With majors as diverse as Africana studies, communication, marine science, and mathematics, these outstanding students are a snapshot of the nearly 2,700 undergraduate and 500 graduate students who will earn degrees from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and affiliated programs in the Graduate School on Sunday, May 8. Click on their photos to learn about their favorite UConn professors, best memories, plans for the future, and advice for incoming students. Congratulations, CLAS Class of 2016!
Meet the CLAS Class of 2016
Hometown: Prince Georges County, MD
Major: Individualized Major: Urban and Youth Development
Minor: Africana Studies
Clubs and Activities: UConn Hip Hop Collective; Sankofa; SIS; Theta Delta Sigma; Community Outreach
Why did you choose an individualized major in urban youth development?
When I first came to UConn, I was an athletic training major. I got into the program, but there was something missing for me. I actually took a break from the university for about a year, and during that break, I explored what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to choose a major that would be authentic to me. I looked back at my experiences and realized that I love working with young people, and I wanted to engage, empower, and educate them in meaningful ways that spoke to and resonated with them. Even though I wasn’t sure what job I would have after college, I’ve just tried to remain open.
In what ways did the Urban Semester in Hartford program influence you?
I see myself working within the urban landscape, and particularly within communities of color, or minority communities in general. So both my internships have built up my confidence. I’ve been able to have a lot of autonomy and freedom to say, “I think this is a great program, lets do it!”
I’m interning at two different locations. One is the Hartford Gay Lesbian Health Collective; they do a lot of work with HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention. I am also interning at Connectikids, which provides after school and summer programing for youths grades two through eight. I’m helping design their summer curriculum. One program I’ve run for them is a trip to UConn. We’re doing a student panel, a couple of workshops on culture and awareness, a campus tour, and we’re going to eat at South campus dining hall. It’ll be a great experience for the kids.
What are your plans for the future?
I don’t know yet! I used to be such a planner. I’m trying to let my life evolve organically by being open and hopping on opportunities. I know that graduate school is definitely where I want to be within two or three years. I’m looking at programs that are focused on education policy, but also management. In the meantime, I’m thinking about doing an AmeriCorps or Peace Corps program.
How did founding the Hip Hop Collective enrich your student experience?
It started my sophomore year when I had an idea for a program. I wanted to do something simple where we would educate people about the culture and social movement of Hip Hop. But I remember having conversations with people and everyone was like “think bigger, do bigger!” I connected with people and it ended up becoming a three-day event that spring. We had a panel, a student showcase, a documentary screening, a rising artist concert, and an opening ceremony where student groups performed. For me, it was cool to see a small idea develop into something that really had an impact on folks. The next year, it ended up being an educational conference, and we had about 100 people come out to that. With the Hip Hop Collective, nothing has happened as I planned or anticipated, but I think it’s helped me learn to follow my heart and trust it.
Who has made the biggest impact on you at UConn?
I wasn’t going to be able to return to the University my junior year because my financial aid was cut and tuition was raised. I had to come up with $15,000. My professor, Mark Overmyer-Velázquez of the Department of History and El Instituto, ended up making it his mission to make sure I stayed here. He reached out to everybody on campus and rallied this team, which is how I got a $15,000 grant from the University! I have a lot of those stories where people have just really supported me. One of the greatest things about my experience at UConn has been the people. I have so many people that I feel like are in my corner and have my back.
Hometown: Glastonbury, CT
Scholarships: Glenn Irani Chemist Scholarship; Victor Rizza Chemist Scholarship; Oaklawn Scholarship; John Rowe Scholar Scholarship; IDEA Grant; SURF Grant
Clubs and Activities: Arab Student Association; CLAS Student Leadership Board; Swing and Blues; Community Outreach; Judge for CT Science Fair; Volunteer EMT
Why did you choose to major in chemistry?
When I was a senior in high school, I took a class called Advanced Research Mentorship where I had the opportunity to shadow a heart surgeon at Hartford Hospital for a year. I would go into the OR and see him cut open people’s chests and change heart valves. It was crazy! From that, I had the ability to do research, and I went to the Connecticut Science Fair and won a math and science award. Having this experience, I decided I wanted to practice medicine. A lot of people think that in order to go to medical school, you have to study something medical related, but that’s a big misconception. Knowing that, I decided to focus on something that I really enjoy. I decided to pursue chemistry because if you understand chemistry then you can understand the other things around us. Chemistry is honestly like an art for me!
How has research been an important part of your college experience?
Basically, I work on a polymer that’s a hydrogel, which means water composes a large percentage of it. The conventional hydrogels are very brittle and break easily, but since it’s made of water, it’s a very appealing medical material. Because it breaks so easily, it’s not really feasible, so my research is about creating this gel where we basically infuse two polymers together and add chemicals to allow it to heal chemically. Associate Professor of Chemistry Thomas Seery allowed me into his lab my freshman year and has been a great mentor. He helps me a lot with my research, but he also gives me room to be independent.
What was your favorite class at UConn?
I really enjoyed Sociology of Health with sociology professor Kathryn Ratcliff. She was really passionate about her class, and the way she lectured was phenomenal. Initially, I thought medicine was all about biology and chemistry, but her class revolutionized the way I look at medicine. She really emphasized the importance of looking at and understanding a patient’s social background and socioeconomic status in relation to their health outcomes. It showed me how broken the health care system is. There are a lot of obstacles for the poor and lower middle class to get health care. She showed me that as a doctor, it is imperative to repair our broken healthcare system.
You’ve studied abroad several times. What have you gained from these experiences?
I got a fellowship through the chemistry department to go to China and continue my research there. I learned about their customs and was so enveloped in the culture that by the time I left, I could speak some Mandarin with street vendors. Most Americans have this perspective that it’s very communist and everyone’s kind of sad, but in reality it’s not like that. They’re very social people, and the culture is so beautiful. It was really lively and changed my perspective on the country.
