Eastern Students Study Literature in Italy

Eastern’s Creative Writing Abroad group at Piazzale Michelangelo, overlooking Florence.

Written by Dwight Bachman

A group of Eastern students, under the guidance of Professor Christopher Torockio, recently traveled to Italy to participate in the Creative Writing Abroad course. The students spent five weeks, from June 25 to July 31, writing fiction stories inspired by their travels and experiences at the Studio Arts College International (SACI) in Florence.

A quick break from one of our class workshops, which were held in the beautiful garden of Studio Art College-Florence’s main building, Palazzo dei Cartelloni, a Renaissance-era palazzo that was remodeled in the 17th Century as a residence for the mathematician Vincenzo Viviani, who had been a pupil of the astronomer and scientist Galileo Galilei.

 Michael Merrow, a junior majoring in Communications, was one of the students who used Italy’s Tuscan views, scenery, art and architecture to inspire their writing. “The creative writing study aborad course is an amazing way to gain cultural perspective,” said Merrow. “The art and lifestyle of Florecne provided great inspiration. This was truly a life changing experience.”

Colleen Deely, a junior majoring in Psychology, agreed: “Since taking this creative writing course, I’ve explored not only a new and beautiful place, but a different, more creative side of myself. Through my classmate’s inspiring stories and breathtaking surroundings, I’ve gained a deeper appreciation and greater knowledge for Italian culture. This trip has really encouraged me to get out of my comfort zone and travel more!”

The group took intensive, creative writing workshops in the lovely Renaissance-era palazzo garden at SACI, where they also critiqued and edited each other’s original works of short fiction.

Somewhere in Tuscany.

“Florence is a great location for creative writers, as it’s not only a beautiful, historic and artistically rich city,” said Torockio. “Florence is the birthplace of the Renaissance, and is also centrally located in Italy, allowing the students to take lots of day trips almost anywhere throughout Italy.”

Abby Murren, a junior majoring in English, said the course was the one of the best adventures she will ever take: “As an English major with a concentration in creative writing, this course gave me the perfect opportunity to improve my writing while experiencing one of the most beautiful cities in the world. The amount of inspiration I had from experiencing Florence’s people, culture, and history only strengthened my love for writing, and I’m beyond grateful to have had that opportunity.”

Guided by SACI art historians, the students also visited Italian destinations ranging from Fiesole to Siena, Venice, San

Hiking from Vernazza to Monterosso.

Gimignano, Lucca, Pisa the Amalfi Coast and the Colosseum in Rome. Trips to other European destinations included Barcelona, Dublin, Amsterdam and more, where the students visited museums, galleries and other cultural landmarks.

Eastern Named a 2018 College of Distinction

WILLIMANTIC, CT (06/18/2018) Eastern Connecticut State University has been recognized as a 2018-19 College of Distinction by the college-guide/ranking organization Colleges of Distinction.

The organization praised Eastern for its student-centered approaches and high-impact educational practices. High-impact practices of note include Eastern’s community-based learning programs, intensive writing courses, living-learning communities for residents, undergraduate research, internships and other hands-on learning experiences.

“We are absolutely thrilled to recognize Eastern Connecticut State University as a College of Distinction for its effective dedication to student success,” said Tyson Schritter, CEO for Colleges of Distinction. “Colleges of Distinction is so impressed with Eastern’s curriculum, which is enriched with the kind of high-impact educational practices that are most crucial for student development. Such innovative engagement is preparing the next generation of young adults to thrive after college.”

Colleges of Distinction’s selection process consists of a review of each institution’s freshman experience and retention efforts alongside its general education programs, alumni success, strategic plan, student satisfaction and more. Schools are accepted on the basis that they adhere to the Four Distinctions: Engaged Students, Great Teaching, Vibrant Community and Successful Outcomes.

“Colleges of Distinction is far more than a ranking list of colleges and universities,” said Schritter. “We seek out the schools that are wholly focused on the student experience, constantly working to produce graduates who are prepared for a rapidly changing global society. Again recognized as a College of Distinction, Eastern Connecticut State University stands out in the way it strives to help its students to learn, grow and succeed.”

