First Annual CREATE Conference a Success

Written by Michael Rouleau

Eastern students present undergraduate research projects at recent CREATE conference.

Willimantic, Conn. – CREATE (Celebrating Research Excellence and Artistic Talent at Eastern), the premier undergraduate research and art conference at Eastern Connecticut State University, held its inaugural event on April 17 and 18. By providing exemplary students of all majors an on-campus venue to present their research and creative work, CREATE was the culmination of the 2014–15 academic year, as well as the beginning of a new era.  “This is a very dynamic and action-packed event, balanced in subject matter, presentation type and departments represented,” said Professor Dickson Cunningham, co-chair of CREATE, during the opening remarks. “It’s an interdisciplinary forum where we can all learn from each other, so we encourage everyone to attend multiple presentations and see what your classmates and colleagues have been up to.”

The two-day event showcased approximately 170 student projects, including oral and poster presentations, art and photography exhibits, video and documentary viewings, and live music and dance performances.

“Why is CREATE important?” asked Cunningham. In addition to contributing to the intellectual richness of campus and raising external perceptions of Eastern, he pointed out that for some students, CREATE is “the culmination of their undergraduate career,” and that they should “feel a sense of pride and accomplishment.”“Hopefully this will inspire other students to present and to develop mentor relationships with faculty,” Cunningham concluded.

Attendees peruse the undergraduate art exhibition at recent CREATE conference.

The CREATE conference marked the merging of Eastern’s two previous end-of-year academic conferences: the Excellence Expo and the Arts and Sciences Research Conference and Exhibition. “The merging of these two separate conferences took a lot vision, time and work,” said Provost Rhona Free, pointing out the campus-wide efforts that led to the creation of CREATE, and the hard work of the conference’s organizational committee. “It takes a very strong and dedicated student to produce this quality of work, and it’s important for other students to see this output,” said Free. “It takes a committed and skillful mentor to guide students to the work that is on display.”

Free concluded the opening remarks with presentations of this year’s two Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity Mentor Awards. Meredith Metcalf, environmental earth science professor and mentor to graduating senior Laura Markley, was the first recipient. In her nomination, Markley mentioned how Metcalf provides guidance that makes her students’ research valid, while still allowing them to maintain ownership over their project.

Miriam Chirico, English professor and mentor to graduating senior Renee Drouin, received the second award. “A good mentor teaches others to mentor as well,” said Chirico. “Another aspect of mentoring is pushing students to be their best.”

For the following two days, students, family and members of the Eastern community at large browsed the conference’s many presentations in the Science Building and Student Center, and enjoyed a reception and catered breakfast and lunch. From presentations on forensic accounting and cyber security, to West African dance and opera performances, to eclectic artwork and photography exhibits, all sectors of Eastern academics were on display.

Continuing Education Student Earns Nomination and Lands Job

Written by Kathryn Shypak

Willimantic, Conn – Lewis Rider, a continuing education student at Eastern Connecticut State University, has been hired at the submarine base in Groton.  Along with landing this position, Rider was nominated for the University Professional & Continuing Education Association (UPCEA) Continuing Education Student Award from the New England Region by Eastern’s Associate Dean of Continuing Education Carol J. Williams.

Rider achieved 30 credits through College Level Examination Program (CLEP) and DSST standardized testing and 12 credits for his American Council on Education (ACE) recommended military education and training. Arriving at Eastern in 2011, Rider graduated in May 2014 with a 3.76 GPA.   “Rarely have I seen a non-traditional student able to graduate this quickly,” said Williams. “At the same time that Lewis was juggling work and school, he was dealing with family responsibilities; three of his five children are still at home.  He is also a devoted coach and manages to fit that into his life as well.”

“Thanks to my degree, I was offered a government job doing production control and contracts for the submarine repair facility,” said Rider. “The amount of support provided to continuing education students at Eastern makes obtaining an education at this stage of life possible.” Rider plans to return to Eastern for his master’s degree in the spring 2015 semester.

Eastern Graduates 1,227 at XL Center

Written by Ed Osborn


Willimantic, Conn. – More than 12,000 family members and friends filled the XL Center in Hartford on Tuesday, May 13, to cheer on their sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, as 1,162 undergraduates and 65 graduate students received their diplomas at Eastern Connecticut State University’s 124th Commencement exercises.

