Eastern Named to Princeton Review’s 2020 ‘Best Colleges’ Guide

Eastern Connecticut State University has been recognized by in the Princeton Review in its “2020 Best Colleges” guide for the Northeast region. Featured schools were chosen based on survey results from 140,000 students across the country. Eastern was praised for its small class sizes, close-knit campus community and affordability. 

Home to 5,200 students annually, Eastern students come from 160 of Connecticut’s 169 towns, along with 29 other states and 20 other countries. The 16:1 student to faculty ratio encourages group discussions and teamwork. Eastern offers 41 majors and 59 minors, with a liberal arts curriculum that’s rooted deep in the school’s mission to provide students with a well-rounded education. Eastern was also ranked among the top 25 public universities in the North Region by U.S. News and World Report in its 2020 Best College ratings.

Eastern also offers 18 NCAA Division III sports teams, more than 90 registered student organizations and 17 honors societies. Eastern’s athletic mission is to emphasize values such as diversity, sportsmanship, health, wellbeing and equity. Eastern hosted its annual President’s Picnic and Student-Club Fair. In spring of 2019, more than 50 percent of Eastern students participated in at least one club. Clubs with the highest membership last semester were Eastern Outdoors Club, Freedom at Eastern and People Helping People. Eastern is also home to student services such as the Womens Center, LGBT support groups and minority support groups. Eastern was awarded the ‘Green Campus’ Status by Princeton Review for the ninth year in a row in fall 2018.

Written by Molly Boucher

Courant Names Eastern a ‘Top Workplace’

For the eighth time the Hartford Courant has recognized Eastern Connecticut State University in its “Top Workplaces” survey. With almost 1,000 employees, Eastern ranked 10th in the “large” category, and was the only public higher education institution recognized among 60 organizations in Hartford, Middlesex, Tolland, Windham and New London counties. Results were published on Sept. 22 in the Hartford Courant.

“We are honored to be recognized once again as a top workplace in Connecticut,” said Eastern’s President Elsa Núñez. “Even though Eastern was recognized in the large organization category, our university has always prided itself on being a close-knit community and a welcoming, inclusive campus for students, faculty and staff. The Courant’s announcement reminds us that Eastern is a stable, inspiring place for our faculty and staff to come to work each day, and a supportive learning environment for our students. I am very pleased that we were among those recognized.”

Surveys were administered on behalf of the Courant by Energage, LLC, a research and consulting firm that has conducted employee surveys for more than 50,000 organizations. Rankings were based on confidential survey results completed by employees of the participating organizations. This year’s Courant survey surveyed 29,000 employees across the state.

The survey included 24 statements, with employees asked to assess each one on a scale from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree.” Topics included organizational direction, workplace conditions, effectiveness, managers and compensation. Each company was assigned a score based on a formula.

To honor all “Top Workplaces,” The Hartford Courant held its annual awards program on Sept. 19 at the Aqua Turf Club in Plantsville, CT, where it announced the top workplaces in each category.

Written by Vania Galicia

Dymond Smith Participates in Yale Summer Research Experience

Dymond Smith (beside Yong Zhu, program co-director at Yale and professor of epidemiology) completed a summer research experience at Yale School of Public Health.

Health sciences major Dymond Smith ’22 participated in an eight-week research experience at Yale University this summer. The National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded Summer Research Experience in Environmental Health (SREEH) is open to students enrolled in Connecticut universities who are interested in pursuing careers in environmental health sciences.

One of 10 students admitted to the program, Smith’s research project was titled “Glutathione in ethanol metabolism.” Glutathione is an antibiotic-defense system that plays a role in the metabolism of alcohol after it is consumed.  

She said of the experience, “The Yale School of Public Health summer research experience is one I will never forget. I was able to conduct experiments, expand my knowledge of the field of public health and grow as a future researcher with the help of faculty and doctoral students.”

Smith’s advisor at Eastern, Health Sciences Professor Anita Lee, commented, “Our department encourages students to explore all possibilities to sharpen their knowledge, skills and abilities—including having a productive summer learning experience related to their career goals. We are not only preparing students in allied health and public health professions, but also have students with great passion for research in the fields of health sciences and public health—Dymond is one of them.”

The SREEH program focuses on five major and emerging topics in environmental health sciences: climate and energy; developmental origin of disease; green chemistry; novel approaches to assessing environmental exposures; and health disparities. Participants received a stipend and worked closely with Yale faculty mentors on Ph.D.-level research in Yale’s laboratory facilities.

