Research Institutes Help Young Students to Identify as Scholars

David Porter ’20 presents “Overlooking How to Fish: How Chris Yates’ Contributions to Modern Day Transcendentalism Have Yet to be Recognized” in the English SRI.

Summer vacation was delayed for four groups of Eastern students who immediately followed the end of the school year with intensive, weeklong research programs on campus. From May 20–24, four Summer Research Institutes (SRIs) engaged select, up-and-coming students in projects pertaining to the fields of psychology, English, political science and network science.

Speaking to the goal of the SRIs, Political Science Professor Courtney Broscious said, “We want to engage students earlier in their academic careers. We want to immerse them in applied research at a younger age and help them to think of themselves as scholars.”

Political science SRI students and faculty pose for a group photo outside of Webb Hall.

Led by Broscious and Political Science Professor Nicole Krassas, the political science SRI challenged first- and second-year students to develop research proposals for projects they will carry out during the academic year. Using applied research methods, the students determined individual topics of inquiry, conducted preliminary research and wrote proposals.

Sophomore Griffin Cox’s research proposal concerns the campaign rhetoric of the 2016 presidential election and how President Trump’s language compares to that of former Presidents Regan and Nixon. “How does he compare to previous galvanizing figures in conservative politics?” questioned Cox.

Sophomore Luc Poirier’s proposal concerns male participation in, and identification with, the feminist movement. “I believe the issue with gaining the support of men in the feminist movement is in part rooted in the word ‘feminist’ itself,” said Poirier. “The term is synonymous with ‘feminine,’ which doesn’t appeal to the ‘macho culture’ that is still alive today.”

The Psychology Department hosted a SRI for 10 students who conducted psychological research on topics related to prejudice, discrimination and stereotypes. Led by Professors Alita Cousins and Jennifer Leszczynski, the students’ inquiry covered such topics as gender and criminality, the effects of physical attractiveness on perceived characteristics, parenting influences on gender and more.

Shirley Holloway ’21 presents “The Association Between Feminism and Gender Roles” at the psychology SRI.

Freshman Sierra Nastasi’s project on gender stereotypes in sports was inspired by her experience as a female hockey player. She said: “Playing on both men’s and women’s teams, I’ve noticed how perceptions of female hockey players differ from those of their male counterparts. I’ve always wanted to learn more about the perceptions that arise in cross-gendered sports.”

The English Department brought together 10 first-year and transfer students for a SRI titled “Finding your Scholarly Voice,” which focused on developing scholarly projects on texts of students’ choice. 

“The workshop aimed to help students dive into the scholarly conversation surrounding their texts and find their own ways to contribute to that conversation,” said Professor Allison Speicher, who led the workshop. “Students completed extensive research, synthesizing a wide variety of sources, including literary scholarship, histories, authors’ journals and letters, book reviews and theoretical perspectives, to craft project plans and abstracts for their own scholarly articles.”

Network science SRI students and faculty pose for a group photo.

Freshman Bailey Hosko’s project investigated the minor role of the teacher in the book “Push” by the author Sapphire. The teacher was a “change agent” for the main character, an illiterate 16-year-old girl from Harlem. “The research institute gave me a head start on my senior seminar, but more importantly it gave me a desire to further investigate a topic that I’m interested in as a career,” said Hosko, who aspires for a career as an educator with a focus on literacy.

Mathematics Professor Megan Heenehan and Computer Science Professor Garrett Dancik collaborated on a SRI that introduced students to the field of network science. The week-long program utilized techniques in graph theory, computer programming and network analysis to collected data from movie scripts. Broken into groups, the students used the information to analyze the social structure and sentiment of “Mean Girls, “The Dark Knight” and “Batman and Robin.”

Written by Michael Rouleau

Eastern Psychology Researchers Analyze Mate-Guarding Scale

Professor Alita Cousins and student Lauren Beverage present at Human Behavior and Evolution Society Annual Meeting.

A team of researchers from Eastern Connecticut State University’s Psychology Department presented at the 31st annual meeting of the Human Behavior and Evolution Society on May 29–June 1 in Boston. Professor Alita Cousins and psychology major Lauren Beverage ’20 presented “Validity of the mate-guarding scale in women.” Professor Madeleine Fugère was a collaborator on the project as well.

The act of “mate guarding” aims to preserve access to a mate by keeping rivals away and keeping partners from leaving the relationship. “Mate guarding is about controlling a partner and keeping access to them,” explained Beverage. “It encompasses intrasexual (partner-directed) and intersexual (competitor-directed) tactics.”

The team’s study set out to assess the psychological measurements (psychometrics) of the Mate Guarding Scale (MGS)—as the scales for measurement are few and their psychometric properties are largely unknown. Previous analyses focus on the following six MGS subscales: confronting rivals, publicizing the relationship, escorting the partner, covert tactics, monopolization and aggression.

The Eastern team surveyed 1,069 women. Results showed that women who self-reported more overall mate guarding toward their partner had in turn experienced more mate guarding by their partner; were more invested and controlling in their relationship; and felt their relationship had more costs.

