Eastern Holds Third Civic Action Conference

Eastern President Elsa Nunez

Written by Dwight Bachman

Eastern students have a reputation of service to community that goes back decades. But at the Third Annual Civic Action Conference on Nov. 14, it was demonstrated how much students actually learn as a result of their service.

Eastern President Elsa Nunez introduced the idea of structured service learning in 2009, when she established the Center for Community Engagement (CCE), directed by Kim Silcox.

Nunez celebrated Eastern’s faculty for its commitment to organized, systematic service learning. “Students need to ask why people are suffering, and truly reflect on what they can do,” she said. “Getting faculty involved by connecting class curriculum to community needs will increase civic action in a meaningful way. It is so gratifying to see our students embrace this, as it reflects Eastern’s core values”

A wide range of speakers focused on four themes at the conference: 1.) writing assignments to promote civic action; 2.) employability and community engagement; 3.) higher education as a public good; and 4.) community engagement research.

“The conference highlights the amazing work Eastern faculty have achieved in engaging students in the community,” said Silcox, who organized the conference along with Nicolas Simon, assistant professor of sociology. “Students participating in service learning projects are engaging in research, thinking critically and expressing themselves as they reflect on the experiences. These are key marketable skills in today’s job market.”

Part-time lecturer Lucy Hurston and Nicholas Simon, assistant professor of sociology.

Part-time lecturer Lucy Hurston focuses on learning outcomes rather than just the student-volunteer experience. She had students conduct research on numerous issues, including homelessness and poverty. Students volunteered on a Habitat for Humanity housing project. The activity helped students change their perceptions of lower-income populations.

Sociology Professor Cara Bergstrom-Lynch

Sociology Professor Cara Bergstrom-Lynch’s intensive writing course requires students to focus on social inequalities and to identify solutions. “Students then develop a research project through a sociological lens and write a research paper,” said Bergstrom-Lynch.

English Professor Miriam Chirico

English Professor Miriam Chirico’s students focused on urban revitalization. “The goal,” she said, “is to have students come together to create a social network that helps enhance writing about tourism and increase pride in community.” Through the experience, students reinforced their civic commitment and simultaneously developed writing and rhetorical skills.

Education Professor David Stoloff

Addressing the theme of employability and civic engagement, Art and Art History Professor Terry Lennox’s students creatively design with the intent “to advance the communication and marketing outcomes of non-profit organizations. It is a collaborative, guided effort designed to learn the value of art and also show what we all can do, working together,” she said. Through these projects, students build portfolios, which contributes to their employability upon graduating.

Fatma Pakdil, associate professor of business administration, examined employability from a market perspective. She presented statistics showing that “only 11 percent of business leaders agree that today’s college graduates have the skills and competencies their businesses need, while 96 percent of chief academic officers say their institutions are very or somewhat effective at preparing students for the world of work.” Pakdil proposed affording students courses that enable students “to study on projects analyzing real problems, issues and bottlenecks faced by business organizations,” which she believes will better prepare students for the work place.

Associate Professor of Business Information Systems (BIS) Alex Citurs and student Rebekah Brancato, a BIS major, with a minor in Healthcare Informatics, showed how community-based projects help students gain practical experience and make meaningful contributions to communities. Students also gain insight into new ways of doing things and building relationships for future collaborations. The work in information systems that he and his students do, which many organizations cannot afford from professional consultants, improves the operations of non-profit organizations.

Education Professor David Stoloff examined pre-service education as a positive dimension of civic engagement. His students participate in projects in local school and community centers. They write reflections on these experiences at mid-term and at the end of the semester. Stoloff said the goal is to teach students “knowledge, skills, responsibility and commitment within social justice views of civic engagement.”

John Murphy, lecturer in the Department of Communication

John Murphy, lecturer in the Department of Communication, uses local radio, television, web sites, social and print media to demonstrate the value of service learning. Students use various media — digital platforms included — to share stories about the important assets of organizations and people served. This creates opportunities for students to build portfolios and provides information to the community on valuable, underutilized resources available in the community.

