to provide a fun atmosphere in which participants can interact without the pressure of competition,” said Kane.

sport clinic

A Special Olympics athlete participates in a bowling clinic put on by Eastern KPE students.

Speaking to the educational impact for his students, he added: “Working with individuals who are different from ourselves can be intimidating. It forces students to adapt their knowledge of leadership and sport to populations that they may never have worked with in the past. This is the nexus of critical thinking, content knowledge and experiential learning. This Special Olympics swim meet remains a highlight of the year for my students.”

The Eastern community’s Special Olympics involvement extends beyond this annual swim meet. Adi DeVivo ’12 is the volunteer coordinator of the Windham Invitational as well as coach of the local Windham Waves Special Olympics swim team.

“I get to experience many Special Olympics events every year, but there’s something different about the Windham swim meet,” said DeVivo. “The energy and the fact that every aspect of the meet is coordinated by volunteers creates an amazing atmosphere. There’s a whole lot of people in it for the right reasons who walk away with wonderful memories and a stronger sense of community.”

Both the meet and the local swim team are supported by “Best Buddies,” a student organization at Eastern focused on building friendships between students and people with disabilities. “Having such involvement from Eastern students shows just how inclusive our campus is,” said Julia DeVivo ’19, a swim meet volunteer of five years who double majors in early childhood education and psychology. “I love how caring our campus is and how willing we are to give back to the community.”

Volunteer lifeguard Matthew Sanetrik ’20, a social work major, is drawn to the local Special Olympics for a personal reason. “I made the decision to start volunteering because I have a twin brother with a disability,” he said. “Often times when you grow up with a sibling in a wheel chair, you find ways to incorporate their ability level and adapt activities to allow them to participate.”

medals

Special Olympians are awarded medals after a swimming competition. Photo by Linda Ouellette ’89

Being a lifeguard on the pool deck all day, Sanetrik sees the most intimate moments of the athletes, before, during and after competition. “You see them step up, excited or nervous, and after the race, you see immediately how proud they are of their efforts as they receive high-fives on their way to the awards.”

Of all the feel-good moments that happen during a Special Olympics competition, something that stands out for many is the audience. “The athlete who finishes last gets the loudest applause,” said Sanetrik, “because what truly matters is the attempt.”

“The crowd goes crazy for the last swimmer,” echoed Wynn. “You have to see it. The first time, I choked up.”

Eastern’s Stephen Nelson Recognized for Excellence in Rugby Community

Stephen Nelson, director of information technology and IT planning at Eastern

Stephen Nelson, director of information technology and IT planning at Eastern

Written by Christina Rossomando

Willimantic, CT — Stephen Nelson, director of information technology and IT planning at Eastern Connecticut State University, received the Dr. Robert L. Laurence Award for 2017 for his work as the advisor for the club rugby team.

Ray Aramini, assistant rugby coach, nominated Nelson for the award presented by the New England Rugby Football Union (NERFU). Eastern was one of 53 NERFU teams to be eligible for the award, which is considered to be the highest recognition New England Rugby gives to an individual. “Stephen Nelson was chosen for this award because of his excellence,” said Aramini. “He goes above and beyond to help our program; he’s always running around to make sure everything is set and helping alongside the team. When we needed to build a playscape for students with disabilities, he was right there helping. This award is only a tiny reflection of all that he does.”

Eastern’s rugby program has formed a strong reputation on and off the field. “Receiving this award I am hopeful that the team’s reputation will continue to excel both locally as well as in the bigger rugby community,” said Nelson. “Our program is respected throughout the NERFU and the national small college rugby organization because of our coaching staff’s strong leadership and respect for the players.”

Nelson joined the rugby community as an advisor, but his involvement is must greater than that. Within the last couple of years, the program won the fall 2015 New England championships and represented the region at the national championships in Colorado in April 2016 as well as worked on several community service projects to raise money.  “It’s wonderful to have a winning season on the field,” said Nelson. “But, the club’s involvement in the local community off the field is what I am most honored to be a part of.”

