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.

Windham Schools Partner with Eastern on Puentes al Futuro Program

Written by Ed Osborn

puentes 2017 games

For the sixth summer in a row, the Puentes al Futuro/Bridges to the Future program provided enrichment activities for Willimantic middle school students from July 5–27. The program is a collaboration between Windham Public Schools’ Office of Family and Community Partnerships and the Center for Community Engagement at Eastern Connecticut State University. The academic and cultural enrichment program was funded in part by a generous grant from Eversource, in addition to funding from Windham Public Schools.

puentes 2017 students in costume

Puentes al Futuro provides a safe space for summer fun and helps students improve their academics in advance of the next school year. The program is an extension of an after-school program in Windham schools during the academic year that has grown from only 20 students when it started six years ago to a level of more than 125 this year.

“The summer Puentes al Futuro program is a unique opportunity for Windham middle school students and Eastern Connecticut State University students to spend an intensive month together outside of the traditional school environment,” said Kimberly Armstrong Silcox, director of the Center for Community Engagement.

puentes 2017 in the pool“The student-led program allows the college students to develop deeper relationships with the youth through leadership development, student engagement and enrichment opportunities. We see the children develop self-confidence, respect for themselves and others, and blooming creativity that is not easily established during the school year with the pressures that children face in school. The Center for Community Engagement is always proud to partner with Windham Public Schools. This program is a terrific reflection of the commitment that Windham Public Schools has to provide resources to support their students in unique and powerful ways.”

During the three-week program, 27 students from Windham who are entering sixth and seventh grade participated in an academic component in the mornings at the middle school and then spent the afternoons at Eastern learning cultural dance, theater and swimming.

This year’s focus was on the immigration experience and the experiences of undocumented individuals and families. The students wrote essays and turned them into monologues that were performed at a “Showcase” during the final day of the program, along with dances and original theatrical pieces the students had developed. The goal was to provide the students with accurate information and to give them a safe space to express their concerns as well as to ask questions. Members of the organization “Connecticut Students for a Dream” met with the participants to provide accurate information about pathways to college for undocumented students.

puentes 2017 showcase final

Each Monday, students also visited the CLiCK (Commercially Licensed, Cooperative Kitchen) in Windham to learn about nutrition, gardening and cooking.

puentes Emiliano Gutierrez“I enjoyed being at Eastern,” said Emiliano Gutierrez, who is entering Windham Middle School this fall. “I had a lot of fun with the other students. We played games — BINGO and “Helicopter” — and also swam in Eastern’s beautiful swimming pool.  We learned about the lives of immigrants and wrote stories about them. I wrote about a young Mexican boy who had immigrated to the United States.”

Manuel Silva will be a student at the Charles H. Burrows STEM Academy this fall. “I learned how to express my creativity in the Puentes program. I wrote my story about four children whose parents had immigrated to the United States and how they are trying to come to America to find their parents.”

Silva was one of four participants who presented their stories in oral monologues during the program’s final showcase on July 27.  After practicing dancing in Eastern’s Dance Studio, the children in the program formed two teams during the final ceremony to perform a “Warrior Dance” in colorful costumes.

The program was staffed by five Eastern students and coordinated by the Center for Community Engagement (CCE). Windham Middle School staff supported the program as well, and professional dancer from New York City taught the dance classes.

Carly Perron ’18 was the Eastern student program coordinator and was assisted by fellow Eastern students Sarah Tricarico, Mariana Vega, Adilsa Encarnacao and Luis Martinez, who served as counselors.

Perron served as a counselor in the program in 2016.  A double major in political science and history who is also preparing for secondary education certification, she is a regular CCE volunteer leader, working in programs for the elderly in addition to the program for middle school students.  “Middle school is hard,” she says. “I want to make the kids’ lives and experiences a bit easier.”