Written by Michael Rouleau

Eastern a Top 25 Public Regional University in U.S. News and World Report

The class of 2023 gathered for a group photo during the Fall 2019 Warrior Welcome weekend–Eastern draws students from 160 of Connecticut’s 169 towns

 Eastern Connecticut State University is again the highest ranked institution among Connecticut’s four state universities in this year’s U.S. News and World Report’s edition of “Best Colleges.” The 2020 rankings were released on Sept. 9.

This is Eastern’s highest ranking ever as it was ranked 21st among public universities in the North Region. Eastern moved up five spots among public institutions over last year’s rankings and moved up 13 spots when both public and private institutions were considered.

Under the mentorship of Biology Professor Vijaykumar Veerappan, Roshani Budhathoki ’19 was selected for an undergraduate fellowship by the American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB).

.The North Region includes colleges and universities from New England, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland, and is known as the most competitive among the four regions that make up the U.S. News and World Report ranking system.

Regional universities such as Eastern are ranked based on 15 criteria that include peer assessment, graduation and retention rates, class size, faculty resources, admissions selectivity, financial resources and alumni giving.

“Given the uncertain times facing the higher education community, I am delighted to see Eastern achieving its highest ranking ever,” said Eastern President Elsa Nunez. “This is a testament to our commitment to high standards and the faculty and staff’s focus on providing students with personal attention. Our improved ranking this year is due to our rising graduation and retention rates as well as the continued quality of our incoming classes.

 Environmental earth science students traveled to the mountains of Wyoming and Idaho this summer for a geology field course led by Eastern faculty.:

“Students and their families turn to the Best Colleges rankings to help decide where to attend college. These newest rankings reaffirm that Eastern is providing a relevant and high-quality education on our beautiful residential campus.”

This year’s U.S. News and World Report rankings included reviews of upwards of 1,400 schools nationwide and are available at www.usnews.com/colleges. They will also be published in the Best Colleges 2020 Guidebook, published by U.S. News & World Report and available on newsstands on Oct. 15.

For the past 35 years, the U.S. News and World Report rankings, which group colleges based on categories created by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, have grown to be the most comprehensive research tool for students and parents considering higher education opportunities.

Written by Ed Osborn

Psychology Researchers Publish on Human, Pigeon Suboptimal Choice

James Diller

Eastern Connecticut State University Psychology Professor James Diller and recent graduate Malvina Pietrzykowski ’19 were published in Springer’s “Learning and Behavior Journal” on Aug. 19 for their research titled “Human and Pigeon Suboptimal Choice.” The research looked at the completion of similar tasks by humans and pigeons to determine whether non-human performance can serve as a model for human gambling research.

The project was designed by Diller’s undergraduate mentor, Maggie McDevitt of McDaniel College, who ran the pigeon component of the experiment. Pietrzykowski, a former student of Diller’s, ran the human subject experiment. Students from McDaniel College’s psychology department also assisted with data collection.

To determine whether pigeons could serve as a model to observe the way humans behave when gambling, the researchers carried out two sets of experiments that evaluated both human and pigeon behavior. The task for pigeon subjects involved each pigeon choosing between two different color-lit keys by pecking at them. Each key allowed the pigeons to access food for a certain amount of time depending on the color—blue for 10 seconds; red for 0. Two other colors consistently allowed the pigeons to access food for three seconds.

Eastern graduate Malvina Pietrzykowski ’19 presents the project’s research poster at the Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI) conference.

The task assigned to the human subjects consisted of humans playing a computer game that awarded points depending on the color they chose. Like the pigeon experiment, each color had a set point value and subjects had to choose a color to earn points.

The results of the experiments showed that the pigeon subjects chose to “gamble,” or test their luck, more often than humans and that humans did share some patterns with pigeons when it came to “gambling.” However, although the results of the experiments suggest that humans and pigeons can behave similarly when assigned tasks that include a suboptimal choice, Diller concluded that more research must be done to truly determine whether pigeons are good subjects to test in comparison to human gambling behavior.

Diller commented on the experience, “It has been a lot of fun working across ‘academic generations’ on this project. I think this type of thing underscores the value of research experience and mentorship for students.” Speaking to his mentor and research colleague, he added, “If it weren’t for Maggie, I know I wouldn’t be at Eastern, and I’m proud to pass that type of experience on to Malvina and my other students.”

To see the full paper, see Springer’s website at https://link.springer.com/article/10.3758/s13420-019-00391-8. 

Written by Vania Galicia

Student-Professor Duo Presents at Symbolic Interaction Conference

Sociology Professor Nicolas Simon and student Tara Nguyen presented at the annual Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction Conference this past August.

