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.

2 Students Awarded Eastern Summer Fellowships

Written by Michael Rouleau

Eastern students Jolene Potter ’18 and Julie Leitao ’18 participated in Undergraduate Research/Creative Activity Fellowships this summer. Potter, a psychology major, prepared her research study, “Awareness and Understanding of Rape Culture among College Students,” for publication. Leitao, a theatre and early childhood education double major, worked to devise the script and choreography for the upcoming Eastern theatre production “Thread City.”

Jolene Potter '18

Jolene Potter ’18

Potter began her research in fall 2016, and aspired to submit her 9,000-word manuscript to an undergraduate research journal at the conclusion of the summer fellowship.

“Through in-depth interviews with Eastern students, my research examines how students define, perceive and reproduce notions about rape culture,” said Potter. “The study explores student acceptance of rape myths, their victim-blaming behavior and their tendency to defend the perpetrator. I also assess feelings regarding campus safety, beliefs regarding the necessity and efficacy of campus programs regarding sexual assault, and awareness of services for victims of sexual assault.”

Potter reports that her findings suggest “an association between awareness and understanding of rape culture and decreased rape myth acceptance and victim-blaming behavior, increased concerns pertaining to campus safety, and increased awareness of services offered to victims of sexual assault.”

Julia Leitao '18

Julia Leitao ’18

Leitao worked on the upcoming theatre production “Thread City,” which will be performed at Eastern Oct. 11-15. The show aims to tell the story of the immigrants who came to Willimantic to work in its historic thread mills. During one of Leitao’s spring semester classes, she interviewed local residents, learned about theatre companies and completed “moment work”—a theatrical technique in which individual moments are dissected and explored.

“We delved deeper into the research and used it to create the characters, storyline and movement pieces of the show,” said Leitao. “‘Thread City’ will focus on movement and sound rather than being a text-heavy performance.

“Devising a piece of theatre that tells the story through the body is something I am very excited to be a part of,” added Leitao. “Our characters and movements will represent immigrants from various locations who have traveled to a new, strange world and are adapting to a new life.”

Eastern’s Summer Research/Creative Activity Fellowship program is administered by the Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity Advisory Council. Students from all majors can apply for the competitive fellowship. Participants receive a $1,000 stipend and $250 for travel.

2 Biology Students Complete NASA CT Summer Fellowships

Written by Michael Rouleau

Two Eastern biology students were among six undergraduate students from universities across Connecticut to receive fellowships from the NASA Connecticut Space Grant Consortium this summer. Lauren Atkinson ’17 used the fellowship to assist in her pursuit of discovering new antibiotics. Lillian Hyde ’17 used hers to research a cell found in the central nervous system known as microglia.

Lauren Atkinson and her research mentor Professor Barbara Murdoch

Lauren Atkinson ’17 and her research mentor Professor Barbara Murdoch

Atkinson’s research is titled “Evaluating the Scorpion Microbiome for Diversity and Antibiotic Production.” Alongside her research mentor Biology Professor Barbara Murdoch, Atkinson researched the scorpion abdominal microbiome in pursuit of finding new antibiotics to address the rising threat of antimicrobial resistance. A microbiome is the collection of microbes or microorganisms that inhabit an environment — in this case, the abdomen of a scorpion — and antimicrobial resistance is the ability of a microbe to resist drugs (like antibiotics) that had previously been useful in treating them.

“The United Nations has declared antimicrobial resistance a fundamental global threat to human life, food production, economic development and security,” said Atkinson. “One step in responding to this threat is to develop new drugs that microbes have not developed resistance to.”

Scorpions are routinely exposed to potentially deadly microbes since many of their prey are vectors for deadly pathogens. “We are testing bacteria naturally found in the abdomens of scorpions for their ability to produce antibiotics,” said Atkinson. “We hypothesize that scorpions have formed symbiotic relationships with bacteria that produce antibiotics that protect the scorpions from these pathogens.”

Lillian Hyde '17

Lillian Hyde ’17

Hyde’s research is titled “Assessment of Microglia Function in Brain and Blood Microenvironments.” She reports: “My experiment focuses on microglia, a cell found in the central nervous system that has been shown to change between an anti-inflammatory and pro-inflammatory state. These cells are normally grown in fetal bovine serum, however in the body they are isolated in a cerebrospinal fluid-like environment, the fluid that coats the brain and the spinal cord.”

