Biology Students Study in Deserts of the Southwest

Eastern students walk through a massive salt flat in Badwater Basin, Death Valley National Park.

A group of Eastern students recently returned from the American Southwest after studying desert ecology in a global field course (GFC) with the biology department. The trip took place from March 9–17 and was supervised by Professors Brett Mattingly and Matthew Graham.

Students conduct vegetation surveys in the Mojave Desert.

The course was an introduction to the study of desert ecology and biogeography. In the Mojave and Sonoran desert systems, students examined how environmental factors and biotic interactions shape the diversity and distribution of arid-adapted plant and animal communities from local to ecoregional scales. They evaluated how these communities are assembled over ecological and geological timescales.

Students executed plant surveys and set up arachnid traps under various light treatments. Four different species of scorpions and a camel spider were collected for analysis, as Graham is in the process of studying camel spiders with a major grant from the National Science Foundation.

Weather conditions such as wind, rain, snow and sand storms impacted data gathering. “The weather was a lot colder than we expected, so we saw less reptiles and invertebrates than other classes, unfortunately,” said Margalit Kaufman ‘19. “The plant life was plentiful, however, so we were still able to do research on biodiversity, especially that of vegetation.”

Though they were not able to collect many camel spiders for analysis, Alexsis Powell ‘20 noted that the trip was not any less hands-on. “It was still fun learning how to set up the traps,” she added. “At first, I was upset that I would not get the traditional ‘desert experience,’ but as the week went on, I was grateful that it was not extremely hot, because that would have made the long hikes more difficult.”

Ashley Dupuis ’19 continued: “The environment exposed me to a set of community diversity in which I was not accustomed to.” The students utilized an online platform called iNaturalist, which is a social network composed of naturalists, citizen scientists and biologists that shares and maps observations of biodiversity across the globe.

The most memorable part of the GFC for Powell was searching for scorpions. “It was awesome being able to see animals that you can’t find here in Connecticut.” The trip made her realize how much she enjoys doing fieldwork.

Kaufman and Dupuis cited visiting Death Valley in Eastern California as their favorite part of the trip, appreciating the ecosystem and natural beauty they encountered. Moreover, Dupuis valued spending time disconnected from “artificial” human reality.

“Packing up your house and carrying it on your back every day is a surreal feeling,” she said. “I gained peace of mind on this trip that solidified my feelings to become a field biologist, no matter how competitive.” She is considering graduate school for the future and wants to continue doing desert research out West.

Kaufman also plans to attend graduate school, in pursuit of evolutionary biology. “This course will have been helpful in terms of understanding comparative anatomy and ecology, evolutionary adaptations in desert species and paleontology.”

The GFC programs at Eastern serve a growing population of students and aim to reinforce a global and liberal arts focus to professional preparation.

“I believe the field experience I gained will help me stand out and convince someone to take a chance on me, leading me toward a successful career,” concluded Dupuis.

Written by Jordan Corey

Annual CREATE Conference to Showcase Student Art, Research

Eastern Connecticut State University will host its premier academic and artistic conference of the year on April 12. CREATE – Celebrating Research Excellence and Artistic Talent at Eastern – will take place from 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. in the Student Center and surrounding venues. An award ceremony with remarks by Eastern President Elsa Núñez will take place at 12:30 p.m. in the Betty R. Tipton Room of the Student Center.

Students present research during the poster session of the 2018 CREATE conference.

Hundreds of student researchers, artists and performers will present their talents at CREATE. Students from all majors will lead oral and poster presentations, participate in panel discussions, showcase music and dance performances, exhibit their art and photography, and present documentary films and more.

Registration will take place at 8 a.m. at the Student Center Café. President Núñez will present two undergraduate awards and two mentor awards to outstanding students and faculty members at the 12:30 p.m. award ceremony.

For more information, visit http://www.easternct.edu/create/, where you can view the day’s agenda and download the event’s cell phone app for iPhone and Android.

