Three Top Alumni Named Eastern Fellows

Written by Michael Rouleau

Eastern’s 2015 Fellows inductees, Endler, Hughes and Deskus, with President Elsa Núñez.

Willimantic, Conn. – Three distinguished alumni from Eastern Connecticut State University were inducted into the Eastern Fellows Program on Oct. 21. Following the induction, Michael Endler ’81, Janice Deskus ’88 and Frederick Hughes ’87 shared career advice with Eastern students during an afternoon panel discussion held in the Paul E. Johnson Sr. Community Conference Room.

Endler, a former public policy/government and communication double major, is among Eastern’s most distinguished alumni attorneys. Specializing in complex commercial litigation, he is a top government lawyer and partner in the Albany, NY, office of Boies, Schiller and Flexner LLP. “I’m here to tell you that none of my friends who went to fancy schools were any better off than I was,” said Endler, reflecting on his time at Georgetown University during law school. “In many ways, I felt I had an advantage, coming from a small school with lots of opportunities to be involved.”

Alumni Frederick Hughes, Janice Deskus and Michael Endler speaking before Eastern students for the Fellows Program.

Deskus, who earned a degree in psychology, has forged a successful career in human resources. Currently the group vice president of human resources at Medtronic, she previously managed human resources programs for insurance giants Aetna and Cigna. “I feel I should be recognizing Eastern for all it’s given me,” said Deskus, reflecting on her humble upbringing in Woodstock, CT. “Eastern provided me access to so many things; I encourage students to take advantage of all that is here.”

Hughes, an alumnus of the business administration program, is a certified public accountant (CPA) and fraud examiner with BlumShapiro, the largest firm of its kind based in New England. Hughes does not have a degree in accounting, yet his education at Eastern prepared him for a successful career in that field. “There was nothing on the CPA exam I didn’t recognize,” he said. “A liberal arts education produces a well-rounded individual.”

When reflecting on his Eastern experiences, Endler recalled one of his sociology professors. “She decided she’d make my life miserable,” he said fondly, noting that when he came to Eastern he lacked good study skills because high school came easily to him. “I realized in order to do well, I’d have to put forth the effort. I had the capacity; I just needed a little prodding.” This work ethic led him to obtaining an internship with a congressman, which sparked his interest in law. The rest is history. “I got the grounding I needed here.”

For Deskus, an internship at a naval base helped her realize that she did not want to do research, and inspired her to pursue another field. She encourages students to be critical about what they are doing. “Don’t just accept what’s in front of you,” she said. “Explore, ask questions.”

Eastern’s small size was the dealmaker for Hughes. “I wanted to get to know the professors,” he said. Hughes also obtained an internship. “Eastern brought the real world to the classroom; it allowed me to come out of my comfort zone.”

Endler cherishes his Eastern education because of the writing and speaking skills it helped him develop. “In my own industry, it’s amazing seeing people who aren’t comfortable speaking. There are a lot of really bad writers, too.” But his greatest bit of advice is for students — and professionals — to stay flexible and to continue learning.

“Thirty years from now, what are the things that will no longer be a part of our lives?” asked Endler. “You need to be able to roll with the changes. You could be in a field that no longer exists. Those who know how to repurpose and transfer skills do well. Continue to be a learner. If you don’t, you’ll get left behind.”

Deskus focused her advice on being practical. “When going into the world, what are you driving toward?” she asked. “Be honest with yourself. Consider work-life balance, and design your career around that goal. Get really clear on what you want and are willing to do.”
The Eastern Fellows Program was established in 2008 to recognize and engage distinguished alumni in the life of the university. The program is a means of enriching the educational experience of current Eastern students by exposing them to alumni who are able to share their work experiences in realistic terms.


Three Students from New London Earn Hispanic Alliance Scholarships

Written by Michael Rouleau

Left to right: Luis A. Rodríguez, assistant director of Eastern’s Center for Community Engagement; students Leopoldo Navarro ’15, Katherine Burgos ’16 and Robert Díaz ’16; and Alejandro Meléndez-Cooper, founder and former president of Hispanic Alliance.

Willimantic, Conn. – Three Eastern Connecticut State University students from New London received scholarships at the Hispanic Alliance’s 15th annual “Noche de Gala” (Night of Celebration) this past June. Sixteen scholarships were awarded in total at the New London event, mostly to high school students—Eastern was the most represented university in Connecticut.

Based on their Latino heritage, academic pursuits and community involvement, biology major Katherine Burgos ’16, environmental earth science major Robert Diaz ’16 and Spanish major Leopoldo Navarro ’15 earned the scholarships. Their extracurricular activities ranged from interning in a hospital in the Dominican Republic, to working as camp counselors, to volunteering at local soup kitchens, to serving as teaching assistants.

