UConn alumni and friends returned to Storrs last week for the biannual College of Liberal Arts and Sciences College Experience, where they participated in faculty-led discussions on topics related to the theme “The Environment: Health, Nature, and Politics.”
“This is the second College Experience event that CLAS has hosted this year,” said Caitlin Trinh, director of alumni relations for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “It’s important for alumni to interface with faculty; it’s a great way for alumni to learn about what is happening on campus.”
Three professors from the departments of political science, geography, and ecology and evolutionary biology spoke on subjects ranging from food poverty to climate change and biodiversity.
“These are topics that we need to know more about,” said Ronald DeGray ’60 (CLAS), ’62 MS, an emeritus professor of mathematics at University of Saint Joseph in West Hartford.
“There are certain locations that have what is referred to as a ‘sense of place,’ where people naturally gather and discuss ideas. UConn is one of them.”
DeGray attended the first CLAS College Experience event in April of this year and was moved to serve on the task force of alumni, faculty, and CLAS administrators charged with expanding the program.
“There are certain locations that have what is referred to as a ‘sense of place,’ where people naturally gather and discuss ideas. UConn is one of them,” he said.
Prakash Kashwan, assistant professor of political science, spoke first on the global economic and political consequences of market-based environmental services. Examples of these services include carbon offsets, ecotourism, and wildlife and forest conservation programs.
Kashwan discussed the conditions that influence the success of environmental services in the marketplace, including clearly defined property rights, rule of law, effective judiciary, and effective systems of democratic accountability, which can vary widely in different parts of the world. In places where these conditions are not met, market instruments have led to negative consequences, like the displacement of indigenous peoples, human rights violations, and deforestation. Green investments aimed at fostering local initiatives, on the other hand, are likely to be effective and far less risky in the long run.
Debarchana “Debs” Ghosh, assistant professor of geography, and Amy Dellaguistina ’15, a double major in geography and ecology and evolutionary biology, then spoke on the topic of food deserts, or places where access to fresh and affordable fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and other healthy foods are inadequate.
Ghosh explained that the geography and neighborhoods in which individuals live determine food choice and health outcomes. She related this to several of her current research projects, which include mapping access to food in urban Connecticut regions, studying the impacts of supermarket relocation strategies, and tracking the shopping behaviors of participants in federal health and nutrition programs.
Dellaguistina presented results from collaborative projects on food deserts that she completed in a geography course taught by Gosh. In one of these projects, she mapped the availability of fresh and fast food options, as well as access to transportation and safe places to exercise, in downtown Willimantic.
Nancy Roberts found this discussion on health and nutrition particularly interesting and relevant to her line of work. Both she and husband Peter Roberts ’69 (CLAS) were return attendees of the CLAS College Experience, and described the breadth of material covered as fascinating and surprising.
“I don’t get the opportunity to continue my education very often, and this is a fun way to do that,” said Nancy. “It is also interesting to see how technology is being used now in the classroom to enhance lectures.”
Mark Urban, assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, used animated computer simulations to illustrate his talk on climate change and biodiversity. Urban said that many important factors, such as species interaction, are largely overlooked in current models that predict species’ future responses to climate change.
Urban drew examples from his research on marbled salamanders, a type of pond-breeding amphibian found in Connecticut, to emphasize how changes in biodiversity that result from climate change can seriously impact the economic and cultural identity of New England.
“I thoroughly enjoyed the presentations. They really widened my perspective on a lot of different topics,” said Patricia Noonan Lidy ’58 (CLAS), who traveled from Virginia to visit college roommate Florence Kaminski Langridge ’59 (CLAS). It was the first time that both women had attended a CLAS College Experience event.
“This really is a perfect incentive to come back to campus,” Lidy said.
Interested in learning more and attending a College Experience program? For more information, contact Caitlin Trinh, director of alumni relations for CLAS: Caitlin.Trinh@uconn.edu. To find out about other opportunities to get involved through the UConn Alumni Association, visit www.uconnalumni.com/getinvolved.
By Bri Diaz, CLAS