Nicholas Lawson, director of field human resources for Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières, was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters, Honoris Causa during the Commencement Exercises, and offered remarks following presentation of his honorary degree.

Commencement Speaker Nicholas Lawson

Lawson has worked with Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) for the past 17 years, a group he proudly describes as the “preeminent emergency medical humanitarian organization in the world.” As Director of Field Human Resources for MSF since 2007, Lawson is responsible for the oversight of 35,000 staff across the globe, and leads the development and implementation of MSF’s vision as a member of the MSF Executive Management team. Over the years, he has traveled to and coordinated humanitarian and medical relief efforts in Uganda, Pakistan, Burundi, East Timor, South Sudan and Afghanistan.

Lawson spoke of the organization’s core principles of service, independence, impartiality, neutrality, ethics and engagement, and described his early years with MSF, when he faced the challenge of bringing medical supplies to civilians in Afghanistan caught in the crossfire of that nation’s civil war.  In the end, he said MSF’s focus was simple: to “alleviate the suffering of vulnerable people in crisis.”

His charge to Eastern’s 2014 graduating class was equally simple:  “What place does service and engagement in the public realm have in the careers we dream for ourselves? Is that activism? Is it volunteerism? Is it civics? Will it be a lifelong professional choice? . . . You will be richer than you can possibly imagine if you do actually make that choice.”

    Eastern President Elsa Nunez

Other speakers at the Commencement Exercises included Eastern President Elsa Nunez; Catherine Smith, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development, who represented the Board of Regents for Higher Education; Senior Class President Zachary Yeager; and Brittany Lane ’14, who delivered the Senior Class Address. Other members of the platform party included Gregory Gray, president of the Board of Regents; Willimantic Mayor Ernie Eldridge; and other Eastern officials.

Nunez gave her traditional charge to the graduates, telling them, “I hope you look forward to the next chapter in your lives with optimism and expectation, knowing that the faculty and staff on our campus have done their utmost to prepare you for this day.”

Nunez cited examples of applied learning experiences ranging from internships at ESPN and Cigna to study abroad trips to Costa Rica and Switzerland, to undergraduate research into genetics and emotional health among senior citizens, to working in South Carolina on anti-hunger efforts, as examples of the hands-on experiences that Eastern students receive in applying their liberal arts education.

“Never be satisfied with a half-hearted effort, never assume that the way things have been done is the way we should do things in the future. Intellectual curiosity and a moral commitment to a better life for all people are hallmarks of a liberal arts university in our democracy. The best way to honor Eastern and our faculty is to remain true to what you have learned here.”

Nunez closed her remarks with a quote from the 19th-century Hindu monk Swami Vivekananda:  “Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life — think of it, dream of it, live on that idea. Let the brain, muscles, nerves, every part of your body, be full of that idea, and just leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success.”

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 164 of the state’s 169 towns. Approximately 90 percent of graduates stay in Connecticut to launch their careers, contribute to their communities and raise their families.

Senior Class President Zachary Yeager presented the Senior Class Gift to President Nunez–an annual Class of 2014 scholarship–and said, “College has been the time to make mistakes and learn from them, a time to challenge ourselves, and a time to step out of our comfort zone . . . We will carry the memories that we have made in the past few years at Eastern with us for a lifetime.”

Catherine Smith, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development, offered remarks on behalf of the Board of Regents for Higher Education.  “I want you to know how deeply moved and excited we are about the great work you have done to earn your degree tonight,” said Smith. “This is a significant milestone, and you should be very proud. The journey isn’t easy, and there are no shortcuts to earning an undergraduate degree, but the benefits are enormous. Eastern has prepared you well for all the challenges you will face as the 21st century-economy continues to change. Pursue your career with the same dedication that has brought you to this fabulous day.”

In her Senior Class Address, Brittany Lane urged the graduates to “pack your bags” and get ready for a new journey. She listed five items to include on the trip. First on the list: a belief that “every day is a great day to be alive,” something she learned from one of her professors, Dan Switchenko. Second on her list was a commitment to helping others. “Volunteer; give back to your community; give back to your school. It is far more rewarding than a paycheck.”

