WCSU’s foremost tick expert and ‘role model’ earns highest rank a state professor can achieve

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RIDGEFIELD — A celebrated faculty member at Western Connecticut State University who is an expert at Lyme disease prevention has earned the highest honor that can be bestowed on a professor at a state university.

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’ Board of Regents for “reaching extraordinary levels of achievement in research, teaching and service,” according to an announcement from WCSU.

Connally, a Ridgefield resident, has taught at WestConn since 2011 in the Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences graduate and undergraduate programs. She oversees the Tickborne Disease Prevention Laboratory at 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,” Connally said in a statement. “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.”

A medical entomologist, Connally is national recognized as an 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 related to ticks.

Patrice Boily, assistant dean of the Macricostas School of Arts and Sciences, said Connally “is a role model and effective ambassador for WCSU, its faculty and students and the CSCU system overall.”

He noted that Connally, who has received the CT Campus Compact Community Engaged Scholar Award and has won the CSCU Board of Regents Faculty Research Award twice, consistently earns “highly positive” evaluations from students and peers.

“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,” Boily said in a statement.

She also has provided summer research opportunities for nearly 40 undergraduate students. Under her oversight, she and students at WCSU’s tick lab study tickborne disease ecology and collaborate on prevention projects with several academic, scientific and community partners.

“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,” said Connally, who has a Ph.D. from the University of Rhode Island and, prior to joining WCSU, oversaw Lyme disease studies as an an associate research scientist at the Connecticut Emerging Infections Program at the Yale School of Public Health.

“The WCSU Tick Lab would not exist without the support and encouragement of my department and so many members of the WCSU community,” she added. “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.”

A position working with her is “coveted” among the student body, said C. Thomas Philbrick, professor emeritus, WCSU Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences.

“Her grant procurement abilities are unmatched in the department,” he said in a statement. “On top of that, she is a nice person … and a powerful motivator.”

CSCU 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.”

CORRECTION: An original version of this article incorrectly spelled one of the professor’s names. His name is Patrice Boily.