‘Town Pride, Town Wide’ Beautifies Greater Windham

Written by Michael Rouleau

WILLIMANTIC, CT (05/03/2018) More than 100 students from Eastern Connecticut State University dispersed around Willimantic on May 28 for “Town Pride, Town Wide,” Eastern’s annual spring cleaning and beautification project. The students volunteered nearly 500 hours of time as they worked at more than 20 sites in collaboration with community partners.

Among their efforts, students washed windows at local churches, picked up trash along roadways, mulched and cleaned garden beds at town parks, painted and raked leaves at nearby housing developments, and much more.

Project sites included the Airline Trail/East Coast Greenway, the Windham Textile and History Museum, Lauter Park and Willimantic Whitewater Park; Andover Town Hall; local nonprofit organizations Windham Area Interfaith Ministry (WAIM), CLiCK and Grow Windham; and others.

Sponsored by Eastern’s Center for Community Engagement (CCE), “Town Pride, Town Wide” is the university’s largest volunteer event of the year. This year it was funded in part by The Last Green Valley, Inc.

“Town Pride, Town Wide” started years ago as a means to give Eastern students the opportunity to work closely with community members and agencies. The event is a collaboration between the CCE, Windham Region Chamber of Commerce, Willimantic Waste Paper Co. and the Town of Windham.

 

Eastern Service Expo Honors Community Servants

Italo Bucca presents on his volunteer work with the Windham High School ESOL program

Written by Michael Rouleau

More than 1,000 Eastern Connecticut State University students volunteered more than 17,000 hours in the Windham area in the past academic year. On April 19, these students—and the projects and community partners they represent—were honored at the annual Service Expo and Awards, sponsored by Eastern’s Center for Community Engagement.

The expo showcased more than 30 student-led community service projects, followed by an award ceremony and keynote address by Erin Corbett of the Second Chance ex-offender educational program. Projects spanned a variety of causes and organizations, including working with the elderly at a rehabilitation center, mentoring high school students at afterschool programs, volunteering at the local homeless shelter, soup kitchen, addiction center, and more.

Italo Bucca ’19, a sociology major, volunteers with the Windham High School ESOL, an English language-learning program that benefits Spanish-speaking youth in Willimantic. ESOL stands for “English for Speakers of Other Languages.”

“Growing up, I was an ESOL student,” he said. “I can speak from my own experience and assure them that it’s possible for them to learn English. I, too, only spoke Spanish, so it gives them hope.”

 

Alyssa Law ’19, a health sciences major, volunteers at the High Chase Residential Care Home, a facility in Willington that cares for people with intellectual disabilities. “They don’t often get to socialize outside of the facility,” said Law, who visits every Tuesday with other Eastern volunteers to play games and interact with residents.

“I want to be an occupational therapist,” she said, “so working at High Chase has given me insight into how to approach people with autism and other disabilities, and shown me what they’re capable of.”

Dillon Wadsworth ’20, a criminology major, volunteered at Vanderman Place Rehabilitation Center, which works with elderly people who are recovering from medical issues. “Twice a week we go there in hopes of getting the people to leave their rooms and join us in our recreation center,” he said. “Even though we come from different times, we find common ground and have meaningful interactions. Some people say it’s the highlight of their week.

“Some people are depressed,” admitted Wadsworth. “They fear this may be the end of their independence, but others have such a positive outlook; they want to make the most of their situation. I find that empowering.”

Adilsa Encarnacao ’18, a social work major, volunteers with the Barrows STEM Academy After School Program, where she tutors kids and engages them in educational activities. Encarnacao is an aspiring social worker who has worked a variety of projects during her years with the CCE.

“At first thought I wanted to work with kids, but then I fell in love with our addiction recovery program,” she said. “Then I volunteered with one of our high school programs, which is a population I never thought I’d work with, but I fell in love with them, too. Then I did a prison program, and now I can see myself working in a prison… I’m comfortable working with so many populations. The CCE has provided me with great experiences for when I become a social worker.”

Keynote speaker Erin Corbett of Second Chance Educational Alliance

A panel of 14 judges representing seven categories—composed of faculty, staff and community members—went from student to student, rating their projects.

“The range of people the students are working with is impressive,” said Patrick Doyle of United Way, a judge for the “Putting Liberal Arts Into Action” category. “They’re covering a lot of ground and completing a lot of good work in so many different places.”

