‘College Consensus’ Ranks Eastern Among Best Colleges

College Consensus, a college review aggregator that combines the latest results from the most respected college ranking systems with actual reviews of college students, has recognized Eastern Connecticut State University for the second year in a row. Eastern has been ranked among the “Best Colleges and Universities in Connecticut for 2019” and the “Best Regional Universities in the North for 2019.”

“Congratulations on making the Best Regional Universities in the North for 2019 and Best Colleges and Universities in Connecticut for 2019,” said Carole Taylor, marketing director for the College Consensus. “Your inclusion in the lists shows that you are making an impact on students that will have a transformative effect on their lives and the lives of others.”

Eastern began in 1889 as a normal school preparing teachers for careers in Connecticut’s elementary schools. Today it is known as Connecticut’s public liberal arts university. Eastern is home to 5,200 students, with more than 90 percent of them coming from Connecticut.

To identify standout colleges, College Consensus averages the latest results from the most respected college ranking systems, including U.S. News and World Report, along with student reviews to produce a unique rating for each school. Read more about the organization’s methodology at: https://www.collegeconsensus.com/about.

To see Eastern’s College Consensus profile, visit https://www.collegeconsensus.com/school/eastern-connecticut-state-university.

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

Field Courses Bring Students to Bahamas, Western U.S., Italy

Eastern biology students on the North Point of San Salvador Island, Bahamas.
Biology students on San Salvador Island, Bahamas.
EES students study geology in the American West.
EES students study geology in the American West.
EES students study geology in the American West.
Business students at the United Nations in Rome, Italy.
Business students at the Colosseum in Rome, Italy.

 

In the weeks following Commencement, three groups of Eastern students traveled to San Salvador Island in the Bahamas, Italy, Idaho, Utah and Wyoming to engage in exciting Global Field Courses. 

Tropical Biology in the Bahamas

On San Salvador Island and surrounding waters 19 students accompanied by Biology professors Kristen Epp, Brett Mattingly and Josh Idjadi, examined the ecology of marine and terrestrial organisms from May 14-25. The 10-day field experience was headquartered at Gerace Research Centre (GRC) from which students ventured daily; nightly lab sessions and discussions supplemented each day’s field observations.

Marine studies focused on coral reef, sea grass bed, mangrove, beach and rocky shore communities, while terrestrial studies examined cave, mud flat, and sand dune and upland shrub communities. On a visit to Oyster Pond, some students swam across the pond (about a half-mile) to arrive at a vent through which the water in the pond communicates tidally with the ocean. Students also visited a very large cave to see native bats and other cave-dwelling creatures including an endemic isopod.

Environmental Earth Science in the Wild West

EES students study geology in the American West.

Geology came to life in the field, as the Environmental Earth Science (EES) field course to Wyoming and Idaho from May 24-June 3 introduced 23 EES majors to concepts in geology and environmental earth science. The course included a lecture course prior to the trip that provided background knowledge and a regional geological context for the field excursion.

During the field course, students placed emphasis on group observations and discussions. At each location, faculty and students spent time collecting observations and drawing conclusions about the geological features, earth processes and environmental issues relevant to that location. In the evenings, everyone met and reviewed what we saw that day, to reinforce and expand on key concepts and learning points. 

Highlights included seeing the vast geothermal features and beautiful landscapes of Yellowstone, the stunning beauty of the Grand Tetons, the bleak lava plains and diverse volcanic landforms of Craters of the Moon National Monument, and the high alpine zone of the Idaho Rockies.  In addition, students saw wonderful wildlife including grizzly and black bears, moose, elk, pronghorn antelope, bighorn sheep, bald eagles and many bison, including newborn calves.  A rafting excursion down the Snake River, a tram ride to 10,500 feet elevations in Jackson Hole, WY, and fossil fish collecting in the Green River Basin rounded out the trip.   The excursion was a marvelous experience for students and faculty.  The EES extended field course has now become an annual highlight in the EES department.