The third item on her list was to live life with kindness. “You never know the impact that your kind words could have on someone’s day or even their life. Make your mark.” Lane told her peers to also “remember to take the memories you have made at Eastern with you . . .  These are the moments that stand the test of time.”

Finally, Lane reminded her classmates that “there is no place like home. For your duration of time spent here at Eastern, it has become a second home . . . a close community of students from different walks of life coming together to live and learn in harmony . . . No matter where your journey takes you after today, no matter how many bumps in the road you may hit, always remember that we all have a place here at Eastern. You are all important. You will all accomplish incredible things; and our journey starts today.”

From the Governor’s Foot Guard Color Guard in attendance, to the plaintive 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 again reflected the University’s Commencement traditions of dignity and grace. University Senate President Gregory Kane presided over the commencement exercises; seniors Emily Chuber, Rachel Jung and Emma Kuehnle sang “America the Beautiful”; Senior Mame Fatou Diop gave the invocation; and History Professor Anna Kirchmann was recognized as the 2014 Distinguished Professor Award recipient.

 

Eastern Hosts 2014 Research and Exhibition Conference

Written by Jordan Sakal

Willimantic, Conn. –  Eastern Connecticut State University will host its annual Arts and Sciences Research Conference & Exhibition on April 12 from 8:30 to 1:30 p.m. This annual event highlights student creative activity undertaken within the 11 departments and 13 majors in the School of Arts and Sciences.

 The conference is a forum for Arts & Sciences students to give oral and poster presentations of research they have conducted while at Eastern.  Students will also be reading poetry, discussing interpretations of literature, and displaying artwork. This exhibition will be the first ever to feature an award presented to faculty mentors for services to their student researchers.
 
 The award is student-nominated, and draws attention to the fact that Eastern students and faculty contribute to scholarly fields of inquiry beyond the classroom. The opening ceremonies of the conference will begin at 9 a.m. in room 104 of the Science Building. There will brief introductory remarks by Professor Nick Parsons, Dean Martin Levin of the School of Arts and Sciences, President Elsa Núñez and Provost Rhona Free.

Chief Justice Rogers and Judge Kahn to Speak at Eastern

Written by Michael Rouleau


Willimantic, Conn. – Two high-level Connecticut court officials will speak at Eastern Connecticut State University on March 26 for Eastern’s University Hour series. At 3 p.m. in the Student Center Theatre, Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers and Superior Court Judge Maria Kahn will speak with the Eastern community about justice and the judicial system in today’s world. 

Born and raised in Angola, Africa, Kahn was appointed a Superior Court Judge in 2006 and currently is assigned to hear criminal matters in the Fairfield Judicial District Courthouse. She moved to the United States at 10 years of age, is fluent in three languages and serves on a number state and national Bars. 

Rogers, a Connecticut native, was sworn in as Chief Justice of the Connecticut Supreme Court in 2007–the second woman ever to reach this designation in Connecticut. She was also appointed by President Barack Obama to serve on the State Justice Institute’s Board of Directors. In addition to serving on a number of prestigious Bars and committees, Rogers is also an adjunct professor at the University of Connecticut School of Law.

“The event is open to the public and will be organized in a question-and-answer format,” said Starsheemar Byrum, coordinator of the Women’s Center. “Arrive early at the Student Center Theatre to ensure a good seat.”

Majors Fair Helps Undeclared Students Choose Course of Study

Written by Michael Rouleau

Willimantic, Conn. – Back by student demand, the Majors Fair occurred on March 13 in the Betty R. Tipton Room in Eastern Connecticut State University’s Student Center. The Majors Fair, intended to help students with undeclared majors pinpoint a course of study, brought together faculty from all academic departments in one room for students to speak with.

 The Student Government Association (SGA), in collaboration with the Advising Services Center, organized and promoted the event, which hosted more than 20 informational tables staffed by faculty and served roughly 60 undeclared students.

“I’m leaning towards a major either in women’s studies or social work,” said undeclared freshman Kayla Enwerem. “I want to work with people, and the subject matter of these majors is real eye-opening to me.”

majors fair 2.jpg

 Last semester the SGA conducted a survey that showed that undeclared students felt “ignored.” This response encouraged SGA Student Issues Committee Chair Emily McDonald, a senior majoring in psychology, to reinstate the event–which had not taken place for several years due to lack of interest. “I switched majors earlier in my college career,” said McDonald, “so I can relate to the struggle of an undeclared major not knowing what to study or where to go.”

