Visiting Professor Discusses Use of VR Technology for Students with Autism

Written by Jordan Corey

WILLIMANTIC, Conn. — Visiting professor James Lawler of Pace University came to Eastern on Oct. 17 to discuss the use of virtual reality as a tool to help people with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). At Pace’s Seidenberg School of Computer Science and Information Systems, Lawler has been conducting a study centered on young adults with developmental intellectual disabilities.

“What we’re attempting to do is determine the benefits of virtual reality for high school students with autism spectrum disorders,” said Lawler. “Does this technology help them to learn? Does it help them to socialize?” Lawler’s focus is on students with mid-spectrum ASD. He has worked with a number of special education high schools in New York City. “Those students come to my course every Tuesday,” he said. “They’re mentored by my students on different technologies.”

For the study, Lawler and his team first identified the best class of virtual reality headsets, deciding on the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift systems. Then, they determined three particular applications (apps) to use for testing — 3D Organon VR Anatomy, Ocean Rift and Star Chart. His study subjects then come to Pace each week over the course of a month and spend two-hour sessions using the devices. Lawler and his group of researchers use a survey to gauge the effectiveness of each app and system.

“The idea is to make the subject matter more engaging for those students who may not benefit from traditional lecture-style teaching.” Lawler admits that at this time — in the beginning stages of the study — that what they have is a descriptive study. Descriptive studies attempt to gather quantifiable information that can be used to statistically analyze a target audience or a particular subject. He poses the questions, “How do we apply virtual reality to this particular population? How do we apply augmented reality to help children with autism become focused? How do we apply technology to help students with developmental disabilities?”

Lawler’s study, while still progressing, has evoked clear enthusiasm from students with disabilities that suggests a positive impact in using virtual reality for both academic and social learning. “For kids with disabilities, virtual reality is not a game,” he concluded. In 2010, Lawler was the recipient of a national Jefferson Award for Community Service. He has been with Pace University for more than 35 years.

Princeton Review Names Eastern a Green College 9 Years in a Row

Eastern’s newly renovated Communication Building features a number of sustainability improvements, aligning it with the State of Connecticut’s standards for high-efficiency buildings.

Written by Michael Rouleau

Eastern Connecticut State University is one of the most environmentally responsible colleges in 2018 according to The Princeton Review. Eastern is listed in the Review’s 2018 edition of “Guide to 399 Green Colleges,” published on Oct. 16 – the ninth year in a row that Eastern has made the list.

Schools were selected based on a summer 2018 survey that measured more than 25 data points related to sustainability practices and policies. Only schools with Green Rating scores of 80 or higher (out of 99) are featured in the guide.

“We are pleased to release our 2018 edition in October, as the month has been designated National Campus Sustainability Month,” said Robert Franek, editor-in-chief of The Princeton Review. “To all students wanting to study and live at a green college, we strongly recommend the outstanding schools we identify and profile in this guide.”

“We are proud to again be recognized as an environmentally friendly school by this important publication,” said Lynn Stoddard, director of Eastern’s Institute for Sustainable Energy (ISE). “We’re happy that today’s college students value sustainability, and that our institutional efforts to minimize environmental impact have not gone unnoticed.”

Eastern’s commitment to sustainability is demonstrated through its use of renewable energy and strides toward carbon neutrality, the construction/renovation of “green” buildings, environmentally related academic and extracurricular offerings, and other green initiatives.

The Eastern campus boasts five LEED-certified buildings (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), including three residence halls, the Science Building and the new Fine Arts Instructional Center. These buildings feature daylight-harvesting and gray-water systems, recycled flooring, native plants and rainwater collection systems. LEED buildings can reduce energy and water costs by as much as 40 percent.

This fall 2018 semester, Eastern reopened its newly renovated Communication Building, which now meets the high-performance building standards set by the State of Connecticut. Such standards include utilizing recyclable materials for a portion of the construction, as well as materials sourced within 500 miles of the worksite. Improvements have also been made to water conservation, energy conservation and insulation.

Eastern is also home to Connecticut’s largest geothermal installation. Located at High Rise residence hall, the system draws energy from the internal heat of the earth and reduces energy use by 12 percent. Elsewhere on campus, a 400-kilowatt phosphoric-acid fuel cell provides clean energy that prevents the release of approximately 1,350 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year.