United Way partners with the CCE for some of its Windham-area programs. “This partnership has enabled us to grow our own programming,” said Doyle, “not only quickly but securely. When the CCE helps us recruit and train volunteers, I know that they’ll be top notch and that we can depend on them.”

These community partnerships are the CCE’s specialty, resulting in long-term projects that address root problems and authentically connect students to the greater community. “We’re not simply picking up trash,” said CCE Director Kim Silcox. “These are meaningful, sustainable collaborations with community organizations.”

The ceremony’s keynote address was given by Erin Corbett, founder of Second Chance Educational Alliance (SCEA). Recognizing that education is a pathway to career enhancement, SCEA provides ex-offenders with access to postsecondary educational opportunities.

“There are some brilliant minds in prison,” said Corbett of her students. “My goal is for them to see the freedom that education provides, and that even in jail, your education cannot be taken, cannot be stripped from you. For higher education to be offered to the incarcerated… it means a new beginning, a new chance at life, it means chains being broken,” she continued. “A new mind produces a new day. Some of my students’ entire outlooks change.”

The awards portion of the expo included the judges’ picks for best community programs as well as awards for select individuals.

Outstanding Student Leader Award winners Carly Perron and Sarah Tricarico (middle) beside CCE Director Kim Silcox and Associate Director Kemesha Wilmot
Faculty/Staff Community Engagement Award winner Nancy Brennan (right) with CCE Director Kim Silcox
Student Community Engagement Award winner Makayla Mowel
Communication Department colleague John Murphy accepted the Service-Learning Award on behalf of Professor Denise Matthews

 

For the program awards, the Girl’s Circle at Natchaug Elementary won in the Leadership Development category.  Windham High School ESOL won in two categories: Putting Liberal Arts into Action and Broadening Horizons. Windham Recovery Center Jobs 101 won in the Strengthening Communities category. Jumpstart won in the Kids First category. Warrior Food Recovery won in the Going Green category. Boy’s Circle at Natchaug Elementary won in the Best New Program category. Covenant Soup Kitchen won in the Community Choice category. 

For the individual awards, Eastern Communication Professor Denise Matthews won the Service Learning Award. She’s an accomplished documentary filmmaker who has recently increased her involvement with the CCE by working with students to produce videos for a range of local businesses and nonprofit organizations.

The Student Community Engagement Award went to Makayla Mowel ’19, an elementary education and women’s and gender studies double major who volunteers with Jumpstart, a program that focuses on early childhood literacy. As a Jumpstart AmeriCorps member and team leader for three years, Mowel has spent more than 1,000 hours working directly with children and supporting other Jumpstart volunteers.

The Faculty/Staff Award went to Nancy Brennan of the Campus Ministry, who manages Eastern’s quarterly Red Cross blood drives.

The Community Partner Award went to Erin Corbett (the keynote speaker) of Second Chance Educational Alliance.

The Outstanding Community Event Award went to Journey House Program of Natchaug Hospital, a residential treatment program for adolescent girls who have been referred from the juvenile justice system. Many have a history of trauma, domestic violence, sex trafficking, mental illness and other serious conditions. Eastern first became involved with Journey House in 2010, and it is consistently among the most popular CCE programs.

Finally, the Outstanding Student Leader Awards went to history and social science major Carly Perron ’18 and social work major Sarah Tricarico ’18. Their volunteer efforts have spanned a number of CCE programs over their Eastern tenures, including The Covenant Soup Kitchen, Sweeney Elementary After School Program, Windham Middle School Enrichment and After School Programs, Windham No Freeze Hospitality Center, and more.

Eastern’s Spring Career Fair Connects Students to Employers

Written by Jordan Corey

Eastern Connecticut State University held its spring semester career and internship fair on April 5 in the Geissler Gymnasium. The fair was attended by more than 300 hopeful students who browsed the career opportunities of more than 70 employers.

 Companies in attendance ranged from local police departments to Mohegan Sun Casino, and spanned a variety of industries such as education, finance, medical, and the armed services. 

“I really appreciate that Eastern gives us this chance to connect with all these companies,” said Junior Kevin Zeppieri. “It’s great to be able to talk with professionals; hopefully one of them will want to hire me.”

Senior Kyle Chung, who is graduating in May, said, “This event is great. It’s really one of the only times that students get a chance to meet employers and figure out what they really want from us, without a full interview.”

The fair was sponsored by Eastern’s Center for Internships and Career Development (CICD), which organizes career and internships each fall and spring semester.