 “Business administration is my number one prospect,” said undeclared freshman Alex Obernier. “I came to the Majors Fair to learn about different minors and concentrations. I’m considering minoring in marketing. Next semester I’ll declare.”

The Majors Fair was also promoted at local high schools for incoming Eastern freshmen. “I like the early childhood education major,” said incoming freshman Amber Dupont, a senior at Windham High School. “In school I’ve done a couple of ‘observations’ and I find the work interesting, and I just really like working with little kids.”

“I think I’ll go with either education or business administration,” said undeclared freshman Rebecca Pilney. “I came to a liberal arts school so I could test the waters and try a bit of everything.”

“Eastern in 4,” Eastern’s Revamped Academic Plan

Written by Michael Rouleau

Willimantic, Conn. – As part of Eastern Connecticut State University’s 2013-18 Strategic Plan, “Eastern in 4” is now a requirement for current students and incoming freshmen. The goal of “Eastern in 4” is to lay out a tight and comprehensive plan–including academic and career goals–that will lead students to their bachelor’s degrees in four years.

“Eastern in 4” has existed as an informal objective for several years now, but recent data supporting the need for college-career planning has caused the University to revamp and mandate the program. “There are so many options and requirements in a college setting,” said Alison Garewski, a professional advisor with the Advising Center. “Students unknowingly taking courses they don’t need–costing them more money and prolonging their time in college–is an issue nationwide.”

With nearly 1,000 freshman at Eastern this year, approximately 650 have completed their academic plans. Though the plans are designed in group sessions of five to 20 students, each four-year plan is individualized according to a student’s degree requirements and preferences–taking into consideration which liberal arts courses to take, internships and study abroad opportunities.

“Every semester when registering for classes I use my four-year plan to aid in my selection,” said Christina Harmon, a sophomore majoring in psychology. “‘Eastern in 4’ was a great way for me to learn what classes I need to take and how to stay on track in order to graduate on time.”

While “Eastern in 4” is available to all students and majors, it is especially useful to transfer students, continuing education students and those switching majors. “This program is ideal at Eastern because we’re a liberal arts school,” said Chris Drewry, a professional advisor with the Advising Center. “Students are required and encouraged to take courses outside of their major, so having this direction is really helpful.”

“Before making my ‘Eastern in 4’ plan, I had no idea if I could fit a double major’s worth of classes into my schedule,” said Thomas Hacker, a freshman with a double major. “Now I have a roadmap to double major in music and communication in four years.”

EES Defeats Political Science in College Bowl Competition

Written by Dwight Bachman

On March 12, the Eastern College Bowl completed its 37th consecutive season.  Held in the Student Center Theatre, the College Bowl is a competition for undergraduates representing various majors.

The championship match saw the lead exchanged several times, a match that was not decided until the final question. The team representing the Environmental Earth Science (EES) Department defeated the team from the Political Science Department. EES had won matches against Economics and Mathematics to reach the finals, while Political Science had won its previous matches over Biochemistry and Biology. The winning EES team included students Dustin Munson, Cody Lorentson, Daniel Grondin, and Mackensie Fannon. 

College Bowl questions asked come from many different academic and non-academic areas, often involving audio or visual clues. Questions in this year’s championship match included ones involving Dante’s “Inferno,” Julius Caesar and his crossing the Rubicon, phobias, songs from Disney movies and one titled, “The Doors of Eastern,” in which contestants were asked to identify buildings on campus after seeing photographs of their front doors.  The question that decided the winner of the 2014 College Bowl  involved the naming of Transuranium elements. 

The College Bowl is organized and run by Tim Swanson, associate professor of physical science, who originated the competition in 1978.  This year, he was assisted by Biology Professor Gloria Colurso and Marty Levin, interim dean of the School of Arts and Sciences.