Given the multi-cultural nature of Willimantic, the Puentes program is “all about culture and remembering where you come from,” says Perron. Speaking to the focus on immigration in this year’s program, she said, “I want these students to know the positive side of immigration. They are learning about the rights and opportunities for undocumented children or their undocumented parents.”

The middle school students also got to spend time on a college campus, some for the first time, and realize that going to college and getting their degree is an achievable aspiration.

In addition to the summer program, the Puentes program also includes activities throughout the school year, including several that involve Eastern students. These range from a “Arts and Culture” program for elementary schoolchildren, which focuses on learning the culture of another country — Jamaica, Ireland and Russian have been explored in the past — to the “I Love Me” program designed to build self-confidence for middle school students.

Parents can learn more about the Puentes program and register their children when school begins by visiting www.windham.k12.ct.us or by calling (860) 465-2300. You can also watch a video interview about “Puentes al Futuro/Bridges to the Future” at www.easternct.edu/cce.

For more information about the Center for Community Engagement visit www.easternct.edu/cce or call (860) 465-0090.


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.”


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

Occum Hall wins Warrior Cup, Puentes al Futuro gets $4,500

Residents of Occum Hall with Rosie Hernandez, founder of Puentes al Futuro, and William Stover, director of Family and Community Partnerships (center, holding check)

Residents of Occum Hall with the Warrior Cup trophy, alongside Rosie Hernandez, founder of Puentes al Futuro, and William Stover, director of Family and Community Partnerships (center, holding check)

Written by Michael Rouleau

The Warrior Cup is an annual competition in which all 13 residence halls at Eastern Connecticut State University compete for the benefit of a local nonprofit organization or charity. Occum Hall was the 2016-17 winner of the cup, but the real winner is Puentes al Futuro (Bridges to the Future), a Windham Public Schools afterschool program, which received $4,500 from the year’s Warrior Cup activities.

Rosie Hernandez thanks Occum Hall residents for their fundraising efforts

Rosie Hernandez thanks Occum Hall residents for their support of Puentes al Futuro

Residence Halls earn points in the year-long competition through the academic achievement of their residents, as well as their participation in campus activities, fundraisers and community service events. Occum Hall, composed primarily of transfer students, finished the year with 492 points, followed by the freshman halls of Burr, Constitution and Mead. All fundraising activities among the 13 residence halls went to this year’s designated recipient, Puentes al Futuro.

“This money will help keep the program alive,” said Kim Silcox, director of Eastern’s Center for Community Engagement, which is an avid supporter of Puentes al Futuro. “Funding for afterschool programs is more uncertain now than ever.”

More than 250 Eastern students have volunteered 3,600 hours with the program since its inception six years ago. Through the program, local middle school children learn about their Hispanic heritage in a variety of cultural and academic enrichment activities. With its partnership with Eastern, children see a “bridge to the future” as they interact with college students, often times on the Eastern campus.

“This 4,500 will go to the kids; not to salaries, not to administrators,” assured Rosie Hernandez, founder of Puentes al Futuro. “This really is an incredible amount of money that will go very far for the program.”

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.

Tip-A-Cop 2017 Raises $3,000

Police officers and Amici Grill staff

Police officers and Amici Grill staff

Police officers from Eastern Connecticut State University and the City of Middletown traded in their uniforms for aprons on May 3 to ‘serve’ the community in a different way. The officers spent the day waiting tables at Amici Italian Grill in Middletown in support of the fourth annual Tip-A-Cop fundraiser.

Approximately $3,000 was raised for the Connecticut Special Olympics. Contributing to the total, Amici donated 10 percent of its sales for the day, the cop-turned-servers donated all tips, and members of the Eastern community ordered $500 worth of food —delivered for lunch to their desks in Willimantic by Eastern volunteers.

Sgt. Lisa Hamilton of the Eastern police department and Angelo Simoni

Sgt. Lisa Hamilton of the Eastern police department and Angelo Simoni

“The Special Olympics is the designated charity of law enforcement in Connecticut,” explained Angelo Simoni, Tip-A-Cop coordinator and director of Eastern’s Office of Student Conduct. According to Simoni, Tip-A-Cop has raised approximately $15,000 for the Connecticut charity in four years.