The purpose of the study is to test if the microglia have different states in cerebrospinal fluid (fluid closest to their native environment) compared to fetal bovine serum (their standard culture media).

“A main component of the study is cell culture,” said Hyde, who worked with Biology Professor Kurt Lucin during the fellowship. “I am responsible for maintaining the cell culture and conducting various experiments. My experiment is testing how the cells react to growing in different culture environments and assessing their different states based on their appearance, chemicals that they secrete, and how they respond to foreign substances.”

Relating the experiment to space travel, the NASA CTSGC writes: “By establishing a baseline for microglia function in their native environment, space travel conditions can eventually be tested to assess their effects on the central nervous system.”

NASA Connecticut Space Grant Consortium is a federally mandated grant, internship and scholarship program that is funded as a part of NASA Education. There are Space Grant Consortia in all 50 states, plus Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico. Eligible full-time undergraduate/graduate students of a consortium university/college may apply for the fellowship program, in which students are expected to work on research related to space/aerospace science or engineering under the guidance of a faculty member or a mentor from industry.

Students Complete NSF Research Experiences Across the Country

Written by Michael Rouleau

Two Eastern Connecticut State University students participated in Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REUs) funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) this summer. Mathematics major Haley Knox ’18 and Catherine Falvey ’17, who double majors in mathematics and economics, conducted research at Iowa State University and California State University respectively.

Knox (middle, first row) with her group of five undergraduate students, two graduates students and Steve Butler (back right), professor at Iowa State University

Haley Knox ’18 (middle, first row) with her group of five undergraduate students, two graduates students and Steve Butler (back right), professor at Iowa State University

Knox’s project was titled “Ordered Multiplicity Inverse Eigenvalue Problem for Graphs on Six Vertices.” Alongside a team of undergraduate and graduate researchers, her project was in the field of mathematics known as combinatorial matrix theory, which is a mix of linear algebra and graph theory.

“It was a wonderful experience to live in Ames, IA, for eight weeks!” said Knox. “I enjoyed working in a group, and am grateful to have been able to join a new community in the middle of the country without financial burden. I learned a lot this summer and highly recommend that undergraduates studying mathematics apply for an REU before they graduate.”

Catherine Falvey

Catherine Falvey ’17

Falvey’s project was titled “Probabilities Concerning Sets of Matrices.” At the Channel Islands campus of California State University, her team-based project involved linear algebra, numbertheoryand abstract algebra.

“I am honored to have been able to work under a NSF grant,” said Falvey. “I gained valuable research experience as well as insight into working on a team. It was a change of pace from the typical semester because we focused on answering only one main question, and we worked on it every day. It gave us an idea of the ups and downs that come with doing research.”

 

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

Written by Michael Rouleau

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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About Eastern Connecticut State University

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

About The Chronicle of Higher Education

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

About ModernThink LLC

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

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

Students Study Tropical Biology in Bahamas

 

Written by Michael Rouleau

Twenty biology students from Eastern Connecticut State University traveled to the Bahamas in May 2017 to study the island’s tropical biology.

At the Gerace Research Center, students experienced life at an active field station where they explored mangrove forests, sea grass beds, saline lakes and coral reefs. The group snorkeled at field sites around the island and identified species and compared notes on the animals and behaviors they observed. They also conducted quantitative surveys of rocky intertidal and dune communities.

The trip to the Bahamas was the field component of a class taken on the Eastern campus during the academic year, in which students studied island formation and the ecology of island ecosystems. The class was led by Biology Professors Joshua Idjadi, Kristen Epp and Brett Mattingly.

In their free time, students enjoyed interacting with other school groups and local residents at the research center and surrounding community. Students described the field course as their best experience at Eastern.

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.

Three Students Win Library Research Awards

Award winners Malvina Pietrzykowski '19, Kimberly Mines '17 and Isabella Rossi '17 with Eastern President Elsa Nunez

Award winners Malvina Pietrzykowski ’19, Kimberly Mines ’17 and Isabella Rossi ’17 with Eastern President Elsa Nunez

Written by Michael Rouleau

Three Eastern students were recognized at the sixth annual Library Research Awards at the conclusion of the 2016-17 academic year. Malvina Pietrzykowski ’19, Kimberly Mines ’17 and Isabella Rossi ’17 were awarded based on their ability to conduct research that stemmed from the physical collections and online databases of Eastern’s J. Eugene Smith Library.

