White House Official Joins Eastern in Presenting Cesar Chavez Awards

left to right:  Chris Soto, Dr. Nunez, Julie Rodriguez, Edili Lopez, and Jonah Sanchez

Eastern presented Cesar Chavez Distinguished Service Awards to Eastern senior Jonah Sanchez, Edili Lopez, hall director at Constitution Hall and Chris Soto, founder of Higher Edge, on April 1 in the Student Center Theatre. An added treat this year was keynote speaker Julie Rodriguez, granddaughter of Cesar Chavez and deputy director of the White House Office of Public Engagement.

This is the 12th year of the awards program, which has recognized 36 individuals over its existence.  The program was initially called the Latin American Distinguished Service Awards but was changed 1n 2013 to honor the late union organizer and humanitarian. Soto is a Coast Guard Academy graduate and has a master’s degree from Brown University. He is a member of the Connecticut Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission. Soto created Higher Edge, an organization in the New London area dedicated to helping first-generation students enroll and graduate from college. He urged the audience to join him in “paying it forward for the next generation.”

After receiving her master’s degree, Lopez spent time in the AmeriCorps VISTA program, working with Latino students to help them prepare for college. Now she helps guide freshmen in Eastern’s Constitution Hall and co-advises the Organization of Latin American Students (OLAS). She said she was grateful for the opportunities she has been given at Eastern to help students succeed. “Let us create a better future for our future leaders.” Sanchez is a Business Administration major, and as president of OLAS, has organized a number of activities for OLAS members to work with local schoolchildren. He also is interning at United Technologies in Hartford, and will attend their Financial Leadership Program after graduation. Sanchez recalled the words of boxing legend Muhammad Ali: “I hated every day of training, but told myself to suffer now and live the rest of my life as a champion.”

Keynote Speaker Julie Rodriguez, center in purple, with members of Eastern’s OLAS (Organization of Latin American Students) student club.

Eastern President Elsa Nunez opened the ceremony with welcoming remarks, noting that the day before, President Barack Obama had declared March 31 as “Cesar Chavez Day.” While Chavez was not formally educated, Núñez said he surrounded himself with books and was a source of constant wisdom. She then read two of Chavez’s more famous quotations. Speaking of the purpose of higher education, Chavez said, “Students must have initiative; they should not be mere imitators. They must learn to think and act for themselves—and be free.” Speaking to the need for students to give to their local communities, Chavez also said that “real education should consist of drawing the goodness and the best out of our own students. What better books can there be than the book of humanity?”

“Thank you for carrying the torch and legacy of my grandfather,” said keynote speaker Julie Rodriguez.  She said her grandfather led by example, becoming a vegetarian, an advocate of non-violence and a practitioner of yoga to develop a meditative approach to life.  Chavez co-founded the United Farm Workers Union and spent his life advocating for the rights of farmworkers and people of color.

Rodriguez began working in the farm worker movement at age five, and today serves in the Obama administration as an advocate and organizer in the areas of health care, immigration reform, working families and education. “The United States is a work in progress,” she declared, “a destiny to be fulfilled. Each of us can contribute to a more just, fair and better society.”

Opening the event were Anamel DeLeon and Leopolda Navarro, who entertained the packed audience with two Latin American dances.


Outstanding Humanitarian Efforts Recognized at Service Expo

Back row, left to right: Christine Dombkowski, recipient of the Faculty/Staff Community Engagement Award; Professor Nicolas Simon, recipient of the Service Learning Award; Bill Stover, recipient of the Community Partner Engagement Award; Max Goto, recognized for two years of AmeriCorps VISTA service with the CCE.  Front row, left to right: Student Katharine Ferrone, recipient of the Student Community Engagement Award; and Pastor Rick Haverly, recipient of the Outstanding Community Event Award for hosting a mobile food bank at his church.

Students at Eastern gave almost 11,000 hours of community service during the 2014-15 academic year. “Volunteering is a big part of the Eastern experience,” said senior Lily Egan, a student leader with the Center for Community Engagement (CCE), the office that coordinates community service at Eastern. “That’s what today is all about,” referring to the annual Service Expo and Awards, which was held on April 8 at 750 Main Street in Willimantic.

