Dr. Neeta Connally, a professor of biology at Western Connecticut State University, was unanimously appointed a Connecticut State University Professor by the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities’ (CSCU) Board of Regents for “reaching extraordinary levels of achievement in research, teaching and service.” The designation is the highest rank that the Board of Regents can bestow on a professor, and it reflects Connally’s distinguished academic career at WCSU in Danbury.
CSCU carefully selects professors for this distinction who have “substantial and continuing professional accomplishments as recognized by their peers,” a “record of effective teaching (including) an ability to make a candidate’s discipline intelligible to those who are non-specialists,” and made “contributions to the general welfare of the university.”
“I believe that the most successful professors recognize that each aspect of their work is inextricably connected to the next, and that nurturing and cultivating those connections is a critical component of being a successful and well-rounded scholar and educator,” said Connally, adding that “I always try to find those common threads linking my experience as a scientist to the topics I teach, and to encourage students to make their own connections between their lived experiences and the process of scientific inquiry.”
Connally began teaching in WCSU’s Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences graduate and undergraduate programs in 2011, and also oversees the Tickborne Disease Prevention Laboratory (Tick Lab) at the university. Connally is a medical entomologist and a nationally recognized expert in blacklegged tick ecology and backyard prevention of Lyme and other tick-borne diseases. She has co-authored numerous peer-reviewed publications focused upon Lyme disease risk and prevention measures for the growing public health threat posed by human-biting ticks in the northeastern United States. Since joining the WCSU faculty, Connally has received the CT Campus Compact Community Engaged Scholar Award, has won the CSCU Board of Regents Faculty Research Award twice, and has provided summer research opportunities for nearly 40 undergraduate students.
Assistant Dean of the Macricostas School of Arts and Sciences at WCSU, Dr. Patrice Boily, indicated that Connally “is a role model and effective ambassador for WCSU, its faculty and students and the CSCU system overall.” He added that “Dr. Connally consistently receives highly positive student and peer evaluations; she always goes the extra mile to enrich the educational experience of our students by implementing evidence-based learning strategies … and conducting her own educational research to investigate the effectiveness of different teaching strategies.”
Connally is also respected by her colleagues and students. “WCSU is fortunate to have on its faculty a local expert not only on Lyme disease spread but also on peri-domestic measures to keep homes and people safe,” said Dr. C. Thomas Philbrick, professor emeritus, WCSU Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences. “Working for Dr. Connally is popular among the student body and a position with her is coveted. Her grant procurement abilities are unmatched in the department. On top of that, she is a nice person … and a powerful motivator,” he said.
A resident of Ridgefield, Connally holds a B.S. in Animal Biology from Louisiana Tech, a M.S.P.H. in Parasitology from Tulane University, and a Ph.D. from the University of Rhode Island. Prior to joining WCSU, she was an associate research scientist at the Connecticut Emerging Infections Program at the Yale School of Public Health, where she oversaw epidemiologic studies pertaining to Lyme disease risk and the prevention of tickborne diseases in the northeastern United States.
Connally’s studies in the WCSU Tick Lab have been funded by multiple agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Together with her students, the Tick Lab collaborates on tickborne disease ecology and prevention projects with several academic, scientific and community partners, including the Town of Ridgefield Health Department, Nuvance Health, Yale Emerging Infections Program, CT Department of Public Health, CDC Division of Vector-Borne Diseases, the TickEncounter Resource Center at the University of Rhode Island, and several regional land trusts and environmental advocacy groups.
“I am extremely grateful to have a position which allows me not only to do work aimed at addressing the public health problem of Lyme and other tickborne diseases, but also to be able to share that process of scientific discovery with students at Western Connecticut State University. The WCSU Tick Lab would not exist without the support and encouragement of my department and so many members of the WCSU community. I am truly lucky to have such a wonderful job and am both honored and humbled to be selected to serve in the role of CSU professor,” Connally said.