Research, teaching awards recognize WCSU professors
Two Western Connecticut State University professors from different disciplines have been recognized for a singular trait they share: a passion for working with students.
Dr. Neeta Connally, associate professor of Biological and Environmental Sciences, was recognized with the system-wide research award by the Board of Regents of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities, of which WCSU is a part. The BOR also cited Connally with a WCSU campus research award.
Dr. Howell Williams, assistant professor of Social Sciences, was recognized by the BOR with the campus Teaching Award for WCSU.
Connally, a medical entomologist who teaches and oversees the Tickborne Disease Prevention Laboratory at WCSU, is known for her work studying blacklegged ticks, which can carry multiple disease-causing agents including the bacterium that causes Lyme disease. For the past 10 years she has spent her summers monitoring tick populations and conducting studies to better understand backyard risk for tick-borne diseases. Her studies frequently include a human behavior component, enrolling household members who live in high-tick areas of the region.
Connally’s research team includes undergraduate students who learn how to collect and identify ticks, how to properly handle scientific data, and how large-scale research studies work.
“Hopefully the students get a true experience of what research is really like,” Connally said. “In our case they may find it’s not glamourous or that data doesn’t come to you beautifully set out and ready for analysis. Sometimes collecting quality data involves sweating in the sun or risking mosquito bites or poison ivy.” She said some students realize research is not for them, while others are surprised at how excited they become about being part of the research process. “I’ve had students realize that you don’t have to go to medical or nursing school to do work that can improve human health. Every student has something to offer our work. Every year they learn to work together as a great team, each contributing their own strengths. Each summer I think they can’t get any better, and they always find a way to exceed my expectations. I’m so proud of what they can accomplish, and they should be, too.”
Connally’s research is funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Environmental Protection Agency. She and students also collaborate on Lyme disease prevention projects with the Ridgefield Health Department, the Nuvance Health hospital network, Yale Emerging Infections Program, the Connecticut Department of Public Health, and the TickEncounter Resource Center at the University of Rhode Island.
Dr. Patrice Boily, chair of the Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences, lauded Connally’s work with students.
“I can attest that her research accomplishments are not only remarkable, but also significantly enhance the educational experience of our undergraduates by providing meaningful hands-on research opportunities,” Boily said in a letter nominating Connally for the BOR award.
Williams is a political scientist who teaches on a range of topics, including American government, political institutions, political theory, and gender and sexuality politics.
His classes often use role-playing games to introduce students to historical events such as the Constitutional Convention and Supreme Court rulings.
Williams also brings in experts to discuss current events. He collaborated with the office of Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton for a course about local public administration, which allowed students to visit local government offices and get hands-on experience with the workings of city governance. He has also invited State Representatives, members of local media organizations, and sitting members of the U.S. Congress to meet students and discuss their role in America’s governing institutions.
In a spring course that Williams taught with History Professor Dr. Leslie Lindenauer, students examined what life was like for workers in the hatting industry in the early 20th century.
“You can use role-playing and hearing from today’s decision-makers to help students learn concepts like separation of powers and checks and balances in U.S. government,” Williams said. “I love research, but I was really inspired by the great teachers I had growing up. Teaching was what made me get a Ph.D.”
Social Sciences Professor Dr. Averell Manes wrote in support of Williams’ nomination that he“is the kind of scholar that you most want to see in the classroom. He involves students by using a broad range of techniques: writings in class on questions, videos, a broad range of readings, in-depth discussions, and a variety of interesting assignments.”
The awards — both campus-based and system-wide — recognize faculty for excellence in teaching or research. The awards are given to adjunct faculty members and assistant and associate professors in tenure-track or tenured positions who have distinguished themselves as outstanding teachers, promote instructional improvements for their departments, and are doing exceptional research, scholarly, and/or creative work.
*photo credit WCSU/Peggy Stewart