The team’s project abstract reads: “Results showed that the more controlling and invested the women were, the more they engaged in mate guarding, as well as confronted rivals, publicized their relationship, escorted their partner, used covert tactics, monopolized and were aggressive.”

Based on their analysis, the researchers concluded that the MGS has high validity.

Speaking to her experience as an undergraduate research assistant, Beverage said: “Working with, and getting input from, multiple professors helped to problem-solve issues as well as creatively expand on the scale and discussions on factors that play a role in mate guarding.

“I had also never presented at a conference before, let alone an international one,” she added. “I had the pleasure of explaining our project to people from all over the world, including Germany, Norway and Australia, in addition to learning about their research. I’m grateful for the experience and to have worked with wonderful people!”

Written by Michael Rouleau

Eastern Alumna Salutes Inclusive Excellence Award Winners

On May 9, Eastern recognized more than 100 students with a 3.5 cumulative grade point average or higher, and an additional 11 students who have demonstrated exemplary co-curricular engagement at the University’s Seventh Annual Inclusive Excellence Student Awards Ceremony. The ceremony recognized the achievements of African, Latino, Asian and Native American (ALANA) students at Eastern.

Eastern President Elsa Núñez said the ceremony was not just about inclusion, but also spoke to the University’s other core values of academic excellence, integrity, social responsibility, engagement and empowerment. “It is important for each of you to stand tall and be proud of who you are and what you are capable of. Never, ever, ever let anyone attempt to diminish your worth or your talents.

“Today’s honorees join thousands of other successful Eastern alumni who are making their own personal contributions out in the real world, including our guest speaker today, Dr. Kawami Evans. Today, we show respect and celebrate the accomplishments of students who too often have been forgotten in the past.  Thank you for being part of this celebration; to our honorees, congratulations.  We are very proud of you.”

Keynote speaker Evans ’97 serves as associate director at the Center for African Diaspora Student Success at the University of California at Davis. She earned her bachelor’s degree in history and social science at Eastern, her Master of Education in educational policy and research administration from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and a doctorate in educational management and leadership from Drexel University.

Evans encouraged the students to use their curiosity and optimism to persevere through unseen psychological struggles that can become their staunchest challenges. She said many high- achieving students fall prey to chasing individual achievements, accolades or material gain as their goal, even confusing their self-worth with what they can accomplish.

“This is dangerous; it can lead to anxiety and depression. Don’t let this be your reality or focus,” said Evans. “Who you are is what we are celebrating today. All the earned accolades you are receiving are but a byproduct of the brilliance within you . . . You are the promise of our ancestors’ prayers and walk with the wisdom and swag of those who have grit, resilience, the social and emotional intelligence, curiosity and hope.”

Evans told the students the most important element they need to resurrect in discussing their future success is their spirituality, ways in which students discover their destiny — answers to the big questions of who they are, what is their life purpose and how do they make difference in the world.

“Much of the world right now is relegated to systems and polices. We have to raise the bar with our vision of what’s possible,” Evans said. “It will take hard work, community, love, bravery, unrelentless effort and celebration.  I sincerely believe that we can create a world that works for all.”

A total of 280 students qualified for an Academic Excellence Award with a 3.5 cumulative GPA or higher, and more than 100 of them were able to attend the May 9 event. During the ceremony, several students received service awards. Adrianna Arocho and Mayra Santos Acosta was presented the Volunteer Service Award; Aiyana Ward, the Athletic Excellence Award; Kimberly Allen and Sommer Bachelor, the Career Development Award; Jenilee Antonetty, the Resident Assistant Diversity Impact Award; Rafael Aragon, the Residential Community Leadership Award; Tristan Perez, the Social Justice Advocacy Award; Emma Costa, the Inspirational Leadership Award; Ishah Azeez, the Resilient Warrior Award; Kimberly Allen and Vishal Jungiwalla, the Advisor’s Choice Award; and the Freedom at Eastern Club, the Building Bridges Award.

By Dwight Bachman

Biology Students Present at Annual ECSC Conference

Fourteen biology students from Eastern presented independent research at the 73rd Annual Eastern Colleges Science Conference (ECSC) on April 6 at Manhattan College in Riverdale, NY. The students presented in oral and poster formats on topics spanning medicine and the microbiome. Professors Vijay Veerappan and Barbara Murdoch accompanied the Eastern group.

The conference featured approximately 150 students from institutions across New England. Two Eastern students—Lauren Atkinson ’19 and Haley Grimason ’19—won awards for best oral presentations.