The Eastern Police Department supports community charities throughout the year. It participates in Jail-N-Bail, a fundraiser in which officers ‘arrest’ members of the campus community who are then ‘bailed’ out of a fake jail, with all proceeds going to the Connecticut Special Olympics. Eastern police also participate in the Law Enforcement Torch Run, which kicks off the Connecticut Special Olympics games — coming up this June at Southern Connecticut State University.

Eastern Presents Inclusive Excellence Awards to ALANA Students

Written by Dwight Bachman

Inclusive Excellence Award winners with keynote speaker Natasha Stephens

Inclusive Excellence Award winners with keynote speaker Natasha Stephens

 Eastern Connecticut State University recognized the academic achievements of African, Latino, Asian and Native American (ALANA) students on May 5 during its Fifth Annual Inclusive Excellence Awards ceremony. Nine awards were given and 165 students were recognized for achieving GPAs of 3.5 or higher.

Eastern presented Melat Assefa and Christina Perez the Advisor’s Choice Award; Deja Seawright the Inspirational Leadership Award; and Chisolm Sunny Uduputa the International Student Award. The Resilient Warrior Award to AnnRichelle Akko, Daniel Costillo, Adrian Lopez Diaz and Yineira Lopez. Taylor Hemphill was named recipient of the Social Justice Advocacy Award, and the Volunteer Service Award went to Destiny Hartmann.

Eastern President Elsa Núñez

Eastern President Elsa Núñez

Eastern President Elsa Núñez told those in attendance that the awards ceremony was not just about inclusion. “It also speaks to Eastern’s other core values of academic excellence, integrity, Social Responsibility, Engagement, and Empowerment. Today, we show respect and celebrate the accomplishments of students who too often have been forgotten in the past.  We are very proud of you! We are doing everything we can to promote the success of students of color. We know that having an inclusive, diverse, and culturally rich campus is good for all our students — in the end, we all must learn to live together in today’s global society.”

Natasha Stephens

Natasha Stephens

Alumna Natasha Stephens, who graduated from Eastern in 2003 and is the Title IX Coordinator at Wichita State University in Kansas, delivered the keynote address. She told the honorees she was honored to come back to campus. “While you have breath in your body, thank those who helped you, took time to meet with you, who gave you an opportunity and took a chance on you.  Never forget your roots and where you came from — no matter how high you go in life, give back of your time to someone else.”

She concluded by telling students that they can always change their plans. “Don’t limit yourself or your abilities — challenge yourself to new things. Believe in yourself, and give someone the wings to fly.”

Committed to Community: Eastern’s 2017 Service Expo

The Le Le Project, represented by FEMALES club members Amanda Peterson, Jay Ortiz and Kiana Wiggins, won the Leadership Development Award. Their project focused on spreading awareness of domestic violence.

The Le Le Project, represented by FEMALES club members Amanda Peterson, Jay Ortiz and Kiana Wiggins, won the Leadership Development Award. Their project focused on spreading awareness of domestic violence.

Written by Michael Rouleau

More than 20 projects were on display for Eastern Connecticut State University’s annual Service Expo and Awards on April 12. Held at St. Joseph Church in Willimantic, the annual ceremony was hosted by Eastern’s Center for Community Engagement (CCE) and showcased a variety of volunteer and service-learning work completed by Eastern students in the Windham community. Projects were evaluated and awarded and outstanding students, faculty and community partners were recognized.

In the 2015-16 academic year, 1,167 Eastern students – of a campus population of approximately 5,300 – served 20,024 hours in the community. Independent Sector, a public policy organization, values community service at $23.56 per hour, which equated to $471,765 worth of service last year to the Windham community. In the current academic year (2016-17), Eastern students are projected to match, if not surpass, these totals – the academic year will conclude next month.