Business students at the United Nations in Rome, Italy.

How Business is Conducted in Italy

From May 22–June 3, Professor Emiliano Villanueva, associate professor business administration, led 18 students on a trip to Rome and Perugia, Italy, or the seminar “International Business in an International Setting.” Prior to their departure for Italy, the students researched a range of topics related to business in Italy and gave 30-minute presentations to their class.

Upon their return, students submitted in-depth, 20-page reports reflecting on their experiences in Italy. Topics included the “History and Geography of Italy, “History of Rome,” “Government and Politics in Italy,; “Culture in Italy,” “GDP and the Economy of Italy,” “Business Opportunities in Italy,” “Business Rtiquette and the Italian Language” and “Rome and Vatican Sightseeing.”

Written by Dwight Bachman

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

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

Eastern Graduates 1,250 Students at XL Center

Marilynn “Lynn” Malerba

Hartford, CT — Marilynn “Lynn” Malerba, chief of the Mohegan Tribe, told the 1,259 graduates at Eastern Connecticut State University’s 129th Commencement to “Allow yourself the faith to ‘dream ahead’ as you embrace the next chapter in your journey.” Noting that college graduates have greater job security, live longer and have greater social mobility, Malerba told the graduates that they had made “a smart decision” in pursuing their educational dreams.

The annual graduation ceremony was held at the XL Center in Hartford on May 21, with more than 12,000 family members and friends cheering on their sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, as 1,175 undergraduates and 84 graduate students received their diplomas.

Malerba told the graduates “Your education has just begun, as you have ‘birthed’ a career that will only grow and mature over time.” She also reminded graduates to set aside time for the “keepers of your heart” — family and friends who share life’s challenges. “When you meet others on the path of life, offer a kind word, encourage someone, comfort someone, and celebrate someone’s joy.”

The commencement speaker also received an honorary doctor of science degree from Eastern in a special hooding ceremony during the graduation exercises. 

Malerba was appointed the 18th Chief of the Mohegan Tribe in August 2010, becoming the first female chief in the tribe’s modern history. She previously was chair of the tribal council and executive director of health and human services for the tribal government.

Prior to her leadership roles in the Mohegan Tribe, Malerba served as director of cardiology and pulmonary services at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital. She earned her Doctor of Nursing Practice from Yale University and her master’s degree in public administration from the University of Connecticut.

In addition to a distinguished career as a registered nurse and her leadership positions with the Mohegan Tribe, Malerba is also a national advocate of health issues and the welfare of Native Peoples. She serves in a number of national roles, including positions with the Federal Indian Health Services; the U.S. Department of Justice; and the National Institutes of Health.

Other speakers at the Commencement exercises included Eastern President Elsa Núñez; Merle Harris, vice-chair of the

President Elsa Núñez

Board of Regents for Higher Education; and Mark Ojakian, president of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities System. Additional members of the platform party included Justin Murphy ’98, president of the ECSU Foundation; Father Laurence LaPointe; and other Eastern officials.

“The most important lesson I hope you have learned at Eastern is the knowledge that our great American democracy is only great because of the involvement and participation of our citizens,” said Núñez. “Being a citizen means debating the issues with your friends and in public forums — wherever you get a chance to voice your opinion. Most importantly, be willing to say no to whatever doesn’t feel right.

“You have learned how to think critically on our campus. You have learned how to ask questions, conduct research and analyze the results.  Do this in your workplace, in your community, and as a citizen of our great country.  I know you can do it . . . and I am counting on you to do so.  We need your enthusiasm, commitment and knowledge more than ever.”

More than 40 percent of the graduates were the first in their families to earn a bachelor’s degree. As Connecticut’s only public liberal arts university, Eastern draws students from 160 of the state’s 169 towns, with approximately 85 percent of graduates staying in Connecticut to launch their careers, contribute to their communities and raise their families.

