WILLIMANTIC, Conn. — Two of Eastern Connecticut State University’s top students were named Barnard Scholars on April 6 at the Aqua Turf Club in Plantsville, CT. The annual Henry Barnard Distinguished Student Awards recognize 12 outstanding undergraduates from Connecticut’s four state universities (Central, Eastern, Southern and Western). Quanece Williams ’16 of Bridgeport and Sabreena Croteau ’16 of North Kingstown, RI, were Eastern’s awardees; both are double majoring in political science and history.
The Barnard awards program is the premier academic recognition event for the Connecticut State University (CSU) system. To be considered for the award, a student must have at least a 3.75 GPA, a record of community service and be nominated by their respective university president. Eastern’s awardees fulfill these requirements, and further standout because of their research achievements and global perspectives.
Williams’ time at Eastern has been a progressive, transformative experience. Over the course of four years, the first-generation college student evolved from a shy introvert into an active scholar and community member, and is now one step closer to realizing her dream of becoming an attorney.
After growing up in a low income neighborhood in Queens, NY, and moving to Bridgeport to attend a Catholic school, Williams found herself in a bit of a slump as a new student at Eastern. “I had a tough time adjusting freshman year,” she recalls. Her roommate moved out, she kept mostly to herself and became uncharacteristically introverted.
Things started to turn around sophomore year, when she became a resident assistant (RA). “I not only became more involved on campus, but I also developed a voice for myself,” she said. This newfound voice empowered her to speak up in class, which led to her becoming a research assistant for History Professor Anna Kirchmann, who was writing a book about Polish immigration.
Later she jumped at the opportunity to study abroad to Poland, Hungary and Austria. Studying abroad gave Williams insights into the European educational system, which she compared to that of the United States. This led to her volunteering with Jumpstart, an early childhood program in Willimantic focused on literacy.
Among Williams’ other accomplishments were an internship at the Connecticut General Assembly, being president of the Pre-Law Society, working as a teacher’s assistant in the Political Science Department and completing an independent study about public and charter schools. Reflecting back on that tough first year, she said, “I’m happy I stuck it out all four years. I achieved more than I thought I would.”
For as long as she can remember, Williams has wanted to be an attorney. “I want to be a person who is able to represent someone whose rights have been infringed upon,” she says. “It’s important to advocate for those who can’t advocate for themselves.”
Croteau’s experience at Eastern is rooted in strong relationships with professors and highlighted by a number of seized opportunities. Her research projects and travels abroad have led her to realizing her aspirations for a career in international relations.
Conflict in the Middle East has been among Croteau’s most prevalent research topics. “Their conflicts matter on a global scale,” she says. Because of the region’s competing ideologies and its petroleum resources, “I find it interesting that even their little disagreements suck in world powers.”
Not only did Croteau base her honors thesis — “Influence and Interference: U.S. Foreign Policy toward Saudi Arabia 1956–1971” — on the region, she also traveled to Israel, Jordan and the West Bank. “I loved this experience because it provided for a firsthand understanding of a conflict that I had already studied in depth,” she said.
Croteau has also studied in Paris, France. In the summer of 2015, she immersed herself in a developing country, this time for humanitarian reasons. She volunteered at a local school and orphanage in rural Honduras. “I saw firsthand the effects of being trapped in poverty and how difficult it was for these individuals to improve their situation.”
Despite the dangers associated with the poverty of developing countries, Croteau says of traveling, “When you go out of your comfort zone and go somewhere that counters your worldview, your mind opens and you grow as a person.”
Well-traveled and well-researched, Croteau is also a prolific presenter, attending some of the country’s most prestigious undergraduate conferences. In late April in Washington, D.C., she will present her independent study, “Democratic Elections in the American States: A Case for Reform,” at the Posters on the Hill conference. She also is presenting her honors thesis in North Carolina at the National Conference for Undergraduate Research this weekend.
Croteau aspires to attend graduate school to study international relations and comparative politics in pursuit of a career in the U.S. Foreign Service. “While promoting American values and policies, I will be forging relationships with foreign audiences to engage in different cultures and form connections, thus allowing me to serve both my country and the community abroad.”
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