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’s ‘Puentes al Futuro’ Explores Lambe Lambe Puppetry

The boys who created “The Magic Box” — with their camp counselor Adrian Lopez-Diaz ’20 (right) — perform a Lambe Lambe puppet show.

With headphones pressed over her ears, the one-person audience peers in through a slot in a box and waits for the show to start. Music buzzes through the headset, the curtain rises and a miniature set is revealed. A cast of puppet characters comes to life and takes the audience on a journey. Two minutes later, the curtain closes, the show is over.

This is Lambe Lambe, a form of miniature theatre that took place at Eastern Connecticut State University during the month of July.

Puentes al Futuro (Bridges to the Future) is the Center for Community Engagement’s (CCE) annual summer camp for local middle school kids. In recognition of Willimantic’s Hispanic community, the educational program spotlights Latin American culture. This year’s theme was Lambe Lambe.

NYC-based puppeteer and actor Harrison Greene demonstrated the art form and led the group of 27 middle schoolers through workshops on the Eastern campus. Greene participated in an international festival with the group Payasos con Ropa de Calle (Clowns with Street Clothes), a group of performers based in Puerto Montt, Chile, dedicated to spreading Lambe Lambe storytelling.

The girls of “El Dia De Los Muertos” perform for a family member at the Puentes al Futuro showcase on July 25.

“It’s a style that started 30 years ago in South America,” explained Greene. “The whole show is contained in a small box with a peephole. It’s a very personal, fully intimate experience.”

In Lambe Lambe, the puppeteer — or puppeteers — manipulates the characters from above, out of sight of the audience, whose vision is limited by the peephole. The headset plays prerecorded audio and the puppeteer does not speak. The spectator is left fully focused on the action inside the box.

For this summer’s Puentes program, the children were broken into six groups and tasked with creating original Lambe Lambe performances. Assisted by seven Eastern student volunteers, the groups wrote and recorded scripts, designed boxes (sets and scenery) and characters, and rehearsed for final performances.

CCE Program Coordinator Rose Hernandez explained that dreaming is a theme of Puentes al Futuro. “We want the kids to dream beyond their current circumstance and visualize their futures,” said Hernandez, who helped establish the Puentes program eight years ago at Windham Middle School. “This is why we hold the program every year on Eastern’s campus.”

The middle schoolers were asked to tap into their dreams. The result was a rainbow of colorful boxes and storylines.

CCE volunteers and Puentes al Futuro campers pose for a group photo with their finished boxes alongside Harrison Greene (middle, right).
A camper paints a backdrop for her group's Lambe Lambe box.
Student volunteer Katelyn Root works with campers on scenery.
Communication faculty member John Murphy records the campers' script.
Student volunteer Lexie Mastroianni helps her group of campers record their script in Eastern's radio station.
Student volunteer Forest Rappe works on scenery with a Puentes al Futuro camper.
Puentes al Futuro campers rehearse their Lambe Lambe performance.
Eastern President Elsa Núñez watches a Lambe Lambe performance during the Puentes al Futuro showcase on July 25.

 

In “The Letter,” several girls receive a letter and meet on a boat headed for Hawaii. After overcoming a series of challenges, they find they’ve passed “the test” and are now spies. In “The Magic Box,” Nemo is granted one wish and joins the circus. In “Girl’s Trip,” some friends are headed to see their idol, pop music star Billie Eilish, in concert. The girls meet Billie and are told to follow their dreams.

“Everyone contributed something different to the project,” said CCE volunteer Katelyn Root ’19. “Some kids loved writing stories, others specialized in art. Every talent was used to create the puppet shows.”

Speaking to his group of 11- and 12-year-old boys, Adrian Lopez-Diaz ’20 admitted, “It started out chaotic. Everyone was yelling ideas out, but eventually we narrowed it down. I gave them as much liberty as possible. It was fun to get to know the kids and see who they’re becoming.”

Harrison Greene, John Murphy, Rose Hernandez and CCE Director Kim Silcox pose for a group photo.

Zaira Hernandez’s ’20 group of girls carried a different level of energy. “My girls were very sweet. They were shy at the beginning, but over the month they opened up, asking me a lot of questions about my life, about college. There’s a lot of pressure on them. They’re just figuring out who they are.”