Geography Professor Patrick Vitale’s “Geography of Food” class made community-engagement research a campus project. Their results suggest that many students on campus experience food insecurity. The students examined the impact of food insecurity, the resources that are available to support students, and what other universities are doing to address this crisis. “Their research shows the political and educational potential of a class that engages students to take on a pressing concern in their community,” said Vitale.

Yolanda Bergstrom-Lynch, a campus librarian, said “It is vital that librarians have a seat at the table as service learning partners.” She introduced a “Service Learning and Community Engagement” library research guide that was created in collaboration with the Center for Community Engagement. The publication serves as a resource guide of the various ways in which librarians promote community engagement. “Librarians serve as bridges, connecting the library to other campus organizations and the campus community to service learning resources in the library.”

Eastern Art Students to Present ‘Society’s Ultimate Playlist’

WILLIMANTIC, CT (11/14/2018) The Art and Art History Department at Eastern Connecticut State University will host an exhibition titled “Society’s Ultimate Playlist” from Nov. 28 to Dec. 12 in the Student Gallery of Eastern’s Wood Support Services Center. The opening reception will occur Dec. 5 from 5-7 p.m.

Curated by students in Professor Gail Gelburd’s Museums and Exhibitions course, the exhibition explores a brief timeline of three historic events in 20th-century American history: the Harlem Renaissance, Vietnam War and 9/11. The show highlights the use of music and art as a response to these conflicts.

The exhibition takes the viewer through a variety of iconic works that echo the political conflicts of the time. The show analyzes the works of 20th-century African-American artist Romare Bearden, who was influenced by the jazz music of the Harlem Renaisance. Vietnam memorabilia shows the public controversy of the war, which was expressed through rock ‘n’ roll music. Finally, artist David Wagner’s chaotic imagery of the collapsing Twin Towers illustrates the fear and madness of the aftermath; an event that resulted in a rise in patriotism, which is often expressed through country music.

Eastern Connecticut State University is the state of Connecticut’s public liberal arts university, serving more than 5,300 students annually at its Willimantic campus and satellite locations. In addition to attracting students from 163 of Connecticut’s 169 towns, Eastern also draws students from 26 other states and 20 other countries. A residential campus offering 40 majors and 65 minors, Eastern offers students a strong liberal art foundation grounded in an array of applied learning opportunities. Ranked the 25th top public university in the North Region by U.S. News and World Report in its 2018 Best College ratings, Eastern has also been awarded ‘Green Campus’ status by the Princeton Review eight years in a row. For more information, visit www.easternct.edu.

It is the policy of Eastern Connecticut State University to ensure equal access to its events. If you are an individual with a disability and will need accommodations for this event, please contact the Office of University Relations at (860) 465-5735.

Digital Art Exhibition at Eastern Begs for Human Interaction

In Balam Soto’s piece “Interface,” projections shift on the wall according to surfaces touched by visitors.

Written by Raven Dillon

WILLIMANTIC, CT (11/06/2018) The work of Hartford-based digital artist Balam Soto is on display at the Eastern Connecticut State University Art Gallery from Nov. 1-Dec. 7 in an exhibition titled “Interface.” Blurring the line between spectator and participant, the exhibition allows gallery visitors to manipulate the digital artwork by physically interacting with its tactile components.

“I have always been inspired by technology,” said Soto at the Nov. 1 opening reception. “Technology is an ocean, large enough to swim in, and it can transform the way people look at the world, or look at art.”

Eastern students interact with “Interface.”

Pieces in the gallery incorporate tactile surfaces that, when touched, cause fluctuations in sound and light projection, literally putting the experience of the art into gallery visitors’ hands. With the press of a button, sounds change and projections morph as the artwork endlessly transforms.