Written by Michael Rouleau

Paul Canavan Presents at Sports Medicine Symposium

Paul Canavan, professor of health sciences at Eastern Connecticut State University, presented at the 31st Sports Medicine Symposium in Wisconsin on March 14. Canavan gave three presentations and was also a guest speaker at the symposium.

 Canavan’s first presentation was titled “Preventing Groin Injuries,” and used evidence from research literature as well as Canavan’s own real-life experience with the Northeastern University ice hockey team. He spoke on the importance of providing specific screening and interventions to prevent such injuries in sports.

His second presentation was called “Efficient and Effective Functional Examination and Exercise Prescription for the Lower Extremity” and was directed towards physicians and physical therapists to advocate the use of tests that screen for strength, flexibility and control, as well as provide specific therapeutic exercises.

The final presentation, “Knee Varus and Knee Valgus: Considerations for Therapeutic Exercise Intervention,” examined Canavan’s prior research related to the stresses upon the knee for individuals with knee valgus (knock-kneed) and knee varus (bow-legged). This presentation helped attendees understand various exercises that may help these individuals and potentially slow the progression of knee osteoarthritis.

The Sports Medicine Symposium was primarily attended by physicians and physical therapists throughout Wisconsin and beyond. Nearly 250 attendees included primary care physicians, emergency medicine physicians, physical therapists, athletic trainers, nurses, coaches, athletic directors and others who were interested and involved in the care of athletes of all ages and abilities.

Written by Raven Dillon

Halladay, Canavan, Torcellini Present a Range of Research

Halladay Discusses Gender Stereotypes on Confidence

By Dwight Bachman

Brianna Halladay, assistant professor of economics, addressed the topic “Perception Matters: The Role of Task Gender Stereotype on Confidence and Tournament Selection” at the Faculty Scholars Forum on March 20.

Halladay said extensive research suggests that women avoid competition even when they can be benefit from potential rewards. Researchers conclude that women differ in their preference for competition compared to men.

Halladay’s own research explores the potential that another channel may be yielding the observed gender gap in tournament selection: a gender difference in beliefs about future performance reflecting gender stereotypes.

Using a laboratory experiment, she analyzed differences in tournament entry, using a male-stereotype task and a female-stereotype task. Her findings suggest that the observed difference in behavioral responses to competition among men and women is not due to a difference in preference for competition, but rather a difference in beliefs about future performance task (an environment where women would carry lower beliefs about future performance), and that more women than men enter the tournament under the female-stereotype task.

“In other words, it appears an increase in female confidence and decrease in male confidence is driving this result,” said Halladay. “This suggests the effect of competitiveness on gender is not exclusively about a difference in preference for competition, but consistent with a difference in beliefs about future performance.”

Canavan Presents at Sports Medicine Symposium

By Raven Dillon

Paul Canavan, professor of health sciences at Eastern Connecticut State University, presented at the 31st Sports Medicine Symposium in Wisconsin on March 14. Canavan gave three presentations and was also a guest speaker at the symposium.

Canavan’s first presentation was titled “Preventing Groin Injuries,” and used evidence from research literature as well as Canavan’s own real-life experience with the Northeastern University ice hockey team. He spoke on the importance of providing specific screening and interventions to prevent such injuries in sports.

His second presentation was called “Efficient and Effective Functional Examination and Exercise Prescription for the Lower Extremity” and was directed towards physicians and physical therapists to advocate the use of tests that screen for strength, flexibility and control, as well as provide specific therapeutic exercises.

The final presentation, “Knee Varus and Knee Valgus: Considerations for Therapeutic Exercise Intervention,” examined Canavan’s prior research related to the stresses upon the knee for individuals with knee valgus (knock-kneed) and knee varus (bow-legged). This presentation helped attendees understand various exercises that may help these individuals and potentially slow the progression of knee osteoarthritis.

The Sports Medicine Symposium was primarily attended by physicians and physical therapists throughout Wisconsin and beyond. Nearly 250 attendees included primary care physicians, emergency medicine physicians, physical therapists, athletic trainers, nurses, coaches, athletic directors and others who were interested and involved in the care of athletes of all ages and abilities.