“Every day is a new opportunity to teach an important lesson to the campers,” said Forest Rappe ’20, “and to relate to them my own experiences from middle school. Our campers are going through a difficult transitioning period in their lives, so I want to give them as much support as possible so they’re happier and more successful in school this year.”

After finalizing the scripts, Communication Professor John Murphy helped the middle schoolers record the audio in Eastern’s radio station. “A universal constant was how surprised they were to hear a high-quality recording of their voice — to hear what they sound like to other people.” He added, “I loved seeing their spontaneity, their fearlessness and ability to act and play different parts.”

The month-long camp culminated on July 25 with final performances on campus. Dozens of family and community members gathered into a crowded and unexpectedly silent room in Mead Hall. Careful to not disturb their audiences — six performances happening simultaneously — the children intently worked their puppets as others shifted backdrops in and out of boxes. One two-minute show after the other, family and friends took turns peering into boxes. As the curtains closed, each spectator removed the headphones with a smile.

“I’m blown away,” said Greene with a tear in his eye. “My expectations are exceeded. It’s exciting that Lambe Lambe is being exposed up here, especially in this community.”

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

‘Town Pride, Town Wide’ Beautifies Willimantic

With rakes and shovels in hand, students deployed across Willimantic on April 27 for the 11th annual “Town Pride, Town Wide” beautification event. Coordinated by Eastern’s Center for Community Engagement (CCE), 122 students volunteered 538 hours at 25 project sites during the day.

Students picked up approximately 750 pounds of trash and lawn waste at project sites including Windham public parks, churches, schools, nonprofit organizations and housing developments. Rep. Susan Johnson, D-Willimantic, spoke to students at the event kick off on the Eastern campus.

 

Town Pride, Town Wide is an opportunity for Eastern students to work closely with local community members and agencies to leave their mark on Willimantic. The event is a collaboration between the CCE and the Town of Windham.

“Every year there will always be more weeds to pull, more flowers to plant and more mulch to spread, but the bonds and relationships that are built throughout the community last a lifetime,” said CCE Director Kim Silcox. “Town Pride, Town Wide offers Eastern students and local community members alike the unique opportunity to take pride and ownership in our community.”

“Town Pride, Town Wide is exceptional in the way that it creates a truly special partnership between Eastern and the Willimantic community through beautifying the area in which we live,” said Sarah Tricarico ’18, special events coordinator for the CCE and a recent Eastern graduate. “It could not be possible without the willingness and enthusiasm of our community partners and students.”

Written by Michael Rouleau

‘Why,’ not ‘What’: Service Expo Honors Community Partnerships

CCE student leaders and staff at the Service Expo and Awards.

The Center for Community Engagement (CCE) at Eastern Connecticut State University hosted its annual Service Expo and Awards on April 18. The event showcased the numerous service projects being spearheaded by Eastern students in the Windham community and featured a keynote address by Ryan Matthews, director of community programs for Nutmeg Big Brothers Big Sisters and executive director of the Susie Foundation. The event concluded with an award ceremony for outstanding projects and individuals.

Hundreds of Eastern students volunteer thousands of hours in the Windham area every academic year. At the expo, student leaders staffed posters describing more than 50 community programs spanning a variety of causes — working with children in afterschool programs, volunteering at the local homeless shelter, assisting the elderly at a rehabilitation center and more. Judges perused the displays, questioning students and ranking the projects according to different criteria.

Jenna Petitti volunteers at the Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery (CCAR), helping to lead all-recovery meetings. “Working with an adult population is totally different from what I’m used to,” said Petitti, who majors in secondary education. “It’s been an amazing experience. We form connections with the guests that are there, which gives us a new perspective on their part, as well as for them on our part. It’s a great way to break down barriers and stigmas between the two groups. We’re like one big family.”

 

Katelyn Root and Ryan McCarthy led a community-based project on problem gambling. “Problem gambling is something that’s not obvious,” explained Root, comparing it to other types of addictions that have physical symptoms. “Lower-income areas with less resources are heavily affected by gambling because they’re targeted by advertising. They want to trick you into thinking you’ll be the next big winner. A lot of people don’t realize this; it’s important to make the community aware.”