Eastern Connecticut State University Sociology Professor Nicolas Simon and student Tara Nguyen ’21 presented and organized a session at the 2019 annual Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction (SSSI) Conference on August 9–11 in New York City.

They organized a session titled “‘The Next Generation’: Outstanding Symbolic Interactionist Undergraduate Papers,” which highlighted undergraduate research on the topic of symbolic interactionism — a theory that examines how humans impose their subjective meanings on objects, events and behaviors. To organize the session, Simon and Nguyen reached out to faculty members and students from colleges and universities in New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Massachusetts. They also reviewed student applications and abstracts to determine who to invite to the session. The SSSI primarily features research by Ph.D. students and professors, so Simon and Nguyen’s session was a rare opportunity for undergraduate students to participate in the conference.

Nguyen, a sociology major, was among the undergraduate presenters. Her presentation was titled “Communities Unite: An Autoethnography of the Resistance to Gentrification in Chinatown, Boston.” Gentrification is a topic that Nguyen has been studying with Simon, her faculty mentor.

Nguyen’s research focused on social inequalities within the Asian American community through the lens of intersectionality and critical race theory—which consider how various social identities overlap in the context of race, law and power. She addressed the issue of gentrification in Boston’s Chinatown and discussed what activists are doing to fight it.

Professor Simon also presented at the conference during a session titled “Self and Object.” His presentation was titled “What are you wearing? The Symbolic Value of a School Logo.” His research focused on the concept of “symbolic value” and the relationships that individuals, groups and societies have with symbols.

Simon has been a member of the SSSI since 2011 and has organized other sessions for undergraduate students in the past. He noted that he wants to continue to promote the next generation of symbolic interactionist researchers and help other students as professors have done for him in the past.

“I think it is important to encourage students who want to go to graduate school to present their work at a professional conference,” he said. “The first time I went to the SSSI annual conference in 2011, I was invited by my professor, Dr. Clint Sanders at the University of Connecticut. I was his teaching assistant and took a course with him in the fall of 2010. He invited all of us to present our work at the SSSI annual conference. It was a terrific experience!”

Nguyen commented on her own experience at the conference. “The experience was intense, but very rewarding. I was glad to help give other undergraduate students the opportunity to present their research at a conference filled with Ph.D. students and professors.”

 She plans on continuing to research other topics related to social inequalities in the Asian American community and pursue a Ph.D. program in either education or social policy.

Written by Vania Galicia

Adella Dzitko-Carlson Completes Music Fellowship

Eastern Connecticut State University student Adella Dzitko-Carlson ’19 devoted three weeks this summer to mastering the clarinet and analyzing music scores. As part of an on-campus fellowship that concluded this August, she worked with her faculty mentor, Professor Christopher Howard, to strengthen her performance skills and obtain a better understanding of her role as a musician.

Her intensive schedule included playing the clarinet for six hours a day and studying score sheets for three hours a day. She also took the time to begin preparing her repertoire for graduate school auditions and her senior recital. Howard noted that the goal of the fellowship was for Dzitko-Carlson to understand the clarinetist’s role in a broader sense.

When studying the scores, she also analyzed the roles of other instruments in a composition. “I allowed the pieces to inform my decisions on dynamics,” she said. “I also thought about what other instruments can do when applied to playing with the clarinet.”

Dzitko-Carlson plays the clarinet throughout the year, but she hadn’t had the opportunity to fully immerse herself in her playing. “It was nice to have extended periods to focus only on practicing,” she said.

Howard noted that she was not only playing music and analyzing it but gaining experience few ever get. “One of the more invaluable skills that Adella was able to get out of this experience is learning how it feels to be completely enveloped in a regimen that’s as intense as she went through for the past three weeks.”

In addition to playing the clarinet and studying score sheets, Dzitko-Carlson also had writing assignments in which she reflected on the new perspectives and knowledge she was gaining as a musician.

Professor Chris Howard and Adella Dzitko-Carlson.

One of the obstacles she faced was keeping up with the challenging schedule. “A big challenge was definitely building up mental endurance; it took a lot to get through the long days while remaining focused and productive the entire time.”

Howard added, “Playing the clarinet is not something that many people realize can be as physically taxing as it is. Something we had to be careful about was performance injuries. We had to be aware of things like hands and facial muscles.”

Howard commented on how much work and effort it took from Dzitko-Carlson to get through the three weeks. “This is not something that is suited for every music student; it takes a very special type of student to do what she did. Adella is one of the hardest working students I’ve ever worked with; she completely took the challenge and ran with it.”