Pietrzykowski majors in psychology and her research project was titled “The Neuropsychological Effects of Religion and Spirituality.” Her abstract reads: “This literature review critically analyzes psychological and medical research regarding religion and spirituality. The paper begins with analyses of religion’s psychological and social appeal, as well as comparison of different types of religion. Various aspects of neuropsychology are covered, including religion’s influence on functions of the brain.”

Mines majors in labor relations/human resources management and her research project was titled “Framing Arab Americans in the Detroit News Press.” Her abstract reads: “A significant proportion of today’s Arab Americans descended from Christian immigrants, though they are often conflated with Muslims and ‘unhinged’ caricatures who do not contribute to society. This study examines the post-911 evolution of Arab-American representations within mainstream Detroit news press-a city known as ‘the capital of Arab America.'”

Rossi majors in history and her research project was titled “The Elite Opulence of the Gilded Age: Creation of an 1876 Style Evening Gown.” Her abstract reads: “In this project I researched the fashions of the American Gilded Age and created a historically accurate 1876 evening gown with this information. I also explored the historical context of these fashions and examined how clothing was used by social elites to display status.”

Kayla Giordano Presents Political Research on Capitol Hill

Kayla Giordano explains her project, "Going Negative: The Effects of Direct Mail Programs on Political Campaigns," at Posters on the Hill

Kayla Giordano explains her project, “Going Negative: The Effects of Direct Mail Programs on Political Campaigns,” at Posters on the Hill

Eastern student Kayla Giordano ’17 was among only 60 students from across the country to present at Posters on the Hill (POH), a highly competitive undergraduate research conference held annually in Washington D.C. At the April 26 conference, students presented their research to members of Congress.

Giordano, who double majors in political science and economics, presented her poster titled “Going Negative: The Effects of Direct Mail Programs on Political Campaigns.”

Mentored by William Salka, political science professor at Eastern, Giordano said, “My project was a research study I conducted for my senior Honors Thesis. I surveyed voters from a Connecticut Senate race to understand their attitudes and behaviors toward negative advertising by political candidates.”

Speaking to the honor of being the only student from Connecticut to present at the 2017 POH conference, Giordano said: “Being able to represent Eastern was definitely rewarding. My research was on negative advertising in political campaigns, so being able to present in our nation’s capital was such a great ending to a project I’ve been working on for two years.”

Eastern has represented Connecticut six out of the 11 times it has appeared in the annual Posters on the Hill conference. The conference has an acceptance rate of approximately 10 percent.

Eastern Unveils 2016 TIMPANI Toy Study Results

Written by Ed Osborn

-Plus-Plus® received the highest overall score in this year’s study.

– Plus-Plus® received the highest overall score in this year’s study.

Plus Plus in action at the preschool in Eastern's CECE

Plus Plus in action at the Child and Family Development Resource Center (CFDRC) on the Eastern campus

WILLIMANTIC, Conn. — Eastern Connecticut State University’s Center for Early Childhood Education announced on Dec. 12 that “Plus-Plus®,” a toy made by the Danish company Plus-Plus®, has been named the 2016 TIMPANI (Toys that Inspire Mindful Play and Nurture Imagination) Toy.

The annual toy study, which is now in its eighth year, investigates how young children play with a variety of toys in natural settings.  This year, 10 toys were selected for the study by teachers, faculty and student researchers.  The toys were placed in preschool classrooms in Eastern’s Child and Family Development Resource Center, and student researchers used hidden cameras to videotape children playing with the toys.  Researchers then coded the footage according to the study’s evaluation rubric, which includes four subscales: thinking and learning, cooperation and social interaction, creativity and imagination, and verbalization.

“The TIMPANI study is ground-breaking, empirical and thought-provoking, and has garnered international attention since we started it eight years ago,” said Eastern President Elsa Núñez. “Eastern faculty and students are providing research-based guidance to preschool teachers, parents and others on toys that promote children’s intellectual growth, social interaction and creativity. In the process, our early childhood education students are learning to conduct empirical research of the highest quality.”