McCarthy focused on sports gambling—a topic he’s drawn to for personal reasons. “I know a former student who gambled his tuition money away, thinking he’d be able to double or triple it. He ended up dropping out,” said McCarthy. “And I have another friend with a gambling addiction. This project has helped me cope because if I can help someone… I don’t want to see them go through what I’ve witnessed two of my friends go through.”

Jessica Saffiotti volunteers with the Sweeny Girl’s Club, an afterschool program for girls between third and fifth grade that emphasizes self-confidence and self-advocacy. “This program has helped me solidify that I want to be a teacher,” said Saffioti, who’s helped the girls deal with bullying and the stresses of having divorced parents. “It’s helped me realize how important it is to help these girls find themselves, find their voices, stand up for themselves. I never had that growing up, so giving it to them… I’ve seen a big change over the year, in how much more confident they are.”

Rafael Aragon volunteers with the Sweeney Elementary Afterschool Program. During his presentation he explained thermochromic slime. “It changes colors based on temperature,” he said. “It’s like magic to the kids, their eyes glow. Then we have the opportunity to explain it to them, how and why it works. This leaves them with an understanding; there’s science behind it. They realize that they can learn this and do things that are cool and interesting. Actively participating in the world triggers a change in their perspective of education.”

Keynote speaker Ryan Matthews

Keynote speaker Ryan Matthews followed the poster session. He is the director of community programs for Nutmeg Big Brothers Big Sisters and executive director of the Susie Foundation, an agency that assists people impacted by Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS).

In regard to determining a career path, Matthews emphasized the importance of identifying the “why,” rather than “what,” that leads to future actions. “My ‘why’ is my mom,” he shared. His mother died of ALS when he was 23. ALS is an immobilizing disease that destroys neurons controlling voluntary muscles.

At the time, Matthews and his father were full-time caretakers for his mother, an emotionally and physically taxing role. He recalled the fateful night when he grew impatient with his ailing mother, who was struggling to communicate something to him. Instead of waiting for her message, “I walked away without saying goodnight, without saying I love you,” he said. The next day, his mother was in a coma, and passed away soon after.

Matthews has used this emotionally draining experience to guide his professional journey. “I’m enormously grateful for that failure. It’s provided me a well of resiliency. It’s that well, that purpose, that ‘why’ which drives my work forward.”

The Susie Foundation, named after his mother Susan, was launched with the goal of directly supporting ALS patients, families and caregivers in Connecticut, while also contributing to the eventual eradication of the disease.

The Outstanding Student of the Year award went to Jocelyn Santiago.
The Rookie of the Year award went to Lexie Mastroianni (left).
A Community Engagement Award went to student Shawn Dousis (middle).
The Service Learning Award went to Professor Terry Lennox (middle).
Community partner Carolyn Stearns (middle) received a Community Engagement Award.
A Community Engagement Award went to Professor Cara Bergstrom-Lynch (right).
The Outstanding Community Event Award went to CCAR.

 

An award ceremony concluded the event. The Support Our Schools award went to United Way Readers/Natchaug Elementary School; the Best New Program award went to the Women’s Meeting at CCAR; the Broadening Horizons award went to the Puentes Al Futuro/Bridges to the Future program; the Leadership Development award went to the Ashford School Girls Mentoring Program; the Strengthening Communities award went to the CCAR Problem Gambling program; the Putting Liberal Arts Into Action award went to the Windham Technical High School Tutoring Program; the Kids First award went to the Windham Heights After School Program; the Liberal Education Practically Applied award went to the Nutmeg Big Brothers Big Sisters Mentoring Program; and the Community Choice award went to the United Way Readers/Natchaug Elementary School.

Community Engagement Awards went to student Shawn Dousis; Professor Cara Bergstrom-Lynch; and community partner Carolyn Stearns. The Service Learning Award went to Professor Terry Lennox for the ACCESS Agency Poster Project. The Outstanding Community Event Award went to CCAR. The Rookie of the Year award went to Lexie Mastroianni and the Outstanding Student of the Year award went to Jocelyn Santiago.

