Rachael Finch Studies Endangered Birds in Buzzards Bay

Rachael Finch used her Summer Research Fellowship to study the endangered roseate terns that nest on the islands of Buzzards Bay.

Rachael Finch, a biology major at Eastern Connecticut State University, has spent the past five weeks working with the endangered birds in Massachusetts’ Buzzards Bay. As the recipient of an Eastern Summer Research Fellowship, she is working to help restore the population of roseate terns — an endangered, migratory seabird that nests in the Northeast.

Biology Professor Patty Szczys and Finch are collaborating with Mass Wildlife on the project.

Under the supervision of Biology Professor Patty Szczys and in collaboration with Mass Wildlife, Finch’s field work occurred on Ram and Bird Islands in Buzzards Bay. Each morning, she’d take a boat ride to either of the islands and spend the day monitoring the birds.

“Being on the island every day is exhausting,” she said of the early mornings and long hours. “However, the work we’re doing for the birds is crucial to help their survival.”

Among her objectives, Finch is assessing whether leg banding — the traditional method of tracking and monitoring terns — is in fact harming the already endangered birds. “The bands may cause an increase in mortality on their wintering grounds, thus potentially contributing to their slow population growth,” said Finch, who is comparing survival rates in banded versus un-banded terns.  

She’s also conducting a pilot study on the effects of PIT tagging — a newer, subtler method of tracking, which involves inserting a very small “passive-integrated transponder” (PIT) under the skin, along the heel of the bird.

The fellowship began in mid-May with Finch and Szczys marking and monitoring nests on the islands. The pilot study commenced in late May, as they safely captured and tagged terns, recorded their behavior, collected blood samples and weighed chicks in their nest.

Finch’s research will continue for semesters to come. In the laboratory she’ll perform data analysis and work with blood samples to extract DNA. “Based on our initial observations, PIT tagging hasn’t had an effect on the behavior of roseate terns,” she said. “If this holds true, that would be great news because Mass Wildlife would no longer need to band the birds, which previous studies suggest cause increased mortality rates.”

Because the effects of PIT tagging seem favorable, Finch and Szczys plan to expand the study to a larger sample size. Next summer they’ll attempt to locate the experimental birds and determine difference in return rates based on the presence or absence of PIT tags.

“As an undergraduate, the opportunity to be a part of a long-term research project that includes both field and lab work is very rare,” said Finch. “This long-term project will allow me to continue to work toward a solution for tagging the engendered roseate tern.”

Finch and Szczys plan to present their research at the Roseate Tern Recovery Meeting this November in Massachusetts as well as the Waterbird Society meeting in Maryland. They also hope to publish their work in an academic journal.

Upon graduating from Eastern, Finch aspires to attend an advanced program in nursing or radiology.

Written by Michael Rouleau

Allison Lundy Wins National Student-Faculty Research Award

Eastern Connecticut State University student Allison Lundy ’19 was the sole recipient of the Council on Undergraduate Research’s (CUR) 2019 Education Division Student-Faculty Collaborative Research Award. Lundy was recognized for her honors thesis, “The Association Between Outdoor Motor Play and On-Task Behavior in Learning Experiences in Preschool,” which she worked on in collaboration with Professor Emeritus Jeffrey Trawick-Smith.

The Student-Faculty Collaborative Research Award is a national honor that is given annually by the CUR’s Education Division to honor high-quality undergraduate research in the learning and teaching sciences.

Professor Jeffrey Trawick-Smith with Allison Lundy

Lundy has been studying the effects of active playground play on the on-task behavior of preschool children during indoor learning experiences. She has found that boys, young children and children of low socioeconomic families benefited the most from playing outdoors before returning to learn in the classroom. She noted that these types of children who played before returning to class were more attentive, on task and able to self-regulate better.

“Teachers will benefit the most,” said Lundy, who stated that her research findings will help teachers better understand how all children learn differently and how outside movement is more beneficial compared to indoor movement. She hopes that her research findings will “provide insight into the importance of outdoor play, and guide teachers in implementing physical activity into their curriculum.”

Trawick-Smith, Lundy’s mentor in Eastern’s Center for Early Childhood Education, says that her findings will “elucidate important areas of inquiry in the psychological sciences and early childhood education and are clearly publishable.” He also stated that Lundy’s study “will be the first to examine, in a controlled way, the effects of such play on the ability of young children to pay attention and regulate their own behavior in the classroom.”