Lining the campus’ walkways and roads are solar-powered lighting fixtures. Furthermore, commuters with electric or hybrid cars can take advantage of vehicle-charging stations as well as choice-parking spots as reward for reducing their carbon footprint.

A university’s greatest amount of waste may come from its dining hall. To reduce food waste, Eastern’s Hurley Hall and food provider, Chartwells, has a three-pronged program that involves offering students plates (rather than trays) of food, donating leftovers to the local soup kitchen, and composting discarded food.

Eastern is also home to the Institute for Sustainability Energy (ISE), the organization spearheading the statewide initiative “Sustainable CT.” With 22 municipalities certified as of this October, and more in process, Sustainable CT provides a road map for communities to become more sustainable and resilient.

Among its academic and extracurricular offerings, Eastern offers a strong environmental earth science (EES) program – with tracks in EES, general earth science, and sustainable energy science – as well as a new minor in environmental health science. The Environmental Club advocates for the importance of human impact on the environment, while promoting sustainable awareness and practices on campus.

The annual Campus Sustainability Week engages students in environmental issues and gathers volunteers for service projects. The Green Theme housing community – located in the LEED-certified Nutmeg Hall – allows environmentally minded students to live together and participate in activities related to “going green” and sustainability.

Health Sciences Research Spans Baseball Pitches and Firearm Storage

A pitcher from Eastern’s baseball team wears a motion-capture suit so that his biomechanics can be analyzed.

Written by Michael Rouleau and Jolene Potter

Two new assistant professors of the Health Sciences Department saw recent developments in their research activities. Paul Canavan led a study on campus that analyzed the biomechanics of Eastern’s own baseball pitchers, and Mitchell Doucette’s research on firearm storage was named One of the Best Papers of the Year by the American Journal of Public Health.

On Oct. 13 and 14, health sciences researchers led by Paul Canavan analyzed the biomechanics of the baseball pitch, using pitchers from Eastern’s own baseball team as study subjects. Titled “Analysis of the Baseball Pitch: Effect of Foot Placement on Body Movement and Pitching Accuracy,” the study also involved visiting biomechanical engineer Nicholas Yang and Eastern students Christina Gosselin ’19 and Ashley Kennison ’19.

“Improper mechanics can lead to shoulder and elbow injury,” said Canavan. “The placement of the front foot of the pitcher during the pitch can affect the timing of motion in the hips, trunk, shoulder and elbow, possibly resulting in future injury and decreased accuracy.”

Student athletes from the baseball team agreed to participate in the study, which occurred in the Geissler Gymnasium with a slew of high-tech equipment, provided by Yang, a colleague of Canavan’s from San Francisco. Using high-speed cameras, a radar gun and a motion-capture suit (Xsens) worn by the study subjects, researchers were able to analyze the minute movements that happen during a baseball pitch.

“Providing individual athletes and coaches in the future with results that could optimize mechanics may improve performance and decrease injury risk,” said Canavan of the study’s implications.

This study provided an opportunity for undergraduates in Eastern’s health sciences program to participate in practical research. Gosselin and Kennison assisted in setting up equipment and data collection. They also read literature reviews on similar studies and considered ways to improve upon their study.

“I’m honored to have participated in this research,” said Gosselin, who aspires to become a physical therapist. “I reached out to Professor Canavan this summer, hoping to aid him in any upcoming research projects and we started right away. I’m always searching for new ways to expand my knowledge, and this study has been the perfect opportunity for me to gain experience in the field of sports research.”

Health Sciences Professor Mitchell Doucette.

Earlier this month, Mitchell Doucette was part of a research team recognized by the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH) for having One of the Best Papers of the Year in 2018. Titled “Storage Practices of U.S. Gun Owners in 2016,” Doucette’s research study was selected for the journal’s Editor’s Choice Awards.

Self-inflicted and unintentional firearm injury is a major public health concern in the United States. Doucette’s research explores the factors that influence firearm storage among gun owners. Through a nationally representative online survey, it also assesses gun storage habits and attitudes about gun storage practices.

Methods for safe storage include securing guns in a locked safe or gun rack and using trigger locks. The study found that only 50 percent of gun owners self-reported storing all of their firearms safely. It was noted, however, that having children and/or participating in gun-safety courses increases the likelihood of safe firearm storage.