I also went to Israel and Palestine where we basically followed Jesus’ footsteps and studied the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. I specifically looked at the role doctors have in the conflict. It was really raw and intense, and it pushed me to be motivated and get involved to find a peaceful solution.
Then this summer, I’m going to Greece for two weeks. There are a lot of Syrian refugees there, so I’m going to go help them out in terms of providing medical care and helping the physicians understand the social and cultural backgrounds and help translate.
What are your plans for after graduation?
During the summer after my sophomore year, I took my MCATs. Then, I applied early decision to UConn School of Medicine because I love everything about their new M Delta Team Based Learning Program. Now I’m going to UConn for medical school. I’m a husky for life!
Hometown: Hartford, CT
Concentration: Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Scholarships: College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Graduate Fellowship (2014); Switzer Fellowship (2014)
Why did you choose to do research on birds and bird conservation?
At first, I was a fine arts major. I didn’t even really know this was a viable career until I took Methods in Field Ornithology. I thought it would be a fun bird-watching course, like, “how hard could that be?” But it ended up really getting me interested in birds. Then I knew what I wanted to do and was a lot more interested in doing it. I started studying the birdsong of salt marsh sparrows, which is a bird that only lives in salt marshes. I studied their breeding behavior, how many songs they have, and why they sing.
When I was an undergrad, I didn’t do a lot of research, so I wanted to come back for my master’s and take full advantage of the researchers who are here. After taking some time off to work, I decided I wanted to come back and do my Ph.D. at UConn because it just seemed like a really good fit being in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology here.
You worked for the National Audubon Society before returning to do your Ph.D. What did you do for them?
I worked as the coordinator of their important bird areas program for Connecticut. My job was basically doing anything relating to bird conservation in Connecticut. I had a big focus on trying to find the areas that were important for birds in the state and then trying to protect those places.
Why study salt marsh sparrows?
A lot of people are interested in them because they’re so unique. There are so many weird things about them. They are the most promiscuous bird in the world; almost every egg in their nests has a different father! And the females raise the young all by themselves, which is pretty uncommon for birds. They are fairly common on this coast, but generally, they’re pretty rare.
Nearly all my interest in coastal ecosystems arose out of trying to understand the conservation of this species, which brings you to other big picture ideas about coastal ecosystems. The biggest ramification if salt marsh sparrows go extinct because of sea level rise is that they will be one of the first vertebrates to go extinct from climate change. People talk a lot about polar bears because they are emblematic of Arctic ecosystems; well, salt marsh sparrows are similar for salt marsh ecosystems, except that they will probably go extinct sooner than polar bears.
If you could give an incoming graduate student some advice, what would it be?
Don’t be afraid to use all of the resources that are available here. Even if you are working within one department, there are other departments on campus that have people working on issues that are similar to what you are working on, but they might just have a different perspective. I didn’t do this as much as I would have liked to. Five years goes by pretty fast! But I did work with an environmental economist in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics. He helped me with some of the social aspects of my research, which I wouldn’t have been able to do if I had just stayed within my department.
What has been your favorite part of your Ph.D. program at UConn?
The day-to-day of coming in and doing research with people who are really excited about research, who are also pushing you to do better. The environment of a school like UConn, which has such a strong science program, has been really inspiring. My department is a pretty broad group of people, and very collegial. You can talk to anybody about anything! It’s really helpful for developing research ideas.
Hometown: Manchester, CT
Major: History, Urban and Community Studies
Clubs and Activities: Student Support Services
How has being a first-generation student impacted your college experience?
Actually applying to the universities was difficult because I didn’t know what to look for when looking at colleges. I ended up going to my teachers and they really went above and beyond to help me. I could never thank them enough; if it weren’t for them I probably wouldn’t be here.
I try to be as involved as I can. I feel like I’m already a step behind because I didn’t have the same resources that other people did coming into college. I have to make sure that I’m working and making my resume and everything as competitive as I can. You just have to motivate yourself or find something that motivates you. For me, it’s probably my family and little brother’s specifically because I want to be a good example for them.
Who was your favorite professor?
Professor Lawrence Goodheart at the West Hartford campus was my favorite professor. He recently retired, but I took African American History Before the Civil War and American History with him. He would literally come into class smiling and just start jumping around. I’ve never actually seen a professor really love their job as much as he did. He made topics that most people wouldn’t like really interesting just by being so enthusiastic.
What is your favorite memory of UConn?
I was selected to speak in front of the Connecticut General Assembly this semester about UConn budget cuts. I only got a couple days to prepare the testimony, which was a little nerve-wracking. Once I was there, I tried to tune everything out, and I practiced a lot to make sure I didn’t stutter too much. I swear I wasn’t nervous until I turned on the mic, but then I was like ‘oh man, what am I doing?’ But it was an amazing experience, and it was kind of funny seeing myself on TV!
You’ve had several internship and program experiences in the Connecticut public sector. Which ones influenced you the most?
I participated in Leadership Greater Hartford, which was a program that brought students together to impact Hartford with a pro-social project. My group wanted to impact the education system, so we organized a career fair in Buckley High School. Especially in an urban community, there’s pretty much this mindset that you might not be able to go to college. We put together a video aimed at encouraging these students, but then we also brought resources to them. We had admissions officers from all the universities that we attended come to the event as well to talk about college and answer their questions.
Then I interned at the Newington Board of Education in the transportation department, which provided good insights into how to balance a budget. It was nice because I’m going to need to have basic budgeting skills if I’m going to be an administrator someday. Maybe one day I’ll work at UConn; I’d love to work here!
What advice would you give to incoming freshmen?
When you come into a big university like UConn, you can feel kind of lost. At times you probably question if you’re really supposed to be here. Just keep an open mind and don’t despair. Make sure you don’t feel depressed about things like not knowing anyone, and if you do, talk to someone because there are so many people here willing to help. Most of my closest friends I met at the end of my sophomore year and junior year. Don’t feel bad if it hasn’t happened for you yet.
