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Published on October 19, 2023

Eastern’s Barnard Scholars

Where are they? lead

Every spring, Eastern Connecticut State University selects two graduating seniors to receive the Henry Barnard Distinguished Student Award, the premier undergraduate honor of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities (CSCU). These students are among the most gifted in the entire CSCU system, excelling academically and committing themselves to impactful community service.

Eastern’s Barnard Award recipients have pursued many impressive careers, from medical doctors to executives at major companies. In this feature, we catch up with five awardees whose love of learning and drive to succeed have led them down remarkable career paths that continue to challenge and inspire.


Chip Beckwith '95
Chip Beckwith '95

Chip Beckwith ’95 didn’t plan to go to college. Coming from a blue-collar background, he enrolled in a one-year EMT program, where he discovered an interest in science that led to an associate’s degree. Soon after, he transferred to Eastern.

The first in his family to attend college, Beckwith’s apprehension quickly eased after getting to know his professors. “Classes like organic chemistry, physics and calculus were intimidating,” he said, “but visiting the professors during their office hours helped.”

Undergraduate research experiences at Eastern led to graduate school at Wesleyan University, where he ultimately earned his Ph.D. in molecular biology and biochemistry. From there, he worked with the Connecticut Department of Health, monitoring the spread of West Nile virus, investigating anthrax in the Connecticut postal service system and probing other biothreats.

Beckwith’s next stop was the Virgin Islands, where he worked for the government writing public health grants. He continued government work, taking a position with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), moving first to Seattle and then San Francisco. With the CDC, Beckwith engaged with sales representatives. They often asked him for advice, while he in turn found himself asking more and more about their jobs. Beckwith realized he was an asset to the private sector and decided to pursue the business side of science.

Barnard Scholars Statistics

“I had to remarket myself for these new roles,” said Beckwith. “I wasn’t itemizing my most marketable skills.” The effort paid off and Beckwith found work with start-ups, providing technical support before moving to outside sales positions.

Now he works for Metabolon, an established research company that enables scientific discoveries in biopharma, public health, consumer products, agriculture and academic/ government research sectors. As the strategic account manager, Beckwith is still learning about the latest and greatest scientific work being done. “Science,” he says, “is powerful, dynamic and always changing.”

Looking back at his senior year at Eastern, Beckwith recalls being shocked when he received the Barnard Award.

“I kept my nose to the grindstone. I assumed that others were more qualified,” he said. Beckwith credits the biology faculty for his success as an undergraduate. “Adams, Gable, Wright — they were visionaries ahead of their time.”


As a command historian for the Department of Defense, Robyn Rodriguez ’05 is charged with documenting the work of the United States Air Forces in Europe – Air Forces Africa. This includes its role in NATO and support of Ukraine, as well as countries throughout Africa. In the future, when someone wants to know how the United States supported its allies and partners during this time, they will pull files that she and her team collected.

“It’s a dynamic time to work in Europe,” said Rodriguez, who lives in Germany, a country she grew to love during her time at Eastern. After taking a few courses on Germany and World Wars I and II, the study abroad office connected her with an exchange program in Germany, where she spent two summers and one full semester abroad. She fell in love with the culture and was fascinated by how Germans navigate their own turbulent history.

Robyn Rodriguez ’05
Robyn Rodriguez ’05

Following Eastern, she enrolled at The Ohio State University and studied military history, returned to Germany to perform archival research and earned her doctorate. From there, Rodriguez received a post-doctoral position in Hawaii, which turned into a full-time job with the Department of Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. In this position, she supervises historical research on missing U.S. service members from World War II and the Korean War.

“The Department of Defense maintains a list of missing U.S. service personnel,” said Rodriguez. For those who have not been recovered and repatriated, her team conducts archival research to find more information. “How did they go missing? What has been done in the past to recover the remains? Why weren’t they found?”

Rodriguez works with geographers, anthropologists, archaeologists and linguists on recovery efforts and travels across the globe to locate the remains of missing service members. Her team also works with DNA technology to help identify soldiers in unmarked graves. The agency has a high rate of recovery, bringing closure to approximately 200 families a year.

“I see this as a way to serve my country,” said Rodriguez, who works as a civilian. “All of my education was in the public school system, (partially) funded by taxpayers.” Rodriguez also benefited from scholarships and acknowledges the support she received along the way. “Serving in the federal government is a way to return the favor.”


Kevin Douglas ’08 came to Eastern with an interest in social justice, and quickly discovered the social work program. An eye-opening course with Professor Andrew Nilsson explored the root causes of certain societal issues and the importance of advocacy and organizing.

Douglas applied what he learned in the classroom to his advocacy against the death penalty and to bring attention to the crisis in Darfur. He was also active with Amnesty International and Habitat for Humanity.

Kevin Douglas '08
Kevin Douglas '08

Speaking to his efforts in and out of the classroom, Douglas said, “The Barnard Award affirmed my belief that it is important to do good in the world.” It also contributed to his acceptance to the University of Pennsylvania, where he continued to focus on social work at the macro level, studying social policy and practice. “I focused on bigger picture issues like the role of race in society.”

