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‘Balancing optimism and caution’: University Meeting kicks off fall 2020 semester

Published on August 28, 2020

‘Balancing optimism and caution’: University Meeting kicks off fall 2020 semester

President Nunez
President Elsa Núñez addresses faculty and staff during the fall 2020 State of the University address.

 Hundreds of faculty and staff tuned in to YouTube on Aug. 25 for Eastern Connecticut State University’s second-ever virtual University Meeting. Held one day before fall semester classes started, the meeting was streamed live from an otherwise empty Betty R. Tipton Room on campus. President Elsa Núñez and other university administrators addressed the virtual crowd, welcoming new faculty and staff and recognizing service awardees and retirees.

“The last six months have posed challenges unlike any that most of us have ever faced in our entire lives,” opened Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Bill Salka. Speaking to employees who worked remotely through the summer and those who reported in person to ready the campus for its fall reopening, he added, “I would like to thank all of you who rose to meet the challenges. You stepped up and did whatever needed to be done, and you did this to help Eastern keep going and keep our students on track.”

Following Salka’s introduction, 12 new faculty and six new staff members were introduced to the university community. Vice President of Institutional Advancement Ken DeLisa recognized 22 faculty and staff members for reaching milestones of 10, 20 and 25 years of service, and acknowledged additional employees who are retiring.

Service Awards and Retirees

10 years: Wayne Buck, professor and assistant chair for Department of Management and Marketing

20 years: Anthony Cornicello, professor of music

20 years: Charles Chatterton Jr., professor of kinesiology and physical education

20 years: Dennis Canterbury, professor of sociology

20 years: Eunice Matthews-Armstead, professor of social work and coordinator of Social Work Program

20 years: John Bazin, associate registrar and scheduling officer

20 years: Huan-Yu Tu, professor of computer science

20 years: John Toedt, biochemistry coordinator and department chair

20 years: Qimin Liu, professor of art

20 years: Sonya Alicea, administrative assistant for Housing and Residential Life

25 years: David Stoloff, professor of Education

25 years: Hari Koirala, professor of education

25 years: Nicole Krassas, professor of political science

Stephen Ferruci, the new University Senate president, introduced the Senate executive committee: Financial Aid Director Jennifer Horner is serving as vice president for administrative faculty; Health Sciences Professor Anita Lee is serving as vice president for instructional faculty; and Kinesiology and Physical Education Professor Michelle Ferrer is serving as senate secretary.

“Teaching is hard, counseling is hard, coaching is hard, supporting students in the regular semester is hard, and this semester it’s going to be harder,” said Ferruci referring to the challenges of hybrid courses and virtual meetings. “But from what I’ve seen, we’re up for the challenge.”

In her State of the University address, President Núñez welcomed the university community to Eastern’s 132nd fall semester and the first academic year to open with a virtual meeting. Noting the hard work of many Eastern employees over the summer that has enabled the campus to open for resident students and on-ground classes, she said, “It feels lonely because we’re not together… Things are not normal, the world has changed.”

“This is a time for resolve and resilience. A time to balance optimism and caution. And a time to make sure that our attitude is positive,” she said. “Change is inevitable, and as human beings we are designed to be adaptable.”

New Hires

Bryan Connolly, assistant professor of biology

Christi Craig, counselor for Counseling Services

Charlotte MacDonald, admissions counselor

Hao He, assistant professor of accounting

Jennifer Portella, admissions counselor

Martha Goldstein-Schultz, lecturer of kinesiology and physical education

Meng Guo, assistant professor of accounting

Marin Kurti, assistant professor of criminology and sociology

Natalie Sabino, assistant degree auditor

Prashanth Bhat, assistant professor of communication

Richard Levy, counselor for Counseling Services

Sarah Nightingale, assistant professor of social work

Syed Islam, assistant professor of physical sciences

Steinar Ryen, lecturer of economics and finance

Núñez praised this year’s freshman class, noting that freshmen have an average high school GPA of 3.4. In addition, 41 percent of the class comes from the top 25 percent of their high school class and 13 percent come from the top 10 percent of their high school class.

While some sophomores, juniors and seniors have elected to take a gap year, she said, “we’re not down in the freshman class… And we produced these numbers without jeopardizing the quality of the class. This tells us that Eastern’s brand and academic reputation is strong.”

Núñez praised the achievements of the previous academic year, in which U.S. News and World Report named Eastern the #1 public regional university in New England. Eastern also finalized it’s 2020-25 strategic plan and reduced nearly 100 Liberal Arts Curriculum (LAC) learning outcomes to a more manageable five — critical thinking, ethical reasoning, communication, quantitative reasoning and creativity — and also created an assessment rubric to evaluate them.

Other highlights include preparing two new majors to launch this fall — data science and anthropology — revising the Academic Services Center and creating the new Office of Opportunity Programs. Student athletes won the Commissioner’s Cup for top athletic performance in the Little Eastern Conference for the fourth consecutive year, as well as the LEC’s President’s Cup for top academic performance for a record fifth year.

President Núñez also praised students, faculty and staff for successfully pivoting to online learning after the onset of COVID-19 in March 2020, completing 1,500 virtual classes and 1,000 counseling sessions, as well as Eastern’s first-ever virtual Commencement ceremony.

For the in-person semester ahead, numerous safety precautions and enhancements have been made on campus and a variety of health and safety protocols put into place. “If we must pivot to exclusively online due to changing conditions, we are ready to do that,” said Núñez, reiterating that regardless of what happens, students will not return after Thanksgiving break but will complete the balance of the semester online.

Explaining that a pivot to online instruction would take into account multiple factors, including COVID-19 cases on campus and in the Windham area, Núñez said. “The key point is we have systems in place that will be monitoring the health of this campus closely and we are prepared to pivot.”

Written by Michael Rouleau

Categories: Administration