Dzitko-Carlson plans to continue playing the clarinet and obtaining her master’s degree in performing arts after graduating from Eastern.

Written by Vania Galicia

Rachael Finch Studies Endangered Birds in Buzzards Bay

Rachael Finch used her Summer Research Fellowship to study the endangered roseate terns that nest on the islands of Buzzards Bay.

Rachael Finch, a biology major at Eastern Connecticut State University, has spent the past five weeks working with the endangered birds in Massachusetts’ Buzzards Bay. As the recipient of an Eastern Summer Research Fellowship, she is working to help restore the population of roseate terns — an endangered, migratory seabird that nests in the Northeast.

Biology Professor Patty Szczys and Finch are collaborating with Mass Wildlife on the project.

Under the supervision of Biology Professor Patty Szczys and in collaboration with Mass Wildlife, Finch’s field work occurred on Ram and Bird Islands in Buzzards Bay. Each morning, she’d take a boat ride to either of the islands and spend the day monitoring the birds.

“Being on the island every day is exhausting,” she said of the early mornings and long hours. “However, the work we’re doing for the birds is crucial to help their survival.”

Among her objectives, Finch is assessing whether leg banding — the traditional method of tracking and monitoring terns — is in fact harming the already endangered birds. “The bands may cause an increase in mortality on their wintering grounds, thus potentially contributing to their slow population growth,” said Finch, who is comparing survival rates in banded versus un-banded terns.  

She’s also conducting a pilot study on the effects of PIT tagging — a newer, subtler method of tracking, which involves inserting a very small “passive-integrated transponder” (PIT) under the skin, along the heel of the bird.

The fellowship began in mid-May with Finch and Szczys marking and monitoring nests on the islands. The pilot study commenced in late May, as they safely captured and tagged terns, recorded their behavior, collected blood samples and weighed chicks in their nest.

Finch’s research will continue for semesters to come. In the laboratory she’ll perform data analysis and work with blood samples to extract DNA. “Based on our initial observations, PIT tagging hasn’t had an effect on the behavior of roseate terns,” she said. “If this holds true, that would be great news because Mass Wildlife would no longer need to band the birds, which previous studies suggest cause increased mortality rates.”

Because the effects of PIT tagging seem favorable, Finch and Szczys plan to expand the study to a larger sample size. Next summer they’ll attempt to locate the experimental birds and determine difference in return rates based on the presence or absence of PIT tags.

“As an undergraduate, the opportunity to be a part of a long-term research project that includes both field and lab work is very rare,” said Finch. “This long-term project will allow me to continue to work toward a solution for tagging the engendered roseate tern.”

Finch and Szczys plan to present their research at the Roseate Tern Recovery Meeting this November in Massachusetts as well as the Waterbird Society meeting in Maryland. They also hope to publish their work in an academic journal.

Upon graduating from Eastern, Finch aspires to attend an advanced program in nursing or radiology.

Written by Michael Rouleau

Allison Lundy Wins National Student-Faculty Research Award

Eastern Connecticut State University student Allison Lundy ’19 was the sole recipient of the Council on Undergraduate Research’s (CUR) 2019 Education Division Student-Faculty Collaborative Research Award. Lundy was recognized for her honors thesis, “The Association Between Outdoor Motor Play and On-Task Behavior in Learning Experiences in Preschool,” which she worked on in collaboration with Professor Emeritus Jeffrey Trawick-Smith.

The Student-Faculty Collaborative Research Award is a national honor that is given annually by the CUR’s Education Division to honor high-quality undergraduate research in the learning and teaching sciences.

Professor Jeffrey Trawick-Smith with Allison Lundy

Lundy has been studying the effects of active playground play on the on-task behavior of preschool children during indoor learning experiences. She has found that boys, young children and children of low socioeconomic families benefited the most from playing outdoors before returning to learn in the classroom. She noted that these types of children who played before returning to class were more attentive, on task and able to self-regulate better.

“Teachers will benefit the most,” said Lundy, who stated that her research findings will help teachers better understand how all children learn differently and how outside movement is more beneficial compared to indoor movement. She hopes that her research findings will “provide insight into the importance of outdoor play, and guide teachers in implementing physical activity into their curriculum.”

Trawick-Smith, Lundy’s mentor in Eastern’s Center for Early Childhood Education, says that her findings will “elucidate important areas of inquiry in the psychological sciences and early childhood education and are clearly publishable.” He also stated that Lundy’s study “will be the first to examine, in a controlled way, the effects of such play on the ability of young children to pay attention and regulate their own behavior in the classroom.”