All three Eastern recipients are graduates of Higher Edge, a New London-based organization that prepares low income and first-generation high school students for college. Eastern has a strong partnership with Higher Edge, which plans to open a satellite location in Willimantic this year.

“Success in college is a team effort. At Higher Edge, we do our best to prepare students, but it’s good to have a partner like Eastern that’s committed to student success and attention,” said Chris Soto, founding director of Higher Edge. “The majority of Higher Edge students go to Eastern, and we feel confident sending them there.

Two Local Foundations Establish Scholarship in Memory of Chronicle Publisher

Written by Ed Osborn

(left to right) Kenneth DeLisa, vice president for institutional advancement at Eastern; Eileen Ossen; Eastern President Elsa Nunez; David Foster; Marilyn Foster; and Pat Crosbie, widow of Kevin Crosbie

Willimantic, CT — The Jeffrey P. Ossen Family Foundation has partnered with local philanthropist David Foster and his wife Marilyn to create a scholarship program in memory of the late Kevin Crosbie, long-time publisher of the Willimantic Chronicle.

The $50,000 scholarship, funded by a joint contribution from the Jeffrey P. Ossen Family Foundation and the Foster Family Foundation, will support Windham High School graduates attending Eastern.  Priority will be given to students interested in music or communications; four students will receive four-year scholarships in the amount of $3,000 a year. Mrs. Crosbie has also started a fund that will support a future endowment.

Bowl-a-thon Fundraiser

Written by Kathryn Shpak

Willimantic, Conn – The ECSU Foundation, Inc., held its annual Bowl-a-thon in support of Eastern Connecticut State University on March 7 at WilliBowl in North Windham. Almost $10,000 was raised for Foundation scholarships by the 183 bowlers; 123 of them were Eastern students. In addition to Eastern faculty, staff and students, local businesses and alumni participate in the Bowl-a-thon to raise funds.

Three Distinguished Alumni Named Eastern Fellows

Written by Michael Rouleau

Left to right, David Whtiehead, Eastern President Elsa Nunez, Brian Bohling and Michael Johnson

Willimantic, Conn. – Eastern Connecticut State University inducted three highly decorated alumni into the seventh class of the Eastern Fellows Program on March 4. As part of their induction, Brian Bohling ’83, Michael Johnson ’97 and David Whitehead ’84 offered professional advice and discussed their Eastern experiences and distinguished careers with a packed house of students in the Paul E. Johnson Sr. Community Conference Room. “We all went to Eastern and we made it, so you can make it, too,” opened Bohling. “Be proud of where you come from and go for it.”

A former business administration student, Bohling has advanced to the highest levels of human resources management over a 29-year career in the corporate world. After working in high-level positions at Trane, Campell Soup and Honeywell, and as senior vice president for human resources for the Hess Corp. for six years, Bohling now owns his own corporate coaching and recruitment business, Pine Valley Resources.

Johnson, a former biology student in Eastner’s Honor’s Program, is an oral and maxillofacial surgeon who has appeared on Connecticut Magazine’s annual list of Top Dentists for the past seven years and is now a full time instructor at Yale-New Haven Hospital.

Whitehead, a graduate of Eastern’s business administration program, is the president and CEO of William W. Backus Hospital and Windham Hospital, as well as the former publisher of the Norwich Bulletin. Active in his hometown community of Norwich, Whitehead was named Eastern Connecticut Citizen of the year in 2003.

The fellows were asked about the importance of developing mentors. “Mentors are a key ingredient to success,” said Whitehead. “Caring faculty kept me on track as a student. Be proactive, create those relationships; it will help you here and in your career.” Johnson added, “At Eastern, I was fortunate to be part of an exceptional department with accessible and enthusiastic faculty.”

When asked about his thoughts on Eastern’s liberal arts curriculum, which requires taking courses outside of a chosen major, Johnson said, “Being well-rounded is critical. You’re going to interact with a lot of different types of people, so a wide knowledge base and broad perspective are important.” Adding to the importance of skills such as writing and communication, Bohling said, “Critical thinking and problem solving are necessary in this complex world; I look for people who can take the complexity, sift through it and know what to do.”

When asked how he has been able to work in a variety professional sectors, Whitehead said the ability to lead and learn has made all the difference. “Leadership is being able to envision a value set, and then communicate it.”

With more bits of advice, Whitehead said, “Find your mirror and use it often — sometimes we’re our own worst enemy. Take time and ask yourself how you’re performing; be self-aware.” Johnson added, “Perception is reality; what people think of you is huge, so pay attention to how you are perceived.” Bohling said, “Be a sponge of information, learn from others and be yourself.”

