Eastern Reveals 2014 TIMPANI Toy Study Results

Eastern’s Center for Early Childhood Education (CECE) announced on Dec. 1 that “Paint and Easel” by Community Playthings and “Hot Wheels Cars” by Mattel were both named 2014 TIMPANI Toys (Toys that Inspire Mindful Play and Nurture Imagination). This is the second consecutive year that two toys have been named TIMPANI toys in the annual study conducted by Eastern faculty and student researchers.

Now in its sixth year, the study investigates how young children play with a variety of toys in natural settings. This year, 10 toys were randomly selected for the study from a list of 108 recommendations from parents and teachers. The toys are placed in preschool classrooms and scored on subscales of thinking and problem solving, cooperation and social interaction, creativity and imagination, and, for the first time this year, verbalization.

Student researchers videotape the children playing with the toys and code the videos according to the study’s evaluation rubric. “We have been amazed at the national and international attention given to the annual TIMPANI toy study over the past five years,” said Eastern President Elsa Núñez. “I think parents, educators and researchers all appreciate the depth to which our faculty and students have investigated and evaluated the merits of hundreds of toys during that time. They have consistently seen that ‘low-tech’ toys that allow for a child to use his or her imagination have scored highest. I applaud our students and their faculty for conducting this scientific research as they seek out the best learning tools we can provide children, knowing how critical playtime is in a child’s development.”

Selecting this year’s TIMPANI toys was challenging, as several toys scored high in promoting quality play, yet no single toy scored the highest in multiple categories. “Each of these toys contributed something special to children’s development,” said Professor Jeffrey Trawick-Smith, principal investigator of the study and the Phyllis Waite Endowed Chair of Early Childhood Education at Eastern. Paint and Easel had the highest overall scores, followed closely by Hot Wheels Cars.

Paint and Easel scored highest on creativity, and also scored high on social interaction and problem solving. For the purpose of the TIMPANI study, the easel used was a double easel covered with a single piece of paper so that two children could paint side-by-side using standard classroom paints. “Allowing enough space for two children to play at the double easel encouraged cooperative play, which resulted in plenty of conversations while children were creating art,” said Alyssa Zebrowski, an Eastern senior majoring in early childhood education and English who was involved in the study.

Paint and Easel, while scoring highest overall for play quality, was also the toy least frequently selected by children during free play. “The paint and easel was really interesting to me because it was not used as much as I anticipated, but it inspired some cool interactions,” said Kristen Krause, an Eastern senior majoring in early childhood education and psychology who was also involved in the study. “The children navigated the double easel differently, ranging from sharing the page to drawing a line down the middle to split it.” One of the reflections of this year’s study is that children do not always necessarily prefer toys that inspire high quality play, and likewise, popular toys do not always promote high quality play.

Hot Wheels Cars were popular and of high quality play, as they were the second most frequently selected toy during free play, and the second highest overall scorer. “The toy cars were extremely popular with the children. Cars are a familiar source of transportation, which allows for in-depth scenarios to be portrayed in their play based on prior personal experiences,” said Zebrowski.

In addition to Zebrowski and Krause, seniors Kimberly DePaolis, Danni Meskill and Heather Oski also participated as student researchers. DePaolis, Krause, Oski and Zebrowski, along with Trawick-Smith, presented their findings at the National Association for the Education of Young Children Conference in Dallas, TX, on Nov. 8. For more information about the TIMPANI Toy Study, contact the CECE at (860) 465-0687 or visit http://www1.easternct.edu/cece/timpani





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Day of Giving Shines through Snow and Sleet

Volunteers Ellen Lang ’81, president of Eastern’s Alumni Association, and her husband Jim Watson serve up green beans and squash at the Day of Giving.

Hundreds of members of the Willimantic community visited Eastern Connecticut State University on Nov. 26 for the eighth annual Day of Giving. Despite the day’s inclement weather, Eastern’s Hurley Hall bustled as usual, serving up hot Thanksgiving meals to community members who otherwise may not have had one. Eastern faculty, staff, alumni and students volunteered to help serve the food, assisting the staff of Chartwells, Eastern’s food services contractor. Food and other services were donated by Chartwells and its vendors, as well as by the ECSU Foundation, Inc.

“This is a great tribute to the community,” said Harry Cobb, a resident of Willimantic and patron of the event. “A lot of people are not able to have their own thanksgiving dinner, let alone a buffet-style meal like the one today.”

Ken DeLisa, vice president for Institutional Advancement, delivering pumpkin pie throughout Hurley Hall.