Torcellini: ‘Buildings Mortgage the Energy Futures of the World’

By Dwight Bachman

Paul Torcellini, endowed chair of sustainable energy studies and professor of environmental earth science, kicked off the Spring Faculty Scholars Forum on Feb. 13 with a fascinating presentation on “Living at Zero: Experiences in Moving Towards an All Renewable Energy Lifestyle.”

Torcellini, who has been researching energy efficiency since he was in high school, said buildings that use electricity and natural gas to stay warm, cool and lighted are the largest consumer of energy in America. Unfortunately, the growth of new facilities is taking place more quickly than measures to impact energy efficiency. “Buildings mortgage the energy futures of the world,” said Torcellini.

He used the construction of his own family home to encourage others to strive to live at what he called “net zero or zero net.” For sure, it is net positive. He described the process as “building on a diet.” Together, he and his family decided to evaluate and examine the cost and value of how they would light, heat the space, use hot water, appliances and electronics in their new home.

The family started building the home in 2014 and finished in 2016. Through a series of measures including a great deal of insulation, heat pumps, energy efficient windows and efficient LED lighting, the house uses so little energy that solar photovoltaic panels generate enough electricity to cover all the loads. The solar panels also produce enough electricity to partially power a new electric vehicle.

In addition, the construction of the house minimized the introduction of chemicals that outgas during the life of the house. Mineral-based paints, linoleum with cork backing and tongue oil on native wood floors were used.

Another sustainability measure is the Torcellini family’s commitment to raising much of their own food, including organically fed meat from turkeys, chickens, sheep and pigs, as well as producing eggs.

New Research Lends Insight into Workplace Homicides

Mitchell Doucette is an assistant professor of health sciences at Eastern Connecticut State University as well as an affiliated research scientist with the Injury Prevention Center at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center.

Mitchell Doucette, assistant professor of health sciences at Eastern Connecticut State University, recently published a paper about the changing trends of workplace homicides in the research journal “Injury Epidemiology.” Doucette’s paper is titled “Workplace homicides committed by firearm: recent trends and narrative text analysis” and was published on March 18.

The paper analyzes workplace homicides committed by firearm, focusing on trends from 2011-15, as well as possible motivations and circumstances. The paper addresses research gaps in homicide literature by creating a comprehensive analysis of why workplace homicides are committed.

Doucette’s research discovered that while overall workplace homicides have decreased, the motivations behind the fatalities have changed. In previous years, intentional workplace deaths were largely caused by robberies. Sixty-five percent of workplace deaths in the late 1990s and early 2000s were from robberies.

Now workplace homicides are most often due to events such as an interpersonal argument including work-performance criticism, intimate personal violence and mass shootings. Because of this shift in motivations, Doucette contends that there must be a shift in policy.

“Robbery-related prevention recommendations were fitting several decades ago, when workplace homicides were most often a result of a robbery,” Doucette continued. “As the circumstances of these crimes have shifted towards non-robbery events in recent years, so too must prevention techniques.”

Access to firearms significantly increases the potential of lethality during an argument, and Doucette reasons that restricting workplace access to firearms may be a possible measure to reduce the number of workplace homicides.

“We suspect that the change in workplace-homicide circumstance, moving from robbery to non-robbery motivated crimes, may be in part due to an increase in firearm exposure,” he concluded. “Workers are now more likely than ever to interact with a customer or co-worker carrying a firearm.”

In addition to being a professor at Eastern, Doucette is an affiliated research scientist with the Injury Prevention Center at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center. He was lead author for this paper and worked alongside Maria T. Bulzacchelli, Shannon Frattaroli and Cassandra K. Crifasi.