Lundy says that conducting undergraduate research has been rewarding and allowed her to develop and strengthen her critical thinking, communication, writing and presentation skills. She is also thankful for the opportunity to work closely with her faculty mentor. “Professor Trawick-Smith’s vast knowledge of young children is incredible. In working with him, I have learned so much not only about my own area of study, but early childhood education as a whole.”

After she earns her early childhood education and psychology degrees at Eastern, Lundy hopes to teach preschool or kindergarten.

Written by Vania Galicia

2 Students Bring Eastern Research to the World Stage

Jon Rappi and Cassidy Neri Present at Second Annual WCUR

Eastern Connecticut State University’s undergraduate research program gained stature this spring semester, as all three of its student applicants were accepted to present at the second annual World Conference on Undergraduate Research (WCUR) on May 23–25 in Oldenburg, Germany. Biology major Jonathan Rappi ’19 and Political Science major Cassidy Neri ’19 made the transatlantic journey; Psychology major Malvina Pietrzykowski ’19 was accepted, but unable to attend.

“Presenting my research on an international stage was extremely interesting, given the relevance of my project,” said Neri, who presented on U.S.-Israeli foreign policy in a project titled “Pro-Israel PAC Expenditures and Candidate Decision Making.”

Cassidy Neri

“Many who attended my session were from other countries,” continued Neri. “I was extremely nervous while giving my presentation. Due to the relevance of Israeli foreign policy on the world stage, many people took interest in what my point of view might be, coming from the United States.”

Neri’s research acknowledges the influence on the U.S. legislative process by special interest groups, which make campaign donations through Political Action Committees (PACs). “The purpose of this project is to better understand the effect of PAC donations on legislative votes,” reads her abstract. “This research specifically attempts to determine the effect of PAC donations from Pro-Israel organizations on U.S. Senate decision making.”

Mentored by Political Science Professor Nicole Krassas, Neri collected years of data concerning Pro-Israel campaign contributions, Senate roll-call votes, state demographics and more. 

Neri asserts that Pro-Israel groups have influenced U.S. foreign policy for years under the broad umbrella of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Because of the amount of foreign aid funding that the United States provides, she says “it is clear that Pro-Israel groups have a stake in the outcome of Congressional decisions.”

Despite the nervous start, Neri finished her presentation strong and received praise for her findings. She concluded: “I’ve walked away with an extreme appreciation for undergraduate research, including the effort it takes to be accepted to a conference such as WCUR.”

Rappi’s research concerned cancer treatment in a presentation titled “Modeling Human Cancer Gene Interactions in Worms: A Fos-1 Transcription Factor Inhibits Odd-Skipped Gene Expression in C. Elegans.” He was mentored by Biology Professor Amy Groth.

Jonathan Rappi

“My presentation was well received,” he said. “Even afterward, I had people coming up to me asking for more information. I’m glad I was able to show the world some of the high-quality research done at Eastern and in the biology department.”

Rappi’s abstract reads: “Cancer, particularly lung cancer, is one of the leading causes of death in the world, yet much remains unknown about this disease.” He notes that human odd-skipped genes (Osr1 and Osr2) are important for tissue development and cancer prevention, yet they are poorly studied.

Decreased expression of Osr1 has been found to increase risk of cancer, therefore he says, “Identification of genes that regulate Osr1 expression will provide important information about how cancer develops.”

Rappi utilized a microscopic worm called “C. elegans” to study odd expression — worms have two odd genes (odd-1 and odd-2). Odd-2 is most closely related to the two human genes (Osr1 and Osr2), and is structurally most similar to Osr1. From 23 genes tested, Rappi identified several that changed odd gene expression, including fos-1.

His abstract concludes: “Because the human Fos genes lead to cancer development, and Osr1 prevents cancer development, these experiments could eventually lead to a novel diagnostic test or therapeutic target that could improve lung cancer detection and treatment.”

Reflecting on the conference, Rappi said: “Presenting on an international stage was truly a unique experience. I had the opportunity to talk to many people from all over the world about important global issues. Each person had a different background and culture, yet we were all united by a passion for research.”

Countries represented at WCUR included Germany, Canada, Qatar, Australia, Argentina, Cambodia, Egypt and more. Submissions were reviewed by the WCUR program committee as well as two international faculty—one being an expert in the topic area of the submission. Students were admitted if their abstract demonstrated a unique contribution to their field.

“To have all submissions accepted was the exception, not the rule for most universities,” said Carlos Escoto, director of Eastern’s undergraduate research program. “This speaks to the quality of work that faculty are able to mentor students through.”

Written by Michael Rouleau