Speaking to the importance of work ethic, Bohling said, “People that do what they like to do are really good at it, compared to those who are only there for a paycheck.” Johnson added, “If you truly care, it shows; you can’t fake it.” Whitehead said, “Be in the moment; don’t work on autopilot.”

The Eastern Fellows Program was established in the 2008-09 academic year to recognize and engage distinguished Eastern alumni in the life of the university. 20 alumni have been honored in the years since the program’s inception. This program is a means of enriching the education experience of current Eastern undergraduates by exposing them to alumni who are able to share their work experiences with students in realist terms. The program is an exciting and stimulating way for students and faculty to benefit from the knowledge of accomplished professionals.

Chmielewski Brothers Awarded Scholarships

Written by Kathryn Shypak

Scholarship winners Sean Chmielewski and his younger brother Mark.

Willimantic, Conn – Eastern Connecticut State University junior Sean Chmielewski and his younger brother Mark, a freshman, received scholarships on Nov. 20 at the Connecticut Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (CTAHPERD) Banquet at the Crowne Plaza in Cromwell, CT.

Sean received the Gibson-Laemel scholarship, which is awarded to a junior or senior health, physical education, recreation, or dance major who maintains a 2.7 GPA and is a member of CTAHPERD.  Mark was awarded the Mary Benevento/CTAHPERD scholarship, given to a student in the graduating class of a high school or preparatory school who is a U.S. citizen and a resident of Connecticut. This student must plan to engage in the studies of health education, physical education, recreation or dance and plan to pursue a certified program of study in a collegiate institution within Connecticut that offers a bachelor’s degree in that field.

Sean, along with Erin Leduc, was also nominated by the HPE Department as Outstanding Future Professionals.

Eastern Honors Distinguished Alumni and Friends

Written by Michael Rouleau

Front row: Mary Lou DeVivo ’60 received the Distinguished Donor Award; Kathleen Regan-Pryne ’79 received the Distinguished Alumni Award; Edward Giard ’00 received the Distinguished Service Award. Back row: Jim Bzdyra, representing First Niagara Bank, accepted the Distinguished Donor Award; President Elsa Núñez; Zygmunt Dembek ’72, received the Distinguished Alumni Award.

Willimantic, Conn. – On Nov. 7, the President’s Leadership Awards Luncheon was held in the J. Eugene Smith Library at Eastern Connecticut State University to honor and thank the university’s “leadership level” donors. The luncheon is the premiere donor appreciation event of the year; in addition to recognizing Eastern’s top donors, the event also honored several distinguished Eastern alumni.

Opening the luncheon program was Eastern President Elsa Núñez. “So why are we here today? Quite simply, we are here to say ‘thank you,’” she said. “I am also here especially to bring thanks from the hundreds of Eastern students who, without your support, might not be walking our halls, sitting in our classrooms and working tirelessly to achieve their goals as scholars and budding professionals.”

Ken DeLisa, vice president for institutional advancement, spoke to the fundraising achievements of the current year. “With students facing unparalleled needs, your generosity resulted in our being able to award an all-time high of $750,000 in ECSU Foundation Scholarships to more than 300 deserving students!” he said. Following the luncheon service, awards were presented to three alumni, one friend of the university, one individual donor and one financial institution.   Dr. Zygmunt Francis Dembek ’72, an epidemiologist and biochemist with more than 30 years of state and military service, received the Distinguished Alumni Award. Dembek spoke of his own experience on the receiving end of philanthropy. “The son of immigrants, I come from a humble economic background,” he said. “I would not be where I am today if not for the state programs that provided me with financial aid to attend Eastern.”

The second Distinguished Alumni Award went to Kathy Regan-Pyne ’79, whose career includes positions in education, human resources and career development. Most recently, she is a member of the tribal governing body of the Mohegan Tribe. A decorated Eastern athlete, Regan-Pyne said, “Eastern’s coaches and educators have made me a better person. My journey here began more than 35 years ago and continues today.”

Alumnus Edward J. Giard ’00, whose relationship with Eastern began as a graduate student, earned the Distinguished Service Award for his parish work in churches and volunteerism throughout Connecticut. “Eastern gives to its students a love of learning and passion for service,” he said. “Midway through my career, Eastern gave me an opportunity to earn a master’s degree in organizational management, which helps me to better serve now.”