“Injury Epidemiology” is dedicated to advancing the scientific foundation for injury prevention and control through publication and dissemination of peer-reviewed research. The publication’s goal is to be the premier venue for communicating epidemiologic studies of unintentional and intentional injuries. The journal has a special focus on studies generating practical knowledge that can be translated into interventions to reduce injury morbidity and mortality on a population level.

Written by Raven Dillon

Eastern Represents at ‘Women in Psychology’ National Conference

Antuanett Ortiz, Professor Jennifer Leszczynski, Joanna Casuccio and Alyssa Sokaitis present at Association for Women in Psychology.

Three psychology students and two professors from Eastern Connecticut State University presented two research posters at the Association for Women in Psychology (AWP) national conference from Feb. 28-March 3 in Newport, RI. Students Alyssa Sokaitis ’19, Antuanett Ortiz ’19 and Joanna Casuccio ’19 presented alongside Psychology Professors Jennifer Leszczynski and Alita Cousins.

“Generational differences in feminist self-identification & liberal feminist beliefs” was presented by Leszczynski, Cousins and Casuccio.The research analyzes how feminist identification, descriptions and attitudes changed between 2011 and 2018. The researchers found that participants were more likely to self-identify as feminists and describe feminists as liberal in 2018; whereas in 2011, participants described feminists as radical. Additionally, participants reported higher beliefs in liberal feminism in 2018 as compared to 2011.

“Feminist identity and liberal feminist attitudes and beliefs” was presented by Leszczynski, Sokaitis and Oritz. The research analyzes how self-identified feminists differed from those who did not self-identify as feminists. The study found that those who self-identify as feminists were more likely to endorse liberal feminist attitudes and describe feminists as liberal rather than radical.

The AWP convened during the 1969 meeting of the American Psychological Association (APA) because the APA was not responding to issues raised by the new women’s liberation movement. Today, they remain one of the leading feminist voices in the field of psychology, working closely with the APA and other organizations.

Written by Raven Dillon

Students Present at Eastern Economics Association Conference

left to right, Brendan Cunningham, Demitra Kourtzidis, Catherine Falvey, Anastasia Shnyakin, Lazizakhon Akbarkhujaeva, John Fiester, Marcus Lim, Al Viglione and Steve Muchiri.

Seven economics majors from Eastern attended the Eastern Economic Association’s 45th Annual Conference in New York City from Feb. 28 to March 2. Club advisors Brendan Cunningham, associate professor of economics, and Steven Muchiri, assistant professor of economics, accompanied the students to New York.

Students included Lazizakhon Akbarkhujaeva’22 of Tashkent, Uzbekistan; Demitra Kourtzidis ’19 of East Hampton; John Fiester ’20, from Monson, MA; Al Viglione ’19 of Clinton; Anastasia Shnyakin ’21, from Bethany; Catherine Falvey ’19 of West Hartford; and Marcus Lim ’19 from Kuala Lampur, Malaysia.

Catherine Falvey presents her research.

The students presented their research, received feedback and commented on the research of peers from other universities. Falvey presented on the topic “If You Believe It You Can Achieve It: An Analysis of Expectations on Educational and Occupational Attainment of American Youth.” She said the conference was a great experience for herself and other members of the Economic Club.

Al Viglione presents his research.

“It is the best environment for learning about the research currently being conducted in the field, and it provided us all with a picture of where we could be in our future,” said Falvey. “As a senior, I was given the opportunity to present my Honors Thesis, and I could appreciate the other research being presented, having gone through the process myself.”

Viglione agreed: “Attending this conference helped me appreciate my current economic understanding and also opened my eyes to the depth and breadth of the field of economics, and how there is an opportunity to learn much more.”

Left to right, Marcus Lim and Al Viglione visit Columbia University to attend a research seminar on Development Economics.

“This conference provided an amazing number of benefits for students,” said Cunningham. “It allowed the students to practice their public speaking and communication skills during a professional conference. Second, they learned about the research of professional economists. This is highly valuable for classwork, and for those students who are continuing with graduate studies. Finally, the students themselves organized the logistics for this trip, and they also attended an economics research seminar at Columbia University.”