What are your plans for after graduation?
I’ll be attending the Masters in Public Administration program here at UConn. When I finish that I hope to work in a job where I can analyze policies that affect education. Once I get some experience and feel like I have a good foundation to build upon, I hope to go for more of a leadership position. Hopefully, I’ll be able to get a job where I get to have my voice heard. I’d love to become a Senator one day, but I’m taking things one step at a time for now!
Hometown: Northfield, VT
Major: Geography, Urban and Community Studies
Scholarships: UConn Merit Scholarship, UCS Department Scholarship
Clubs and Activities: UConn Moot Court Competition Team, The Writing Center, Leadership Legacy Experience, Holster Scholars First Year Project
Why did you choose to study Urban and Community Studies and Geography?
I knew that I wanted to study urban planning, and I thought I was interested in land use and development law because my grandfather worked in environmental and natural resources for the Vermont state government, and I was always fascinated by the work that he did. As soon as I started to get an introductory knowledge into the technical side of geography, I really fell in love with it and made that my niche area.
What was the most meaningful experience you had in your clubs and organizations?
I was so happy when I was hired as a sophomore to work at the Writing Center. We tutor about ten hours a week, so we get to meet 100 people or more from different majors in that time, and that’s really cool. I still remember a student that came in my first semester of tutoring with a personal statement for an application to be a bridge designer for a prestigious firm in New York City. That was something I had never even heard of before. So in addition to meeting cool people, it also teaches you a lot about how the world works and how other people are trying to go after their goals, which I find really inspiring.
Tell us about the many internship opportunities you’ve had.
My first internship was at the Central Vermont Regional Planning Commission. I took inventory of road infrastructure, so I would dive into ditches and take pictures of culverts, which are the pipes that run under roads. My second internship was at the Connecticut State Data Center, located in Babbidge Library. By the end of the internship, we had put together a regional planning data browser. Then I interned at Travelers Insurance, and currently, I’m an intern at a non-profit called New Haven Promise, a scholarship organization that’s also a long-term economic development engine.
What are your plans for after graduation?
I have accepted an offer at Travelers. When I interned there, it was a game changer for me, and we both agreed that me working there was a good fit. I’ll be working as a geospatial analyst. Organizations like Travelers have a lot of data, but that kind of data is only valuable if it is presented and analyzed in useful ways. Occasionally, a great way to present or analyze certain information is to do so spatially—often on a map. So I work in information delivery, working on applications and performing analyses that involve a spatial component.
Do you have a favorite class or professor?
I took Canon of American Legal Thought with Richard Michael Fischl in the School of Law. People say that you take classes that teach you how to think, and I don’t know if I’ve ever really thought about classes that way, but I would say that I’ve had to think harder for that class than in any other class I’ve taken. It was immensely challenging. The readings were complex, they were dense, but it was rewarding to see how leading influential thinkers of multiple periods in history have thought. And he’s just an amazing professor.
What have you learned about yourself since coming to UConn?
I thought I could have given you my ten-year plan the day I walked onto campus. That’s just the kind of person I am! But UConn has taught me the virtue of being flexible in a lot of situations. I had the resources that a large, public research university can offer, so I had time and the opportunity to play around with many options. And even though it’s not what I had envisioned when I first showed up, I’m so grateful for it every day.
Hometown: Dublin, CA
Major: Political Science
Clubs and Activities: College Republicans; Undergraduate Student Government; Associated Student Government (Greater Hartford Campus)
Why did you choose to major in political science?
I chose political science because I originally started out as a pre-law student. I found lawyers in the area to mentor me, and they advised me to look into international relations. I’m glad I listened to their advice because I want to travel, explore other cultures, and see the world.
I’m also a religion minor. I was pulled into the religion work when I took a class called Women and Religion. I found religion to be a good balance with political science, because political science can be dry. If you’re a religion minor, you get exposed to a lot of cultures and mindsets, and, really, a lot of our political thought these days is influenced by religion, despite the separation of church and state. So both my major and minor can come hand-in-hand.
What is your favorite memory of UConn?
Going to Singapore has been the most important element of my college career. I think after going there my college experience really took off. It allowed me to put myself out there and break out of my shell. I have always been a person who was very sheltered; my parents are very doting and protective. But that didn’t really matter when I hopped on that plane and went to the other side of the planet, lived and worked there for two summers, and it helped me grow as a person. Also, working for the State Department at an embassy abroad makes your every action a representation of the U.S. and Americans. We were expected to act at a very high standard of professionalism. It also exposed me to a career that I want to go into eventually. I want to become a U.S. diplomat one day, and I got to work side-by-side with them there.
What are your plans for after graduation?
I’m going to be working with BAL Global, which is a corporate immigration firm in the Financial District of San Francisco. I will be working with a team of lawyers who are assisting local companies to bring in talent from other countries. We want to make sure that they have the right visas before they come to the U.S. It’s a great job where I get to work in law and international relations.
What have been the highlights of your career in student government?
I was the president of the student body at the Hartford campus for a semester and a half. When I moved to Storrs, I became the chairman of the Academic Affairs Committee with the Undergraduate Student Government. USG needed someone to revive the committee, and they also needed someone to improve the academic environment at UConn. Last year there was the huge story about the library closing early at midnight, so I worked with my committee and the Vice Provost of University Libraries Martha Bedard, who is a phenomenal woman! We worked together to find a compromise and improve the library. We expended the late-night space, and made sure it stayed open until 2:00 a.m. and that it would be open 24-7 during finals week too.
I’ve also worked with Dan Byrd, the president-elect of USG, to create a task force for open-source textbooks in 2014. They continued that work with USG and invested on an open-source chemistry textbook. Students will actually save up to $800,000 in five years because this book is going to be distributed for free to students in 1000-level chemistry courses.
Who is your favorite professor?