The research also examined the organizations that gun owners view as credible sources of information about firearm storage. The research found that gun owners viewed law enforcement and hunting/outdoor organizations like the National Rifle Association (NRA) as most credible for communicating safe gun storage.

“Safe gun storage has the potential to serve as a meaningful intervention to reduce both gun-related injuries and mortalities,” said Doucette. “Public health practitioners should utilize gun-safety training courses and partner with the groups that gun owners find credible – like law enforcement – to increase safe firearm storage.”

The American Journal of Public Health is dedicated to the publication of original work in research, research methods and program evaluation in the field of public health. The mission of the journal is to advance public health research, policy, practice and education. The December 2018 issue of AJPH will include a column about the winning publications, which will feature Doucette and his innovative research.

Eastern Theatre Presents ‘Cabaret’ Musical

Written by Jolene Potter

WILLIMANTIC, CT (10/02/2018) The Theatre Program at Eastern Connecticut State University will present the Tony Award-winning musical “Cabaret” from Oct. 18 to 29 in the Proscenium Theatre of the Fine Arts Instructional Center (FAIC). Directed by Nichola Johnson with musical direction by Anthony Pandolfe, “Cabaret” is a love story set in the turmoil of pre-World War II Germany.

This iconic musical takes place in the world of the “Kit Kat Klub” in 1932, on the eve of Hitler’s rise to power, and tells the story of Cliff Bradshaw, a young American writer newly arrived in Berlin, who falls in love with cabaret singer Sally Bowles.

Speaking to the conflicts facing the world during the 1930s, Jonson said, “It is deeply disturbing to recognize that almost a century later, we are locked in the same struggles for acceptance and human rights, newly made acute by waves of populism taking hold all over the world.

“Cabaret has always been one of my favorite plays,” said Johnson. “It forces the viewer to take off the ‘rose-colored glasses’ and wake up. Through the lens of the Kit Kat Klub, everything is beautiful, but is it real?”

Winner of multiple Tony Awards, including Best Revival of a Musical, the show’s musical numbers include “Money,” “Willkommen,” “Maybe This Time” and the title hit “Cabaret.”

“Cabaret” will be presented in the FAIC Proscenium Theater on October 18, 19, 26 and 27 at 7:30 p.m., October 21 and 28 at 4 p.m. and October 25 at 5:30 p.m.

Tickets are free for Eastern students; $5 for other students and groups of 10 or more; $10 for Eastern faculty, staff, alumni and senior citizens; and $20 for the general public. For reservations, phone the box office at (860) 465-5123 or email theatreboxoffice@easternct.edu.

 

Margo Muholland Authors First Story on Norman, the Cat!

Margo Muhholland, secretary in the Office of AccessAbility Services, is being published! For the longest time, Mulholland has wanted to stay at the Red Lion Inn on Main Street in Stockbridge, MA. She found out about the inn looking through the “Country Curtains” catalogue in the mail and online photos. “The inn looked so inviting, especially in winter, she love creaking old wooden buildings and charming historic towns,” said Mulholland. 

Periodically, the Red Lion Inn invites its guests to submit an original tale, to its “Lion’s Tales,” for potential inclusion in its Bedtime Storybooks, which the inn, then, shares with its guests. After a trip to the historic Red Lion Inn, Mulholland, who also is advisor to the Knit Wits Club, wrote a story about one of the Inn’s employees, a cat named “Norman.” In this case, “cat” is not colloquial or slang. This is a story about a real, live, laid back feline. Muholland’s story was chosen to be published in the next edition of “Lion’s Tales.” The online version can be found on its website, under “Inn Life.”

The images of the beautiful, individually decorated rooms, filled with antiques and other pretty things. Mulholland and her sister saw something else too! “We saw online that they had a cat! That’s even better. We couldn’t wait to get there!” The second weekend in June, they pulled in and it was so charming! Here is Mulholland’s story about Norman and how he came to be in a story. 

“The pool and whirlpool were right there and looked so inviting. We checked in and left our things in our room which overlooked the patio restaurant area. Then, we went to find the cat!  We saw him in the hallway and both yelled, “There he is!” We went over to say hello. His fur was so plush! I love businesses that have pets. They are so important and make us feel good.” 