Eastern Students (and VISTA volunteer Max Goto) representing this year’s six award winning programs, including Puentes al Futuro, CCAR, Windham High School After School Program, CliCk, Jump Start and KBA.

Throughout the year, Eastern’s volunteer programs address a variety of social causes and humanitarian efforts. From helping out at the No Freeze Hospitality Center, to volunteering at after-school programs with Windham Public Schools, to working with disabled adults at the High Chase Live-in Center, to coordinating clothing drives, Eastern students make an impact throughout the region.

The Service Expo and Awards program showcased the numerous student-led volunteering projects and programs that have been addressing the needs of the local community. The highlight of the event was the award ceremony, where outstanding programs and individuals were recognized for their exemplary service.

The Service Learning Award went to Professor Nicolas Simon for his course in media inequalities, which brought his students into the community to survey high school students’ perceptions of Willimantic and compare them with stereotypes portrayed in the media.

The Faculty/Staff Community Engagement Award went to Christine Dombkowksi, the assessment and systems coordinator for the CCE and after-school program coordinator for Windham High School. One of her achievements this past year was organize and grow the after-school program, which went from having only six students to more than 25.

The Community Partner Engagement Award went to Bill Stover, director of engagement for Windham Public Schools, whose advocacy of after-school programs in Windham Public Schools resulted in increased funding through grants.

The Student Community Engagement Award went to senior Katharine Ferrone, whose leadership as president of Eastern’s chapter of Best Buddies resulted in it being named the “Outstanding College Chapter in the World”—hundreds of chapters throughout the United States and 21 other countries applied for this award.

The Outstanding Community Event Award went to the Connectiuct Food Bank’s Mobile Pantry, which distributes more than 5,000 pounds of food every month to community members at the First Congregational Church in Willimantic. Pastor Rick Haverly accepted the award; his coordination and volunteer engagement has kept the program alive.

Max Goto, an Eastern alumnus who has served as an AmeriCoprs VISTA for the past two years, was recognized for his efforts as a volunteer and event coordinator with the CCE. Speaking to the effect Eastern’s culture of service has had on him, Goto said, “Service to others has become such a big part of me. I don’t know what I’ll do after this job, but I’m sure it will involve helping others.” Goto’s VISTA term will end in August.

Luis Rodriguez, assistant director of the CCE, giving the opening remarks of the award ceremony.

While more than 30 student-led community service programs are active at Eastern, six outstanding ones were recognized. The recipient of the Broadening Horizons Award went to Puentes al Futuro, an after-school program for middle school English language learners that engages them in cultural activities such as cooking and dancing.

The Strengthening Families and Community Award went to the Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery (CCAR), where students assist recovering adults in applying for jobs, interviewing and resume writing.

The Windham High School After School Program was the recipient of the Kids First Award and the Leadership Development Award. From tutoring and helping out with homework to facilitating enrichment activities, Eastern students volunteer at this after-school program throughout the week. The Going Green Award went to CliCk, a local nonprofit that operates a locally sourced community kitchen and garden. The Best New Program Award went to Jump Start, a program that engages students with preschool children to help develop reading, writing and social skills to prepare them for elementary school.

The Committee Choice Award, chosen by a panel of judges, went to KBA (Kids, Books, Athletics), a program that stimulates children with interactive reading and physical activity. Speaking to the crowd of students and community members, Luis Rodriguez, assistant director of the CCE, said, “Not all students make this commitment, so your example is important in growing this movement.”

Three Women Recognized at Ella Grasso Awards

Left to right: President Elsa M. Núñez with Ella T. Grasso Award recipients Professor Cara Bergstrom-Lynch, student Erika Sanchez and Lee Ellen Terry, chair of the Women and Girls Fund Steering Committee.

Three women who work tirelessly to promote women’s rights and gender equality were recipients of the Ella T. Grasso Distinguished Service Awards on March 25.The student award went to Erika Sanchez ’15, a women’s and gender studies major; the faculty/staff award went to Sociology Professor Cara Bergstrom-Lynch; and the community award went to Lee Ellen Terry, a retired attorney who currently serves as chair of the Women and Girls Fund Steering Committee.