Top U.S. Mental Health Official Speaks at Eastern’s 128th Commencement

                                                                            Eastern Graduates 1,200 Students at XL Center

Written by Ed Osborn

Elinore McCance-Katz

Hartford, CT — Eastern Connecticut State University alumna Elinore McCance-Katz, assistant secretary for mental health and substance use in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), told the graduates and their families at Eastern Connecticut State University’s 128th Commencement exercises that the current opioid crisis facing the United States is “the nation’s greatest medical challenge since the AIDS epidemic of the 1990s. It is a tragedy of major proportions, and we need to work together to help those addicted get treatment and recover from this disease.”

Eastern’s annual graduation ceremony was held at the XL Center in Hartford on May 15, with more than 12,000 family members and friends cheering on their sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, as 1,105 undergraduates and 85 graduate students received their diplomas.

McCance-Katz told the audience that Eastern had grown from a small college when she attended Eastern Connecticut State College in the 1970s to become “a comprehensive university that has flourished.”

The commencement speaker also received an honorary doctor of science degree from Eastern in a special hooding ceremony during the graduation exercises.  She graduated magna cum laude from Eastern in 1978 with a degree in biology. Following a sterling career in medicine, psychiatry, academic achievement and public administration, McCance-Katz’s DHHS appointment in August 2017 made her the first assistant secretary-level director of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

After earning her degree from Eastern, Dr. McCance-Katz went on to earn a Ph.D. at Yale University in Infectious Disease Epidemiology in 1984, and then received her M.D. from the University of Connecticut in 1987. 

After completing a residency in psychiatry, she held teaching positions at the Yale School of Medicine, Brown University, Virginia Commonwealth University, the University of California in San Francisco, the University of Texas and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

Prior to her HHS appointment, McCance-Katz was Chief Medical Officer of the Rhode Island Department of Behavioral Health, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals from 2015 to 2017, and served as professor of psychiatry and human behavior and professor of behavioral and social sciences at the Alpert Medical School at Brown University.

Describing how her professional journey had taken her from treating AIDS patients in the 1990s to her current national leadership role in treating substance abuse and mental illness, McCance-Katz described federal and state efforts to develop new recovery services and support services.  “We will turn the tide on this epidemic,” she said, urging graduates to get involved as medical professionals, nurses, counselors and social workers.

 “Be adventurous. Take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way. Be an advocate for those who have not had the advantages you have had.  There is no greater satisfaction than helping others.”

Eastern President Elsa Núñez

Other speakers at the Commencement Exercises included Eastern President Elsa Núñez; Yvette Meléndez, vice-chairof the Board of Regents for Higher Education; and Mark Ojakian, president of the Connecticut State College 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.

Núñez told the graduates their liberal arts education at Eastern was highly prized by American employers.  “In five separate surveys conducted by the Association of American Colleges and Universities over the past decade, the vast majority of employers — over 90 percent! — say they are less interested in specialized job proficiencies, favoring instead analytical thinking, teamwork and communication skills — the wide-ranging academic and social competencies available through a liberal arts education.”

Núñez also urged the graduates to give back to their communities, saying, “I know that the majority of our seniors have found ways to donate their time and good will to making our community a better place to live.  Wherever you end up — in Connecticut or beyond — make sure you continue to give a portion of your time to make a difference in your community.” 

Lastly, Núñez encouraged the Eastern seniors to be active citizens as they participate in the American democratic system of self-governance. She quoted New York Times columnist Bret Stephens, who has written that disagreement is “the most vital ingredient of any decent society. It defines our individuality, gives us our freedom, enjoins our tolerance, enlarges our perspectives, makes our democracies real, and gives hope and courage to oppressed people everywhere.”

“So never abdicate your responsibilities as a citizen to someone else,” said Núñez. “Be willing to question the status quo.  And stand up for the values you believe in.”

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 163 of the state’s 169 towns. Approximately 85 percent of graduates stay in Connecticut to launch their careers, contribute to their communities and raise their families.