My favorite professor was political science professor Shareen Hertel for a class called Globalization and Political Change. What I loved about Professor Hertel was that she allowed me to explore an area that I’ve always been so passionate about. I wrote a huge paper on the South China Sea territorial disputes and how it affects the global political stage. She admitted to me that my topic wasn’t really her area of expertise, but that’s what struck me. She wanted me to explore what I was passionate about. I will always appreciate a professor who wants to learn together. It was like a partnership in learning.
Lauren Long ’10 (CLAS), ’12 MA
Hometown: Norwalk, CT
Concentration: Behavioral Neuroscience
Clubs and Activities: Psi-Chi; Society for Neuroscience
Why did you choose to study neuroscience?
I went to UConn for my undergraduate degree as well, and I’m in my sixth year of my Ph.D. program, so I’ve been here a while! Initially, I came in more interested in English, but I took Psychology 1100 with Professor of Psychological Sciences David Miller and it really piqued my interest in psychology and specifically neurobiology. From there, I switched my major to psychology with a minor in neuroscience, and now here I am years later as a graduate student.
What made you choose to continue at UConn for graduate school?
As an undergraduate student, I worked with Professor of Psychological Sciences James Chrobak. What I started to do as an undergrad, and what I’m doing now, is looking at awake behaving electrophysiology in rodents, which involves implanting electrodes into rodent brains and recording signals from the brain while the animal is awake and behaving to try to understand how those signals relate to ongoing behavior. We’re interested in oscillations (brain waves), which represent a large group of neurons communicating with each other. In the lab, we want to understand how those oscillations are present and affected during awake behavior. We look at the oscillations across brain areas as well because we want to see how those brain areas communicate with each other. I continued with this lab because Professor Chrobak and I had a good relationship, I liked what I was doing in the lab, and he was looking for new graduate students. I was sort of in the right place at the right time!
What plans do you have for after graduating with your Ph.D.?
I have a post-doc lined up at Brown University, where I’ll be continuing along the lines of the kind of research that I’m doing now with awake behaving electrophysiology.
What have been some of your favorite classes at UConn?
As an undergraduate, one of my favorite classes was biology of the brain because I really liked physiology and neurobiology. I also loved physiological psychology with Professor Chrobak, which is actually how we got introduced. As a graduate student, some of my favorite classes have been with Professor Chrobak as well. Of course, there are many professors that I like a lot, given their different skills, expertise, and what they each have to offer. But Professor Chrobak and I have a very similar scientific perspective, which I find helps in this field.
What advice would you give to incoming students?
I advise people to really reach out. Being at such a large institution, it can be easy to blend in with the group and not necessarily have the most meaningful experience. Bigger schools are great in that regard because students who are really motivated are the ones who will reach out. I think seeking out what you need is a skill that’s undervalued. When I took my general education courses in large lecture halls, I really went out of my way to introduce myself to professors. When professors see an engaged student, I find that they are very open to that and willing to help.
What have you learned about yourself during graduate school?
I’ve had a great experience in grad school. It’s helped develop me as a person, not only scientifically and intellectually, but also in developing personality traits like stamina, dedication, intrinsic motivation, perseverance, and acceptance of failure. You don’t necessarily know that you have some of those traits until you’re faced with situations that require them.
What is your favorite memory of UConn?
Some of my most valuable memories have to do with my academic experience at UConn, and specifically working in the lab as an undergraduate. Observing certain procedures and being taught how to do them was pretty remarkable for me at that time; I was just so eager to learn and so interested in obtaining all the information I could.
Hometown: Bangui, Ilocos Norte, Philippines
Concentration: Organic Chemistry
What initially got you interested in chemistry?
I actually entered college as a fine arts major doing painting. But when I went to college, I had to take chemistry and my professors tried to recruit me into the chemistry program. After excelling at chemistry, I switched majors. Once I got my bachelor’s degree, I got my master’s in organic chemistry. I was amazed by how logical organic chemistry was. It’s like another language to me that’s so important in things like the pharmaceutical industry and energy. I wanted to contribute, so I decided to focus on organic chemistry in my master’s and Ph.D.
Why did you choose to come to UConn?
One of my advisors back in the Philippines got her Ph.D. at the University of Connecticut, and she ended up encouraging me to go here. The Department of Chemistry at UConn is known to have great science and strong support for its graduate students. It embraces a culture where everyone is pulling you in the right direction, and as an international student I think this is important.
What research are you working on?
I work in Professor of Chemistry Amy Howell’s group, which is interested in synthesizing molecules or compounds with biological importance, such as epi-oxetin (an antibiotic), or beta-lactone-derived compounds, such as orlistat and potential anti-cancer analogs. My focus is on inventing a new methodology that could lead me to the same transformation, but with better efficiency. At the same time, we want to get rid of byproducts because we want it to be an environmentally friendly process. We’re also paying attention to the small details, because eventually that will provide us with a fundamental knowledge and understanding of what is going on inside reactions. That way, when we apply it to a different system, we can predict what is going to happen.
Who has had the greatest impact on you at UConn?
Since I moved here in 2011, I haven’t gone back home. For five years, I’ve just had Professor Howell. I consider her not just as a guardian and supervisor, but also as a parent and good friend. When I came to UConn, I didn’t really know what field of research I wanted to go into, but Professor Howell made me realize my fullest potential as a scientist.
What are your plans after graduation?
I’m going on to do post-doctoral research at the University of Michigan. I’ll be working on the functionalization of methane, and the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy are funding the project. Since methane is a gas, transporting it as fuel or energy is difficult. We want to make methane into a liquid form, which unfortunately takes a lot of energy and is a very tedious process. After my postdoc, I want to get a job as a researcher in an academic setting.
Have you had any industry experience while at UConn?