“Eastern is an institution built on values,” opened President Elsa M. Núñez. “Among those are inclusion, empowerment and integrity. I believe that protecting women’s rights and recognizing those who are taking the lead in working for gender equality is fundamental to upholding the values of our institution.”

The ceremony’s keynote speaker was Attorney Michelle Cruz, who has worked with numerous crime victims over the course of her 20-year career, most notably as Connecticut’s State Victim Advocate. “It doesn’t matter what your background is, you can be a victim—no one is immune. Domestic violence is not about the victim, but the offender that chooses them.”   “I learned firsthand what it’s like to have good parents and a bad start,” said Terry. A young mother who went through bouts of homelessness in her 20s, Terry eventually found her way to college, ultimately leading to her becoming an attorney. While she has worked for a number of social causes, the bulk of her career was with the Department of Labor as an appeals referee, where she adjudicated thousands of cases, many of which involved unequal treatment of women in the workplace.

Bergstrom-Lynch was recognized for engaging her sociology students in practical experience through service learning projects.“Ella Grasso was a genuine force to be reckoned with, who helped pave the way for me. I find myself wondering when these gender inequalities will end.” Bergstrom-Lynch’s teaching and research interests address the intersections of gender and sexuality in families.

Sanchez, a first-generation student raised by her Mexican immigrant mother, said “I would like to thank my mom, my champion,” she said. “Yo soy porque tú eres (I am because you are).” Among her community service efforts through Eastern’s Women’s Center, Sanchez’s capstone research analyzes the contributions of undocumented Mexican workers.

Eastern Students Recognized for Sustainability Initiative

Eastern was one of 87 colleges nationwide to receive a Student Actions Award for the fall 2014 semester from myActions—an organization that mobilizes college students to partake in sustainable behaviors. This achievement was possible due to sophomore Lauren Polansky, a myActions intern who took the lead in spreading the word about myActions throughout Eastern’s campus.

“It’s all about getting the word out,” said Polansky, an environmental earth science student. “Sharing actions causes a chain reaction of sustainable actions. The goal is to expand people’s knowledge of sustainable actions and get them in the habit of making these small acts, which has a ripple effect,” said Polansky.

Common actions reported by Eastern students during the fall semester included using reusable water bottles, eating vegetarian meals, turning the water off when brushing one’s teeth, unplugging appliances and using the stairs instead of elevators. “It doesn’t take huge actions to make a difference,” said Polansky. Based out of Cincinnati, OH, myActions reached out to Eastern because of its “green college” designation by the U.S. Green Building Council. Polansky became Eastern’s first myActions intern.

Eastern Students Present at Professors’ Conference

Marie Kelly, left, and Ashlyn Hart, right, with Henry Lee Institute of Forensic Science of University of New Haven, at the CAPA-CT Conference. Not pictured, Cherie Green.

Three Eastern English majors, Marie Kelley ’15, Ashland Hart ’17  and Cherie Green ’15, participated in a conference organized by the Chinese-American Professors Association in Connecticut, held at the University of New Haven on March 7.

Student presentations covered a wide range of texts and issues, from 19th century writers such as Edith Maude Eaton to the television show “Fresh off the Boat,” from how Chinese Americans define their national and ethnic identity to how some Americans of European descent make judgments on Asian Americans.  If presenting in front of 70 professors might be unnerving, the three girls did not exhibit any anxiety.  “These students had performed strongly in Asian-American Literature class,” English Professor Jian-Zhong Lin said proudly, “and their presentations have become the talk of the conference.” Lin, who is a member of the association’s board of directors; a member of the conference committee and the organizer of the student panel, said the three presentations will soon be published the association’s website.

 Hart, her mom and her grandpa with Ambassador Zhang Qiyue, the consul general of People Republic of China in New York.