Soto handles both the creative and technical sides of his art. He melds low tech with high tech and employs the use of custom software and electronics. “When people go to galleries or museums, there is a glass wall between them and the exhibition,” said Soto as he watched students

A hand affects sound and light with the piece “Sonic Moon.”

interact with his artwork. “I want to remove that barrier.”

At first, visitors were hesitant to touch any of the installations – seemingly content to view from a distance the beautiful abstract projections on the walls. The energy within the gallery quickly changed, however, once patrons realized they could interact with the pieces.

Within 20 minutes, the “glass wall” had been shattered and the gallery was filled with fluidly shifting projections and echoing musical harmonies. The visitors became an integral part of the display. Most pieces in the exhibition allow for human interaction, thus altering the experience.

Kristen Morgan, director of new media studies and associate professor of theatre, enjoys Interface exhibition, holding one Godeon while the older son, Judevine, takes a break to “interface” with his Rubics Cube! BTW, Judevine is also the name of a play written by the late poet, David Budbill, a dear family friend from Vermont.

Soto is an internationally successful artist, with gallery exhibitions and art pieces around the world. He has received six Editor’s Choice awards and one Best in Class award from the World Maker Faire, held in the New York Hall of Science Museum.

He has also received official citations from the Mayor of Hartford, and the governors of Rhode Island and Massachusetts. In April 2008, Soto was honored with a Diploma of Recognition as a “Maestro,” a Master of Visual Arts, by the National Congress of Guatemala for “being a valuable and outstanding artist with international success.”

New media “Interface” artist Balam Soto chats with Retired Mathematics Professor Emeritus Stephen Kenton during the reception for the exhibition.

Eastern’s Art Gallery is located in Room 112 of the Fine Arts Instructional Center on the Eastern campus. Parking is available in Cervantes Garage and in the Student Center parking lot. The gallery is free and open to the public on Tuesday and Wednesday 11 to 5 p.m., Thursday 1 to 7 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday 2 to 5 p.m. For more information, call the gallery at (860) 465-4659 or visit www.easternct.edu/artgallery/.

Eastern to Host Third Annual Civic Action Conference

Written by Raven Dillon

WILLIMANTIC, CT (11/02/2018) Eastern Connecticut State University will host its third annual Civic Action Conference on Nov. 14 from 9:30 a.m.-3 p.m. in the Johnson Community Room of the J. Eugene Smith Library. The conference is free and open to the public. Registration begins at 9 a.m.

The conference is organized into four overarching themes, each featuring a variety of subtopics, such as the role of service learning in urban revival and career-readiness via community-based projects. At lunch, keynote speaker Thomas Piñeros-Shields of University of Massachusetts-Lowell will discuss his sociological research about immigration policy, youth civic engagement and social movements.

The first theme, “Writing Assignments to Promote Civic Action,” begins at 10 a.m. Eastern sociology professors Cara Bergstrom-Lynch, Lucy Hurston and Nicolas Simon, along with English professor Miriam Chirico, will discuss social justice and service learning through writing.

The second theme, “Employability and Civic Engagement,” begins at 11 a.m. and will explore undergraduate student career readiness. Featured Eastern professors for this segment are Terry Lennox (Art and Art History), Fatma Pakdil (Business Administration) and Alex Citurs (Business Information Systems).

Following theme two is Piñeros-Shields’ luncheon keynote presentation from noon-1 p.m.

The third theme, “Higher Education as a Public Good: Dimensions of Civic Engagement,” begins at 1 p.m. Several presenters from the University of Connecticut will discuss the development and enactment of community-engaged critical conversations through a graduate level course.

The fourth theme, “Community Engagement Research,” will include presentations from Eastern professors Nicolas Simon (Sociology) and Patrick Vitale (Geography), in addition to Yolanda Bergstrom-Lynch, who is a public services librarian and reference lecturer with the J. Eugene Smith Library.