Receiving the Boehringer Ingelheim Fellowship Award has so far been my greatest achievement. It’s good for three years and it covers the costs of my studies. I got a chance to work in their laboratory, which was an eye-opener. Jonathan Reeves (senior research scientist for Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals) was my supervisor there, and he is working on a project to develop a drug to treat Alzheimer’s disease. The drug is already in phase II clinical trials, which means it is being dosed for normal people. Our job was to showcase a way of synthesizing the drug in a multi-kilogram scale.
How has leaving your hometown influenced your life?
Bangui is a very small town where the influence of science is just not there. That’s why I didn’t know anything about the field of chemistry when I went to college. When I went to Manila for my undergraduate studies, I was really exposed to science for the first time. Now I want to go back and see how my hometown looks. I heard that they now have a wind farm, which is a source of energy that is a product of science and technology. I’m very proud to see that happening there.
Hometown: Cheshire, CT
Majors: Philosophy and Management Information Systems
Scholarships: Leadership Scholarship; Human Rights Institute Internship Award; School of Business Anderson Consulting Scholarship; OPIM Accenture Fund Scholarship for Business Award; CLAS Paul J. Volpe ’67 Award; School of Business Treibeck Family Electronic Commission Award
Clubs and Activities: Special Program in Law; UConn Moot Court Competition Team; Resident Assistant
Why did you choose your majors?
My interest in philosophy started in high school, when I was really fascinated with politics. When it comes to politics, I’d realized there’s a lot of hidden ideology behind what people say. For example, we can take abortion, which people think is a two-sided issue, pro-life or pro-choice. But at the end of the day, the question that it really comes down to is where does life begin? I’ve always been interested in understanding the reasoning and methodologies people use to arrive at the values that they have, and that’s what philosophy is all about. I chose to study philosophy because I was interested in thinking abstractly and learning about moral philosophy, ethics, and the different values people hold.
I applied to the Business School my sophomore year because I loved learning about computers. MIS is basically all about information technology, and how we can use technology to put ideas into action. When I first started out with these two majors, they seemed like completely different things. As I continued with my education, though, we started learning more about business ethics and the fields started to come together more because I could really pull in my knowledge of philosophy.
What are your plans after graduation?
I eventually want to go to law school, but right now I’m moving to Michigan to work for the Ford Motor Company. I’ll be working in a three-year rotational program in Ford’s IT department with a bunch of other recent college graduates. We have a couple of rotations to pick from, so I’ll be in operational IT, application development, or the office of the CIO (chief information officer). I grew up in Connecticut, and I love it here, but I’m excited to branch out.
What organization has had a positive impact on you since coming to UConn?
I’ve been a part of UConn Moot Court Competition Team, which is a legal simulation where we simulate a Supreme Court case. A group of us founded it during my sophomore year and then we made it to nationals both my junior and senior years. The cases that we argue about are very reflective of current issues. In 2014, the case was about abortion regulations and how the state can mandate certain procedures before a woman gets an abortion, and this past year it was about higher education for undocumented immigrants.
You studied abroad in Cape Town, South Africa as a sophomore. What kind of impact did that experience have on you?
It was run by the Human Rights Institute and Woman’s Studies, so everyone does a human rights focused internship. Mine was at the Cape Town Refugee Center. I got trained in refugee status determination, which qualified me to interview people and determine their profile as an asylum seeker or a refugee. I ended up hearing so many inspirational stories that really guided me in shaping my values and definitely in my career. Now I know I want to pursue something in public interest down the line.
One of the stories that I’ll never forget was about this woman and her three children. She was from a war torn country and was sold into an abusive marriage by her father. Her father never ended up paying, so her husband ended up killing her father. She was escaping the country because rebels had taken over her village. Her mother, cousins, and husband had all died, but she managed to escape. While she was traveling, she met a man whose village was also attacked by rebels. They ended up traveling together and falling in love, and then they got married in South Africa! It was a story I’ll never forget because there was just so much happiness around her and her children. The fact that something good could come out of something so completely horrible just goes to show what can happen in this world. No matter what has happened in your past, if you can provide people with opportunity to rebuild their lives, amazing things can happen.
Hometown: Avon, CT
Minor: Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, Philosophy
Scholarships: UConn Office of Undergraduate Research (OUR) Award Programs; Summer Undergraduate Research Fund (SURF) Award; IDEA Grant; Kristie Ann Wood Endowment Scholarship, Jacqueline Brown-Dickstein Scholarship in Women’s Studies; 100 Years of Women Scholarship
Clubs and Activities: UConn National Organization of Women, UConn Philosophy Club, VegHuskies
Why did you choose to major in English with minors in Philosophy and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies?
Everyone expects you to say, ‘I was reading when I was in the womb!’ But really, I have always loved reading and writing and knew that it was something I wanted to pursue. The classes I took for my minors ended up inflecting my approach to literary texts. In my sophomore year, I took Women and Film with Professor Sherry Zane, which is where I realized I was interested in feminist film analysis and decided to minor in women’s, gender, and sexuality studies. I also took Philosophy and Gender with Professor Hallie Liberto, which got me interested in the intersection between gender and philosophy. Over winter break, I remember that Professor Liberto emailed several women who performed well in the course and talked about the lack of female representation in philosophy, potential career paths, and the philosophy department at UConn. It was ultimately her encouragement and support that led me to minor in philosophy.
What do you plan to do after you graduate?
My ultimate goal is to become a college professor! I have always been interested in teaching, but it wasn’t until I came into the English classes here, particularly Professor Dwight Codr’s Intro to Literary Studies, that I was totally hooked. Seeing how Professor Codr got students truly excited about writing and research made me want to pursue graduate school so I could one day teach students and be a part of that wonderful mentorship experience. I’ll be entering a graduate program in the fall, and I’m very excited to start that journey!
What is your University Scholar Thesis about?
I have been lucky to have participated in many of UConn’s research programs. I received both a SURF grant and an IDEA grant. UConn is really unique in the fact that, as an English major, I was given access to research opportunities that I am confident I would not have experienced elsewhere.