Written by Michael Rouleau and Jordan Corey

Eastern to Hold Annual Service Expo and Awards

The Center for Community Engagement (CCE) at Eastern Connecticut State University will hold its 10th annual Service Expo and Awards Ceremony on April 18 from 2–5 p.m. in the Foyer of the Fine Arts Instructional Center. The event will showcase the many service projects Eastern students have participated in throughout the Windham area during this academic year.

Student volunteers will present posters describing their efforts, which include service projects at public schools, soup kitchens, hospitals, addiction recovery centers, senior living facilities and more. The program will begin at 2 p.m. with keynote speaker Ryan Matthews, director of community programs for Nutmeg Big Brothers/Big Sisters.

Guest judges from the community and Eastern faculty/staff will present awards to outstanding programs. The Service Learning Award will go to Terry Lennox, professor of digital art and design at Eastern; the Community Program Award will go to John Schwartz of the Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery, Windham Recovery Community Center; and Community Engagement Awards will go to Carolyn Stearns of EASTCONN’s Windham Heights Community Center; Cara Bergstrom-Lynch, sociology professor at Eastern; and Shawn Dousis, student organizer of Shawn’s Cupboard food pantry.

The event is free and open to the public. For more information, contact the CCE at (860) 465-0090 or CCE Associate Director Kemesha Wilmot at wilmotk@easternct.edu.

Written by Bobbi Brown

‘Town Pride, Town Wide’ Event Set to Beautify Willimantic

Eastern Connecticut State University will host its 11th annual “Town Pride, Town Wide” community beautification event on April 27. Activities will take place at various project sites across the Windham region from 9 a.m.–noon. with a community gathering on the Hurley Hall patio on the Eastern campus from noon–1 p.m.

Eastern’s Center for Community Engagement (CCE) will deploy more than 200 Eastern student volunteers to more than 18 project sites during Town Pride, Town Wide. 

The Town Pride, Town Wide program started as a way to give Eastern students an opportunity to work closely with local community members and agencies to leave their mark on Willimantic. The event is a collaboration between the CCE and the Town of Windham.

The impact Town Pride, Town Wide has on the community surpasses its overarching goal of beautification. “Every year there will always be more weeds to pull, more flowers to plant, more mulch to spread, but the bonds and relationships that are built throughout the community last a lifetime,” said CCE Director Kim Silcox. “Town Pride, Town Wide offers Eastern students and local community members alike the unique opportunity to take pride and ownership in our community.”

“Town Pride, Town Wide is exceptional in the way that it creates a truly special partnership between Eastern and the Willimantic community through beautifying the area in which we live,” said Sarah Tricarico ’18, special events coordinator for the CCE and a recent Eastern graduate. “It could not be possible without the willingness and enthusiasm of our community partners and students.”

For more information, contact Silcox at silcoxk@easternct.edu or (860) 465-4426 or Tricarico at tricaricos@easternct.edu or (860) 465-5158.

Written by Kim Silcox

Eastern Recognizes Ella Grasso Award Winners 2019

Left to right, community activist Anne Ash; Shawn Ray Dousis ’19; State Sen. Mae Flexer; June Dunn, assistant dean in the Office of Continuing Studies and Enhanced Learning at Eastern; and President Elsa Núñez

Shawn Ray Dousis ’19 of East Lyme, president of the Foundation for Campus Ministry at Eastern Connecticut State University; June Dunn, assistant dean in the Office of Continuing Studies and Enhanced Learning at Eastern; and community activist Anne Ash, were named recipients of Eastern’s annual Ella T. Grasso Distinguished Service Awards on March 27. The event took place in the Paul E. Johnson Sr. Community Conference Room of the J. Eugene Smith Library.

Dousis won the student award category. She will graduate this May with a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education and a second major in Liberal Studies. At Eastern, she has served as a manager for Eastern’s men’s ice hockey team and as public relations officer of People Helping People. She currently serves as president of The Foundation for Campus Ministry. In 2017, Dousis established, planned, coordinated and facilitated “Shawn’s Cupboard,” Eastern’s Food Pantry.  The cupboard now serves many students, and has recently introduced a “Swipe It Forward” program that works through Chartwells, Eastern’s food service.  

Eastern President Elsa Núñez

“I am honored and grateful to have been chosen for this award and want to thank everyone involved for considering me,” said Dousis. “Our efforts with Shawn’s Cupboard have made food insecurity at Eastern less of a problem today than it was yesterday.”