Written by Dwight Bachman

Eastern Professor Authors Book on Maroon Communities in Brazil

Mary Lorena Kenny

Mary Lorena Kenny, professor of anthropology at Eastern Connecticut State University, recently authored “Deeply Rooted in the Present: Heritage, Memory, and Identity in Brazilian Quilombos.” Kenny held a book talk on Jan. 31 to celebrate and discuss her research.

There are an estimated 4-6,000 quilombo communities, also known as “maroon communities,” in Brazil. Their inhabitants – quilombolas – are federally recognized descendants of self-ascribed, traditional Black settlements. They are descendants of enslaved persons who escaped to freedom and established settlements in remote mountain locations or dense tropical terrains.

Brazil imported more than five million slaves over the course of 300 years – the highest number in the Americas. Kenny said the legacies of slavery and colonialism are manifested in inequities that contemporary quilombolas face in terms of access to healthcare, schooling and basic infrastructure. Three quarters of quilombola families live in extreme poverty and receive public assistance.

A legal decree in Brazil’s 1988 Constitution guarantees quilombolas collective land titles as a type of reparation, but there is strong opposition to this policy. Opponents argue that slavery ended long ago, making the issue irrelevant, while others assert that the land grants are exclusionary, or that slavery never existed in the area. Throughout “Deeply Rooted in the Present,” Kenny describes how such policies are tied to social, economic, political and racial realities of Brazil.

Kenny has lived on-and-off in Brazil for 30 years. There are two federally recognized quilombos in the Northeastern area of the country that she frequents. At the book talk, she went over the “bureaucratic hurdles” that come with petitioning for federal recognition and gaining land rights, from the informality of certain settlements to a lack of material artefacts to bolster their claims.

In her research, Kenny links past practices and policies to contemporary conditions of exploitative, slave-like labor practices and a concentration of land ownership, noting that more than 50 land activists were murdered in Brazil in 2017. While not every black and dark-skinned person is a quilombola, Afro-Brazilians face the brunt of inequality. “More than half the population are Black and Brown people,” said Kenny. She called attention to the high homicide rates disproportionately affecting black youth, along with the corrupt government systems that protect established social roles. “Until recently, if you were white and had money, you were above the law.” With no trust for law enforcement, justice is often taken into citizen hands, and violence is prevalent.

In addition to skepticism toward authority, Kenny emphasized the distrust of outsiders that is common in close-knit, small communities. “You have to be willing to go through a vetting process,” she explained. Quilombolas kept an eye on her and wanted to know her motives for visiting. Any project – whether it is research, filming, development or church based – must confront the deep-seated attitude and fear of exploitation. “I took my camera out for the first time only after a year.”

“One of the ways to learn about the community is through oral history,” said Kenny as she spoke about immersing herself in the local community and gaining insight on the history of the quilombola movement and attitudes towards the quilombolas. One white merchant she interviewed disputed quilombolas claims about a history of discrimination in the town, and felt that assertions about racial tensions were new to the area and generated by ‘outsiders.’ “He said this as we were standing just a few feet away from what was once the Whites-only club, and the Black-only club,” Kenny stated.

During the book talk, she explored the importance of pottery as a signature aspect of quilombola heritage and identity, particularly for women. Ceramic production is non-mechanized and produces little income. She described the sweltering heat generated by the outdoor kiln fed by wood gathered in the area. “It is an extremely arduous and time-consuming process.”

It is questionable whether pottery production is a sustainable profession in the 21st century, and most younger women hope to find work outside the community. “They want to do things that are seen as giving more status.” At the same time, some are dubbed “uppity” or ‘out of place’ if they seek education or career advancement.

Kenny shared a story of a woman named Céu, who rose to a leadership position as head of the women’s pottery cooperative. Despite Céu’s limiting circumstances, she launched an inspiring career. In 2013, however, her life was cut short when an ex-partner doused her in kerosene and set her on fire. “She survived for three days and then perished.”