After earning his Master of Social Work degree, Douglas spent seven and a half years working for United Neighborhood Houses of New York, a policy and social change organization in New York City.

There he managed a large portfolio of policy issues, with a focus on youth and immigrants. He led advocacy campaigns, wrote reports and worked on adult literacy, voting rights and the Dream Act. In 2019 he moved to California and began work with Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees (GCIR), where he is now the senior director of national programs.

GCIR’s mission is to advance immigrant justice and belonging. Many of the foundations they work with are focused on immediate humanitarian needs like legal services, while, according to Douglas, GCIR concentrates on more macro approaches, such as advocacy, organizing, policy, litigation, narrative change and power building.

Meanwhile, Douglas continues to look at the root causes of those needs and plans for long-term change. This includes advocating for immigrant access to drivers’ licenses and participation in local elections as well as opposing anti-sanctuary city bills.

The Barnard Award affirmed my belief that it is important to do good in the world.

Kevin Douglas '08

“The country has long grappled with immigration; it transcends any one administration,” said Douglas. Despite the uphill battle, he remains optimistic, noting that GCIR’s California programs have served as a model for other states. “Big social justice movements take time. We are building a base of power and looking at positive changes on the city and state levels.”

Bittney (Cava) Follett '12
Bittney (Cava) Follett '12


Throughout her career, Brittney (Cava) Follett ’12 has found ways to combine her love of data analysis with her passion for helping people — two interests she developed as a student at Eastern. Now, she works at Fidelity Investments, as the senior manager of digital product strategy and enablement.

“I started working on analytics at the Center for Community Engagement (CCE) to help the office grow more data-savvy,” said Follett, who created a database to track and streamline volunteers and to quantify the impact of volunteering.

Following graduation — and receiving the Barnard Award — Follett took a data-related job with the health insurance company Cigna, enabling her to apply what she practiced at the CCE in a business setting. She honed her analytical skills, producing public data visualizations for social issues close to her heart to help people understand and act.

Her next stop was Facebook, where she worked as a data analyst on its social-good team, which analyzes how nonprofits are leveraging the Facebook platform. “Part of my job was to communicate data in a way that everyone can understand,” said Follett.

It’s rewarding when you can help someone.

Bittney (Cava) Follett '12

As her career advanced, more and more data became available. “The amount of data at Facebook was a challenge,” said Follett. She developed more skills as an analyst and learned how to optimize the data collected.

After the pandemic, she decided to move back to the East Coast to be closer to her family, taking the position with Fidelity.

“I wanted a position where I could go into the office, meet people, network and learn about the financial space … Fidelity is an exciting place to work,” she said of the company’s initiatives to work with new markets and audiences, such as younger and more diverse customers.

“It’s a new team,” said Follett of her position using data analytics to support Fidelity’s operation. “Everyone is brand new. We had to establish the team mission, learn everyone’s strengths, learn what tools are available.”

Still, the work has been fulfilling. Follett feels she is giving back and enjoys being a mentor to others. “It’s rewarding when you can help someone.”


Jeffrey Holt ’97 started at Eastern with an interest in marine biology and ecology before gravitating to molecular and cellular biology. As a biology major, he took advantage of independent research opportunities in Professor Mike Adams’s lab and fondly recalls helping in the university's greenhouse with Professor Ross Koning and taking the tropical biology course with Professors Koning, Charles Booth and Mike Gable.

Jeffrey Holt '97
Jeffrey Holt '97

He also participated in a summer research fellowship at the University of Michigan, performed research at Yale University and volunteered at Hartford Hospital. All these efforts led to Holt being named a Barnard awardee.

“It was a surprise and an honor,” he said. “It was the culmination of a lot of hard work studying and late nights in the lab. It meant a lot to represent the university.”

Holt attended graduate school at Yale University and earned his Ph.D. from the Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology in 2004. “Eastern prepared me for the rigors of graduate school. I had the experience to pursue new knowledge and solve problems.”

Following Yale, Holt began a career with the pharmaceutical company Merck, serving in a variety of roles in the commercial and medical affairs spaces. He is now the corporation’s director of global scientific training-immunology.

“In this role I’m able to teach and mentor,” he said. Part of Holt’s job is to prepare colleagues for scientific discussions with leaders in medicine and research.

“One big challenge is the amount of data being generated and the fast pace of discovery,” said Holt. “That information needs to be organized and communicated in an accurate and effective manner.” The work is rewarding and keeps Holt up to date on the most current research. “The pace, technology, equipment — it’s really exciting.”

It was the culmination of a lot of hard work studying and late nights in the lab. It meant a lot to represent the university.

Jeffrey Holt '97

Moving forward, Holt wants to continue to grow and learn while staying in his training leadership role. His drive for lifelong learning was fostered in Eastern’s biology program and has continued throughout his career.

“I’m thankful that I was a part of the department,” he said, reflecting on his experiences. “The sciences are challenging but there are a lot of opportunities in the field.”

Written by Meghan Carden