“Norman is there to greet guests, and he can usually be found on the antique red sofa at the entrance to the dining hall. The dining room’s hostess check-in area is right next to the sofa, so he must enjoy the company of everyone coming and going. After we met him and started to stroll around I thought about how lucky Norman was to come live here.  I couldn’t get the thought out of my head and had such a strong desire to write a story about him. He gets to live in a huge fancy house with a large family. What could be better? He has the run of the whole place!  All I could think of was how excited he must have been to arrive there. He has good food, music, plush carpets, lots of sleeping nooks, and lots of company.”

“I came home and wrote the story and had so much fun writing it.  I have been told in the past that people love to read what I write! I knew the story would be enjoyable. That’s how Norman came to be in a story.  After writing the first story, I realized it needs to be a series of all Norman’s adventures. I was very excited when I found out they wanted to include my story in “Lion’s Tales!” My next story will be about Norman’s Halloween.

The Inn’s website says, “Over the years, these stories have run the gamut from cute to courageous, nostalgic to noteworthy, and through their publication, have touched the hearts of guests and staff alike. We are always overwhelmed by the results.” The Inn offers authors whose stories are selected a complimentary overnight stay! For more information about the Red Lion Inn and Lion’s Tales, visit: https://www.redlioninn.com/inn-life/lions-tales/

Student Activities Fair and President’s Picnic

Nearly 1,000 students attended Eastern’s President’s Picnic and Student Activities Fair on Sept. 5 on the Webb Lawn. Executive board and general members representing dozens of Eastern clubs and organizations staffed tables to recruit the hundreds of prospective members who attended the event.

The picnic and fair provides new and returning students an opportunity to connect with their peers who share similar interests. Eastern clubs and organizations cover a wide range of interests including academic, arts, sports, cultural, identity, religion, leadership and recreation. For those who had ideas of their own, a “new club” table was provided, where they could pitch ideas and gage the interest of their peers. Community partners and various campus leadership groups were also present, sharing their work and recruiting new student leaders.

“The club fair is an excellent opportunity for students to connect with each other and the university,” said The Student Government Association president Francesco Ricigliano. “It is the gateway for getting involved and jumpstarting an inclusive, productive, and rewarding college experience for students. I’m excited to see all of the wonderful things Eastern student organizations will accomplish this year!”

Ricigliano said involvement in student organizations, community engagement, and campus leadership programs provides students the opportunity to develop transferable skills such as communication, organization and leadership.

With more 120 student organizations, community partners, and campus departments present at the fair, there was something for every student!

Eastern’s Larose Presents “Real World Analytics” in British Columbia, Canada

From July 28-Aug. 2, Chantal Larose, assistant professor of statistics and data science in the Mathematical Sciences Department, was among more than 6,500 people who descended upon Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada to attend the Joint Statistical Meetings (JSM), one of the biggest statistical conferences of the year. At the conference, before peers from academia and industry, Larose presented her latest research project titled, “Real-World Learning Analytics: Modeling Student Academic Practices and Performance,” research she and Kim Ward, associate professor of developmental mathematics, conducted to uncover statistical patterns that could help students succeed in their Math Foundations courses.  Larose has been attending JSM since 2013, and credits the conference for sending her into each new academic year re-energized and full of new research and pedagogical ideas. For more information about the Joint Statistical Meetings, visit: http://ww2.amstat.org/meetings/jsm/2018/

Eastern’s Canterbury and Frye Author New Books

Written by Dwight Bachman

Sociology Professor Dennis Canterbury and History Professor David Frye recently authored “Neoextractivism and Capitalist Development” and “Walls: A History of Civilization in Blood and Brick.”

On Sept. 12, Canterbury gave a talk on “Neoextractivism” in Room 301 of the Science Building. Canterbury, who specializes in labor, development, globalization and Caribbean social structure, says the term “neoextractivism” refers to the collection of state-private sector policies intended to utilize income from natural resource sales for development objectives and improving the lives of a country’s citizens.

Reviewers who read and commented on the manuscript have described it as “a brilliant synthesis of economic structures, class relations and state power embedded in a historical analysis,” and as “an exceptional contribution to the scholarly literature on global capitalism, and its influences on development in the Caribbean and other regions in the Global South transitioning from neoliberalism to post-neoliberalism models of capital accumulation.”