Ray Aramini earned the Hermann Beckert Friend of the University Award for his commitment to students as a role model, mentor and assistant coach of the rugby club. Aramini stresses character and work ethic as much as sport, and said, “We might not have anyone on the team that will become a professional player, but they will all become professionals.” The ECSU Foundation Distinguished Donor Award went to alumna Mary Lou Corbett DeVivo ’60, whose involvement with Eastern includes an endowed scholarship and participation in boards and a number of campus events. “Our family has been at Eastern a long time,” she said. “My mother was first here to become a teacher, I was the second generation, my son graduated from here, and I hope one of my grandchildren will be the fourth generation to graduate from Eastern!”

Finally, the ECSU Foundation Board of Directors Distinguished Donor Award went to First Niagara Bank. Jim Bzdyra, senior vice president and market executive for First Niagara Bank’s New England region, accepted the award. “We greatly value our relationship with Eastern,” he said. “First Niagara has made supporting quality education initiatives a key philanthropic focus area, and Eastern Connecticut State University is an institution that we are proud to support.”

“Thank you to this group of exceptional alumni and friends who we have honored today, and to everyone who has contributed to our success,” said DeLisa. “We are humbled by your faith in us, and by your commitment to giving our students the important support that will allow them to continue on a path to graduation and to success in their careers.”

Scholarship Reception Brings Donors and Students Together

Written by Michael Rouleau

Willimantic, Conn. – On Oct. 15, Eastern Connecticut State University hosted its annual Scholarship Reception in the Betty R. Tipton Room of the Student Center. The event brought together major ECSU Foundation scholarship donors and their respective student-recipients. This year, more than 325 scholarships were awarded, totaling more than $750,000 in financial aid to students of all backgrounds and academic majors — both of these totals are Foundation records.

“We are relentless in our pursuit of increasing educational access and improving success rates of students attending our campus,” said Ken DeLisa, vice president of Institutional Advancement. “Everyone in this room should take pride in the fact that as recently as a decade ago the Foundation was only able to award $100,000 in scholarships.”

“This event allows us to see several hundred of our hardest working, most dedicated students in one spot at one time,” Eastern President Elsa Núñez. “We also have the pleasure of announcing a significant outpouring of support from generous donors who understand the value of investing in America’s next generation of leaders.” This year’s reception also introduced one of the Foundation’s newest endowed scholarships, the John F. Kearney Jr. Scholarship Award. The scholarship was presented by Laura Kearney, wife of the late John Kearney. “John loved his years at Eastern. When he was reaching the final weeks of his battle with cancer, he wanted me to arrange this scholarship to help facilitate the education of future Eastern students,” she said.

Student Lisa Forcellina, a senior from Newington double majoring in early childhood education and psychology, spoke at the event, and said, “The gifts you have given open many doors for us as students here at Eastern. I think I speak for just about everybody here when I say thank you for allowing us to cross a few financial worries off of our lists.”


Ossen Foundation Matches Four Science Scholarships

Written by Ed Osborn

Ken DeLisa, vice president of institutional advancement at Eastern Connecticut State University, is flanked by Robyn McCullough and Eileen Ossen of the Jeffrey P. Ossen Family Foundation.

Willimantic, Conn: — The Jeffrey P. Ossen Family Foundation has committed up to $40,000 per year for the next three fiscal years to match gift dollars for four endowed scholarships that assist Eastern Connecticut State University students who are planning careers in the sciences.  Eastern alumni, parents and friends of the University will be able to restrict their endowed scholarship gifts in fiscal years 2015, 2016 and 2017 for any of the following scholarships:

The Dr. Robert N. Horrocks and Dr. Daniel B. Switchenko Founders of HPE Endowed Fund supports department needs as well as scholarships. The scholarship will be awarded to a student with financial need majoring in Physical Education or Sport and Leisure Management.

The Dr. J. Donald McLaughlin Endowed Memorial Scholarship was established in 2014 by Dr. Robert Jennette, director of Student Health Services, in memory of the first physician at Eastern.  A warm, caring, and exceptional doctor who set the bar high for those who were and are to follow, Dr. McLaughlin had a wry sense of humor, possibly borne out of his time as a naval doctor on a submarine. He  died all too soon shortly after retiring in 2000.

The Sidney Vernon, MD, Endowed Scholarship was established in 2000 by Sheridan Vernon to honor the memory of his late father, Dr. Sidney Vernon, who practiced medicine in the Willimantic area for many years. It is intended for a student with financial need who is studying physical science, biology, pre-professional programs or biochemistry, or in an individualized program related to medicine.