Jasmine Carvalho speaks after receiving the Student Community Engagement Award. Carvalho credits her plethora of community engagement experience at Eastern with developing her as a person and building confidence she never could have dreamed of as a freshman.

Jasmine Carvalho speaks after receiving the Student Community Engagement Award. Carvalho credits her plethora of community engagement experience at Eastern with developing her as a person and building confidence she never could have dreamed of as a freshman.

Projects featured at the Service Expo spanned a variety of causes and organizations, from working with local youth in after school programs to assisting at a local homeless shelter; from volunteering with adults with disabilities to starting a new initiative that brings leftover food from Eastern’s dining hall to the local soup kitchen.

Social work major Mariana Vega ’17 presented on her project with the Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery (CCAR). “The goal of CCAR is to put a face on recovery,” said Vega, acknowledging the stigma surrounding people in addiction and recovery. Two hours a day, three days a week, she helps at the center by assisting clients with job applications, studying for their GED and other tasks.

“There’s only so much you can learn in a classroom,” said Vega, who is interested in the fields of addiction, recovery and substance abuse. “When you actually hear their stories and see the people face to face, it’s a huge impact. We get a lot out of it.”

Student projects are categorized as community service (volunteering) or service learning (community service-based classwork). Speaking to the concept of service learning, Nicolas Simon, sociology professor and expo judge, said: “Sending our students to the community, talking with human beings, self-reflecting on the experience, and connecting the experience to the material we’re covering in the classroom really helps students have a concrete relationship to knowledge.”

Adam Pszczolkowski and Josh Desouza, alongside their faculty advisor Alex Citurs (left), explain their service project with Grow Windham, in which they developed a website for the nonprofit organization.

Adam Pszczolkowski and Josh Desouza, alongside their faculty advisor Alex Citurs (left), explain their service project with Grow Windham, in which they developed a website for the nonprofit organization.

Not only is community service eye-opening for students, it deepens their sense of belonging while helping to meet community needs, builds resumes and professional experience, and gives students insight into the field they may be considering after graduation. Simon concluded, “Service learning is really a complement to the liberal arts education at Eastern.”

Josh Desouza ’17, who double majors in business administration and business information systems, presented on his project with Grow Windham, a local nonprofit that deals with food insecurity. Working alongside four of his classmates, “This project was over 700 hours of work,” he said.

“The website we built allows Grow Windham to better manage its operations; they can run reports to see how many hours their interns have worked, how many events they ran in a year, how many crops they’ve grown in their different gardens.” Desouza says the website will soon be migrated with Grow Windham’s main site, and assist the organization in obtaining grant funding by helping it to easily build reports and access numbers.

Concluding the event, standout projects and individuals were recognized. The Service Learning Award went to John Murphy, a lecturer in the Communication Department at Eastern. Murphy has engaged students in community-based media production work, resulting in valuable promotional videos, on-air public service announcements and data analytics for many area non-profit organizations.

The Food Recovery Program, led by students Sarah Tricarico, Goy Voladate, Wali Mohammod and Zach Stygar, won two awards: Going Green and Best New Program. Presented by expo judge Ellen Lang, the program demonstrates creative and sustainable efforts that protect the environment.

The Food Recovery Program, led by students Sarah Tricarico, Goy Voladate, Wali Mohammod and Zach Stygar, won two awards: Going Green and Best New Program. Presented by expo judge Ellen Lang, the program demonstrates creative and sustainable efforts that protect the environment.

The Student Community Engagement Award went to Jasmine Carvalho ’17, a psychology major. Carvalho’s community engagement spans all four of her years at Eastern, working with the CCE, several service-based organizations on campus, and numerous projects and special events.

The Faculty/Staff Community Engagement Award went to Social Work Professor Catina Caban-Owen, who also is a social worker at North Windham School. Caban-Owen routinely brings her students into the community for learning and service. She is also the founder of the Windham Task Force to Prevent Child Abuse and Neglect.

