by Anne Pappalardo
As president of Eastern CT State University since 2006, Dr. Elsa M. Nuñez has embraced the position and immersed herself in the momentum of a very successful era for Eastern. Since becoming Eastern’s sixth president, Elsa oversaw the rededication of a remodeled and expanded student center, a new child development complex, and the opening of the $56-million Science Building that is the state-of-the-art home to the math and science departments. These projects are just a sampling of the continuing, decade-long campus facelift that also featured a new library and residence halls. A new police station is currently in the works and Eastern is committed to establishing a new fine arts instructional/performance facility.
Elsa was born in San Sebastian, Puerto Rico. Her family immigrated to New Jersey when she was young and although her family was of modest means, her parents urged her to pursue a college education. She earned a Bachelor’s Degree from Montclair State College in 1970 and a Master’s Degree in English from Farleigh Dickinson University in 1973. She went on to receive a doctorate in linguistics from Rutgers University in 1979.
Prior to being named president of Eastern, Elsa was Vice Chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs for the University of Maine system and prior to that was Chief Academic Officer at Lesley University and The City University of New York. Her administrative career began at The College of Staten Island of The City University of New York where she was dean of the faculty from 1986 to 1992. She was also a tenured faculty member at Ramapo College of New Jersey and held tenured faculty positions at the College of Staten Island and Lehman College.
Elsa stresses diversity and unity both on campus and off since coming to Eastern. She specifically focuses on the University’s relationship with the surrounding town of Willimantic. The University recently held the second annual Day of Giving – a town-wide event that featured a full-course Thanksgiving dinner for patrons of local soup kitchens and food pantries, as well as families subsidized by the Willimantic Housing Authority. A campus-wide food drive supplemented the event with 10,000 donated canned goods. Willimantic also benefits from another initiative, “Eastern Hits the Streets,” where large numbers of student volunteers clean streets, pick up trash, and paint buildings. Eastern students also routinely volunteer over 25,000 hours annually at more than 40 social service agencies and non-profit organizations.
According to Elsa, “Our students come from all walks of life, but all share the same opportunity to be transformed by the power of a liberal arts education. The result is students receiving statewide and national awards, alumni achieving success in Connecticut and beyond, and faculty members who are being recognized locally and internationally for their expertise and scholarship.”
Eastern’s commitment to being Connecticut’s public liberal arts university has served it well. Enrollment increases as Eastern is becoming the institution of first choice for an increasing number of Connecticut students, as well as students from around the nation. Since Elsa’s inauguration, Eastern always benefited from several large philanthropic gifts.
Elsa is the first Latina president of a Connecticut State University. She is married to Richard Freeland, former president of Northeastern University. They have two children, Maria and Antony. Elsa is also a very proud grandmother.