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Eastern students highlight their community work at CCE Expo

Published on April 23, 2024

Eastern students highlight their community work at CCE Expo

More than one in five full-time students at Eastern Connecticut State University volunteered in the community this year, and they presented highlights of their work at the Center for Community Engagement’s (CCE) annual Service Expo on April 17.

This year, 18 student leaders helped 870 Eastern students volunteer, said Lexie Mastroianni, CCE community engagement coordinator. Overall, the students contributed more than 12,000 hours of community service, she said. Five new programs were added this year for students to participate in: Mansfield Book Buddies, the Blue Iris Farm Rescue and Retreat, Barrows STEM Academy Pen Pals, America Reads, and expanding the Big Brothers/Big Sisters to Windham High School.

President Núñez
President Núñez

Community contributions have been a major accomplishment of her presidency, said President Elsa Núñez in remarks at the expo.

“I learned a long time ago that none of us will get through life without the help of others at one time or another. At Eastern, we are so proud of our students who are not just dedicated to their studies but have also dedicated a significant amount of their time to helping those in need,” she said. “And I am equally proud of our faculty and staff who demonstrate their own commitment to the community through their support of the programs of the CCE.”

Volunteering was as much a benefit to them as it was to the community, several of the CCE student leaders said.

“It was truly a life-changing experience,” said Meghan Georgescu, a sophomore biology major who developed one of the new programs this year, helping to care for the animals at the Blue Iris Farm.

“It’s been awesome to see the program grow,” said Georgescu, a CCE student leader who brings other students to the farm to assist with chores such as “floating a horse’s teeth” (examining them) with a veterinarian. Helping Windham-area groups such as middle school students and nursing home residents on field trips to the farm was particularly rewarding, she said.

Vania Galicia '20 of Grow Windham was the keynote speaker.

Nicole Leyner, a junior student leader, has volunteered for two years with the CCE, bringing other Eastern students to work with K-5 students at the Natchaug Elementary School’s after-school program. Since she began working with the students, “it’s gotten to the point where the kids are super-excited to read,” she said. Some of them learned how to tie knots for the first time, and now they are teaching their friends, she said. Leyner said the students learn teamwork, collaboration and responsibility in the after-school program.

“I love being able to work within my field,” said the early childhood education major.

Alicia Wedler, a senior psychology major, started as an intern with the CCE as part of her coursework and was inspired to volunteer as a student leader for two programs. One, the Grow Windham Youth Advocacy, is just getting underway at Windham High School. It is designed to help students advocate for what they want in school or in the town.

“It gives students a platform and a place to have fun,” she said.

The Kids First Award went to the Canterbury Girls Mentoring Program. The judges, Tashieka Sangster and Michael Rouleau, flank the student leaders Giavanna Marmo and Olivia Gardner.

Judges Nicole Potestivo and Jack Irvine with Olivia Gardner, center, winner of the Strengthening Communities Award for the Douglas Manor Pen Pal Program. Gardner also won the Presidential Service Award.

Kathryn Kubisek, center, accepted the Supporting Our Schools Award for the American Reads program at Windham Center School. With her are judges Sara Bennett and Kelly Mills.

The Putting Liberal Arts into Action Award went to the Nutmeg Big Brother Big Sister program. With judges Joshua Sumrell, left, and Patricia Szczys, right, are student leaders Allison Kazmier and Nariyah Mazyck-Alegria (with ribbon).

The Leadership Development Award for Mansfield Book Buddies went to Olivia Gardner, center, shown here with judges Professor Brenda Westbury and Mary Oliver.

The Broadening Horizons award went to the Windham Region No Freeze Shelter program. Student leaders Giavanna Marmo, Muneed Butt and Nikki Flynn are shown here with judges Dwayne Cameron and Alexia Bourbeau.

Allison Kazmier, a first-year BIS major, leads 15 to 20 students in the Nutmeg Big Brother/Big Sister program and five others at the Windham Middle School enrichment program. “I just love being able to help develop a student’s future,” she said. She volunteered in high school in East Greenwich, RI, and she plans to work for a nonprofit when she graduates from Eastern.

Giavanna Marmo, a first-year psychology major from Suffield, is a student leader for three programs, two with elementary school students and one at the Windham Region No Freeze Project. She plans to be a child-adolescent psychologist. “I’ve learned so much,” she said of her CCE experiences.

Student leader Nikki Flynn with Desiree Parciak, who received the Community Partner Community Engagement Award for Jeanine Jagessar.

Athletic Director Lori Runksmeier, right, accepting the Faculty/Staff Community Engagement Award on behalf of women’s basketball coach Denise Bierly from student leader Meghan Georgescu

Mary Oliver receives the Outstanding Community Event Award from student leader Muneed Butt.

Professor Patricia Szczys, director of Eastern’s Institute for Sustainability, receives the Service Learning Award from student leader Muneed Butt.

Amilya Williams, left, receives the Student Community Engagement Award from Olivia Skipper.

Working for two years in the Big Brother/Big Sister program, a popular volunteering experience with Eastern students, has enabled Nariyah Mazyck-Alegria, a sophomore, to follow her “little sister” from middle school to Windham High School. Her “little sister” wants to be an immigration lawyer, and Mazyck-Alegria helps mentor her with career advice, which fits right in with her own career aspiration to be a counselor.

Jayson Caballerro, a sophomore secondary education major, also finds that volunteering helps his career goals. As a leader in the Windham Center After School program, he is learning to adjust his leadership style to respond to different children’s needs. “I try to be mindful of their ages,” he said.

The CCE volunteers are encouraged to build their employability skills through their work, said Lana O’Connor, CCE associate director. That was evident in the posters at the expo, where they listed career skills they had learned through volunteering. Students who volunteer are usually outgoing, passionate and love to present, she said. “Student leaders are really good at recruiting others,” she said.

Written by Lucinda Weiss