The Community Partner Award went to Avery Lenhart, shelter manager at the Windham No Freeze Shelter. She is the coordinator of the Youth Empowerment Team Initiative (YETI), which focuses on youth homelessness with a goal of ending youth and family homelessness in Connecticut by 2022.

The Windham Afterschool Program, represented by Endiza Torres (right), won the Kids First Award, for its focus on youth tutoring and mentoring.

The Windham Afterschool Program, represented by Endiza Torres (right), won the Kids First Award, for its focus on youth tutoring and mentoring.

The Outstanding Community Event Award went to the United Way of Central and Northeast Connecticut, which focuses on childhood education and financial stability for families. The United Way Readers Program was expanded to include Windham this year, serving 23 children at Natchaug Elementary School during the school day and after school. The United Way Community Engagement staff provided training, materials and ongoing support for the 17 Eastern volunteers in the program.

Eight student-driven projects were recognized in seven categories. The Food Recovery Program won the Going Green Award and the Best New Program Award. The Broadening Horizons Award went to Vanderman Place. The Leadership Development Award went to the Le Le Project. The Strengthening Communities Award went to CCAR. The Putting Liberal Arts into Action Award went to two programs: the Windham Middle School Tutorial Program and the Windham Middle School Girls Mentoring Program. The Kids First Award went to the Windham High School Afterschool Program.

Eastern’s Service Expo to be held at St. Joseph Church

Serivce Expo flyer Service Expo

WILLIMANTIC, Conn. — On April 12, Eastern Connecticut State University will host its annual Service Expo and Awards ceremony in the Parish Hall of St. Joseph Church in Willimantic, CT, from 2-5 p.m., with the award ceremony starting at 4 p.m.

The annual service expo, hosted by the Center for Community Engagement, showcases collaborations between Eastern students and the greater Windham community. With more than 20 programs and special events on display, guest judges will evaluate programs in seven categories, allowing students an opportunity to highlight their achievements and articulate their accomplishments. Programs include in-school and after-school tutoring and mentoring, teaching senior adults learn how to use computers, providing resume help and job search support for adults in recovery, socialization with adults with disabilities and more.

The event also features service awards honoring faculty, staff, students and community partners. Catina Caban-Owen will receive the Faculty/Staff Community Engagement Award for her extensive work advocating for children and families in Windham. Caban-Owen, a social worker at North Windham School and a faculty member in the Department of Social Work at Eastern, started the Windham Task Force to Prevent Child Abuse and Neglect to educate parents and others of the signs of child abuse, and on how to help prevent future abuse. The Center for Community Engagement is also proud to honor Avery Lenhart with the Community Partner Award for her continued work as shelter manager at the Windham Region No Freeze Hospitality Center and for her leadership in ending youth homelessness in the Windham region.

The United Way of Central and Northeastern Connecticut will be recognized with the Outstanding Community Event Award for its support for grade level reading by grade 3. The “United Way Readers” program serves 23 children at Natchaug Elementary School during the day and after school.

The Service Learning Award will go to John Murphy, lecturer in Eastern’s Department of Communication, for his enhancement of service learning courses at Eastern.  Murphy has created a collaboration between his media course and courses in video production and business to engage students in the community through media production work for local non-profits.

The Center for Community Engagement will honor Jasmine Carvalho ’17 from Meriden, CT, with the Student Community Engagement Award. Carvalho helped create Eastern’s prison tutoring program in collaboration with the Petey Greene Program, recruiting and training student volunteers to work with incarcerated students at Brooklyn Correctional Institution and Radgowski Correctional Institution.

For more information regarding the Service Expo and Awards event, please contact Kimberly Silcox by email at silcoxk@easternct.edu or by phone, (860) 465-4426.

Making a Splash in Windham: The Special Olympics and Eastern


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.


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.”


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.”


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.”