Plus-Plus® (Midi size) received the highest overall score in this year’s study.  It also scored the highest in the “thinking and learning” and “creativity and imagination” subscales.  In addition, the toy scored very highly with both boys and girls and with children from different ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds.

“This was a toy that children from all different backgrounds could play with at a very high level,” said Julia DeLapp, director of the Center for Early Childhood Education. “We didn’t see some of the gender differences that we did with other toys, and children from different ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds played with it at equally high levels of play quality.”

Leah Slawinowski, a psychology and early childhood education student involved in the study, said, “I think that Plus-Plus did really well overall because you can do so many different things with it.  Children could build simple structures and develop their fine motor skills, or build something to be used in an elaborate pretend-play scenario.”

Professor Jeffrey Trawick-Smith, principal investigator of the study, addresses the TIMPANI press conference

Professor Jeffrey Trawick-Smith, principal investigator of the study, addresses the TIMPANI press conference

Professor Jeffrey Trawick-Smith, principal investigator of the study and Phyllis Waite Endowed Chair of Early Childhood Education, noted, “Plus-Plus is a construction toy, and we’ve found from previous research that construction toys do very well on our evaluation rubric.  As children are building with these toys, they’re creating designs; they’re testing out their designs; they’re re-building their structures.  So if you think about it, construction toys like Plus-Plus are really simple engineering tools for very young children.”  Plus-Plus® is the fourth construction toy to be named the TIMPANI toy of the year since the study began in 2010.

Speaking to today’s educational emphasis on STEM fields — Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics — Trawick-Smith found that the skills developed through playing with construction toys are similar to the skills developed in engineering schools, citing Columbia University’s Graduate School of Engineering as an example.  They include skills like planning, measuring, model making and modifying designs. “Toys serve as engineering tools for young children,” he said.

One interesting finding in this year’s study was that the most frequently used toys did not always earn the highest play quality scores.  “Just because a toy is very popular does not mean it’s going to be the most beneficial in terms of children’s play,” commented Trawick-Smith.  “One implication of this is that adults need to carefully observe the impact that individual toys have on children and keep an eye open for toys that may not be selected as often but are really supportive of children’s play.  Then maybe they can guide children toward those toys and provide some support to children as they play.”

Eastern student researchers involved in various education studies with the CECE

Eastern student researchers are involved in various early childhood education studies with the CECE, including TIMPANI and an on-going study about “math talk.”

Rachel Borden, an art and early childhood education student involved in the study, noted how working on the study will influence her future teaching practices. “I will definitely think about the toys that I put in my classroom. Some toys are great for imagination, while others may be great at fostering thinking and decision making.  If I really want my students to work on socializing more, I’ll pick a toy that’s going to help and foster that.”

Slawinowski, also an aspiring teacher, added, “This study has made me consider the toys that are most beneficial for children in the long run. It really is important for kids to play with high-quality toys that promote critical skills such as verbalization and problem solving.”

Previous TIMPANI toys include Wooden Cash Register by Hape (2015); Paint and Easel (easel by Community Playthings), and Hot Wheels Cars by Mattel (2014); Magna-Tiles by Valtech!, and My First Railway by Brio (2013); Duplo Blocks by LEGO (2012); Tinker Toys by Hasbro (2011); Wooden Vehicles and Signs by Melissa and Doug (2010).

All of the toys investigated in the 2016 TIMPANI study

All of the toys investigated in the 2016 TIMPANI study

In discussing the success of certain TIMPANI toys, Trawick-Smith mentioned the Theory of Loose Parts. Developed in the 1970s by architect Simon Nicholson, the theory suggests that “loose parts” — materials that can be moved around, modified and tinkered with — allow for more creative and thoughtful play. “Loose parts are a common characteristic of many of our toys,” said Trawick-Smith. “They don’t come with instructions and they can be used in an infinite number of ways.”

For more information about the TIMPANI Toy Study, contact the Center for Early Childhood Education at (860) 465-0687 or visit www.easternct.edu/cece/timpani/.

* * * * *
Disclaimer: The TIMPANI toy study does not consider, nor does it test, the safety of toys. The study makes no claims about the safety of any toy studied. Neither the Center for Early Childhood Education nor Eastern Connecticut State University is liable for any mishaps related to the use of toys mentioned in study findings. Concerns about any toy listed in the study findings should be directed to the Consumer Products Safety Commission.