It is the end of April and my calendar is filled with opportunities to celebrate. There are award ceremonies, commencement ceremonies (yes, plural for COVID reasons), student research presentations (for us that is Western Research Day) and even our system awards for teaching and research. Despite the restrictions we have had to navigate this year, there is a lot to be proud of. We have managed to create lots of wonderful opportunities to learn and thrive, as is our purpose.
As I begin to make the rounds, attending as many events as I can, I am reminded just how wonderful higher education can be. For example, last week I interviewed three students who will serve as our commencement speakers this year. Several years ago, WCSU decided to make our students to focus of our commencement ceremonies, instead of trying to bring in a celebrity speaker. As a public university that is proud of the many paths our students take to complete their degrees, we want the spotlight to shine on their accomplishments. Their stories never fail to inspire.
This year, we have three ceremonies to allow for appropriate safety protocols, so we have three speakers. Former police officer, now entrepreneur with a social justice focus, Isaac Jean-Pierre will represent the students of the Ancell School of Business. The Macricostas School of Arts & Sciences will be represented by Bakhtawar Izzat, a first generation college graduate who truly embraced every opportunity that our university offers and plans to make a life of helping other first generation students do the same. Music Education major, Serena Valentin, will speak at our combined ceremony for the School of Visual and Performing Arts and the School of Professional Studies. As a future teacher, Serena has a deep appreciation for the personal experiences of her faculty and how they have shaped her development as a future teacher.
Not only are the commencement speakers impressive, but so are the graduates. Thanks to the efforts of media services and the social media working group, we have a beautiful display of our graduates on our home page.
Under the leadership of Dr. Michelle Monette, WCSU will host its first virtual Western Research Day. Usually this is an in person affair and it is so much fun to talk to the many students presenting the results of their hard work in laboratories and libraries over the last year. This time it will be a three day online event, so that we have time to look through and interact with our students and select this year’s award winners. This is such an important opportunity for our students, but also our faculty. This is the time when get to see all of our efforts come together. I am always inspired.
This is also the time for our spring productions. The students and faculty in the arts really had to reimagine how to operate in a COVID-19 world. They rose to the challenge with the kind of creativity we’ve come to expect from them. So, check out the theatre productions this week https://www.wcsu.edu/news/2021/04/15/wcsu-theatre-arts-announces-spring-virtual-production-series/, and the virtual exhibition of the work of our MFA graduates https://www.wcsu.edu/news/2021/04/05/wcsu-master-of-fine-arts-students-present-virtual-exhibition-3/.
There will be lots of other smaller ceremonies to induct students into honor societies, and I will do my best to provide the appropriate congratulatory remarks. I don’t really matter – the work was done by our students and faculty – but I am so grateful to be part of all of the results. This year, more than ever, we need that opportunity to reflect on the work we have done together.
We must extend congratulations to two of WCSU’s faculty members, who have been honored with awards from the Connecticut Board of Regents.
Dr. Maya Aloni, associate professor of psychology, has won the system-wide award for Teaching. Maya has been a strong contributor to our First Year program and served as an important resource as our university transitioned to online instruction last year. She is a truly student-focused professor, who continuously strives to create great learning experiences.
Dr. Josh Cordeira, associate professor of biology, won the campus award for research. His research focuses on factors that are linked to obesity and to its reduction in mice. Josh shared the results of recent research on potential links between exercise and a reduced desire for fatty foods at the fall 2020 Scholars in Action Program. He regularly engages our students in his ongoing research projects, while continuously revising topics in Anatomy and Physiology to engage his students in this important line of inquiry.
And dare I mention it, but we have had an excellent year moving forward initiatives in our strategic plan. Two weeks ago, I took a few moments to gather some updates on strategic planning activities and was delighted to discover so much progress. The director of our Education Access Programs, Rob Pote, launched our re-imagined Bridge Program (EAP) last fall and the results are very positive. The hard work of Julie Hunter, First-Year Librarian, and Lauren Arvisais, Tutoring Resource Center Coordinator (with groundwork done by many others) has resulted in a new Peer-Mentor Program that will start in the fall. New career courses are on the schedule, thanks to the work of the director of the Career Success Center, Kathleen Lindenmayer, assistant professor of management, Alexandra Galli-Debicella, and assistant professor of Writing, Michael Lewis. All of these are great initiatives for recruiting and supporting our students.
There was so much more that I’ll have to wait until the strategic plan updates to get to the rest, but as I review the work, I am incredibly proud of all that my colleagues have managed to accomplish this year. But that is what the end of the year is all about, noticing the work we’ve done.
So, let’s not forget to reflect on our efforts and celebrate our accomplishments. This year is more impressive than ever because we’ve risen above so many challenges. Yet all along the way, people met those challenges and pushed ahead for the real goal–creating great educational experiences.
I am humbled, as always. Thanks everyone.