The Civic Action Conference is sponsored by the Center for Community Engagement. For more information, contact Kim Silcox at silcoxk@easternct.edu, John Murphy at murphyjo@easternct.edu or Nicolas Simon at simonn@easternct.edu.

Faculty Present in 3 October Scholars Forums

Ari de Wilde

Written by Dwight Bachman

Eastern faculty continue to share their prolific scholarship with the campus community during the University’s Faculty Scholars Forum. In the month of October, three professors shared fascinating research on the underworld of professional bike racing, how service to community can enhance faculty scholarship, and the evolving artistic work of how women are now depicted in Persian art.

On Oct. 31, Ari de Wilde, associate professor of kinesiology and physical education, presented “Splinters, Snake Oil and Six Days: Collusion and Underworld Politics in Early 20th Century Professional Bicycle Racing.”

Today, professional cycling is marred by doping scandals and corruption, scenarios that de Wilde says are portrayed as new by the popular media. He argues that these realities are not new behaviors and could be found in the thriving, professional racing circuit of America’s early 20th century, noting that “while underworld-related actives are rarely formally recorded, close reading of autobiographies, newspaper accounts and other descriptions can yield tremendous insight into this world.” 

On Oct. 17, John Murphy, lecturer in the Communication Department; Nicolas Simon, sociology lecturer; Art Professor Terry Lennox; and Kim Silcox, director of the Center for Community Engagement, examined “Community Engagement as a Path to Faculty Development.” Topics ranged from Simon’s discussion of his scholarly research based on community engagement to Silcox’s overview of the Center for Community Engagement and how the center supports faculty through service learning course development. Faculty interested in learning more are encouraged to contact the center at (860) 465-4426.

On Oct. 3, Afarin Rahmanifar, lecturer in the Art and Art History Department, shared her work on “Women in Persian Poetry, Storytelling and Painting.” Rahmanifar said to understand her work, one must understand Iranian history. Until the 20th century, traditional painting, art, poetry and writing in Iran were dominated by men. Women were often portrayed in art without power or authority.

Afarin Rahmanifar

In 1932, Reza Shah, the first Shah of Iran and father of Mohamad Reza Pahlavi, passed a law that forced women to take off their veils. From 1945-1979, Rahmanifar says there were a huge effort to modernize the country and create an educational system.  After the Iranian Revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini made it mandatory for women to wear the hejab again.

Rahmanifar’s work primarily reflects her experience living in exile from Tehran, where she grew up in the aftermath of the Iranian Revolution. Her art reflects an interest in telling stories about women in repressed societies who are involved in politics, culture and religion. Rahmanifar’s most recent project is “Women of the Shahnameh,” which is a result of her reading “The Book of Kings (“Shahnameh”) by Persian poet Ferdowsi, who lived 1,000 years ago.

“His epic stories shape women as active and who play participatory and even leading roles in leadership and decision making in Iranian society,” said Rahmanifar.  “Women are presented as lively figures, warm, with intellect who dare to exercise liberties and do not fear death. . . Within my work, I’ve attempted to not only create images from my inspired reading of (Ferdowsi’s) stories, but also to break the conventional wisdom and messages of earlier historical miniature paintings.”

Eastern to Hold Screening of ‘Animation Show of Shows’

Written by Raven Dillon

WILLIMANTIC, CT (10/23/2018) The 19th annual “Animation Show of Shows” will show at Eastern Connecticut State University on Nov. 7 at 7 p.m. in the Student Center Theatre. The Animation Show of Shows is a traveling selection of the year’s best animated short films. The event is free and open to the public.

The Animation Show of Shows is a 93-minute selection of 16 internationally acclaimed animated shorts, curated and presented by Acme Filmworks founder Ron Diamond. It features animated shorts, selected for their originality, humor and intelligence.

The 19th Animation Show of Shows focuses on themes of humanity and global interconnectivity, and strives to have something for all audiences. These films include Niki Lindroth von Bahr’s Annecy Grand Prix-winning “The Burden,” a melancholy, funny and moving film that explores the tribulations, hopes and dreams of a group of night-shift employees.