Senior Class President Charlotte MacDonald presented the Senior Class Gift to President Nunez — an annual Class of 2018 scholarship — and thanked her classmates’ families, friends and faculty for supporting the senior class in its journey. Recalling the Eastern tradition where freshmen toss a penny into a fountain on campus as they make a wish — presumably to graduate in four years — MacDonald shared her own three wishes with her classmates. “My first wish is that you go confidently in the direction of your passions . . . the education you have received at Eastern has prepared you for this.  My second wish is for you not only to better yourself but others around you. Contribute to your community, offer things you no longer use to those in desperate need, volunteer your time . . . My last wish is that you find a path to happiness. . . your willingness to conquer challenges is what will separate you from the majority.”

Meléndez, former vice president of government and community alliances for Hartford Hospital, spoke on behalf of the Board of Regents for Higher Education, expressing gratitude to all who had supported Eastern’s graduates — parents, family, friends and especially Eastern’s faculty. “Their commitment to your success is what makes this university so special. Today is a significant milestone.  We hope today is merely a catalyst for a fulfilling life as each of you pursues your goals.”

Michele Bacholle, Distinguished Professor of the Year

 

Ojakian also offered remarks, commending Eastern President Núñez, her administrative team and “an exceptional faculty that guided you onyour journey to get to today.  The journey is now yours. It is your own path and your own truth that will motivate you . . .  Trust your instincts . . .  You have an obligation to leave this world a better place.  Take charge!”

This year’s graduation ceremonies again reflected Eastern’s Commencement traditions, ranging from the Governor’s Foot Guard Color Guard, 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. University Senate President Maryanne Clifford presided over the commencement exercises; seniors Halie Poirier, Michael Beckstein and Hannah Bythrow sang “America the Beautiful”; Senior Nathan Cusson gave the invocation; and French Professor Michèle Bacholle was recognized as the 2018 Distinguished Professor Award recipient.

CREATE Conference Shows Breadth and Depth of Eastern Students

Written by Michael Rouleau

Displays of research and creativity filled the Student Center at Eastern Connecticut State University on April 13 for the annual CREATE conference. CREATE stands for “Celebrating Research Excellence and Artistic Talent at Eastern,” and is the University’s premier undergraduate conference of the academic year.

CREATE featured more than 200 students of all majors who led oral and poster presentations, panel discussions, music and dance performances, art and photography exhibitions, as well as documentary viewings and new-media demonstrations.

Students give a musical performance.
A student gives an oral presentation.
Conference patrons peruse the CREATE art gallery.
Students give a theatrical performance.

 

“This conference really cements our slogan that Eastern offers a ‘liberal arts education, practically applied,’” said Brian Oakley, conference co-chair and professor of environmental earth science. “It’s evident when you look around and see the breadth and depth of the work being done by our students.”

“There is no event on campus more important than CREATE,” affirmed Eastern President Elsa Nunez. “Some of the work on display represents three or four years of problem solving, testing and intellectual pursuit. This event is more than a source of pride; it’s a validation of our university’s mission.”

Midway through the conference, two students and two faculty members received awards for undergraduate research and faculty mentorship.

Julie Underhill ’18, who majors in labor relations and human resources management, and Tess Candler ’18, who double majors in political science and economics, received the undergraduate research awards. The faculty awards went to Underhill and Candler’s mentors, respectively: Business Administration Professor Niti Pandey and Political Science Professor Courtney Broscious.

Award recipients Julie Underhill (middle) and Niti Pandey (right) with Provost Dimitrios Pachis.
Award recipients Courtney Broscious (middle) and Tess Candler (right) with Provost Dimitrios Pachis.

 

“Without the professors we cannot celebrate the success of the students,” reminded Provost Dimitrios Pachis, “and without the students we cannot celebrate the success of the professors. This is how the world works, the yin and the yang. With this sort of partnership, we create the future.”

The CREATE conference advances Eastern’s strategic plan by reinforcing high-impact practices such as mentored research and creative projects; increasing the percentage of students who present scholarly work; raising awareness of the accomplishments of Eastern students; and contributing to the intellectual richness of the campus community.