The Dr. Robert L. Laurence Award was introduced to New England Football Union (NERFU) in 1999 by former Executive Director of Colleges Christopher Fauske. Fauske’s desire was to have the union acknowledge a college administrator for their support of rugby in New England and to help build relationships between the colleges and the union. Nelson received the award for outstanding excellence in the rugby community throughout New England.

Eastern Took the Plunge for Hunger

Written by Christine Rossomando

Plunge 1Hundreds of people, including members of the Eastern Connecticut State University campus community, took a dive into the cold waters of the Natchaug River on Feb. 4 to raise money for the Covenant Soup Kitchen. Many participants dressed in costumes as they stood on the river banks in 30 degree weather.

Plunge 2Eastern’s men’s club rugby team plays a big part in the plunge each year, making sure everyone is registered and all the logistics are set. “I am constantly humbled by what a group of young motivated people can do,” said volunteer coach Ray Aramini. “Being on the board for the soup kitchen for many years, you really see how much this fundraiser changes how we do things and how many individuals we can really feed.”

plunge 3

Rugby participants included current students and alumni. “This year alone we had 25 alumni and about 40 current players,” said Armani. The fundraiser will continue until mid-March and individuals can contribute to the plunge by making a pledge online or by mail to the soup kitchen.

Six years ago, the plunge was created to support Nick Fitzner and Patrick Scully’s Ride for Hunger, an event to raise money for the soup kitchen and the Connecticut Food Bank. Fitzner and Scully rode their bikes from Washington D.C to Willimantic during their spring break.

Eastern Continues Unmatched Support of Marrow Registry

A student-volunteer files the mouth swab of a new Be The Match registrant

A student-volunteer files the mouth swab of a new Be The Match registrant

Written by Michael Rouleau

WILLIMANTIC, Conn. — Since 2012, Eastern Connecticut State University has rallied in support of people with life-threatening blood diseases, hosting six marrow registries in four years. Eastern’s total number of registrants jumped to 1,438 on Dec. 1, after an additional 316 people added themselves to the “Be The Match” database, the largest marrow registry in the world.

The issue of life-threatening blood diseases became a campus priority at Eastern in 2012 when student and soccer player Jon DeCasanova was diagnosed with aplastic anemia and lymphatic cancer. DeCasanova was given less than a one percent chance of survival by some doctors, but made a miraculous recovery after receiving years of treatment and a cord stem cell transplant.

Gavin Neuendorf ’17 of Norwich is the latest match from Eastern to make a marrow donation.

Gavin Neuendorf ’17 of Norwich is the latest match from Eastern to make a marrow donation.

Since then, 15 registrants from Eastern have been identified as “matches,” or suitable donors for blood/marrow transplants. Gavin Neuendorf, a senior sociology major and soccer player, is the latest to make a life-saving donation.

“It all started here,” he said. “I registered my freshman year, but never thought they’d actually contact me.” According to Be The Match, one in 300 people will be selected as the best possible donor for a patient; with one in 430 actually donating.

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. In early 2016, Neuendorf underwent the surgical procedure, at the doctor’s request, at Bringham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

“The day of the procedure, I went in, went to sleep, woke up and it was all done,” he said. “For me it was a really small sacrifice for something so big to someone else.”

Neuendorf’s donation went to a woman in her 50s. He looks forward to the prospect of meeting her after a year, per policy of Be The Match.

A Be The Match representative explains the extraction process to a student

A Be The Match representative explains the extraction process to a student

“When we get these transplants as cancer patients or blood disorder patients, we have a new birthday,” said DeCasanova at last year’s registry. “My birthday is now December 11, 2012. That’s how serious it means to us as patients. It gives us a second chance at everything. I’ve had so many great memories that I wouldn’t have had if things didn’t work out how they did.”

Speaking to his own recovery, Neuendorf added, “I took a month off (from physical activity) and came back fine. I have four small dots on my lower back; you can’t even see them.”

Members of the men’s soccer team were on campus-outreach duty during the registry.

Members of the men’s soccer team were on campus-outreach duty during the registry.

When Eastern started its relationship with Be The Match, the men’s soccer team spearheaded the effort; posting flyers, making announcements around the Student Center and encouraging those passing by to get registered. This year, other student organizations stepped up, including the Pre-Health Society and Love Your Melon, a nonprofit organization with a chapter on campus that is focused on pediatric cancer. Among other tasks, students prescreened interested donors for eligibility — using a questionnaire concerning general health — and administered mouth swabs.