Board of Regents President Gray Visits Eastern’s Campus

Written by Dwight Bachman

Willimantic, Conn — Eastern President Elsa Núñez, along with more than 100 students, faculty and staff, greeted Connecticut State Universities and Colleges (ConnSCU) Board of Regents President  Gregory Gray to campus on Sept. 18. The new president of Connecticut’s Board of Regents for Higher Educatonis in the midst of touring the 17 schools that make up the state’s public higher education system. Gray took over as president on July . He oversees the Board of Regents, which governs 12 community colleges, four state universities, and Charter Oak College,  the state’s on-line institution.

Nunez praised Gray for his vision; his goal of restoring integrity to the system and for finding opportunities for more collaboration between community colleges and the four-year universities.

Gray, noting that Eastern students were already fortunate to have a beautiful, physical setting, said, “Pristine is all around you here. Knowing that you were so dedicated to having such a beautiful campus tells me this same dedication must be taking place in the classroom as well.”  He said his primary goal is to improve the learning environment on campuses, “making it go from very good to great.”

Gray said he believes that by working together with faculty members who have a deep-rooted passion for excellence, ConnSCU will become a world-class system of higher education. To achieve this long-range goal, Gray wants to (1) restore trust and integrity to the system; (2) make the system more efficient and productive; (3) develop a plan to benefit current and future students.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and we have to get it right. I want to develop a plan that will positively impact student 25 years from now.” He said online education courses; a unified calendar for all system colleges and universities; and seamless transfer of credits will better serve students. “Saving money is important, but that is not the primary goal. We want to provide access and focus on what we should focus on a student’s purpose for being here, which is to learn.  We then, want tell the world about it.”

Gray said he wants board meetings to focus on student presentations about their achievements, and to see more scholarship celebrated on campus through academic fairs showcasing faculty books and student-published articles. He believes his plan will identify areas of efficiency, producing a more clearly-defined niche for each university.

During a question and answer period, Gray told students who want to be assured their voices are heard to “speak up, but get your facts straight. I assure you I will do all I can to support the integration of teaching, learning and service to our students. I say let’s improve the overall efficiency of the system; improve the learning environment; give the governor and the legislature a good plan; and get it funded.”

 

Eastern Named Among 2013-14 Public Colleges of Distinction

Written by Dwight Bachman

Willimantic, Conn: Eastern Connecticut State University has been included in the latest edition of the “Public Colleges of Distinction” guidebook.  Eastern is the only public college from Connecticut listed in the guidebook.  The guide says the colleges and universities listed excel in four distinctions –Engaged Students, Great Teaching, Vibrant Communities and Successful Outcomes.

“Engaged students” learn the skills they need to succeed in life — the ability to think flexibly and address problems hands-on — not just being able to memorize facts and follow orders. Instead, Eastern students learn to communicate, think critically, and solve problems as they explore the world through study abroad, internships, community service projects and undergraduate research.

“Great teaching” occurs in an atmosphere where feedback and encouragement are the norm. Faculty interaction is crucial to learning. “Colleges of distinction” encourage an atmosphere of exciting thought and action, led by professors who care about helping students learn to think for themselves. Academic innovation goes hand-in-hand with personalized learning.

“Vibrant communities” are campus communities that offer activities and events that help students learn even after the books are closed, creating social opportunities for students to develop friendships, and providing students a wide range of intellectually, thought-provoking speakers, seminars, unique films and artistic events.

“Successful outcomes” describes schools that produce students who can think, write, speak and reason, get a job, and most importantly, are also good citizens who can work together with diverse groups of people.
Colleges of Distinction are considered “hidden gems” of higher education, according to the panel of academicians, guidance counselors and parents that made the selection, officials said.  

The guidebook describes a College of Distinction as being:
 
• nationally recognized by education professionals and honored for the excellence of its programs;
• strongly focused on teaching undergraduates, where students are taught by real professors, not by graduate students or teaching assistants, in vibrant classrooms where the faculty keep their students challenged and interested;
• home to a wide variety of innovative learning experiences, from study abroad and scientific research to service learning and internships;
• an active campus with many opportunities for personal development. Whatever their passion, students find plenty of encouragement to help them pursue it; and
• highly valued by graduate schools and employers for its outstanding preparation.

The Public Colleges of Distinction are currently featured on the newly redesigned Colleges of Distinction website and will be featured in the Public Colleges of Distinction eGuidebook available this fall.