My project is on female automata, which are self-operating, programmed mechanical devices, like robots or androids, that imitate the movements, actions, and behaviors of human females. The project is called “Woman a Machine: The History and Gendered Semiotics of Female Automata,” and I could not have thought of a better project that could loop in philosophy, gender studies, and English. The texts I am examining range from the 19th to the 21st century, including “The Sandman,” Her, The Stepford Wives, and Ex Machina. I’m looking at the agency of these feminized beings and how they relate to their creators.
What organization has been central to your experience at UConn?
I have loved being involved with student activism here. I’m the president of UConn NOW (National Organization of Women), an organization that works to promote gender equity on the UConn campus and in the surrounding community.
What gets me excited is starting up for the semester. Each year, NOW tables for Equal Pay Day, and young women will come up to us and say, ‘I’m getting a job, and this really matters to me because the pay gap is going to influence me directly.’ I like that moment where it turns from an organization I’m in to realizing that these are real issues students are going to be dealing with. Those moments are really satisfying to me!
What advice would you give to incoming freshmen?
I think it’s important to view college as a unique chance for study and exploration rather than just a stepping-stone. Getting involved doesn’t always happen immediately. I think everyone has those few weeks, or even months, of adjusting. My best advice would be to attend as many events as possible, be receptive to opportunities, and things will fall into place. One opportunity really does lead to another, and it snowballs from there!
Hometown: Hartford, CT
Clubs and Activities: Q Center Tutor (West Hartford Campus); Student Support Services
What are your plans after graduating from UConn?
I’m doing the Teacher Certification Program for College Graduates, which is a one-year, accelerated program in the UConn Neag School of Education program. After I finish that, I definitely want to teach mathematics in high school. I feel like that’s when you really start to develop into the kind of person you’ll be.
Throughout high school, I had some really great teachers. This one teacher of mine could have been a professor. I always asked him, “Why didn’t you teach college?” He said he always liked teaching at the high school level. He’s always been like a father to me. He could take something so complex and make it understandable to the students. He knew how to do that while also respecting you. How could I not want to be just like that?
What organizations have had the most impact on you?
I tutor in the Q Center and I’ve also worked with UConn’s Student Support Service program in the summer time. Tutoring higher levels of math and science has helped me teach the foundational courses, like algebra, even better. My first time tutoring, I was very timid. The fact that someone was relying on me to have the answers was intimidating. By the next semester, I took on a different role of kind of leading the other tutors, telling them to greet everyone who comes in, just say hi, ask what they need help with. I’ve been tutoring for three years now. What’s great about it is that it helps you too. When you help others, you’re helping your foundation grow even stronger.
Who has been your favorite professor at UConn?
Professor of Educational Psychology Ron Beghetto was so modest, but to me he seems like a big deal! You know, he visits so many different schools to give his opinion on how things should be taught. And he’s such a friendly guy, everyone loves him! His class was this great combination where I was doing a lot of work, but it didn’t feel like it. He’s one person that I want to impress someday.
How did transferring from West Hartford impact your UConn experience?
I went to the West Hartford campus for three years. It feels like a nice, family, home community because it’s so small and easy to get to know everyone. When I came to Storrs, I definitely had to adapt. It probably took me a whole semester to get used to it. But what I like is that Storrs has a lot of resources. Homer Babbidge library, for example, is a whole other world compared to the library at West Hartford’s campus. I would practically live at Homer with all the resources and different study areas.
If you could give incoming freshmen advice, what would it be?
When I first started as a freshman, I doubted myself and underestimated the education system. I thought I was too good but at the same time I wasn’t good enough. Because of that really bad first semester, I ended up on academic probation. But the following semester, I did a complete 180 and got incredible grades. From then on, I did everything I could to keep building up my GPA.
I wanted to let freshmen and students in SSS know that I got on probation too, but I kept working hard and now Neag has accepted me into their program. It’s so easy to just look at the mistakes you’ve made. But I wanted to be living proof that hard work never betrays you. That you can’t give up no matter how many times you think you should. The moment you start doubting yourself, you lose. So I always tell people I tutor, “believe in yourself.”
Hometown: Cali, Colombia
Major: Political Science, Human Rights
Clubs and Activities: Namaste (undergraduate human rights journal)
How did you choose your major?
I chose my major through a process of failure! I first came to UConn as a psychology major, then I was economics, and then I tried to get into the business school. I always loved political science though, so I decided to go into that after failing to like psychology and economics. I fell in love with the program after I took Comparative Perspectives on Human Rights with Professor Shareen Hertel, who is amazing and treats you like you’re family.
Are there specific human rights issues that you want to work on?
In the United States, what I care about most is police brutality issues and discriminatory incarceration. Internationally, I would love to work on children’s rights. I have an uncle who grew up in extreme poverty and worked hard to get out of it. His biggest cause involved children, so he’s been my role model.
What was growing up like in your family?
I grew up in a low-income household. My dad worked so hard so I could go to a private school in Danbury, Connecticut, called St. Peter’s. The principal knew that I didn’t have much money. There was a fundraiser going on at the school that year, and it was a toy drive. That Christmas, I was thinking about how I wasn’t going to get many gifts, but even though I was young, I was aware of the reality of my life. But when Christmas came and I went to the living room, to my shock the toys went up to my knees. The entire room was full. And I thought ‘wow, Santa Claus really worked hard this year, I must have been really good.’ And for the next two years, I thought that Santa was real because I thought it was impossible; I knew my dad couldn’t afford that.
What has your college experience been like?
Of my generation, I’m the first to get into college among my intimate family. We didn’t know what the process really was. No one was giving me advice, but now I’m going to be able to do that for my family. There was a lot of pressure on me though, and I actually wanted to drop out at the end of my sophomore year. I was working with my uncle in Miami at a big logistics company, and I loved what I was doing. So I had this decision to make between school and work. In the end, my aunt said I needed to go to back school and graduate. I didn’t want to disappoint them, because I love them and I want to make them happy. And now, UConn has given me so much. One day, I want to give back however I can.