 

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 Students Assist in Biology Research Project

Christianne Senechal and Biology Professor Amy Groth

 Written by Anne Pappalardo

Undergraduate research and creative activities at Eastern Connecticut State University provide opportunities for students to work closely with faculty mentors on research or creative work. Projects are aligned with the faculty mentor’s expertise and designed to expose students to professional activities within a chosen field. Specific activities vary with each experience and by discipline.

Eastern Connecticut State University Biology majors Christianne Senechal ’18 of Amston and Jonathan Rappi ’18 of Southington are assisting Eastern Biology Professor Amy Groth with a complex research project that uses microscopic worms to study genes that are important for human development and disease, including cancer.

During her research, Senechal has learned the dedication it takes to achieve results. “The research that I have done at Eastern has helped me learn to think critically and persevere,” said Senechal. “These values are important regardless of what path someone takes. I never thought that research would be a path I would consider taking, but I have come to enjoy the process very much and believe that what I have learned will carry over into whatever career I pursue.” said Senechal.

Jonathan Rappi and Professor Amy Groth

“The biggest lesson I have learned is that science takes a very long time and lots of trial and error,” said Rappi. “Of the results that we did achieve, I was surprised one gene that was inhibited seemed to cause the worms to develop more slowly than usual. We could observe this phenomenon with a normal microscope because the worms without this particular gene were smaller than normal. This observation showed me the power of genetics.”

“All of the research in Eastern’s Biology Department is conducted by our extremely talented undergraduates in collaboration with a faculty member,” said Groth, who teaches courses in genetics, biotechnology, molecular genetics and the biology of cancer. “The student researchers are utilizing cutting-edge techniques such as RNA interference and confocal microscopy to study genetic pathways in nematodes. The findings will shed light on how those pathways function in human development and disease.”

The students believe that undergraduate research benefits students because it provides them with a true appreciation for the amount of work, dedication and effort that is involved, and that it is an opportunity for students to build relationships with professors by working closely with them.

“It also helps students to learn in a different way than in a normal classroom setting. Students must be creative and solve unique problems rather than just memorize information for a test,” said Rappi.

“When performing independent research, students learn the variability in research, including how to devise protocols that work for their own experiments and how there are often a number of explanations for why things may go wrong,” said Senechal. “and since undergraduate research is performed under the mentorship of a professor, there is always someone for the student to turn to when they need help.” 

“Professor Groth helps determine the direction of my research. We often spend time discussing the results of my experiments and how we should proceed based on those results,” explains Senechal. “She supervises me when I am learning how to carry out protocols for different procedures, until I am capable of working on them independently. Since my research is essentially a branch of her area of research, Professor Groth is a knowledgeable resource who I can turn to when I am unclear on direction.”

Rappi also credits Groth with guiding him through the research process by offering suggestions, answering questions and teaching him laboratory techniques. “She encourages me to take charge of my project and to be independent.”

After graduating, Senechal plans to take a year off to conduct more research or work as a medical assistant before applying to medical school. Her interests include medical genetics, emergency medicine and specialties such as oncology. Rappi is interested in pursuing a research career.

Both will be presenting their research at two research conferences in April; Eastern’s Celebrating Research Excellence an Artistic Talent at Eastern conference and the Eastern Colleges Science Conference in Ithaca, NY.

 

Northeastern Connecticut launch of Sustainable CT

Written by Lynn Stoddard

WILLIMANTIC, CT (03/28/2018) Sustainable CT, a new statewide initiative to support Connecticut’s cities and towns, will be holding an upcoming regional launch event at the Connecticut Audubon Society Center in Pomfret on April 18 at 7 p.m. The event is free and open to the public. Registration is encouraged; if you are planning to attend please call (860) 928-4948.

Created by towns for towns, Sustainable CT includes a wide-ranging menu of sustainability best practices, tools and resources, peer learning and recognition. Many area municipal leaders, experts and community members have worked together for the past 19 months to develop Sustainable CT.

The Sustainable CT platform supports a broad range of actions, such as improving watershed management, supporting arts and creative culture, reducing energy use and increasing renewable energy, implementing “complete streets” (streets that meet the needs of walkers and bikers, as well as cars), improving recycling programs, assessing climate vulnerability, supporting local businesses, and providing efficient and diverse housing options. There is no cost to participate and communities will voluntarily select actions that meet their unique, local character and long-term vision. After successful implementation of a variety of actions, municipalities will be eligible for Sustainable CT certification.