Eastern to Present ‘Body+Image’ Dance Concert

Written by Michael Rouleau

WILLIMANTIC, CT (04/20/2018) The Theatre Program at Eastern Connecticut State University will present “Body+Image,” a spring dance concert, from April 27-29 in the Proscenium Theatre of the Fine Arts Instructional Center. The Friday and Saturday shows will occur at 7:30 p.m., with Sunday’s show at 4 p.m.

“Body+Image” is an evening-length dance concert featuring originally composed dance choreographies and musical compositions by Eastern students, alumni and faculty. The two-act show will feature 10 multimedia dance and music pieces that explore themes related to “body and image.”

The show highlights students in the Dance and World Performance concentration as well as the New Media Studies program.

Tickets are free for Eastern students; $5 for other students and groups of 10 or more; $10 for senior citizens; $12 for Eastern faculty, staff and alumni; and $20 for the general public. To purchase tickets online, visit http://easternct.showare.com/bodyimage/. For more information call the box office at 860-465-5123 or email theatreboxoffice@easternct.edu.

 

Eastern Drama Society Presents ‘Coldcock Cafe’

Written by Michael Rouleau

WILLIMANTIC, CT (04/17/2018) The Drama Society at Eastern Connecticut State University will present its second-annual spring performance, “Coldcock Café,” on April 20 and 21 in the DelMonte Bernstein Studio Theatre of the Fine Arts Instructional Center. Both shows start at 7 p.m. and are free admission (donations are appreciated). The Drama Society is Eastern’s student-led theatre club, and “Coldcock Café” is an original feature-length production that is written, directed and performed by Eastern students.

The play follows barista Dana Green, who finds herself in control of the coffee shop while her boss is out of town. On this day, however, a freak snowstorm leaves her and several peers stranded.

“As the storm worsens and the likelihood of rescue lessens, the café becomes ideologically divided,” writes the Drama Society of the plot. “Being forced to remain in each other’s company for an extended period of time brings forth the group’s inner nature and, when pushed to the limits, their true personalities are revealed and certain schemes are put to use… as well as a wild haymaker.”

Drama Society members report that “Coldcock Café” is like the sitcom “Friends” mixed with “Lord of the Flies.”

The play is written by Matthew Bessette of Lebanon and Patrick Loller of Brooklyn, NY; directed by Samuel Boushee of Andover; and features Jake Buckley of Terryville, Harold Gagne of Storrs, Caraline Louise, Emily Kelly of Meriden, Sara Lafrance of Waterbury, Sam Nicefaro of Hamden, Ashlyn O’Boyle of Killingworth, Andrew Rich of Berlin, Alexis Schacht of Enfield, Austin Washington of Wallingford and Hanna Zammarieh of Vernon.

The Drama Society’s spring show offers students the chance to develop their playwriting, directing, acting and design skills. “Coldcock Café” is a fully staged production with a cast of characters taking place in one of Eastern’s premier performance venues. For more information, visit http://www.easternct.edu/performingarts/category/theatre/.

Written by Michael Rouleau

‘Youth’ and ‘Chitra’ Awaken Eastern Theatregoers

Andrew Rich plays the Duke in “Youth”

Themes of youth, love and enlightenment were on display in Eastern Connecticut State University’s latest theatrical production, “Awakenings: ‘Youth’ by Thornton Wilder and ‘Chitra’ by Rabindranath Tagore.” From April 5-8, the two one-act plays – by Pulitzer Prize-winning authors from the East (Wilder) and West (Tagore) – transformed Eastern’s DelMonte Bernstein Studio Theatre into a tropical island and then into a lush Hindu dreamscape.

Both plays were directed by graduating theatre students Matt Bessette of Lebanon (“Youth”) and Emily John of Woodstock (“Chitra”).

“Youth” unfolds when a shipwrecked middle-aged man stumbles upon the shores of an island inhabited only by young people. The islanders are repulsed by his gray hair and wrinkly skin, and demonize him for coming from a world with values of which they disapprove. The naivety of the islanders is clear, however, as the worldly man exhibits compassion and wisdom that changes the fate of some of the youth.