Lundy says that conducting undergraduate research has been rewarding and allowed her to develop and strengthen her critical thinking, communication, writing and presentation skills. She is also thankful for the opportunity to work closely with her faculty mentor. “Professor Trawick-Smith’s vast knowledge of young children is incredible. In working with him, I have learned so much not only about my own area of study, but early childhood education as a whole.”

After she earns her early childhood education and psychology degrees at Eastern, Lundy hopes to teach preschool or kindergarten.

Written by Vania Galicia

2 Students Bring Eastern Research to the World Stage

Jon Rappi and Cassidy Neri Present at Second Annual WCUR

Eastern Connecticut State University’s undergraduate research program gained stature this spring semester, as all three of its student applicants were accepted to present at the second annual World Conference on Undergraduate Research (WCUR) on May 23–25 in Oldenburg, Germany. Biology major Jonathan Rappi ’19 and Political Science major Cassidy Neri ’19 made the transatlantic journey; Psychology major Malvina Pietrzykowski ’19 was accepted, but unable to attend.

“Presenting my research on an international stage was extremely interesting, given the relevance of my project,” said Neri, who presented on U.S.-Israeli foreign policy in a project titled “Pro-Israel PAC Expenditures and Candidate Decision Making.”

Cassidy Neri

“Many who attended my session were from other countries,” continued Neri. “I was extremely nervous while giving my presentation. Due to the relevance of Israeli foreign policy on the world stage, many people took interest in what my point of view might be, coming from the United States.”

Neri’s research acknowledges the influence on the U.S. legislative process by special interest groups, which make campaign donations through Political Action Committees (PACs). “The purpose of this project is to better understand the effect of PAC donations on legislative votes,” reads her abstract. “This research specifically attempts to determine the effect of PAC donations from Pro-Israel organizations on U.S. Senate decision making.”

Mentored by Political Science Professor Nicole Krassas, Neri collected years of data concerning Pro-Israel campaign contributions, Senate roll-call votes, state demographics and more. 

Neri asserts that Pro-Israel groups have influenced U.S. foreign policy for years under the broad umbrella of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Because of the amount of foreign aid funding that the United States provides, she says “it is clear that Pro-Israel groups have a stake in the outcome of Congressional decisions.”

Despite the nervous start, Neri finished her presentation strong and received praise for her findings. She concluded: “I’ve walked away with an extreme appreciation for undergraduate research, including the effort it takes to be accepted to a conference such as WCUR.”

Rappi’s research concerned cancer treatment in a presentation titled “Modeling Human Cancer Gene Interactions in Worms: A Fos-1 Transcription Factor Inhibits Odd-Skipped Gene Expression in C. Elegans.” He was mentored by Biology Professor Amy Groth.

Jonathan Rappi

“My presentation was well received,” he said. “Even afterward, I had people coming up to me asking for more information. I’m glad I was able to show the world some of the high-quality research done at Eastern and in the biology department.”

Rappi’s abstract reads: “Cancer, particularly lung cancer, is one of the leading causes of death in the world, yet much remains unknown about this disease.” He notes that human odd-skipped genes (Osr1 and Osr2) are important for tissue development and cancer prevention, yet they are poorly studied.

Decreased expression of Osr1 has been found to increase risk of cancer, therefore he says, “Identification of genes that regulate Osr1 expression will provide important information about how cancer develops.”

Rappi utilized a microscopic worm called “C. elegans” to study odd expression — worms have two odd genes (odd-1 and odd-2). Odd-2 is most closely related to the two human genes (Osr1 and Osr2), and is structurally most similar to Osr1. From 23 genes tested, Rappi identified several that changed odd gene expression, including fos-1.

His abstract concludes: “Because the human Fos genes lead to cancer development, and Osr1 prevents cancer development, these experiments could eventually lead to a novel diagnostic test or therapeutic target that could improve lung cancer detection and treatment.”

Reflecting on the conference, Rappi said: “Presenting on an international stage was truly a unique experience. I had the opportunity to talk to many people from all over the world about important global issues. Each person had a different background and culture, yet we were all united by a passion for research.”

Countries represented at WCUR included Germany, Canada, Qatar, Australia, Argentina, Cambodia, Egypt and more. Submissions were reviewed by the WCUR program committee as well as two international faculty—one being an expert in the topic area of the submission. Students were admitted if their abstract demonstrated a unique contribution to their field.

“To have all submissions accepted was the exception, not the rule for most universities,” said Carlos Escoto, director of Eastern’s undergraduate research program. “This speaks to the quality of work that faculty are able to mentor students through.”