Senior Class President Michael Theriault (right)

Senior Class President Michael Theriault presented the Senior Class Gift to President Núñez — an annual Class of 2019 scholarship — and thanked his classmates’ families, friends and faculty for supporting the senior class in its journey. He recalled registering for classes in the early morning hours, “trying to stay silent on the third floor of the library” and Thursday night pancakes. Looking to the future, Theriault said the arena floor was a sea of graduation caps, but “While they may look the same from the outside, the reality is that we all will wear different hats. Some of us will go on to be future educators and make differences in the lives of students. Others will become journalists, historians, psychologists, broadcasters and so much more. No matter what hat you will wear, we will all be Eastern Warriors now and forever.”

In speaking on behalf of the Board of Regents for Higher Education, Vice-Chair Merle Harris reminded the audience that “commencement” means “beginning.” She told the graduates they “have gained the skills needed to make wise decisions. . .” and were ready to “make your community, our state, and our nation a better place. I am gratified that I can greet you tonight as you begin the next phase of your life’s journey.”

CSCU President Ojakian also offered remarks. Pointing to the “transformational academic journey you have just completed,” he called the graduates “change agents for the future and the next generation of leaders.” Ojakian went on to say, “Connecticut needs bright, talented individuals to stay here, fill the jobs of the 21st century, purchase homes, and raise their families here in the state. Connecticut needs your creativity, your entrepreneurial spirit and your ingenuity. You are the future of Connecticut — and because of that, Connecticut’s future is bright.”

From the colorful Governor’s Foot Guard Color Guard in attendance, to the piercing sound of the bagpipes of the St. Patrick’s Pipe Band and the pre-event music of the Thread City Brass Quintet, this year’s graduation ceremonies reflected Eastern’s longstanding Commencement traditions.

University Senate President Andrew Utterback presided over the commencement exercises; seniors Andrew Hofmann, Tiara Lussier, Austin Stone, Ryan Michaud and Sara Ann Vega sang “America the Beautiful”; senior Shawn Ray Dousis gave the invocation; and Environmental Earth Science Professor Dickson Cunningham was recognized as the 2019 Distinguished Professor Award recipient.

Written by Ed Osborn

Professors Davis and Graham Wrap up Spring Faculty Forum Series

Davis Presents on “An Elephant’s Eye View: Megafauna and Dominion in Southeast Asia.”

During the Punic Wars, Hannibal famously led an army of war elephants across the Alps.
Elephants at Hai Ba Tung Celebration in Vietnam 1957.
Elephants during military conflict in Vietman and Laos 1970s.

 

On April 17, Bradley Davis, associate professor of history, presented a talk titled “An Elephant’s Eye View: Megafauna and Dominion in Southeast Asia.” As a member of a multi-disciplinary team working on the history of elephant populations in Africa, Europe and Asia, Davis has worked with anthropologists, forest ecologists, and biologists to reexamine the cultural history of large animals and their relationships with plants and humans.

He said the more than 3,200 elephants in Southeast Asia over the years have been the center of tourism in the region and are also used for transportation. “Throughout the region, elephants are still the best source of transportation, often called “tractors that poop.”

Davis’ talk covered findings from recent archival research in Vietnam, including a case of death by elephant from the 1830s. He also cited the unique role of elephants throughout history when they served as “war machines” around the world. He and his colleagues, who began their interdisciplinary investigation in Singapore this past November, will continue with a meeting in Paris this summer. His work on elephants is part of his second book project, an environmental history of Vietnam, which he will complete during his sabbatical leave as a visiting fellow in the Agrarian Studies Program at Yale University this fall.

Graham Discusses “The Roles of Evolving Landscapes, Ancient Waterways and Shifting Climates in Structuring Desert Arachnofaunas.”

 

Matthew Graham, assistant professor of biology, discussed “The Roles of Evolving Landscapes, Ancient Waterways and Shifting Climates in Structuring Desert Arachnofaunas” on May 1, wrapping up the Spring Faculty Forum Series.

