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Top Eastern Students Win Barnard Awards

Published on April 10, 2017

Top Eastern Students Win Barnard Awards

Elizabeth Del Buono ’17 of Southington and Kevin Connolly ’17 of Enfield, two students majoring in biology at Eastern Connecticut State University, have been named recipients of the 2017 Henry Barnard Distinguished Student Award. The 29th annual Henry Barnard awards banquet, held on April 4 at the Aqua Turf Club in Plantsville, CT, recognized 12 outstanding undergraduates from Connecticut’s four state universities – Central, Eastern, Southern and Western.

The Barnard Awards program is the premier academic recognition event of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities System (CSCU) and is sponsored by the CSCU Foundation. To be considered for the award, a student must have at least a 3.75 GPA, a record of community service and be nominated by their respective university president.

A first-generation college student, Del Buono says she chose Eastern because she believed the close relationships with faculty, liberal arts curriculum and small class sizes found at the university would help her to navigate college, and allow her to develop academically and personally. Del Buono graduates next month with a 3.85 GPA and a strong background in genetics-related research. She has conducted research on genetics related to cancer and developmental disorders with Biology Professor Amy Groth; interned at The Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine where she conducted research on breast cancer genomics; received several research grants to support her work; and presented her research at a number of professional biology conferences.

On campus, Del Buono has served as a teaching assistant to Groth; helped re-establish the Pre-Health Society, a student group that provides peer information on health care careers; organized field trips to health clinics in Ghana, West Africa; and planned visits to science museums in New York City and elsewhere.

Groth said she is impressed with Del Buono’s intelligence, maturity and work ethic: “I have been fortunate to work with some very talented undergraduate researchers who have gone on to medical or graduate school or jobs in biotech companies, but even in that group, Elizabeth stands out. She joined my lab in the spring of 2015 and has been conducting an independent study ever since. Elizabeth has been very successful studying genes in the model organism, C.elegans, a microscopic round worm.”

Del Buono has also thrived at Eastern as a student leader. She completed the LEAP Leadership Program, serving as an orientation counselor and as a peer mentor in Eastern’s First-Year Program, and was president of Omicron Delta Kappa, Eastern’s leadership and service honor society.

Her volunteer work at the Horizons/Eastern Transition Program and the Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery, where she worked one-on-one to support special education students with disabilities such as ADHD, autism and learning disabilities, has impacted Del Buono the most: “Working with individuals going through very difficult times, helping them to apply for jobs or relieve stress and anxiety by having fun with them has broadened my ability to work with diverse populations and contribute to people’s lives in a meaningful way.”

Del Buono plans to earn a master’s degree in genetic counseling, a field that will allow her to help clients understand genetic risks to their health and to make important life decisions. She credits her parents for supporting her to become “a scientist, confident student, student leader and advocate because they sacrificed so much for me to be able to go to college and get an education.”

Connolly, a member of Eastern’s Honors Program, carries a 3.88 GPA. His research is in the area of collagen production, aligning with his career interest in becoming a plastic surgeon. Collagen is a protein that supports healthy skin. Connolly hopes his research will prevent surgery and the risk of invasive injection procedures.

Biology Professor Barbara Murdoch allowed Connolly to formulate and perfect his own research, and for that, he is grateful. “Dr. Murdoch has always been in my corner. She’s been my mentor for four years, and I really owe her a lot,” said Connolly. “In my thesis project, I manipulate signals to skin cells in order to produce the maximum amounts of collagen through cross-talk interactions.”

Biology Professor Elizabeth Cowles, who taught Connolly in two classes and observed him for three years, said, “Kevin’s work and research in Dr. Murdoch’s lab have demonstrated his keen intellect, his perseverance and his ability to think critically. Kevin developed a creative, challenging and state-of-the-art project that will contribute to the knowledge of cell communication and perhaps have clinical relevance.”

Motivated by Murdoch, Professor Emeritus Michael Gable, his advisor Professor Patricia Szczys, and nationally recognized neurobiologist and Eastern alumnus Marc Freeman, Connolly has won several scholarships to fund his academic research. He has conducted research with other biology students in California and Nevada, traveled to several countries and will participate in a field course in Costa Rica this summer. He has presented his research at local and regional professional biology conferences, including the Eastern Colleges Science Conference and the Northeast Regional Honors Conferences, both in Pennsylvania.

Outside of the laboratory, Connolly is involved in a number of on-campus leadership roles, serving as president of the Honors Club; as vice president of the Omicron Delta Kappa Honor Society; as an officer of the UNICEF club; and as a member of the Tri-Beta Honors Society for biology majors.

Connolly also demonstrates his passion for science by helping Professor Murdoch organize and implement her annual Antibiotic Resistance Awareness Project. One of his most cherished experiences is volunteering at the Johnson Memorial Cancer Center in his home town of Enfield. The experience “has placed me in a deeper, more profound sense of compassion and empathy that I did not know existed beforehand. Knowing that I have helped them is one of the most rewarding feelings I have ever experienced in my life.”

Connolly is applying to graduate programs in biomedical science, with plans to earn his master’s and doctoral degrees.

Hartford native Henry Barnard was one of the principal forces in creating the American public school system in the 19th century, serving in the Connecticut General Assembly before becoming superintendent of schools in Connecticut and principal of the New Britain Normal School in 1850. He became the first U.S. commissioner of education in 1867.

Written by Dwight Bachman

Categories: Biology