Written by Michael Rouleau

Research Institutes Help Young Students to Identify as Scholars

David Porter ’20 presents “Overlooking How to Fish: How Chris Yates’ Contributions to Modern Day Transcendentalism Have Yet to be Recognized” in the English SRI.

Summer vacation was delayed for four groups of Eastern students who immediately followed the end of the school year with intensive, weeklong research programs on campus. From May 20–24, four Summer Research Institutes (SRIs) engaged select, up-and-coming students in projects pertaining to the fields of psychology, English, political science and network science.

Speaking to the goal of the SRIs, Political Science Professor Courtney Broscious said, “We want to engage students earlier in their academic careers. We want to immerse them in applied research at a younger age and help them to think of themselves as scholars.”

Political science SRI students and faculty pose for a group photo outside of Webb Hall.

Led by Broscious and Political Science Professor Nicole Krassas, the political science SRI challenged first- and second-year students to develop research proposals for projects they will carry out during the academic year. Using applied research methods, the students determined individual topics of inquiry, conducted preliminary research and wrote proposals.

Sophomore Griffin Cox’s research proposal concerns the campaign rhetoric of the 2016 presidential election and how President Trump’s language compares to that of former Presidents Regan and Nixon. “How does he compare to previous galvanizing figures in conservative politics?” questioned Cox.

Sophomore Luc Poirier’s proposal concerns male participation in, and identification with, the feminist movement. “I believe the issue with gaining the support of men in the feminist movement is in part rooted in the word ‘feminist’ itself,” said Poirier. “The term is synonymous with ‘feminine,’ which doesn’t appeal to the ‘macho culture’ that is still alive today.”

The Psychology Department hosted a SRI for 10 students who conducted psychological research on topics related to prejudice, discrimination and stereotypes. Led by Professors Alita Cousins and Jennifer Leszczynski, the students’ inquiry covered such topics as gender and criminality, the effects of physical attractiveness on perceived characteristics, parenting influences on gender and more.

Shirley Holloway ’21 presents “The Association Between Feminism and Gender Roles” at the psychology SRI.

Freshman Sierra Nastasi’s project on gender stereotypes in sports was inspired by her experience as a female hockey player. She said: “Playing on both men’s and women’s teams, I’ve noticed how perceptions of female hockey players differ from those of their male counterparts. I’ve always wanted to learn more about the perceptions that arise in cross-gendered sports.”

The English Department brought together 10 first-year and transfer students for a SRI titled “Finding your Scholarly Voice,” which focused on developing scholarly projects on texts of students’ choice. 

“The workshop aimed to help students dive into the scholarly conversation surrounding their texts and find their own ways to contribute to that conversation,” said Professor Allison Speicher, who led the workshop. “Students completed extensive research, synthesizing a wide variety of sources, including literary scholarship, histories, authors’ journals and letters, book reviews and theoretical perspectives, to craft project plans and abstracts for their own scholarly articles.”

Network science SRI students and faculty pose for a group photo.

Freshman Bailey Hosko’s project investigated the minor role of the teacher in the book “Push” by the author Sapphire. The teacher was a “change agent” for the main character, an illiterate 16-year-old girl from Harlem. “The research institute gave me a head start on my senior seminar, but more importantly it gave me a desire to further investigate a topic that I’m interested in as a career,” said Hosko, who aspires for a career as an educator with a focus on literacy.

Mathematics Professor Megan Heenehan and Computer Science Professor Garrett Dancik collaborated on a SRI that introduced students to the field of network science. The week-long program utilized techniques in graph theory, computer programming and network analysis to collected data from movie scripts. Broken into groups, the students used the information to analyze the social structure and sentiment of “Mean Girls, “The Dark Knight” and “Batman and Robin.”

Written by Michael Rouleau

Eastern Psychology Researchers Analyze Mate-Guarding Scale

Professor Alita Cousins and student Lauren Beverage present at Human Behavior and Evolution Society Annual Meeting.

A team of researchers from Eastern Connecticut State University’s Psychology Department presented at the 31st annual meeting of the Human Behavior and Evolution Society on May 29–June 1 in Boston. Professor Alita Cousins and psychology major Lauren Beverage ’20 presented “Validity of the mate-guarding scale in women.” Professor Madeleine Fugère was a collaborator on the project as well.