What are your plans for after graduation?
I got accepted into the Peace Corps, and I’m going to be in Moldova. Since I was eight, I wanted to join the Air Force. As I got older, my asthma didn’t go away, and I realized I was never going to be allowed to be in the Air Force. So I found the Peace Corps, but I didn’t ever think life would put me that way. I started thinking about the business route because I thought I needed to make a lot of money, but the world brought me somewhere else.
What is your favorite UConn memory?
During one of the worst blizzards we had, I went out to Horsebarn Hill. It was just me walking through this world of white. Nobody was around. Then all of a sudden, I saw somebody far off. I was shocked to see another person, so I yelled and waved my hands to get their attention. When they saw me, we ran to each other. I didn’t know this person, but we became friends after that. Her name is Shelby, and it turns out she was close friends with one of my friends. It’s funny because you think this campus is big, but it’s really not. You’d be surprised by the strange connections you have.
Hometown: Glastonbury, CT
Major: Molecular and Cell Biology, Individualized Major – American Sign Language and Deaf Culture
Scholarships: UConn Honors Scholarship
Clubs and Activities: ASL Club, Ballroom Team, Jumpstart, Community Outreach, Leadership Legacy Experience
What made you want to combine the different subjects of your majors?
My teacher in elementary had worked at the American School for the Deaf [in Hartford]. She brought a lot of sign language into the classroom, which is when I started learning sign. Then in seventh grade, I started getting really sick. I was in and out of the hospital because I wasn’t able to talk. My condition continued through my sophomore year in high school. During that time, I relied on sign language with my mother interpreting for me, and I got first-hand experience into what the world is like for people who rely on sign language. That’s why I think it’s so important to spread awareness and to combat the stigma associated with Deaf people.
When I took AP biology, I remember my mother sitting next to me in the hospital reading to me from my biology textbook. I was completely enthralled with the content and how we know so much, but at the same time, no one knew what was going on with me. I am still undiagnosed. One of the reasons I’m so involved with sign language here at UConn is because I sometimes need to rely on ASL students to interpret for me when I’m having a flare-up and I can’t speak.
So the summer before my senior year of high school, I wanted to start getting involved in research because I knew how much of a need there was for it. I e-mailed a bunch of professors and Professor of Molecular and Cell Biology James Cole was kind enough to let me work in his lab. I started that five years ago, and I’ve been in his lab ever since.
What are you currently researching?
I’m working with adenovirus, which causes the common cold. The way it replicates is pretty standard – the virus attaches to a cell and sticks its genome into it, and the cell replicates that DNA and creates more viruses. This particular virus’s replication involves double-stranded RNA, but our human cells have developed proteins to break it up. Now the virus has developed decoy RNAs so the proteins we have now bind to the decoys and the virus can infect us. It’s important because, although it’s not terribly serious, adenovirus replicates in a similar way to more serious viruses like HIV.
What are your plans after graduation?
I’ll be attending the University of Vermont (UVM) for my Ph.D. While I’m there, I definitely want to continue working with immunobiology, virology, or genetics. The way my program at UVM works is that I do rotations the first year and will try out different labs, and pick a lab from that to continue working on. I don’t know what project I’ll be working on yet, but there are a few projects about autoimmune diseases that interest me.
What has been the largest struggle in being an individualized major?
I wanted to try to combine science and sign language for a thesis. The project I was working on was the development of scientific vocabulary in American Sign Language. Traditionally, deaf education is focused on oral skills, but they’re capable of learning about advanced science topics if we don’t focus on physical lip movements. The need for this kind of program is growing faster than we are able to develop the scientific vocabulary. So I looked at how the language is developing. Because no one at UConn had expertise in that area, it encouraged me to broaden my horizons to professors all over New England and even some in Brazil.
What’s your favorite UConn memory?
The first year I ran an alternative break, we went to an elementary school for the deaf in Washington, D.C. The whole time, the kids were arguing about if I was deaf or hearing. When a staff member finally told them I wasn’t deaf, some of them were shocked, one of them said, “I told you!” and we couldn’t stop laughing. Up until that point, my school experience had been very serious, but this started to change that for me and changed my perspective on why I was at school. I realized I wanted to have fun and give these kids an experience of knowing that there are hearing people who care about them.
What organization that you have been a part of had the greatest effect on you?
I started a science program for girls at a residential Girls Scouts camp in Vermont, which I’ve been running over the past three years. I developed a curriculum for girls in kindergarten through high school, covering basically every subject. As much science as I pack into it, it’s a lot more about teaching girls that they can do it. My first year there, almost every single girl said, “I can’t do science because I’m a girl.” It was heartbreaking to see so many girls think that. The biggest part of changing that was developing a curriculum that teaches them that science, at its core, is asking questions and finding answers.
Hometown: Preston, CT
Majors: Marine Sciences, Maritime Studies
Scholarships: UConn Office of Education Abroad Global Citizenship Award; UConn Office of Undergraduate Research travel to conduct Research Award; Arthur O. Bayer College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Scholarship; University of Connecticut Marine Scholar
Clubs and Activities: CLAS student Leadership Board; Former President of Associated Student Government [Avery Point Campus]; Avery Point Husky Ambassadors; UConn Community Outreach
Why did you choose your majors?
I first got involved in marine science in seventh grade, doing a school field trip at a nonprofit on the Avery Point campus called Project Oceanology. The next summer, I did a summer marine studies program where I got to do my own project and write a scientific paper! It was a really great experience and I fell in love with being on the water, by the water, studying the water, and marine sciences basically became an obsession of mine. When I was a junior in high school, I became a marine scholar, which is a program run by UConn Marine Sciences. I went to a lecture series at Avery Point, and I got to meet some of the students and professors. After all of my experiences, I knew Avery Point and felt comfortable there, which made choosing UConn easier.