The initiative was developed under the leadership of the Institute for Sustainable Energy at Eastern Connecticut State University in partnership with the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities. Three Connecticut philanthropies – The New Haven-based Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation, the Hampshire Foundation and the Common Sense Fund – have supported the program’s development and launch.

The Northeastern Connecticut regional launch event is for anyone interested in learning more about Sustainable CT and how to get involved in supporting the implementation of Sustainable CT actions. Event attendees will include municipal-elected officials and staff, residents, nonprofits, businesses, colleges and universities.

For more information, visit www.sustainablect.org.

 

Eastern Professor Presents at Symposium on Bolivia

Eastern Political Science Professor Martin Mendoza-Botelho (center), accompanied by symposium hosts Professor of Latin American Studies Robert Albro (left) and Dean of Academic Affairs Núria Vilanova (right), both of American University.

Written by Anne Pappalardo

Willimantic, CT — Eastern Political Science Professor Martin Mendoza-Botelho was invited by a small group of panelists to discuss “Bolivia: Assessing the Contemporary Social and Political Landscape” at a public symposium at American University in Washington, DC, on March 5.

Presenters at the event addressed the significance of Bolivian President Evo Morales’ term in office and the MAS, Bolivia’s governing party under Morales. They also discussed the historical impact of the era, key policies and initiatives, and addressed challenges and controversies that promise to shape Bolivia’s present and future.

“Among other things, I commented on Bolivia’s Welfare State, including social policies such as education, healthcare and pensions, as well as how some recent changes will affect them, such as the reduction in price of key commodities, such as natural gas, that Bolivia exports,” said Mendoza-Botelho.

Since the beginning of his presidency in 2006, Morales has set an ambitious program of reform mainly aimed at incorporating long-standing social demands of indigenous and less privileged groups. Benefiting from the high prices of international commodities, the Bolivian government has been able to implement important reforms that have allowed the country to cut poverty by more than half, in addition to implementing important institutional changes such as the rewriting of the country’s Constitution.

“I hope this conference will foster an informed debate among experts that will eventually resonate among policymakers,” concluded Mendoza-Botelho. “In the recent past, the Morales administration has achieved impressive and positive social and economic changes that have benefited many sectors of the population, in particular indigenous groups that were historically marginalized.”

Mendoza-Botelho began his professional career with UNICEF and worked for several organizations including the U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean and the Organization of American States. He received his Ph.D. in political science from the University of Cambridge, is a member of the Bolivian Studies Association and was editor-in-chief of the Bolivian Research Review journal. He became a faculty member at Eastern in 2013.

Eastern’s CFDRC Continues to Maintain Excellence

Written by Anne Pappalardo

Willimantic, Conn. – The Child and Family Development Resource Center (CFDRC) at Eastern Connecticut State University was recently notified by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) that the organization has reviewed the center’s Annual Report and that it is maintaining the center’s accreditation, reflecting continued excellence in their programming.

The CFDRC achieved a five-year term of accreditation with the NAEYC in 2014. The accreditation – recognized as “the mark of quality in early childhood education” – is valid until Oct. 1, 2019.

“Accreditation from the NAEYC is the most prestigious stamp of excellence for childhood programs – staff work hard to maintain NAEYC accreditation annually. As a result, children and families gain from a high quality program and in turn, we model best practices for Eastern’s pre-service teacher candidates,” said Niloufar Rezai, director of the CFDRC. 

Among the tasks of becoming NAEYC-accredited, programs must score at least 80 percent on each of the association’s 10 program standards. Scores are based on a site visit, which includes an observation of classroom sessions and an overall environmental assessment, as well as a review of the program’s portfolios. The CFDRC scored 100 percent on every standard.

The 10 program standards evaluated include promoting positive relationships and personal health; utilizing relevant curriculum and effective teaching and assessment approaches; employing qualified and committed staff and management; interacting with families, communities and outside agencies; and providing indoor and outdoor environments that foster growth and development.

The NAEYC is a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit focused on improving the well-being of young children, with particular emphasis on the quality of educational and developmental services for children from birth through age eight.

‘Locked In, Locked Out’: Judy Dworin Performance Project Comes to Eastern

Members of the JDPP perform ‘Brave in a New World’ at Eastern. Photo credit: Samantha Soracco 

Written by Jordan Corey

WILLIMANTIC, CT (03/01/2018) Representatives of the Judy Dworin Performance Project (JDPP) visited Eastern Connecticut State University on Feb. 21 to present “Brave in a New World,” a performance that examines the different experiences of incarcerated women.