Other program highlights include the Oscar-winning “Dear Basketball,” an animated poem by Disney veteran Glen Keane about Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant; Academy Award-winning director of Pixar Pete Docter’s 1990 CalArts student film “Next Door”; and “Casino,” the latest film from director Steven Woloshen, who, for some 30 years has been creating award-winning experimental films by drawing directly on film stock.

Over the past 19 years, 38 of the films showcased in past Animation Show of Shows have gone on to receive Academy Award nominations, with 11 winning Oscars. The Show has screened in more than 65 North American cities. This event is sponsored by the Department of Art and Art History.

 

Eastern Faculty on Display at Semester’s First Art Exhibition

“Portrait of Jacqueline” 2015, pastel on sanded pastel paper, by Terry Lennox

Written by Jordan Corey

WILLIMANTIC, CT (09/13/2018) The first exhibition of the fall semester at Eastern Connecticut State University features the creations of nine faculty artists who specialize in digital art and printmaking. On display in the Art Gallery of the Fine Arts Instructional Center, the exhibition is open to the public until Oct. 11.

The gallery teemed during the exhibition’s opening reception on Sept. 6, as guests admired works ranging from Tibetan landscapes to cartoony laser beams and mingled with the creators.

Among the artists at the opening was Digital Art and Design Professor Terry Lennox, who produced “Portrait of Jacqueline,” an image of a woman donned in red that hangs gracefully in a back room of the gallery.

Lennox revealed that she started drawing portraits at a young age, and noticed early on that her artwork was very realistic. “I thought, ‘Maybe I have something there,'” she said. “That made me feel good.”

On a recent sabbatical, Lennox studied Renaissance women in Washington, D.C., and Florence, Italy. “My husband’s side of the family is from Italy,” explained Lennox. The woman in the portrait is her sister-in-law. “She’s the only person in the family who wears nice jewelry,” she joked.

While it took Lennox’s subject a while to get relaxed, she noted that digital photography makes the process easier than it has been in the past. Rather than working off an in-person pose, Lennox’s piece was based on a photograph that she and Jacqueline selected together. A combination of pastels and paint was used to produce it, as it is more difficult to get sharp edges with pastels.

 “Kapok-the Tree between Land and Sky 1 & 2” 2017, digital mixed media, by Tao Chen

Another digital art and design professor, Tao Chen, spoke about producing a collaborative multimedia project. “Kapok – The Tree between Land and Sky 1 & 2” is on display next to a single-channel video titled “Iroko: Tree of Life.” The project also utilized the research and artistic efforts of Professor Emeritus Imna Arroyo and Professor Jaime Gómez, along with choreography by Professor Alycia Bright-Holland.

The “Iroko: Tree of Life” video production begins with a dance between the Orisha – the human form of a spirit – of the river Ochun Kole, and Iroko, the Orisha who embodies the tree of life for the Yoruba people. Some believe that, together, they have saved the world on multiple occasions. Visuals were recorded or acquired by the producers in Colombia, Puerto Rico and Taiwan, and studio video recording was done at Eastern.

The idea of a “tree of life” has long been prevalent in mythologies throughout the world. Generally, the tree is viewed as a sacred entity that holds value in both its physical and spiritual properties. “The pieces I created are based on the research,” Chen explained. “It’s a culture initially from Africa.”

Chen’s pieces, which heavily incorporate earth tones, convey the importance of the tree in addition to the overall smallness of man. “I think a lot of people feel the energy from the tree,” he said. “We’re all so tiny.”

“Forgotten Prophets of Tibet 2 & 3” 2018, digital print on canvas, by Lora Li

Faculty-artist Lora Li also called on the integration of the mythical and historical for her project, “Forgotten Prophets of Tibet.” For this digital-art trilogy, she spent a minimum of two weeks on each print – they are a blend of her imagination and her interpretation of Tibetan culture. “They all have realistic elements.”