Originally thought up by alumnus Jason Budahazy ’09 in 2007, the Day of Giving has become a fixture in Willimantic during the holiday season. “It has been a dependable, steady and generous tradition at Eastern,” said President Elsa Núñez.

Sponsored by the Center for Community Engagement, the Day of Giving occurs in collaboration with the Covenant Soup Kitchen and other social service agencies in Willimantic, which help to promote and provide transportation to Eastern. “I’m new to Willimantic. This is incredible. It says a lot about this university and the students,” said Shawn Shambley, a Willimantic resident from New Orleans, LA. “The spread is delicious and free! Just awesome and humbling.”

“This is so nice of the college to offer to the community,” said Sharon Wilson, a Willimantic resident. “The food is wonderful and the people are great. This is perfect for people who don’t have families or money to make a Thanksgiving dinner.” In addition to the dinner, served to more than 400 residents, Eastern students also coordinated a food drive that yielded more than 3,000 canned goods that were donated to the local soup kitchen and food pantries. Food pantry officials indicated those food items will last them into the summer months.

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Students Sleep in Boxes to Raise Awareness of Homelessness

Mersades Spence, left, and Ellie Frankinburger weather frigid cold in front of the Student Center to raise public awareness about homelessness.

Despite temperatures in the low 20s on Nov. 18, students at Eastern Connecticut State University spent the night sleeping in cardboard boxes for the annual “Shackathon” to raise awareness about homelessness. The 30-hour overnight event was organized by Eastern’s chapter of Habitat for Humanity.

With the students bringing sleeping bags, blankets, cardboard boxes and plenty of duct tape to the Shackathon, the front of Eastern’s Student Center was transformed into a shantytown. “It’s pretty windy and cold out, but it’s not that bad in the box,” said math major Emily Cameron, a senior from Terryville and club president of Habitat for Humanity. “And we have the luxury of unlimited duct tape and boxes, which the homeless don’t have.”

When asked why the club chose to have the event during such cold weather, Cameron responded, “November 15 thru 23 is National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. With Thanksgiving around the corner, this is a very charitable time of year,” she said. “Also, the homeless don’t get to pick when they are homeless based on the weather.”

The Shackathon is also a fundraiser, with all proceeds going to the Windham chapter of Habitat for Humanity; over the years thousands of dollars have been raised. Habitat for Humanity club members were not required to participate, but those who braved the cold are given preference for the club’s coming alternative spring break trip to Tennessee, where they will build houses with other volunteers. For the 30-hour duration of the event, participants were allowed only to go inside to use the restroom or to take a class. “This is an inspirational event,” said sociology major Morgan Marquis, a freshman from Bethel. “It opens your eyes as to what the reality is for many people outside of campus. People are homeless in Willimantic and across the world — the cold weather makes it that much more intense.”

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Walk Warms Hearts and Homes

Crowds gathered outside St. Joseph’s Church in Willimantic on Nov. 23 to participate in the Windham Area Interfaith Ministry’s (WAIM) Annual Walk for Warmth, to support Willimantic families who lack sufficient resources to stay warm this winter. Members of the Eastern community and the public donated money and created teams for the walk, which benefits WAIM’s Energy Assistance Program.  The Walk for Warmth also raises awareness of issues of poverty and energy sustainability.

“I am so pleased to announce that we raised more than $42,000 this year, which was matched with a $40,000 challenge grant from the Jeffrey P. Ossen Family Foundation.  This is by far the biggest year in the 23-year history of the walk,” said Victoria Nimirowski, WAIM director. “We are very grateful to Eastern, and to the Center for Community Engagement (CCE) for all the help and support they provide for this event.  The students are wonderful to work with, and are always so willing to do whatever is needed.”

Eastern students played a variety of roles, including planning children’s activities and coordinating volunteers. The student volunteers led activities including creating puppets and masks, coloring and reflecting with the children on why they are thankful and the importance of sharing as a community. Eastern students also put up signs and wrote colorful chalk messages along the route in order to raise awareness about poverty and some of the issues affecting the local community.

The Walk for Warmth is a community effort and many Eastern students, staff and faculty participate every year. Willimantic is Eastern’s home and it is essential for our students get involved with the issues that affect all of us,” said Luis Rodríguez, CCE assistant director.


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“South Pacific” – A Battle of Love and Disparities


Eastern’s Performing Arts Department performed the musical “South Pacific” in the Harry Hope Theatre from Nov. 19–24. “South Pacific” is set during World War II on two islands in the Pacific Ocean where American sailors were stationed.