Dunn won the faculty award. She has overseen the Bachelor of General Studies (BGS) program, along with several grant initiatives to assist students from marginalized communities in achieving their educational aspirations.  Prior to Eastern, she was the women studies conference and special events coordinator at Southern Connecticut State University. She also previously served as assistant to the director for the University of Connecticut’s Upward Bound Program, as well as Program Coordinator for Girls, Inc., in Stamford.

Dunn had an Ella T. Grasso story to tell. Her fifth-grade class at Hindley Elementary School suggested the sperm whale be made the state’s official animal. Hundreds of other schools and organizations across the state supported her, and Grasso signed the sperm whale bill in May 1975. Dunn eventually met the governor: “She was so authentic, down-to-earth and kind. This memory is why this award has additional special meaning and great honor to me.”

Rash, who won the community award, grew up in the 1940s and 1950s when girls playing basketball were limited to two bounces and could only play on half the court. Those challenges inspired Rash to become an educator, which provided a backdrop for working to make a difference in the lives of women and girls, locally and internationally. Her hands-on volunteer efforts include mentoring women in the Windham Area Interfaith Ministry (WAIM) Learning Partners Program; helping with fundraising efforts for Ecole Agape, the only free school for girls in Haiti; promoting the programs for women and girls as part of the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut (CFECT) Windham Women and Girls Fund; and encouraging literacy with Altrusa of Northeast Connecticut projects.

“It takes a village, so this award is shared with the people in this room,” said Rash. “My fellow awardees, my friends from Altrusa, the Windham Women and Girls Group, Ecole Agape School for Girls in  Haiti and the Community  Foundation, we all work together to make the world more equitable. We know that basketball has progressed, but there are still women who only have access to half court. We need to continue to work for full court access for all women!”

State Sen. Mae Flexer

In her welcoming remarks, Eastern President Elsa Núñez cited statistics showing women still earn “only $.81 for every dollar men make. Minority women make far less.” She engaged the audience in a series of cheers of “We Have Room to Grow!,” reminding those in attendance of “the special skills women possess.”

State Sen. Mae Flexer delivered the keynote address. Flexer said Grasso embodied what it means to live a life of commitment and service to others and to advocate for a more just and equal world. “Her dedication towards an issue like the underrepresentation of females in government – at a time when that issue was considered to be unimportant – is incredibly inspiring and meaningful, especially, as I stand here before you as a female elected official. She left an indelible mark on the state of Connecticut, but it also makes us think about our own legacy. In a hectic, ever-changing world, what are we doing to make our communities and our society just a bit better? I encourage everybody in this room to find what lights a spark within you and to pursue it. It may not always be easy, but it will always be worth it.”

Written by Dwight Bachman

Eastern Contributes 200 Boxes to ‘One Million Acts of Good’

Eastern students and staff stand before 200 boxes full of donated food items.

Eastern Connecticut State University students assembled 200 boxes of nonperishable food items on March 26 as participants of “One Million Acts of Good,” a program sponsored by Ellen DeGeneres and Cheerios. The boxes of granola bars, cereal and other nutritious snacks were donated to community organizations across Willimantic the following day.

Some 50 students stopped by the Student Center Lobby between 11 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. to help in the effort, which benefited the local Covenant Soup Kitchen, Access Agency, Salvation Army and seven afterschool programs, as well as Eastern’s on-campus food pantry Shawn’s Cupboard.

Accounting major Alex Rooney took time between classes to fold MATTER boxes.

Eastern’s food service provider, Chartwells, partnered with General Mills, which donated the food items. Eastern was one of 100 Chartwells higher-education clients nationwide that participated in One Million Acts of Good. The lunchbox-sized boxes that students assembled were provided by MATTER, a global nonprofit dedicated to increasing healthy food access to children.

Written by Michael Rouleau

Shawn’s Cupboard Combats Food Insecurity

Shawn Dousis ’19, the food pantry’s namesake, helped to grow Shawn’s Cupboard after developing a passion for addressing food insecurity.

Research has shown that college students are disproportionately impacted by food insecurity in America, with up to half of them lacking consistent access to food. At Eastern Connecticut State University, a team of collaborators is taking strides toward solving this problem with the launch of Shawn’s Cupboard, a free, on-campus food pantry that welcomes all students.