Kenny explained to her audience that in order to become federally recognized, quilombolas must collectively agree on legally embracing this identity. “You have to decide as a community that you are going to share this land.”

Kenny’s writing illustrates how heritage and identity are continually being constructed to reflect particular historical circumstances. “Deeply Rooted in the Present” includes supplementary exercises that encourage readers to make connections between the case study at hand, their own heritage and heritage-making efforts in other parts of the world.

Written by Jordan Corey

Psychology Student-Professor Duo Co-Authors Research Paper

Kaylee DeFelice presents an earlier version of the research at a conference at the University of Massachusetts.

Eastern Connecticut State University alumna Kaylee DeFelice ’19 recently co-authored a paper with Psychology Professor James Diller titled “Intersectional Feminism and Behavior Analysis.” The paper will appear in an upcoming issue of “Behavior Analysis in Practice,” a prestigious transnational journal.

The paper analyzes human behavior in the context of intersectional feminism, which is a feminist movement that encompasses the different experiences between race, gender and sexuality. DeFelice and Diller examine the field of psychology and behavior analysis through this feminist lens, noting that intersectionality is imperative to understand the human experience. By adopting intersectional practices, they argue, the field of behavior analysis would be significantly advanced.

“It’s incredibly rare for undergraduate students to publish in scholarly journals, especially as first authors,” says Diller. “I’m very proud to have published this paper with her.”

DeFelice, who has aspirations of becoming a school psychologist, originally began this paper for an assignment in Diller’s class. Together, they expanded the topic into independent research, resulting in numerous drafts, rewrites and eventual publication. DeFelice even presented a previous version of the paper at the Berkshire Association for Behavior Analysis and Therapy (BABAT) conference in October 2018.

“This experience was extremely valuable to me,” says DeFelice. “I found the study of this topic especially relevant in light of the Me Too and Time’s Up movements, and believe that this paper, as well as others, can help push further social advancements.”

Written by Raven Dillon

Eastern Represents at American Historical Association Annual Meeting

Cassaundra Epes ’19 and Dana Meyer ’19

Two students and three professors from Eastern Connecticut State University attended and presented research at the American Historical Association (AHA) annual meeting in Chicago, IL, from Jan. 3–6.

Dana Meyer ’19 of Manchester and Cassaundra Epes ’19 of Baltic were two of 28 students meeting-wide selected for the poster presentation portion of the meeting, which occurred on Jan. 5. Meyer presented “Connecticut Revolutionary War Deserters: An Experiment in Digital History.” Epes presented “A Willing Audience: The Brown Book and the Enduring Power of Conspiracy Theory.”

Students with Professor Balcerski.

History Professors Thomas Balcerski, Anna Kirchmann and Joan Meznar presented papers and spoke on panels at the meeting. Kirchmann chaired a panel titled “Conflicted Loyalties and/or Pragmatism,” and presented her paper “Urban Renewal and the Response of American Ethnic Groups, 1949–74.”

Balcerski organized and participated in a panel titled “Writing Early Queer Lives: Authorial and Biographical Imperatives before 1900.” Meznar attended several panels on teaching the “World History Survey” and one on careers for history PhDs outside of academia.

“The annual meeting for the American Historical Association is the oldest and largest society of historians in the United States,” said Meznar. Speaking to Eastern’s students, she added, “It is quite an honor that two of our students were among the 28 students meeting-wide to be selected for the poster session. With the support of outstanding faculty mentors, our majors are engaged in high-caliber research that is showcased in top-tier professional conferences.”

The American Historical Association is a nonprofit membership organization founded in 1884 and incorporated by Congress in 1889 for the promotion of historical studies. The AHA provides leadership for the discipline, protects academic freedom, develops professional standards, aids in the pursuit and publication of scholarship, generates innovative teaching, and supplies various services to sustain and enhance the work of its members. As the largest organization of professional historians in the world, the AHA represents more than 12,000 members and serves historians representing every historical period and geographical area.

Written by Michael Rouleau