Normally when one thinks of deserts, sand, cactuses and camels come to mind. Maybe, a rattlesnake too. But for Graham, it is scorpions and spiders. He has travelled to the American Southwest, to research these ancient species for years. It is why students, who have learned much about not only scorpions but big camel spiders and tarantulas too, affectionately call him “The Scorpion Man.”Graham said the rugged and varied landscapes of the American Southwest were shaped by a dynamic history of Neogene tectonics and Pleistocene climates. Mountains uplifted, rivers changed course, and climates fluctuated between the ice ages and warmer interglacial periods.

Graham’s talk summarized genetic data from scorpions, tarantulas and camel spiders to evaluate the impact of their history on shaping modern compositions and distributions of arachnids in our southwestern deserts.

Graham said scorpions have been around for nearly 400 million years. They can live in the hot, arid desert by secreting a wax over their exoskeleton that lets them live in dry environments. Some can construct burrow holes up to six feet deep.

Mitochondrial and nuclear data from scorpions and tarantulas suggest that arachnids diversified in response to changing landscapes and waterways. Shifting climates during the Pleistocene significantly altered the abundance and distributions of arid-adapted arachnid species.

Graham finished by presenting new genomic data that highlight the profound effects of recent climatic warming on arachnid distributions, especially in the Great Basin Desert.

Written 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

Eastern Seniors Win Henry Barnard Distinguished Student Awards

Left to right, Haley Knox, President Nunez and Jacob Dayton

WILLIMANTIC, CT (04/24/2019) Eastern Connecticut State University students Haley Knox ’19 of Bristol and Jacob Dayton ’19 of Bolton have been named recipients of the 2019 Henry Barnard Distinguished Student Award. The 31st annual Henry Barnard Awards Banquet, held on April 23 at the Aqua Turf Club in Plantsville, CT, recognized 12 outstanding undergraduates from Connecticut’s four state universities – Central, Eastern, Southern and Western.

The Barnard Awards program is the premier academic recognition event of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities System (CSCU) and is sponsored by the CSCU Foundation. To be considered for a Barnard Award, a student must have at least a 3.7 GPA and a record of significant community service. Students are nominated by their university and its president.

Knox, who majors in mathematics, is a notable scholar with a strong leadership presence on campus. She is president of the math club, in addition to tutoring Eastern and high school students. A cross-country and track athlete, Knox holds three university track records and has been recognized as All-Conference and All-New England. Her community service ranges from volunteering at road races to participating in the Eastern Poverty Awareness Marathon.

Knox was one of 10 students to attend a research program at Iowa State University, later presenting her work at an international conference. She is a published poet and is looking forward to the “Creative Writing Abroad” global field course this summer in Florence, Italy. She comes from a large family and loves to run and hike with her mother. She has been successful in her internship at Cigna, where she will begin a full-time position as a big data software engineer after graduation.

Dayton, who majors in biology, has worked alongside Professor Patricia Szczys studying genetics since his freshman year at Eastern. He has earned a number of awards to support his research, which ranges from the evolution of bird populations to the genomics of breast cancer. Dayton has presented at conferences in Texas, Georgia, North Carolina and New York. Last year, he was one of 200 students in the country, and the only person from Connecticut, to receive the prestigious Barry M. Goldwater scholarship.

Dayton completed an internship at the Jackson Laboratory in summer 2018 and was published in a national journal. Dayton is the youngest of four brothers, and his father is an engineer while his mother teaches middle school science. He recalls his days in elementary school, when he would go to school early to help his mother set up labs, fueling his passion for science. This fall, he will enter the biology PhD program at Tufts University.

Hartford native Henry Barnard was a principal force in creating the American public school system in the 19th century, serving in the Connecticut General Assembly before becoming superintendent of schools in Connecticut and principal of the New Britain Normal School in 1850. He became the first U.S. commissioner of education in 1867.

Written by Jordan Corey