Eastern students register for the Be The Match database

Eastern students register for the Be The Match database

After the initial registry in 2012, which received an overwhelming amount of support with more than 600 registrants, the soccer team, led by Coach Gregory DeVito, adjusted its goal to a more modest 100 registrants per registry. Considering the 316 that showed up last week and Eastern’s relatively small population of approximately 5,300 students, DeVito was impressed by the turnout. Be The Match representatives commented that Eastern’s support beats schools with much larger campus populations.

With DeCasanova’s story and Eastern’s support, the University was honored in 2014 with the National Marrow Donor Program/Be The Match Awareness Award.

Eastern Wraps Up University Hours for October

From left to right: Eastern students James Dignoti representing Trump, Francesco Ricigliano representing Gary Johnson, moderator Harrison Brooks, Allison Kazlauskus representing Hillary Clinton and Josh Newhall representing Jill Stein.

From left to right: Eastern students James Dignoti representing Trump, Francesco Ricigliano representing Gary Johnson, moderator Harrison Brooks, Allison Kazlauskus representing Hillary Clinton and Josh Newhall representing Jill Stein.

Willimantic, Conn.— Eastern Connecticut State University’s University Hour series brought a number of interesting speakers to campus in October.

On Oct. 5, the Student Government Association hosted a mock debate with four current Eastern students representing the four presidential candidates; the event was moderated by SGA President Harrison Brooks. President for the College Democrats of Connecticut Allison Kazluskas represented Hillary Clinton. SGA Secretary James Dignoti represented Donald Trump. SGA Student Issues Committee Chair Francesco Ricigliano represented Gary Johnson, and political science honor student Josh Newhall represented Jill Stein.

“While we all hold different ideological and partisan views, we did not want the debate to become a shouting match like presidential debates often are. We aimed to present each candidate’s platforms in a way that could educate our audience and help them to better understand the candidates,” said Newhall.

“Practice and personal experience kept me comfortable up there. I do not have any immediate future plans to debate, but I would like to run for office in the future so I may be debating at some point,” said Kazluskas.

Lopez discusses electoral votes of 1963 .

Lopez discusses electoral votes of 1963 .

On Oct. 12, speaker Ian Haney Lopez, a constitutional law scholar and law professor at University of California-Berkeley, shared his research on the connection between racial division and growing wealth inequality in the United States during his lecture “Dog Whistle Politics: Race and Economic Jeopardy for All.”

“The Dog whistle is a metaphor for speech that operates on two levels. Silent on one level, but triggering strong reaction on the other,” said Lopez. “So if you think about terms like illegal alien, inner city, silent majority or middle class, all of these are silent on one level about race. None of them directly mention race and yet all of them trigger strong racial reactions.”

Eastern alumnus Jon DeCasanova answers questions about his battle with cancer.

Eastern alumnus Jon DeCasanova answers questions about his battle with cancer.

On Oct. 19, former Eastern men’s soccer player Jon DeCasanova shared his story about his battle with aplastic anemia, which he had less than a one percent chance of beating. Following the showing of “The Story of Jon DeCasanova: A True Warrior”—the short documentary about his battle—DeCasanova answered questions.

“Mentality was the biggest challenge of this. There was one thing I was known for during my sickness and that was optimism. I was just the happiest kid in the world for some reason although I was in the hospital. The weird thing is that I wasn’t that way all the time. I was just wired to be optimistic. Do I think that I am wired to in some way always be optimistic, yes, but it’s something I’ve worked on for a long time,” said DeCasanova.

“I had so many things going for me. I was a dean’s list student, I was the captain of the soccer team, I had great friends and great family, nothing was bad in my life. I honestly can’t think of something I wish I could change. For this to happen, especially at the age of 20, it was just absolutely insane and ridiculous not only for me but for my friends and family to deal with,” said DeCasanova.

DeCasanova has been cancer—free for more than two years. He has been spending time as a motivational speaker at high schools and colleges in New England to try and inspire students and help them with the struggles of everyday life.