My maritime studies major comes from the fact that I’ve always been interested in a lot of different subjects, and I happen to love policy and history. Because of my interest, I decided to add this second major. There’s a good deal of overlap of professors and content, like economics of the ocean, for example. It seemed natural to add these major courses.
How has studying at Avery Point influenced your experience at UConn?
I feel like the resources and the UConn experience is accessible to you if you go out and get it. Everything isn’t always shown to you, but that’s sort of a factor of distance. But I’m able to be on the CLAS Student Leadership Board, for example, so being at a regional campus doesn’t impede you if you’re an active student. I love Avery Point, and I love the people. It definitely is the most beautiful UConn campus. I like that I really get to know my professors; it’s really easy to get extra time with them and talk to them. They almost always know your name, even in a larger lecture. It almost feels like a small, private college.
You have studied and gone abroad several times. What did you gain from those experiences?
My study abroad experience has been the core of my experience at UConn. I received a summer research fellowship through the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) Research Internship in Science and Engineering (RISE) program. I used the grant to study in Germany for three months at the Leibniz Center for Marine Tropical Ecology. It was exciting because it was my first time out of the country, and I didn’t speak the language. I really tried to understand the people there and do things the way they did. I even went a month early to learn German, even though it wasn’t necessary for my program. Even later, when I went to Norway with a fellowship from the Norwegian government, I studied Norwegian for the entire semester. My French is decent, so my French friends tell me. I’m now trying to learn Spanish. I really like languages!
I also attended the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris with a group of 18 UConn students, faculty, and staff. While I was there, I also attended Oceans Day at COP21, which drew high-level attention to how the ocean and climate are inextricably linked. The conference was educational and sobering. Now that we’re back home, those of us who attended will be launching initiatives to improve UConn’s carbon footprint, and creating works of art, writing, or media to highlight the impacts of climate change.
What is your favorite memory of UConn?
A friend from middle school used to commute with me to Avery Point. One night we decided to go to a bowling night put on by the Associated Student Government. I told my friend, “let’s just go, if no one’s there we’ll leave.” So we get there and two other people from our class came, but we didn’t know them. I turn to my friend and said, “You know what? We’re going to go be friends with them!” So we went over, talked with them, and we’ve all been best friends ever since!
What are your plans for after graduation?
I have applied to some graduate programs in Europe; I would really like to go back there. And I’m applying to ocean and marine policy based internships in Washington, D.C. mostly. I’m really interested in international ocean policy and negotiations dealing with the ocean, be it ocean resource use, fisheries, and so on.
Hometown: Farmington, CT
Major: Psychology, Africana Studies
Scholarships: McNair Scholar; CLAS Dean’s Fund Scholarship; UConn Global Citizen Scholarship
Clubs and Activities: Resident Assistant for Social Justice Education; Founding Member of Sisters Inspiring Sisters (SIS); Former CFO of Sankofa; Voices of Freedom Gospel Choir; Minority Advancement Program in Psychology (MAPP); We, the Organizers
Why did you choose Psychology and Africana Studies?
When I came to UConn, I wanted to be a clinical psychologist. I really liked getting to see and interact with people and get to understand how we work and think. Humans are interesting, and frustrating at the same time!
My decision to pursue Africana Studies came from a variety of things. Being a light-skinned black woman in the suburbs, I had cultural connections to the Hartford community and socioeconomic connections at home in Farmington. I was in this weird in-between. Growing up, I always felt like I was trying to advocate for my culture and ethnic background without completely understanding myself yet. My parents did a very good job making sure we never had moments of feeling like we were less because we were black. They made sure I knew what discrimination was, how to detect it, and how to advocate for myself. But I knew there was so much more to learn about my culture than what I was learning in school, and I wanted to fill the gaps.
What’s a day in the life like in your experience with study abroad?
I intern three days a week at Molo Songololo, which is a children’s rights organization. We run workshops for students at primary schools and high schools. The workshops focus on building life skills and education, including sexual education, for children in townships that were in need of extra support. Molo Songololo is really grounded in its ideal that the children come first. On Thursdays I have classes at the University of Cape Town, and on Fridays I work on my activist project with the Fuller Center for Housing Western Cape. The way housing works in South Africa is that people live in the suburbs, the city, or townships. In the townships, some people own houses, others live in informal settlements, which are basically shacks, and the rest essentially have a campsite in someone’s backyard. Fuller Center fundraises and builds houses for these people without homes.
Why did you choose South Africa? What has the experience been like for you?
There aren’t many programs in the U.S. that will actually let you study abroad in Africa because of all the misconceptions and stereotypes that we have. So I really wanted to take advantage of the opportunity, especially because this program has an internship component and lets you be in the community instead of being a tourist the whole time.
Wherever I go to Cape Town, I’m always addressed as “sister” or variations of that word, and it’s because they recognize that I am a part of them. It’s so powerful because even after they hear my accent and realize that I’m not local, they’ll still call me sister and have a conversation with me. There’s that cultural connection like they are saying, “I see you, and we are one.”
Who is your favorite professor?
Evelyn Simien is a political science and Africana studies professor that I connected with instantly. She’s helped me every step of the way, even when I needed help with things that weren’t in her discipline. She was the first black teacher I ever had, and was the first to make me believe I could pursue a Ph.D. Watching her in class my freshman year, seeing how she commanded the classroom and engaged her class, put me in awe. I kept thinking, “I want to do that!”
What are your plans after graduation?
Being in Africa made me realize that I am happiest when I’m in the community and doing the work, interacting with people. I am miserable in an office! I have finally decided on pursuing a master’s in public policy and then a Ph.D. in sociology or public policy. My end goal is to be a consultant, while also doing work in the community. I know that I have to get my hands dirty and not just do research. I have to help the people.