The play began with a musical arrangement sung by lead characters Alexis Kurt, a junior theatre major who played Ensign Nellie Forbush, a U.S. Navy nurse from Arkansas, and Corey Lorraine, a sophomore double majoring in theatre and mathematics, who played middle-aged French plantation owner Emile de Becque. After this first song, the plot took a rapid turn, delving into the romance between Nellie and Emile. Though it seemed to be love at first sight with a perfect marriage ensuing before the audience’s eyes, complications took a turn later in the play when Nellie was introduced to Emile’s mixed-race children. Aside from the lead roles and the main love story, other characters in the musical were important in advancing the plot and performing the musical arrangements.

Bloody Mary, played by Olivia Beaullan, a senior theatre major, was a Tokinese woman learning English from American sailors who taught her violent, profane language. She was a funny, witty and strong character. Bloody Mary introduced her daughter to one of the young U.S. lieutenants with the intention of them marrying. However, more problems evolved due to the interracial relationships. Race and prejudice versus love was the prominent theme within “South Pacific.”

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Spanish Interpreters Needed

We have been asked by the Board of Regents to assist in improving statewide emergency communications. The BOR and the Governor’s Office are asking the state colleges and universities to identify faculty or staff who would be willing and able to provide Spanish interpreting services during emergencies. In some cases, these volunteer services might involve after-hours cases where emergencies occur during the evening or overnight. If you are interested in offering your services for this statewide project, please contact Ed Osborn, director of university relations, at (860) 465-5043 or at osborne@easternct.edu.

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Education Club Travels to Waterbury


On Dec. 5, the Connecticut Education Association’s Student Program (CEA-SP) held an academic carnival at Hopeville Elementary School in Waterbury, CT. Eastern’s Education Club is a chapter of CEA-SP. Eastern created an activity for children to complete during the carnival that reflected the overall theme — “the Winter Games.”

Elementary school students rotated through this activity and others offered by other CEA-SP chapters from SCSU, CCSU, WCSU, UCONN and Quinnipiac. The carnival was run by CEA-SP Coordinator Michele O’Neill, Consultants Gina Murray and Megan Furano, and state officers Cori DeLorge (chair), Eastern’s Jennifer Mouland (vice chair) and Jessica (secretary).

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Eastern’s New Electric Vehicle Charging Station

Eastern’s New Electric Vehicle Charging Station

Energy Technical Specialist Laurel Kohl poses with an electric car

Eastern has installed its first electric vehicle (EV) charging station.  Located on the first floor of the Shakespeare parking garage, two dedicated parking spots are available for drivers with plug-in vehicles.  The charging unit, made by Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment, LLC, of Enfield, CT, features two separate charging heads and automatic cord retraction technology.

The charging station was made possible with the help of a grant from the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), advancing one of Governor Dannel Malloy’s energy goals of having 200 charging stations available to drivers of electric vehicles throughout the state.

“The charging station at Eastern adds another key location to a network in Connecticut that is helping to ensure that those driving an EV have convenient access to a charge when needed,” said DEEP Commissioner Robert Klee. “The build out of this charging infrastructure is encouraging the sale and use of EVs, which is critical to making certain we meet our energy, climate and air quality goals.”  Eastern’s charging station will be available 24/7 to the public, free of charge.

A joint collaborative effort between Eastern’s Institute for Sustainable Energy and the Facilities Management and Planning Office brought the installation of a charging station on campus from idea to reality in a matter of months.  Eastern President Elsa Núñez embraced the idea with open arms, and upon completion of the installation commented, “We are proud to add to the EV charging station infrastructure in Connecticut and further demonstrate our commitment to campus sustainability.” For more information on electric vehicles and locations of charging stations, visit www.ct.gov/evct.

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Students Test Design of New Timex Product

Dr. Steve Glynn, UX research lead at Timex, at the head of the table surrounded by students in Professor Sukeshini Grandhi’s Human Computer Interaction and Design course

Steve Glynn, user experience (UX) and research lead at Timex, visited Eastern Connecticut State University this past November to hear from students in the Human Computer Interaction and Design (HCID) course about the design of Timex’s new fitness wristband. Students were lent the IRONMAN Move X20 Activity Band at the beginning of the fall semester so they could perform industry standard usability evaluations. Glynn came to learn of their findings.

With a “user-centric” approach in mind, students conducted various studies and heuristic evaluations — evaluations conducted with an understanding of design principles. “Good understandings of user context and experience are invaluable, as they are strong indicators of how technology is adopted by people,” said Business Administration Professor Sukeshini Grandhi, developer of the HCID course. “Such understandings, combined with creative thinking, ultimately lead to a functional and usable design of technology.”


