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

Mohegan Tribal Chief Named Eastern’s Commencement Speaker

 Marilynn “Lynn” Malerba, chief of the Mohegan Tribe, will be the Commencement Speaker at Eastern Connecticut State University’s 129th Commencement Exercises on May 21 at the XL Center in Hartford. Malerba will also receive an honorary doctorate degree at the ceremonies.

Malerba has achieved an exemplary career in the health care and tribal governance fields. Not only has she served her community with distinction, she has brought national recognition to the State of Connecticut.

Chief Mutáwi Mutáhash (Many Hearts) Marilynn “Lynn” Malerba became the 18th Chief of the Mohegan Tribe on August 15, 2010, and is the first female chief in the tribe’s modern history. The position is a lifetime appointment made by the tribe’s council of elders. She previously served as chairwoman of the tribal council and was also executive director of health and human services for the tribal government.

Prior to her work for the Mohegan Tribe, Chief Malerba had a distinguished career as a registered nurse and served as director of cardiology and pulmonary services at Lawrence and Memorial Hospital. She earned her Doctor of Nursing Practice degree at Yale University and was named a Jonas Scholar. She holds a master’s degree in Public Administration from the University of Connecticut, and has an honorary doctorate from the University of St. Joseph in West Hartford.

Chief Malerba has achieved a national reputation as an advocate and supporter of health issues and the welfare of Native Peoples. She is chairwoman of the Tribal Self-Governance Advisory Committee of the Federal Indian Health Services; is a member of the U.S. Justice Department’s Tribal Nations Leadership Council; serves on the Tribal Advisory Committee for the National Institute of Health; is a member of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Tribal Advisory Committee; and serves as a technical expert on the Commission for Environmental Cooperation. She also serves as the United South and Eastern Tribes board of directors secretary, and is a member of the board of directors for the Ms. Foundation for Women.

In Connecticut, Chief Malerba serves as a trustee for Chelsea Groton Bank, as a board member for the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut, as an advisory committee member for the Harvard University Native American Program and served on the board of directors for Lawrence Memorial Hospital for 11 years.

More than 1,200 undergraduate and graduate students will receive their diplomas at Eastern’s graduation exercises on May 21, with an audience of more than 10,000 family and friends expected. In addition to Malerba, dignitaries expected to attend include Eastern President Elsa Núñez; Mark Ojakian, president of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities System; and Merle Harris, vice-chair of the Board of Regents for Higher Education.

Written by Ed Osborn

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

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

Eastern Announces Results of 2018 TIMPANI Toy Study

The stackable, magnetic, bottle-shaped “Magz Clix” scored highest for engaging children in mindful play and was named Eastern’s 2018 TIMPANI Toy of the Year.

Written by Ed Osborn

On Dec. 4, Eastern Connecticut State University’s Center for Early Childhood Education announced that “Magz Clix” (previously known as “Bottle Clix”) by Magz® has been named the 2018 TIMPANI toy. TIMPANI stands for “Toys that Inspire Mindful Play and Nurture Imagination.”

Now in its ninth year, the annual toy study investigates how young children learn as they play with a variety of toys in natural settings. The toys were placed in preschool classrooms at the University’s Child and Family Development Resource Center, and student researchers used hidden cameras to videotape children playing with the toys. Faculty and undergraduate student 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 opportunities that Eastern undergraduates have to conduct faculty-mentored research are a strength of our liberal arts education,” said Eastern President Elsa Núñez. “The TIMPANI toy study is a wonderful example of the sophisticated nature of student research on our campus. For the past nine years, students from the early childhood education, psychology and other departments have observed children at play with a variety of toys. In the process, they have developed a criteria-based assessment of what toys are best for the cognitive, social and creative development of young children. Parents, preschool educators and others around the world are turning to Eastern for direction on how best to support children’s play. At the same time, our students are conducting empirical research of the highest quality.”

The 2018 TIMPANI researchers included (left to right) students Allison Lundy ’19 and Morgan Winship ’18, Professor Emeritus Jeffrey Trawick-Smith, CECE Director Julia DeLapp and student Dominique McLean ’18. A fourth student was involved as well: Nicole Green ’18.

For this year’s study, researchers also investigated how teachers introduce new play materials into their classrooms and the effects of those introductions on children’s play quality. To study that aspect effectively, it was important to select toys that had similar characteristics, so the researchers selected eight construction toys to study.

Magz Clix received the highest overall score in this year’s study and was the highest-scoring toy in the social interaction subscale. The toy includes colorful, magnetic, bottle-shaped pieces that can be connected side-to-side or stacked. Children were often seen stacking the pieces in very tall towers. According to Morgan Winship, a psychology and early childhood education student involved in the study, “That was a huge problem that they had to solve together. How were they going to get high enough to stack the pieces when the towers were taller than them? They needed to interact and help each other.”

Children were also observed using the Magz Clix to create microphones, rocket ships, and guitars with their peers. “It provided them the opportunity to express themselves open-endedly through object transformations and play narratives,” said Allison Lundy, another psychology and early childhood education student involved in the study. “I wasn’t expecting this toy to score the highest, because it didn’t really seem like there was much to do with them. But watching the videos, I was surprised to see the different ways that children utilized them.”

According to Professor Jeffrey Trawick-Smith, principal investigator of the study and retired Phyllis Waite Endowed Chair of Early Childhood Education, toys that appear simple to adults often inspire some of the highest quality play. “We’ve found over the years that toys that are quite basic and can be used in multiple ways do very, very well.” He also noted that like many construction toys, the Magz Clix consist of many small parts, which leads to more social interaction and problem-solving. “Children need to coordinate their activities with peers as they’re building with them.”

Notably, Magz Clix also held children’s attention over time. “With many toys, we see high-quality play the first day that it’s in the classroom, but then the play quality wanes over time,” said Julia DeLapp, director of the Center for Early Childhood Education and co-investigator of the study. “But with Magz Clix, we actually saw an improvement in the play quality the second week that it was in the classroom.” Magz Clix was also the highest-scoring toy for Hispanic children and for children from families with high levels of financial need.

Study co-investigator Julia DeLapp gave the opening remarks at the 2018 press conference.

The TIMPANI toy study provides undergraduate students at Eastern a unique opportunity to engage in primary research – an opportunity that ensures they are well prepared for graduate school and the workforce because of the professional experience that research projects provide. In addition to Winship and Lundy, two additional undergraduate students were involved in this year’s study: Dominique McLean, a psychology and early childhood education student, and Nicole Green, an English and elementary education student. April Doolan, a communication student, was the student editor for this year’s video.

The results of the study were first announced at the annual meeting of the National Association for the Education of Young Children in Washington, DC, on Nov. 14. Findings will be disseminated to preschool teachers nationally to inform their decisions about the toys to include in their classroom. Findings will also be shared with families. The investigation on how teachers introduce play materials will continue for another year; results are expected in late 2019.

For more information on TIMPANI as well as the 2018 video, visit http://www.easternct.edu/cece/timpani/. Contact the Center for Early Childhood Education at (860) 465-0687.

Previous TIMPANI toys include Animal Kingdom Mega Pack by Animal Planet (2017); Plus-Plus® by Plus-Plus® (2016), 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); and Wooden Vehicles and Signs by Melissa and Doug (2010).

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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.