The nonprofit arts organization, which was established in 1989, has worked closely with Niantic’s York Correctional Facility for the past 13 years to welcome former prisoners into the realm of professional artistry. Bringing together music, choreography and real-life stories, “Brave in a New World” causes audience members to reflect on the complexity of the judicial system in relation to human existence.

JDPP’s performance, depicts prison as a “permanent home.” Photo credit: Samantha Soracco 

JDPP’s performance put issues of agency, conviction and redemption on display, depicting prison as a “permanent home.” While interpretive dancers utilized props – carefully constructed cubes that allowed for exit and reentry – others shared different metamorphic narratives on stage via song or spoken word, from recollections of drunken car crashes, to domestic abuse situations, to drug use. Performers highlighted the intricacy behind individual choices, particularly the ones that lead to unforeseen consequences. “We forget that our actions can change who we are in an instant,” one person noted.

Not only did the performance spotlight how people became part of the prison system, but also the ongoing setbacks that come with it. In addition to the bleak life inside prison walls-loss of identity, mistreatment from guards, lack of resources-women return to a society that is inherently working against them. “Brave in a New World” called attention to how hindering the rehabilitation process can be.

“I need somebody to touch me in a healing way,” one cast member sang. Despite having served their time, many of these women find that they are still outcasts following incarceration, strapped with stigmas and scrounging for assistance. Facing obstacles like rejection from family, biased employers, disconnection from children, and social withdrawal, it’s easy for ex-prisoners to feel that they have made no progress, that they no longer have value to those around them. The rehabilitation process is dehumanizing in that manner, in the same way prison is.

Though JDPP’s production reiterated that there are flaws in the current prison system, it also stressed the importance of understanding and unity, executed by a cast that showed unwavering resilience. “I’ll be brave in a new world,” a concluding line confirmed.

 

Scholar shines light on unsung civil-rights hero Constance Baker Motley

Gary L. Ford Jr. visited Eastern on Feb. 14

WILLIMANTIC, CT (02/26/2018) Scholar and award-winning film producer Gary L. Ford Jr. examined black history triumphs and shared his insight on jurist and civil rights champion Constance Baker Motley as part of Black History Month at Eastern Connecticut State University on Feb. 14.

Ford crossed paths with Motley – a fellow native of New Haven, CT – early on in his life. A member of a family of lawyers and a graduate of Columbia University, Ford has felt compelled to share Motley’s story ever since. The more he learned of the activist’s feats, the more he realized that she had been overlooked not only in textbooks, but on other platforms as well.

While some people from the civil rights movement have been highlighted for their efforts, many groundbreakers like Motley have disappeared into the background. “We need to make sure we talk about these other hidden figures,” said Ford. “Our history is not really complete. Without these grassroots leaders, without these women, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

Ford opened his presentation by giving the audience an overview of the extensive research that went into his dissertation-guided novel, “Constance Baker Motley: One Woman’s Fight for Civil Rights and Equal Justice under Law” and the subsequent documentary, “Justice is a Black Woman: The Life and Work of Constance Baker Motley.” Motley was the first African-American woman to become a federal judge, and a key component in landmark cases such as Meredith v. Fair and Brown v. Board of Education.

Ford’s documentary, which debuted in 2012, opens with Maya Angelou reading her poem “Still I Rise,” and accurately captures Motley as an established crusader. With notable commentators – President Bill Clinton, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, Joel Motley III, members of the Little Rock Nine and Dr. Bernard Lafayette among them – and a thoughtful assessment of Motley’s historical accomplishments, the film aims to give her the credit she deserves.

Contributors called attention to Motley’s upbringing with immigrant parents from the Caribbean island of Nevis, her ability to excel academically despite external setbacks and her unwavering persistence during a professional career actively combatting racism. She was the only woman attorney at the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) Legal Defense and Educational Fund during the bulk of the civil rights movement.Motley won cases that ended de facto segregation in white-only restaurant spaces, protected the rights of protestors and secured the right for black people to register, vote and have general access to the political power structure. During this time, she worked closely with Thurgood Marshall and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“Justice is a Black Woman,” in collaboration with Ford’s other studies, successfully humanizes one of history’s strongest characters, not only by showcasing the monumental services that Motley provided through her involvement with the law, but also by evaluating the life she constructed around these achievements. “From a very young age, she was always one to speak the truth to power,” said Ford.