MALES Honor Accounting Professor Candice Deal

left to right, Clifford Marrett, Dajoun Jones, Deisy Morales , Candice Deal, LaTrisha Walton, Ana Valentin-Jackson, Aminata Jallow, and Tashawn Ward

Eastern’s MALES (Men Achieving Leadership, Excellence and Service) student organization honored Candice Deal, assistant professor of accounting; LaTrisha Walton, finance clerk in the Student Activities Business Office; and Deishy Morales, a resident assistant who graduates next month with a bachelor’s degree in Social Work and a minor in Anthropology and Sociology, during its annual Women’s Appreciation Reception held on March 6 in the Betty R. Tipton Room.

“Dr. Deal’s students say that she is the best ever accounting professor who goes above and beyond for her students,” said MALES member Dajoun Jones. “MALES promotes gender equality and fairness on campus and believes it is imperative to recognize and respect women on Eastern’s campus. Our Women’s Appreciation Reception provides us the opportunity to do this.”

Deal graduated from Morgan State University with a bachelor’s degree in finance and a master’s degree in business administration, before earning her Ph.D. from Morgan State in 2013. She serves on several university committees and faculty search committees, and is a member of the American Accounting Association and Beta Gamma Sigma.

Walton began her career in finance as senior account specialist at CIGNA in 1998. Since joining Eastern in 2006, she maintains journals and ledgers, prepares financial statements and handles cash and checks. “Ms. Walton is a very respected Eastern staff member; serves as an advisor for the F.E.M.A.L.E.S. organization; and provides guidance and advice to all of our clubs by letting them know what paperwork is needed to make an event or trip happen,” said Jones.

Morales has served as a mentor for children at the Windham Early Childhood Center and currently serves as a coordinator of the center’s sister-to-sister project. “During her years at Eastern, Ms. Morales has tremendously impacted lives on this campus and the surrounding community,” said Jones. “She has achieved academically as well, earning a 3.69 GPA, which has garnered her the honor of being inducted into the Phi Alpha chapter of Phi Alpha Honor Society.”

Chorale Visits Puerto Rico

Beginning on March 15, Eastern’s Concert Ensemble, under the direction of David Belles, enjoyed a five-day tour of San Juan, Puerto Rico, where it sang at the beautiful First Baptist Church in Caguas; sang for tourists and residents at the well-known Temporal, a traditional Puerto Rican Plena; toured the National El Yunque Rainforest; visited Old San Juan; and experienced local culture.

 Performing Arts Professors Riggs and Belles with Maria del Carmen Rivera, music director at the Primera Iglesia Bautista de Caguas, and Luis Arturo Olivieri, president of Puerto Rico Choral Directors Association.

The Ensemble during a post-concert at Caguas concert, and later, touring El Yunque National Rain Forest.


Graduate Division Open House

Former Eastern undergraduate Courtney McGruder ’09 was among several prospective graduate students who participated in the School of Education and Professional Studies open house for its graduate programs on March 24 in the J. Eugene Smith Library.

McGruder is interested in returning to campus to pursue a graduate degree in elementary education, to complement her undergraduate degree in history and social science. Currently a third-grade math and reading teacher at a charter school in Hartford, McGruder said, “Even though I live in Manchester, Eastern is my first choice for graduate school because I know their programs are accommodating to working adults with families and their faculty are supportive.”

Prospective graduate students spoke with faculty and browsed Eastern’s graduate offerings, which include programs in accounting, early childhood education, elementary education, secondary education, educational technology, reading and language arts, and organizational management.

Each of the programs offer flexible scheduling for working adults, including online, evening and weekend courses. “Motivated students with compliant personal schedules can complete a program in one year,” said Jacob Easley, dean of the School of Education and Professional Studies. Easley also pointed out that lifetime earnings increase significantly by obtaining a graduate degree.

McGruder said, “With longstanding faculty and a small campus, Eastern has the feel of a family operation. I’m excited about this degree and opening new doors.” Once she obtains her teacher certification, McGruder plans to move into public education.