Brieanna Fuentes, mentored by Professor Jonathan Hulvey, presents "Evidence for horizontal gene transfer of xenobiotic detoxification genes in a plant pathogenic fungus."
Lauren Atkinson, mentored by Professor Barbara Murdoch, won an award for best oral presentation for her research titled "Evaluating the scorpion gut microbiome for diversity and antibiotic production."
Haley Grimason, mentored by Professors Barbara Murdoch and Garrett Dancik, won an award for best oral presentation for her research titled "Development of Jupyter notebooks to facilitate Operational Taxonomic Unit identification and analysis of 16S rRNA sequencing data."
Anayancy Ramos, mentored by Professor Garrett Dancik, presents "Development of a PubMed Central citation collection tool and network analysis of cancer-related genes."
Stefanos Stravoravdis, mentored by Professor Jonathan Hulvey, presents "Analysis of the CYP51 paralogs and their potential role in differential sensitivity to fungicides in Calonectria pseudonaviculataandC. henricotiae."
Samuel Pallis, mentored by Professor Kristen Epp, presents "An analysis of the efficacy of varying sampling protocols for Necturus maculosus."
Roshani Budhathoki, mentored by Professor Vijay Veerappan, presents "Characterization of white and black seed mutants in the model legume plant Medicago truncatula."
Rebecca Laguerre, mentored by Professor Amy Groth, presents "Do ODD-skipped genes regulate ELT-2 expression in Caenorhabditis elegans?"
John Meade, mentored by Professor Barbara Murdoch, presents "The effect of simulated microgravity on the ability of primary cortical cells to produce neurons."
Greg Carlson, mentored by Professor Amy Groth, presents "Does the ODD-2 transcription factor regulate the Wnt signaling in Caenorhabditis elegans?"
David Junga, mentored by Professor Kristen Epp, presents "The effects of turbidity on respiration rate of bridle shiner Notropis bifrenatus."
Christopher Shimwell, mentored by Professor Barbara Murdoch, presents "Molecular identification of scorpion telson microbiome."

 

Speaking to these award-winning students and faculty mentorship, Veerappan added, “It took three years for the faculty to invest their intellect and time to nurture these students to win those competitive awards.”

The ECSC is an association that encourages undergraduate research within the sciences and engineering fields and provides a platform for students to showcase their findings and research papers.

Bio Department Hosts ‘Tiny Earth Day,’ Welcomes Local High School

Ellis Technical High School students listen to an Eastern biology major explain the process of isolating bacteria.

The Biology Department hosted a mini-symposium on Earth Day, April 22, to showcase its ongoing work with the Tiny Earth project, an international network of young scientists who are combatting the global threat of antibiotic resistance. The symposium welcomed students from Ellis Technical High School in Danielson and featured research presentations by biology majors.

The United Nations has named antibiotic resistance a global priority. Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections such as pneumonia. However, as antibiotics are misused – and new ones are slowly discovered – harmful bacteria develop resistances against them, rendering the medications ineffective.

An estimated 25,000 people in the United States die from antibiotic-resistant bacteria every year, with an approximate 700,000 annual deaths worldwide. Researchers predict the death toll to rise to 10 million per year by 2050.

Through Professor Jonathan Hulvey’s General Microbiology class, Eastern students have joined scientists worldwide in the pursuit of new antibiotics by examining microorganisms found in soil. Why soil? Many of the most commonly prescribed antibiotics were discovered from “dirt,” including penicillin and vancomycin.

Highschool students from Ellis Tech have assisted in the effort by providing soil samples from locations across their high school campus. To date, Eastern students have cultured more than 60 antibiotic-producing bacteria from Ellis Tech as well as Eastern’s Church Farm property in Ashford. Hulvey and students are working on biochemical and genetic characterization of the bacteria before sending them to the Tiny Earth headquarters at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“Eastern students are carrying out research to tackle the global problem of antibiotic resistance,” said Hulvey, “and this discovery-based learning approach has been an exciting and engaging framework for imparting marketable microbiology skills. Over the course of the semester, my students have worked on these soil samples, and their grasp of the techniques was on display during their lab demonstrations for the Ellis Tech students.”

The Ellis Tech participants are from the honors biology class of teacher Brooke DiFormato, a 2007 Eastern graduate. She mentioned how technical high school students are often expected to go into the trades, but this experience—and the experience of visiting Eastern—has shown some of her students that college is an option.

Stefanos Stravoravdis
Lauren Atkinson
Chris Shimwell

 

The event featured presentations by three biology majors. Stefanos Stravoravdis presented on fungicide resistance—a research interest of Hulvey’s with many parallels to antibiotic resistance. Lauren Atkinson presented on the scorpion microbiome, an ancient lineage (450 million years old) of microorganisms that has been exposed to many pathogens over the ages and likely contains antibiotic-producing bacteria. Chris Shimwell’s research has investigated the molecular ID of the scorpion telson microbiome — the telson is the segment of the tail nearest to the stinger.

The student-sourcing approach of Tiny Earth was first brought to Eastern’s campus in 2013 by Biology Professor Barbara Murdoch, who piloted the program via independent study. “I wanted to link my research to a larger global problem,” she said, “and to enhance the critical thinking, research and communication skills of our students.”

The goals of Tiny Earth include increasing public awareness of the antibiotic-resistance crisis, inspiring students to pursue careers in the sciences, and engaging them in the global priority of discovering new antibiotics. The program started in 2013 and now utilizes more than 10,000 students from 41 states and 14 countries.

Written by Michael Rouleau

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

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

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