The act of “mate guarding” aims to preserve access to a mate by keeping rivals away and keeping partners from leaving the relationship. “Mate guarding is about controlling a partner and keeping access to them,” explained Beverage. “It encompasses intrasexual (partner-directed) and intersexual (competitor-directed) tactics.”

The team’s study set out to assess the psychological measurements (psychometrics) of the Mate Guarding Scale (MGS)—as the scales for measurement are few and their psychometric properties are largely unknown. Previous analyses focus on the following six MGS subscales: confronting rivals, publicizing the relationship, escorting the partner, covert tactics, monopolization and aggression.

The Eastern team surveyed 1,069 women. Results showed that women who self-reported more overall mate guarding toward their partner had in turn experienced more mate guarding by their partner; were more invested and controlling in their relationship; and felt their relationship had more costs.

The team’s project abstract reads: “Results showed that the more controlling and invested the women were, the more they engaged in mate guarding, as well as confronted rivals, publicized their relationship, escorted their partner, used covert tactics, monopolized and were aggressive.”

Based on their analysis, the researchers concluded that the MGS has high validity.

Speaking to her experience as an undergraduate research assistant, Beverage said: “Working with, and getting input from, multiple professors helped to problem-solve issues as well as creatively expand on the scale and discussions on factors that play a role in mate guarding.

“I had also never presented at a conference before, let alone an international one,” she added. “I had the pleasure of explaining our project to people from all over the world, including Germany, Norway and Australia, in addition to learning about their research. I’m grateful for the experience and to have worked with wonderful people!”

Written by Michael Rouleau

Eastern Alumna Salutes Inclusive Excellence Award Winners

On May 9, Eastern recognized more than 100 students with a 3.5 cumulative grade point average or higher, and an additional 11 students who have demonstrated exemplary co-curricular engagement at the University’s Seventh Annual Inclusive Excellence Student Awards Ceremony. The ceremony recognized the achievements of African, Latino, Asian and Native American (ALANA) students at Eastern.

Eastern President Elsa Núñez said the ceremony was not just about inclusion, but also spoke to the University’s other core values of academic excellence, integrity, social responsibility, engagement and empowerment. “It is important for each of you to stand tall and be proud of who you are and what you are capable of. Never, ever, ever let anyone attempt to diminish your worth or your talents.

“Today’s honorees join thousands of other successful Eastern alumni who are making their own personal contributions out in the real world, including our guest speaker today, Dr. Kawami Evans. Today, we show respect and celebrate the accomplishments of students who too often have been forgotten in the past.  Thank you for being part of this celebration; to our honorees, congratulations.  We are very proud of you.”

Keynote speaker Evans ’97 serves as associate director at the Center for African Diaspora Student Success at the University of California at Davis. She earned her bachelor’s degree in history and social science at Eastern, her Master of Education in educational policy and research administration from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and a doctorate in educational management and leadership from Drexel University.

Evans encouraged the students to use their curiosity and optimism to persevere through unseen psychological struggles that can become their staunchest challenges. She said many high- achieving students fall prey to chasing individual achievements, accolades or material gain as their goal, even confusing their self-worth with what they can accomplish.

“This is dangerous; it can lead to anxiety and depression. Don’t let this be your reality or focus,” said Evans. “Who you are is what we are celebrating today. All the earned accolades you are receiving are but a byproduct of the brilliance within you . . . You are the promise of our ancestors’ prayers and walk with the wisdom and swag of those who have grit, resilience, the social and emotional intelligence, curiosity and hope.”

Evans told the students the most important element they need to resurrect in discussing their future success is their spirituality, ways in which students discover their destiny — answers to the big questions of who they are, what is their life purpose and how do they make difference in the world.

“Much of the world right now is relegated to systems and polices. We have to raise the bar with our vision of what’s possible,” Evans said. “It will take hard work, community, love, bravery, unrelentless effort and celebration.  I sincerely believe that we can create a world that works for all.”

A total of 280 students qualified for an Academic Excellence Award with a 3.5 cumulative GPA or higher, and more than 100 of them were able to attend the May 9 event. During the ceremony, several students received service awards. Adrianna Arocho and Mayra Santos Acosta was presented the Volunteer Service Award; Aiyana Ward, the Athletic Excellence Award; Kimberly Allen and Sommer Bachelor, the Career Development Award; Jenilee Antonetty, the Resident Assistant Diversity Impact Award; Rafael Aragon, the Residential Community Leadership Award; Tristan Perez, the Social Justice Advocacy Award; Emma Costa, the Inspirational Leadership Award; Ishah Azeez, the Resilient Warrior Award; Kimberly Allen and Vishal Jungiwalla, the Advisor’s Choice Award; and the Freedom at Eastern Club, the Building Bridges Award.