“Neoextractivism and Capitalist Development” argues that neoextractivism is merely another means of capitalist development, reinforcing the position of elites with few benefits for working people. Canterbury observes that neoextratavism is cyclical and that critics of neoextractavism view it as “the new imperialism of the 21st Century, in which the rich countries in Europe and the United States maintain their stranglehold over countries whose economic survival depends on the export of natural resources.”

Canterbury said this book, his fourth since joining Eastern in 2000, was written to help workers in his native land of Guyana get a clearer picture of what they are struggling for and against. His book also helps readers critically analyze neoextractivism and identify alternative paths for improving the human condition.

Professor Frye Publishes Book on “Walls”

“The New Yorker Magazine” has reviewed a new book by History Professor David Frye titled “Walls.”  The magazine saysThis lively history argues that there is a ‘nearly universal correlation between civilization and walls. Frye examines such societies as the Persians, the Athenians and the Romans, all of whom constructed barriers to protect against invaders, creating secure zones where citizens were freed from military duties to pursue art, culture and commerce.

“Without walls,” Frye writes, “there would have been no ‘Chinese scholars, Babylonian mathematicians or Greek philosophers. In the twentieth century, modern weaponry rendered walls ineffective for defense, and structures such as the Berlin Wall represented a ‘clash of symbols,’ separating ideologies rather than armies.”

Frye concludes that today, with some seventy border walls worldwide, we are entering the “second age of walls.”

 

Eastern Alumna to Volunteer in China with Global Autism Project

Brielle Heinl, left

WILLIMANTIC, CT (09/10/2018) Eastern Connecticut State University alumna Brielle Heinl ’13 has been selected to participate in a Global Autism Project in China in July 2019. One of only four people selected from hundreds of applicants, Heinl is currently working on her master’s degree in Psychology and Applied Behavior Analysis from Capella University.

The Global Autism Project’s mission is to support individuals with autism to reach their full potential, no matter where they live. China currently does not have a method for preliminary autism screening and effective intervention measures. There is also a shortage of teachers and clinicians, leading to a lack of services for children with autism.

Heinl will be volunteering at Huicong School in Nanchang, China, for two weeks in July 2019. Huicong provides 1:1 services for children with autism in a classroom setting and currently serves 128 students. “Huicong was founded by a mother of a child with autism,” explained Heinl. “The mother continues to be a passionate advocate for children with autism throughout Nanchang and all of China, where there is an urgent need for increased awareness of autism and access to services.”

Heinl’s career goal is to become a board certified behavior analyst (BCBA) and serve children with autism in a school system. She has been working in the field since graduating from Eastern, while earning her master’s degree and logging the required supervision hours to sit for the BCBA exam. She will be completing her degree in March 2019.

“Attending Eastern shaped who I am and how I work with individuals with autism,” said Heinl. “Classes at Eastern are where my love for psychology and ABA began. Thanks to an exceptional Psychology Department, I was able to hold two amazing internships within the field of psychology. My professors supported my passion in the field and helped me gain as much experience as possible.”

Heinl must raise funds to support her trip and seeks to raise at least $5,000. To contact her, visit https://www.facebook.com/brielle.heinl or email brielleheinl@hotmail.com. Heinl’s fundraising page can be found at https://www.crowdrise.com/o/en/campaign/skillcorps-china-july-2019/briellecadrin. The Global Autism Project website is at www.globalautismproject.org.

Written by Ed Osborn

Eastern’s Larose Presents in British Columbia

From July 28-Aug. 2, Chantal Larose, assistant professor of statistics and data science in the Mathematical Sciences Department, was among more than 6,500 people who descended upon Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada to attend the Joint Statistical Meetings (JSM), one of the biggest statistical conferences of the year. At the conference, before peers from academia and industry, Larose presented her latest research project titled, “Real-World Learning Analytics: Modeling Student Academic Practices and Performance,” research she and Kim Ward, associate professor of developmental mathematics, conducted to uncover statistical patterns that could help students succeed in their Math Foundations courses.  Larose has been attending JSM since 2013, and credits the conference for sending her into each new academic year re-energized and full of new research and pedagogical ideas. For more information about the Joint Statistical Meetings, visit: http://ww2.amstat.org/meetings/jsm/2018/