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Eastern marches forward with success and cautious optimism

Published on January 20, 2022

Eastern marches forward with success and cautious optimism

University Meeting
Students return to campus for the start of the spring 2022 semester. 

Citing Eastern Connecticut State University’s successful operation during the fall semester — NECHE reaccreditation, outstanding rankings in U.S. News and World Report, low COVID rates and much more -- LaMar Coleman, vice president for equity and diversity, opened the spring 2022 semester University Meeting on Jan. 14, saying, “One good semester deserves another.”

University Senate President Stephen Ferruci referenced the passing of the late South African Bishop Desmond Tutu, encouraged faculty and staff to pay closer attention to students and not view them as “fixed, static entities.”

“Tutu’s death reminded me that there are so many other moments where we learn than in the classroom.” Ferruci said that students are complex individuals facing challenges, and “rather than dismiss them because their challenges don’t affect us directly, we should try to make sense of what they are facing and view them as hope for the future.”

President Elsa Núñez said COVID has changed all our lives, but that Eastern’s courageous and innovative faculty and staff have hung tough amidst the anxiety, pain and suffering. She cited how well the university pivoted to remote learning in spring 2020; how swiftly the Facilities staff installed thousands of signs, hand sanitizers, plexiglass partitions and cleaned the entire campus every day; how the campus police force never left campus; how smoothly the first ever virtual Commencement went; how the university adapted using a variety of course modalities to teach students, resulting in Eastern having the highest resident occupancy rate and lowest COVID positivity rate in the CSCU System; and how pleased Govenor Lamont was that Eastern was the first college or university in the state to make facemasks mandatory at all times on campus — indoors and outdoors.

“All this was done within the COVID protocols we have had in place since the pandemic began. I am pleased to be able to say that we have had no documented cases of COVID due to classroom exposure. Our COVID numbers were very low,” said Núñez.

Núñez also praised the University Senate and academic departments for their work in creating new academic programs, including minors in Cannabis Cultivation and Chemistry, Paramedic Science, and Medical Interpreting in Spanish; a new concentration in Cognitive Neuroscience; and a new master’s program in Special Education--new programs will prepare students for emerging occupations in Connecticut and beyond.

“I have always said that Eastern’s strength is its people. You have demonstrated during these past 20 months that there is no challenge you cannot meet. Everyone should be proud of how you have handled these unprecedented times,” said Núñez. She said the University is asking everyone on campus to again wear facemasks indoors and outdoors, and if possible, to use of N95 or KN95 masks, and she encouraged staff and faculty to hold meetings remotely and get vaccines or boosters if they haven’t already done so.

“The data is very clear — people who have received their vaccinations and those who have booster shots are less likely to be hospitalized or have serious illness due to the virus. We start the semester from a strong base — 98 percent of our faculty, 96 percent of our resident students, 91 percent of our commuters and 90 percent of our staff have been fully vaccinated.”

Núñez was most pleased with the final NECHE accreditation report. She thanked Provost William Salka and the NECHE Self-Study Steering Committee for the thoughtful and comprehensive work it did over the past three years to prepare for and manage Eastern’s Self Study. She said, this past fall, the New England Commission on Higher Education gave Eastern the best result possible from last year’s accreditation review. “We got an A! We were reaccredited for 10 years.”

“Our four- and six-year graduation rates continue to be significantly higher than our sister state universities in Connecticut,” said Núñez. “A recent study by our CSCU System Office showed that Eastern has the lowest instructional expense per student of the four Connecticut state universities. This is, indeed, stunning news!”

Núñez said that in addition to Eastern’s #1 overall ranking in New England, U.S. News and World Report also ranked Eastern #1 in New England among public regional universities as a “Best Value.” “This is a measure of our academic quality compared to our costs and the financial aid we provide our students. Access. Affordability. Quality.  You — the faculty and staff — have answered that challenge by becoming an elite school, yet one that is not elitist.”

A presentation by Professors Jennifer Brown and Courtney Broscious described how Eastern achieved success with the NECHE accreditation review. NECHE said Eastern’s plan had clarity of purpose, a strong sense of mission, and a positive and cohesive campus culture. The report concluded that “It is clear with its strong leadership team and dedicated faculty and staff, Eastern is well-positioned to engage students in a ‘transformative liberal arts learning experience well into the future.” Eastern’s next comprehensive evaluation will take place in the fall of 2030, with a five-year interim report due in 2025. 

Núñez ended her remarks by extolling the value of a liberal arts education. “A year ago, armed insurrectionists stormed our nation’s Capitol, intent on overturning a free and valid election,” said Núñez. “Never in our history has it been more important for students to use their analytical and critical thinking skills to understand the problems facing the nation.”

During the meeting, the University also recognized employees for their years of dedicated service to Eastern. Recognized for 10 years of service were Marianne Ciardullo, assistant counselor in Health Services; Allison Garewski, director of the Academic Success Center; Environmental Earth Sciences Professor Meredith Metcalf; Domingo Rivera, custodian in facilities management and planning; and Afarin Rahmanifar, assistant professor of art and art history.

Kimberly Silcox, director of the Center for Community Engagement; Hope Marie Cook, education librarian and head of the Curriculum Center in the library; and Environmental Earth Sciences Professor Peter Drzewiecki were recognized for 20 years of service.

Nineteen retiring employees were recognized after years of dedicated service to the university. They included Janine Allevo, administrative assistant in Health Services; Lance Bennett, custodian in Facilities Management and Planning; Business Administration Professor Branko Cavarkapa; June Dunn, assistant dean of Eastern’s Opportunity Program; Deborah Hunt, director of Enterprise Applications; Lisa Kinn, Secretary 2 in the Office of Admissions; Gary Lalumiere, qualified craft worker in the HVAC unit; Fawng Li, system manager in IT; Margo Mulholland, Secretary 2 in Accessibility Services; Stephen Nelson, director of information technology and IT planning; Theresa O’Brien, director of fiscal affairs for acquisitions and auxiliary services; Kathleen Parmalee, administrative assistant in Student Activities; Janice Petit, library technical assistant; Nanette Rukstela, Secretary 2 in Art and Art History; Physical Sciences Professor Russell Sampson; Jeffrey Smith Sr., qualified mechanical craft worker in Facilities Management and Planning; Lynn Stoddard, director of the Institute for Sustainable Energy; Physical Education Professor Daniel Switchenko; and Mark Tedford, qualified electrical craft worker in Facilities Management and Planning.

Written by Dwight Bachman