By Dwight Bachman

Eastern Graduates 1,250 Students at XL Center

Marilynn “Lynn” Malerba

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

President Elsa Núñez

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

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

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

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

Senior Class President Michael Theriault (right)

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Ed Osborn

Biology Students Present at Annual ECSC Conference

Fourteen biology students from Eastern presented independent research at the 73rd Annual Eastern Colleges Science Conference (ECSC) on April 6 at Manhattan College in Riverdale, NY. The students presented in oral and poster formats on topics spanning medicine and the microbiome. Professors Vijay Veerappan and Barbara Murdoch accompanied the Eastern group.

The conference featured approximately 150 students from institutions across New England. Two Eastern students—Lauren Atkinson ’19 and Haley Grimason ’19—won awards for best oral presentations.

Brieanna Fuentes, mentored by Professor Jonathan Hulvey, presents "Evidence for horizontal gene transfer of xenobiotic detoxification genes in a plant pathogenic fungus."
Lauren Atkinson, mentored by Professor Barbara Murdoch, won an award for best oral presentation for her research titled "Evaluating the scorpion gut microbiome for diversity and antibiotic production."
Haley Grimason, mentored by Professors Barbara Murdoch and Garrett Dancik, won an award for best oral presentation for her research titled "Development of Jupyter notebooks to facilitate Operational Taxonomic Unit identification and analysis of 16S rRNA sequencing data."
Anayancy Ramos, mentored by Professor Garrett Dancik, presents "Development of a PubMed Central citation collection tool and network analysis of cancer-related genes."
Stefanos Stravoravdis, mentored by Professor Jonathan Hulvey, presents "Analysis of the CYP51 paralogs and their potential role in differential sensitivity to fungicides in Calonectria pseudonaviculataandC. henricotiae."
Samuel Pallis, mentored by Professor Kristen Epp, presents "An analysis of the efficacy of varying sampling protocols for Necturus maculosus."
Roshani Budhathoki, mentored by Professor Vijay Veerappan, presents "Characterization of white and black seed mutants in the model legume plant Medicago truncatula."
Rebecca Laguerre, mentored by Professor Amy Groth, presents "Do ODD-skipped genes regulate ELT-2 expression in Caenorhabditis elegans?"
John Meade, mentored by Professor Barbara Murdoch, presents "The effect of simulated microgravity on the ability of primary cortical cells to produce neurons."
Greg Carlson, mentored by Professor Amy Groth, presents "Does the ODD-2 transcription factor regulate the Wnt signaling in Caenorhabditis elegans?"
David Junga, mentored by Professor Kristen Epp, presents "The effects of turbidity on respiration rate of bridle shiner Notropis bifrenatus."
Christopher Shimwell, mentored by Professor Barbara Murdoch, presents "Molecular identification of scorpion telson microbiome."

 

Speaking to these award-winning students and faculty mentorship, Veerappan added, “It took three years for the faculty to invest their intellect and time to nurture these students to win those competitive awards.”

The ECSC is an association that encourages undergraduate research within the sciences and engineering fields and provides a platform for students to showcase their findings and research papers.

Bio Department Hosts ‘Tiny Earth Day,’ Welcomes Local High School

Ellis Technical High School students listen to an Eastern biology major explain the process of isolating bacteria.

The Biology Department hosted a mini-symposium on Earth Day, April 22, to showcase its ongoing work with the Tiny Earth project, an international network of young scientists who are combatting the global threat of antibiotic resistance. The symposium welcomed students from Ellis Technical High School in Danielson and featured research presentations by biology majors.

The United Nations has named antibiotic resistance a global priority. Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections such as pneumonia. However, as antibiotics are misused – and new ones are slowly discovered – harmful bacteria develop resistances against them, rendering the medications ineffective.

An estimated 25,000 people in the United States die from antibiotic-resistant bacteria every year, with an approximate 700,000 annual deaths worldwide. Researchers predict the death toll to rise to 10 million per year by 2050.

Through Professor Jonathan Hulvey’s General Microbiology class, Eastern students have joined scientists worldwide in the pursuit of new antibiotics by examining microorganisms found in soil. Why soil? Many of the most commonly prescribed antibiotics were discovered from “dirt,” including penicillin and vancomycin.