“This play is a satirical allegory for youth culture of the 1960s; therein, its characters take the decade’s resentment of old age to the extreme,” said Bessette, director of “Youth.” “What results is a dramatic comedy on a tropical island with equal parts over-the-top humor and thought-provoking drama.”

Bessette decided to direct “Youth” because it’s not very well known. “… therefore, I would get the chance to prove myself and, to a certain extent, set a precedent for any future productions. Furthermore, its thematic presence is so strong and yet it’s so cleverly written that it comes across as nothing more than a meaningless farce to the unobservant viewer. Because it effortlessly blends humor and horror, I interpret it as a drama deliberately masquerading as a comedy to hide its more serious intentions from the unworthy eye.”

After a brief intermission, theatregoers returned to a dimly lit, green-tinged set for “Chitra.” The tale

Actors perform a dance number in “Chitra”

centers upon Chitrangada, a princess torn between the demands of being a warrior and the desires of embracing her femininity. With the help of the gods of love and youth, Chitra is transformed into an image of beauty that attracts the attention of the great warrior Arjuna. But she is not true to herself or Arjuna, living a double life, until the powers of love and honesty unite them.

“When I first read this play I felt very much connected to Chitra,” said director Emily John. “As a young woman on the brink of new beginnings, about to start on the next stage in her journey, I felt a kinship with the warrior princess. Just as Chitra questions how much she knows of life and love, I also have big questions about where my own path is leading me.”

The playwright Rabindranath Tagore was born in India in 1861. “It has been said that he was very much ahead of his time,” said John. “Coming from a time when women were seen as less than equal, the warrior princess is one brilliant mind’s call to the masses for a change for which we still fight, even now.

“The message does not stop with Chitra, however. Just as intriguing and important a character is Arjuna. As Chitra is an example to women to be true to themselves and to embrace their strength as much as their grace, Arjuna is a call to men to allow their gentler, loving nature to come forward without fear or embarrassment. Tagore shows Chitra and Arjuna to us not as the stereotypical prince and princess who simply find their happily-ever-after. Rather, he lets us see them as people.”

“Awakenings: ‘Youth’ and ‘Chitra'” involved a cast and crew of more than 50 Eastern students, staff and faculty who created elaborate sets, costumes, projections, sound effects and dance choreographies.

Written by Michael Rouleau

Eastern to hold Ninth Annual Service Expo and Awards Ceremony

WILLIMANTIC, CT (04/11/2018) Eastern Connecticut State University will hold its annual Service Expo and Awards Ceremony on April 19 from 2-5 p.m. in the lobby of the Fine Arts Instructional Center. Sponsored by the Center for Community Engagement (CCE), the event will showcase the numerous service projects being spearheaded by Eastern students in the Windham area.

Student volunteers will present posters describing their projects, which have occurred at more than 30 sites in the region. Guest judges from the community and Eastern faculty and staff will present awards for the best programs.

Awards will be given to the following individuals: Service Learning Award – Denise Matthews, professor of communication at Eastern; Community Program Award – Christy Calkins and Journey House Program at Natchaug Hospital; and Community Engagement Awards to Nancy Brennan, Interfaith Campus Ministry, Erin Corbett and student Makayla Mowel.

The expo will kick off with keynote speaker Erin Corbett of Second Chances, an education program within the Connecticut prison system. The event is open to the public. For more information, contact the CCE at (860) 465-0090.

The Eastern Chamber Singers Tour Post-Hurricane Puerto Rico

The Chamber Singers pose for a group photo in San Juan

Written by Michael Rouleau

A group of talented vocalists from Eastern Connecticut State University embarked on a unique tour of post-hurricane Puerto Rico this spring break. From March 9–15, members of the Chamber Singers performed in concerts and worked on service projects in the slowly recovering island.

In addition to three performances in San Juan, the group volunteered in the hurricane-battered neighborhood of La Perla, just beyond the walls of Old San Juan. Divided into three work crews, they cleared away debris from the residential section of the neighborhood while others repaired roofs and restored gardens.

Eastern students repairing roofs
Eastern students sorting through rubble in La Perla

 

“We witnessed the devastation firsthand while sorting through the rubble in La Perla,” said Jenny Lindquist ’20 of Tolland, who sings alto. “Piece after piece, we picked up the left-behind memories and belongings of families.”