Over the past two semesters, Geography Professor Patrick Vitale has investigated the prevalence of food insecurity at Eastern through his “Geography of Food” course. His students have developed surveys, conducted interviews and utilized existing research to better understand the issue. Their studies found that 14 percent out of 695 Eastern students have what the United States Department of Agriculture defines as “very low” food security. Of students with very low food security, 32 percent went an entire day without eating in the past year.

Vitale’s students also discovered a direct connection between food insecurity and student performance in and outside the classroom. Food insecurity correlates with negative impacts on grades, graduation rates and participation in campus life.

“Patrick’s class was key in finding the statistics we needed to prove our students suffered with food insecurity and grabbed the university’s attention,” said Shawn Dousis ’19, the pantry’s namesake and president of the Campus Ministry, the organization that jumpstarted the project. Dousis handles social media, organizes volunteers and seeks community donations for the cupboard.

“When I was told two years ago that Eastern had a pantry, I took it upon myself to try and build it up,” Dousis explained, who majors in elementary education and liberal studies. Surprised to learn that such a place existed on campus, she was eager to move the project beyond its developing stages. “Little did I know so many people would become part of the team!”

Other driving forces behind the pantry include Father Larry Lapointe and Nancy Brennan of the Campus Ministry, in addition to Kim Silcox, director of the Center for Community Engagement.

“Working with the cupboard has enriched my class and is one of the most rewarding parts of my work at Eastern,” said Vitale. While his students get a small amount of extra credit for their volunteer hours, most do it solely because they care about getting involved, and leave with new insights. “In the process of working there they learn a lot about food insecurity at the university and how the cupboard operates,” said Vitale. “This often informs their final projects in the class. For example, several of the volunteers are developing surveys of students who use the cupboard and others are developing promotional materials of various sorts.”

“I’ve managed to schedule more than 20 student volunteers throughout the week, most sitting in for one to two hours at a time,” said Dousis. “They are expected to log their own hours, stock donations, sign off on people who come in for food and organize the fridge and shelves. We are constantly encouraging them to promote the cupboard and making sure they see how important their volunteer time is.”

Dousis is passionate about combatting food insecurity for numerous reasons, such as witnessing friends and family who have suffered from it. The most significant motivator, however, is knowing the severity of the issue and how little has been done about it across the nation. “It’s both frustrating and inspiring to attend workshops and conferences and hear about other food pantries. I want to take all I’ve learned, with what I continue to learn, and implement it here at Eastern. Raising awareness and helping Eastern students every day is extremely rewarding.”

Vitale hopes that Shawn’s Cupboard will transform into a space that will allow students to organize and support one another. “It should be a place where students not only can get food, but also recognize and work to overcome common struggles,” he said. “Right now our shared vision is driven by immediate concerns of making sure students are informed and that we have enough food.”

Donations are encouraged, particularly food that requires minimal preparation, such as granola bars, microwave popcorn, macaroni and cheese, canned soup and peanut butter.

Dousis sees the cupboard eventually being able to house more perishable items, and similarly wants it to be somewhere that people are comfortable using it freely. She noted that partnering with outside organizations and actively promoting programs of this nature will assist in its success. The Swipe It Forward program at Eastern, for instance, grants five free dining hall meals to students per semester. Michelle Delaney, dean of students, can be contacted at delaneymi@easternct.edu for more information.

Shawn’s Cupboard is open at its main location, the Knight House, at the following hours: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Monday; 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Wednesday; 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Thursday; and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Friday.

Food donations can me made during the operating hours of Shawn’s Cupboard, or during the hours of these locations: Newman Hall, 290 Prospect Street in Willimantic from 4-6 p.m. on Thursday; the Center for Community Engagement from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Monday to Friday; Webb Hall Room 325 from 2:45 to 3:45 p.m. on Tuesday and 1:45 to 3:45 p.m. on Thursday.

Monetary donations are appreciated as well and can be made out to the Foundation for Campus Ministry with a notation that the funds are for Shawn’s Cupboard. The Cupboard is staffed entirely by volunteers and is available to any member of the Eastern community.

Written by Jordan Corey