Highschool students from Ellis Tech have assisted in the effort by providing soil samples from locations across their high school campus. To date, Eastern students have cultured more than 60 antibiotic-producing bacteria from Ellis Tech as well as Eastern’s Church Farm property in Ashford. Hulvey and students are working on biochemical and genetic characterization of the bacteria before sending them to the Tiny Earth headquarters at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“Eastern students are carrying out research to tackle the global problem of antibiotic resistance,” said Hulvey, “and this discovery-based learning approach has been an exciting and engaging framework for imparting marketable microbiology skills. Over the course of the semester, my students have worked on these soil samples, and their grasp of the techniques was on display during their lab demonstrations for the Ellis Tech students.”

The Ellis Tech participants are from the honors biology class of teacher Brooke DiFormato, a 2007 Eastern graduate. She mentioned how technical high school students are often expected to go into the trades, but this experience—and the experience of visiting Eastern—has shown some of her students that college is an option.

Stefanos Stravoravdis
Lauren Atkinson
Chris Shimwell

 

The event featured presentations by three biology majors. Stefanos Stravoravdis presented on fungicide resistance—a research interest of Hulvey’s with many parallels to antibiotic resistance. Lauren Atkinson presented on the scorpion microbiome, an ancient lineage (450 million years old) of microorganisms that has been exposed to many pathogens over the ages and likely contains antibiotic-producing bacteria. Chris Shimwell’s research has investigated the molecular ID of the scorpion telson microbiome — the telson is the segment of the tail nearest to the stinger.

The student-sourcing approach of Tiny Earth was first brought to Eastern’s campus in 2013 by Biology Professor Barbara Murdoch, who piloted the program via independent study. “I wanted to link my research to a larger global problem,” she said, “and to enhance the critical thinking, research and communication skills of our students.”

The goals of Tiny Earth include increasing public awareness of the antibiotic-resistance crisis, inspiring students to pursue careers in the sciences, and engaging them in the global priority of discovering new antibiotics. The program started in 2013 and now utilizes more than 10,000 students from 41 states and 14 countries.

Written by Michael Rouleau

Mohegan Tribal Chief Named Eastern’s Commencement Speaker

 Marilynn “Lynn” Malerba, chief of the Mohegan Tribe, will be the Commencement Speaker at Eastern Connecticut State University’s 129th Commencement Exercises on May 21 at the XL Center in Hartford. Malerba will also receive an honorary doctorate degree at the ceremonies.

Malerba has achieved an exemplary career in the health care and tribal governance fields. Not only has she served her community with distinction, she has brought national recognition to the State of Connecticut.

Chief Mutáwi Mutáhash (Many Hearts) Marilynn “Lynn” Malerba became the 18th Chief of the Mohegan Tribe on August 15, 2010, and is the first female chief in the tribe’s modern history. The position is a lifetime appointment made by the tribe’s council of elders. She previously served as chairwoman of the tribal council and was also executive director of health and human services for the tribal government.

Prior to her work for the Mohegan Tribe, Chief Malerba had a distinguished career as a registered nurse and served as director of cardiology and pulmonary services at Lawrence and Memorial Hospital. She earned her Doctor of Nursing Practice degree at Yale University and was named a Jonas Scholar. She holds a master’s degree in Public Administration from the University of Connecticut, and has an honorary doctorate from the University of St. Joseph in West Hartford.

Chief Malerba has achieved a national reputation as an advocate and supporter of health issues and the welfare of Native Peoples. She is chairwoman of the Tribal Self-Governance Advisory Committee of the Federal Indian Health Services; is a member of the U.S. Justice Department’s Tribal Nations Leadership Council; serves on the Tribal Advisory Committee for the National Institute of Health; is a member of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Tribal Advisory Committee; and serves as a technical expert on the Commission for Environmental Cooperation. She also serves as the United South and Eastern Tribes board of directors secretary, and is a member of the board of directors for the Ms. Foundation for Women.

In Connecticut, Chief Malerba serves as a trustee for Chelsea Groton Bank, as a board member for the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut, as an advisory committee member for the Harvard University Native American Program and served on the board of directors for Lawrence Memorial Hospital for 11 years.

More than 1,200 undergraduate and graduate students will receive their diplomas at Eastern’s graduation exercises on May 21, with an audience of more than 10,000 family and friends expected. In addition to Malerba, dignitaries expected to attend include Eastern President Elsa Núñez; Mark Ojakian, president of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities System; and Merle Harris, vice-chair of the Board of Regents for Higher Education.

Written by Ed Osborn