Hannah Bythrow ’18 of Bolton, alto, remembers seeing new electricity poles being installed along the roads—flown in by helicopters—a stark reminder that many people are still living without power. “Exploring outside the city was eye opening,” she said. “I realized how long it might take for the island to return to its former glory. It made me realize the privileges we take for granted on the mainland.”

On a lighter note, during a roofing project, Bythrow recalled, “I remember us hammering nails in the heat of the day, singing at the top of our lungs and thinking to myself, ‘This is happiness.’”

The Chamber Singers performed for enthusiastic crowds at Stella Maris Parish and Escuela Libre de Música (Music School in San Juan).

“The high school-ers were shouting and dancing in their seats the entire time, itching to get up and sing with us,” said Halie Poirier ’18 of Putnam, soprano. “I’ll never forget those amazing kids.”

The Chamber Singers perform at Escuela Libre de Musica

David Belles, conductor of the ensemble, said of the demands of the tour: “Seeing our students have to kick it up a notch and adjust immediately to a new environment, new audiences, new spaces—having music be the only language many of us had in common—was a moment when all the work preparing for this endeavor really paid off.”

“Much like the colorful buildings and landscapes of the island,” added Bythrow, “our audiences’ faces lit up when they heard us and it was clear that they were truly thankful be a part of our singing.”

For Poirier, a graduating senior, this was her final tour with the Chamber Singers. “Puerto Rico was the perfect ending to a magnificent run with these truly awesome and talented people. I have laughed and cried with them while singing many wrong notes but still making beautiful music. I’ve toured with them for three years and no matter where we go, we always have a fantastic time.”

The Chamber Singers is Eastern’s premier vocal ensemble, composed of 20-25 auditioned singers from various academic departments. Performance repertoire encompasses chamber music from more than four centuries. The annual spring tour serves to enrich the musical lives of audiences near and far, and enhance the cultural experience of members of the ensemble while studying at Eastern.

Eastern WarriorTHON to benefit Connecticut Children’s Hospital

Written by Michael Rouleau

WILLIMANTIC, CT (03/27/2018) Eastern Connecticut State University will host its first-ever WarriorTHON dance marathon on April 7 from 5-11 p.m. in the Geissler Gymnasium. In affiliation with Miracle Network Dance Marathon, all proceeds will benefit the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center. Members of the public are invited to the event.

In addition to a night of dancing, WarriorTHON will include food, games, raffles, guest speakers and student performances. Event organizers are expecting several family members of children’s hospital patients to attend to share their stories.

Lauren Landry poses for a photo at another Eastern fundraising event for Be the Match, the nation’s largest marrow registry.

The chief organizer of WarriorTHON is Eastern student Lauren Landry, a sophomore psychology major from Rumford, RI. “I understand firsthand the impact that these donations have on patients of children’s hospitals, as I was a child in that hospital bed may years ago,” said Landry, who has had three open-heart surgeries. “I want to make an impact on every child’s hospital stay, and help them understand that we support them.”

Registration is $5 per person and will occur at 4 p.m. on April 7, or in advance, online at https://events.dancemarathon.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.event&eventID=2910. Participants can register individually or as a team.

Each registrant will have their own online donation portal, to which family members and friends can donate. Those who are interested but cannot attend are encouraged to register at the link above, as all donations will contribute to the WarriorTHON total. More than $7,000 has already been raised-the goal is $10,000 for this inaugural event.

“If we raise more than $10,000, WarriorTHON will be the first first-year Miracle Network Dance Marathon in Connecticut to raise that much money,” said Landry. “We are so close to our goal and any donation will help!”

For more information, contact ecsuWarriorTHON@gmail.com.

Miracle Network Dance Marathon is a movement benefitting Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, a non-profit organization that raises funds and awareness for more than 170 pediatric hospitals across North America (of which Connecticut Children’s Medical Center is a part). Since its inception, Miracle Network Dance Marathon has raised more than $200 million for children across North America who are fighting pediatric illness and injury.