The Student Research Scholarship was started in 2014 by Marc Freeman and his wife Amy, both graduates of Eastern.  Freeman is a nationally recognized researcher and associate professor and vice chair of the Department of Neurology at the UMass Medical School.  He earned his Ph.D. in Biology at Yale and in 2009 became a recipient of a prestigious Early Career Scientist Award from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, one of only 50 scientists across the country to receive the honor. In spring 2013, Freeman was appointed as an “Investigator” of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, a designation that recognizes exceptionally innovative and creative scientists and provides them with lifetime research awards. In Freeman’s case, he is receiving upwards of $1 million annually over the balance of his career to support his research in neurobiology.  This scholarship fund will support Eastern students for research work or research internships in the sciences – including room and board, research materials and stipends.

With growing enrollments in the Biology and Biochemistry programs, and the launch of a new Health Science major, the time is right to increase financial support for students enrolling in these programs.

“Not only will we be able to attract more high achievers who want to pursue careers in the health sciences, but the match will help to encourage more alumni and friends to contribute to this special University, knowing that their gifts will be matched dollar for dollar,” said Kenneth DeLisa, vice president of institutional advancement at Eastern.

“The beauty of this matching grant is that Eastern alumni and friends who opt to give to one of the aforementioned endowed funds will be helping us to build the principal of these funds for future generations of Eastern students, while the matching gifts from the Ossen Foundation will be distributed annually to deserving students who fit the criteria, helping to address immediate scholarship needs,” continued DeLisa. “We are most grateful to Eileen Ossen and the Jeffrey P. Ossen Family Foundation for this special opportunity.”

The Jeffrey P. Ossen Family Foundation is dedicated to fulfilling dreams and achieving heights by enrichment of the mind, body and spirit. This is achieved through support of cultural arts, education and healthcare issues.

Eastern Honors Alumni and Donors

Written by Ed Osborn

President Elsa Nùñez, secnd from right, with Presidential Leadership Award Winners, left to right, Stephen Kenton, Anna Alfiero and Steve Watts, right.

Willimantic, Conn: — Eastern Connecticut State University recognized four people who have made exceptional contributions to Eastern, their local communities, the state of Connecticut and beyond at the President’s Leadership Awards Luncheon on April 4.

Anna (Stankewich) Alfiero ’62 received the Alumni Association’s Distinguished Alumni Award, which recognizes outstanding leadership or professional success by Eastern graduates. Alfiero had an exemplary 35-year career in the Waterford Public School system and was named to the inaugural class of inductees into the National Teachers Hall of Fame in 1992 by President Bill Clinton.

Alfiero also serves as the organizer of the Willimantic State Teachers College Class of ’62. Last year she chaired the committee to celebrate their 50th Reunion, and she is leading the effort to create a permanent, endowed scholarship that will honor the legacy of her classmates. “There were 60 in our graduating class,” she said, “and we were the first class of schoolteachers who were required to take graduate credits and get our master’s degree.  We were supported and encouraged by our teachers and fellow students, and we were committed to leaving the world a better place than we had found it. I cherish those times.”

The Hermann Beckert Friends of the University Award was presented to Professor Emeritus Stephen Kenton. Following a teaching career at Eastern of 38 years, during which time he became known for creating an ever-expanding network of math and computer science alumni, Kenton helped start an endowed scholarship in his honor. Through his enthusiasm and hard work, the scholarship has raised $51,000 to support math and computer science students. Kenton described three different students, including his own daughter, who fell in love with Eastern and enrolled or transferred here as a result. “Our students really love it here,” he said. “I feel privileged to have been part of this University.”

Receiving the ECSU Foundation’s Distinguished Donor Award was Steve Watts. In 2010, Watts established the LeClaire B. Watts Endowed Scholarship in memory of his wife, Lee, who taught Spanish at Eastern for many years before she passed away in 2009. “By creating this scholarship, I know that Lee would be happy that she can continue to serve Eastern and its students years after she is gone,” he said. Watts also serves on the Board of Directors for the ECSU Foundation.

Eastern President Elsa Nùñez thanked the recipients for their professional, civic and philanthropic accomplishments, and applauded the donors present for their commitment to assisting students in paying for their educations.

“I am here today especially to acknowledge the hundreds of Eastern students who, without your support, might not be walking our halls, sitting in our classrooms, and burning the midnight oil in the library to achieve their goals as scholars and budding professionals,” she said. “We had nearly 3,000 donors this past year — including a record-high 1,850 alumni donors, which is a positive validation of what we are doing here at Eastern.”

Also receiving recognition was Sandy Roth, who is the recipient of the Alumni Association’s Distinguished Service Award. In addition to receiving her master’s degree at Eastern, Roth created a scholarship to support history majors in memory of her late husband, History Professor David Roth. She also serves on the ECSU Foundation Board as secretary. Roth was unable to attend the April 4 event and will receive her award at Eastern Celebrates in May.