One of Li’s prints depicts a traditional healer, a scene that touches on shamanism. Ancient Tibetan shamanism and animism, the pre-Buddhist spiritual and religious culture of Tibet, was known as Bon. The reformed Bon offers a monastic system, philosophic colleges and a scholastic tradition fully comparable to that found in the other schools of Tibetan Buddhism.

“Everything has a soul,” said Li. “They have the ability to summon nature and enter the spiritual world.” She went on to point out this consideration laced within her pieces, with emphasis on natural elements like fire and wind, prayer flags and the use of water animals, often called “the lucky symbols.”

On the integration of Buddhism with traditional Tibetan culture, something that played a large part in this project, Li commented, “I think it’s inevitable. Whenever you see something new it has to blend with what we already know for us to accept it.”

Li was “inspired by colors” and “really fixated on details” during the creative process. “I trained in traditional art in China for 10 years before I came here,” she explained. “I wanted to integrate all my skills.” She plans to add more pieces to the series in the future.

The diverse art exhibition also features the work of June Bisantz, Nancy Friese, Ed Hogan, James Holland, Simonette Quamina and Jane Rainwater.

Gallery hours are Tuesday and Wednesday 11 a.m.-5 p.m., Thursday 1-7 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 2-5 p.m. All events are free and open to the public. For more information, visit www.easternct.edu/artgallery or call (860) 465-4659.

Faculty Exhibition Opens Eastern’s Fall Art Gallery Season

Eastern Connecticut State University’s Art Gallery will host its first exhibition of the fall 2018 semester from Aug. 30 to Oct. 11. The exhibition will feature nine Eastern faculty artists who specialize in printmaking and digital art. An opening reception will take place on Sept. 6 from 4-6 p.m. in the gallery, located in room 112 in the Fine Arts Instructional Center.

The faculty exhibition will feature the work of June Bisantz (digital art), Tao Chen (digital art), Nancy Friese (printmaking), Ed Hogan (digital art), James Holland (digital art), Terry Lennox (digital art), Lora Li (digital art), Simonett Quamina (printmaking) and Jane Rainwater (digital art).

Gallery hours are Tuesday and Wednesday 11 a.m.-5 p.m., Thursday 1-7 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 2-5 p.m. All events are free and open to the public. For more information, visit www.easternct.edu/artgallery or call (860) 465-4659.

Written by Michael Rouleau

Eastern Named a 2018 College of Distinction

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                                                            Eastern Graduates 1,200 Students at XL Center

Written by Ed Osborn

Elinore McCance-Katz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eastern President Elsa Núñez

Other speakers at the Commencement Exercises included Eastern President Elsa Núñez; Yvette Meléndez, vice-chairof the Board of Regents for Higher Education; and Mark Ojakian, president of the Connecticut State College and Universities System. Additional members of the platform party included Justin Murphy ’98, president of the ECSU Foundation; Father Laurence LaPointe; and other Eastern officials.

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

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

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

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

More than 40 percent of the graduates were the first in their families to earn a bachelor’s degree. As Connecticut’s only public liberal arts university, Eastern draws students from 163 of the state’s 169 towns. Approximately 85 percent of graduates stay in Connecticut to launch their careers, contribute to their communities and raise their families.

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

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

Michele Bacholle, Distinguished Professor of the Year

 

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

This year’s graduation ceremonies again reflected Eastern’s Commencement traditions, ranging from the Governor’s Foot Guard Color Guard, to the plaintive sound of the bagpipes of the St. Patrick’s Pipe Band and the pre-event music of the Thread City Brass Quintet. University Senate President Maryanne Clifford presided over the commencement exercises; seniors Halie Poirier, Michael Beckstein and Hannah Bythrow sang “America the Beautiful”; Senior Nathan Cusson gave the invocation; and French Professor Michèle Bacholle was recognized as the 2018 Distinguished Professor Award recipient.