Terry Lennox Portrait Wins Slater Memorial Museum Award

“Portrait of Jacqueline,” a work completed by Terry Lennox, associate professor of art, won the 2015 Prize for Pastel at Slater Memorial Museum’s 71st Annual Connecticut Artists Exhibition in Norwich. Lennox completed the portrait as part of her sabbatical leave project. The exhibit ran through March 20 at the museum.   Terry Lennox’s “Portrait of Jacqueline” is an excellent character study. Her use of the pastel in bold and dramatic colors in a painterly technique won her the pastel prize,” wrote Cynthia Roznoy, Mattatuck Museum curator who juried the exhibition.   “My current body of work features paintings of people I know well,” said Lennox. “These contemporary portraits all have an emotional narrative—either through facial expression, light direction, things held or scenes in which they are posed.” The “Portrait of Jacqueline” will be in Lennox’s gallery, Francesca Anderson Fine Art/Portraits North, in Lexington, MA for the 30th Portrait Show, April 18–May 30.


Mike Iamele, Finding Love

International author and success coach Mike Iamele came to Eastern on March 11 to tell his story of how he — a self-proclaimed straight man — found love with another man. Iamele had a life-changing experience in 2011. Looking at himself in the mirror, he wondered why he was alive. From that moment forward, he made a promise to himself that he would find happiness and love. Shortly after, Iamele got sick. “I was puking blood,” Iamele said. “My pancreas was failing; the doctors thought I was on course for pancreatic cancer or type two diabetes, but within two months, I made a full recovery.” During those two months, he began to look at his male best friend differently. He soon realized that he was in love with him. He wrote about his love life, not expecting people to respond with such interest. “This is not something I wanted to be thrust into the spotlight for; I just wanted love,” said Iamele. Iamele disregards any labels. He is not “gay” or “bisexual.” He is simply just being himself.

Congratulations, Officer DeNunzio!


On March 25, Eastern Police Officer David DeNunzio received the “Unsung Hero” Award at the 2015 Special Olympics Connecticut Hall of Fame Dinner held at the Aqua Turf Country Club. This award was established in 1993 to recognize volunteers who work tirelessly behind the scenes with no expectation of recognition or reward.  DeNunzio has been in the forefront of Special Olympics fundraising at Eastern for many years, including events like Tip-A-Cop, Jail-N-Bail, Dream Ride, Torch Run and the Penguin Plunge.  Eastern Police Chief Garewski said, “This was not only a proud moment for Dave and his family, but also for the Eastern Community and its support for Special Olympics.”

 Officer DeNunzio, left, withSpecial Olympic Athlete Sean DelGreco


Eastern DeCasanova to Receive CSWA Courage Award

Eastern senior Jon DeCasanova of Glastonbury – who recovered from a life-threatening disease to play out his collegiate soccer career this past fall – will be awarded a Bob Casey Courage Award at the 74th Connecticut Sports Writers’ Alliance (CSWA) Gold Key Dinner on April 26 at the Aqua Turf Club in Southington.   DeCasanova, 23, was diagnosed with aplastic anemia in summer 2012, and a lymphoma diagnosis followed in spring 2013. By some doctors, DeCasanova was given less than a one percent chance of survival by some doctors. However, following several years of treatment, he was given a clean bill of health and returned to Eastern  in the fall of 2014 to complete his soccer eligibility and resume his pursuit of his degree in Sport & Leisure Management.   While DeCasanova was sick, several bone marrow drives were organized. The first drive in DeCasanova’s name occurred October 23, 2012. With over 700 members of the Eastern community in attendance, 624 new donors were entered into the national registry. Not only students, faculty and staff, alumni, and friends were in attendance; visitors from across the tri-state area participated as well. According to Be the Match, this was the second-largest bone marrow drive on any college campus.   For his work and the work of his teammates, Eastern was honored in the fall with the 2014 National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP)/Be the Match Awareness Award. Be the Match is a nonprofit organization focused on research to help bone marrow transplant patients and their families. They research new technologies and new techniques, while offering excellent patient support and education. The organization has assisted in more than 61,000 marrow and cord blood transplants in its 25-year history.   Tickets are available at a cost of $75 each and can be purchased by sending a check or money order made out to “CSWA” and sent to CSWA, PO Box 70, Unionville, CT 06085