The wristband has a number of functions, from tracking sleep patterns to reporting the weather, and the students tested all of them while putting the wristband through different user scenarios. Students found positives in the design, including aesthetics and simplicity of certain features, as well as several hard-to-use features. “After putting together evaluation reports and presenting them to Dr. Glynn, students found that Timex was in agreement with many of their findings,” said Grandhi. “It was a validation of the students’ work.”

“It was a pleasure to meet the class and see how the relationship between Timex and Eastern was employed to teach the fundamentals of UX research and design,” said Glynn. “It was great to see the students’ results. My management is excited about continuing this relationship.”

The HCID course explores how humans interact with computer systems, and offers students in the Business Administration Department practical experience in evaluating existing designs, from microwaves to remote controls and other software applications. “When choosing a new technology device, you need to understand quality design in order to make wise choices,” said Grandhi. The course is not geared just toward technical students, but to all students in the major, as the principles of product usability and design are important for business leaders to know.

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Students, Faculty and Staff Protest Treatment of African Americans

On Nov. 25, nearly 100 Eastern students, faculty and staff engaged in a peaceful demonstration to protest recent grand jury decisions, including the one that failed to bring charges against the policeman involved in the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO. Groups involved include Eastern’s M.A.L.E.S. student organization, the Black Student Union, the Caribbean Student Association and the Organization of Latin American Students.

Chad-Michael Muirhead and Martin Ralda-Martinez led the “Michael Brown March,” which began in front of the Student Center and grew as it wound its way around campus. Students carried flags, posters and chanted “Hands Up! Don’t Shoot” and “Justice Now!”

After the protest, the marchers engaged in a discussion in the Intercultural Center about the verdict and nationwide protests. Students were given the opportunity to share their opinions on the verdict without risk of being judged. Students were also introduced to various agencies on campus, such as the Women’s Center and the Intercultural Center, which encourage freedom of speech and campus diversity.

Muirhead said it was important that the voices of the students of various backgrounds, cultures and races be heard. In addition, he said, “Flags of different countries were also held high to demonstrate the impact that the verdict has had citizens of other countries. The unity of this protest was truly remarkable, as racial issues and other controversies were put aside for a common goal. Various students and staff reflected the importance of working together as a unit.”

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Open Rec Night

Nearly 800 students, faculty, and staff attended the 19th Annual C.O.P.S. (Community Oriented Policing for Students) Open Rec Night on Dec. 6 in the Francis E. Geissler Gymnasium.

From 9 p .m. until 2 a.m., Rec Night participants enjoyed board games; a three-on-three basketball tournament; a racquetball tournament; volleyball; twister and obstacle courses; free massages; great music; and tons of food and door prizes.

In addition, the event resulted in 1,469 canned goods donated to the Covenant Soup Kitchen in Willimantic.

“This event gives not only students, but everyone on campus, a chance to unwind prior to final exams in a safe, alcohol-free setting,” said Police Chief Jeff Garewski. “This year, many local businesses supported Open Rec Night at Eastern, and for that we are very appreciative.”

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Be Part of Be the Match!


Head men’s soccer coach Greg DeVito and his staff were overwhelmed on Dec. 3 at the response they received from the Eastern community during the fifth Bone Marrow Registry Drive. The drive took place in the Sports Center lobby.

DeVito and crew had initially set a goal of registering 200 people for the day, but within a few hours, Eastern students, faculty and staff had flooded the lobby. “Everyone was left speechless with the results,” said DeVito.” “Once we reached 175 participants, we had to begin turning people away due to the lack of registration forms. After 175 applicants, the men’s soccer team took down the information of more than 50 other people, which exceeded everyone’s expectations.”

DeVito said his soccer players spent hours going around to different classes, standing in crowed areas, getting the word out, and setting or cleaning up for this event. “This was a very memorable day for the Eastern men’s soccer program!

The “Be the Match” program provides thousands of people with leukemia and other diseases to get a second chance at a healthy lifestyle. The bone marrow drive originated when Eastern soccer player Jon DeCasanova was diagnosed with Aplastic Anemia in 2012, and later, Lymphoma. DeCasanova beat cancer and returned to the soccer field this past fall, and the bone marrow drives hosted by his teammates and coaches helped find matches for a number of other people across the country.

“To date, we have registered more than 1,000 members of our Eastern community!” said DeVito. “We have had more than a dozen of those selected as matches, including four members of our men’s soccer program. Several of these matches have already or are currently in the process of donating marrow to save a life.  Just a week ago, in New York City, one of our alumni donated. That process only took about six hours; it is very similar to giving blood.”

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