Exceeding Expectations: UConn’s Class of 2017

From left, Christopher Chapman '17 (CLAS), Isabel Nip '17 (CLAS), Danielle Deschene '17 (CLAS), and Shaharyar Zuberi '17 (CLAS) wear the new blue commencement caps and gowns while posing next to the Husky statue. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)
From left, Christopher Chapman '17 (CLAS), Isabel Nip '17 (CLAS), Danielle Deschene '17 (CLAS), and Shaharyar Zuberi '17 (CLAS) wear the new blue commencement caps and gowns while posing next to the Husky statue. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

For UConn’s Class of 2017, it was a year full of surprises. From Donald Trump’s poll-defying victory over Hillary Rodham Clinton to the UConn women’s basketball team’s historic 111-game winning streak, expecting the unexpected almost became standard.

And just when summer-like temperatures teased students with signs of spring one week in March, near blizzard conditions welcomed them the next.

March Madness indeed.

When it comes to exceeding expectations, the Class of 2017 set one record of which it can certainly be proud.

More than 9,000 degrees – both undergraduate and graduate – are being awarded this year, which is the highest number of degrees conferred at UConn in the University’s 136-year history.

As the academic year comes to a close, it is time to reflect on our shared experiences.

The Class of 2017 may be remembered as one of the most socially active in recent years.

In response to national events, UConn students turned out in great numbers to make sure their voices were heard on issues involving civil rights, women’s rights, immigration, diversity, tolerance, and climate change. Gatherings held around campus were civil and respectful – an informative sharing of positions and ideas.

“The world has changed a lot since the Class of 2017 first enrolled at UConn and, more importantly, our students have changed,” says Jeremy Teitelbaum, interim provost. “I am confident that with their education, maturity, and growth, the members of the Class of 2017 are well prepared to face the challenges that lie ahead. They are students today and Huskies forever.”

Students had an opportunity to draw inspiration from, learn, and laugh with a mix of national leaders, advocates, media stars, and others who visited Storrs over the past four years. Those guests included former President Bill Clinton (Winner of the 2015 Dodd Prize in International Justice and Human Rights), former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins.

Other guests that appeared: philosopher Peter Singer, human rights activist Kerry Kennedy, actress and advocate Laverne Cox, actress Rosario Dawson, astronaut Rick Mastracchio (from space and in person), historian Michael Beschloss, and Grammy-winning composer Eric Whitacre.

CNN political commentator Marc Hill came to Storrs, as did director Oliver Stone, author Wally Lamb, and television journalist Charles Osgood. And who can forget Jay Leno zipping around campus in a student-built race car in 2014?

Major sections of UConn’s Storrs campus were upgraded, and several new buildings popped up during the Class of 2017’s time here.

Students witnessed the opening of a new road – Discovery Drive – connecting North Campus to Route 44, and construction of the Innovation Partnership Building, the initial anchor structure for UConn’s future technology park.

Next Generation Connecticut Hall, a new residence hall for 727 students representing eight different UConn learning communities, now sits behind the Hilltop residence halls on the campus’s western edge. The building features a ground floor Innovation Zone complete with 3-D printers, a laser cutter, milling machine, and electronics station that allow students to pursue their creative ideas. A new five-story Engineering and Science Building under construction behind Student Health Services will open in the fall.

Mansfield’s new downtown, Storrs Center, redefined off-campus social options, and continues to expand with more restaurants, shops, and a new town square.

UConn Nation also expanded its reach. A new downtown Hartford campus for 2,500 students, faculty, and staff is under construction and expected to open in August. The new campus will feature a Barnes & Noble campus bookstore, Starbucks coffee shop, and other amenities.

“Berry Happy Husky” ice cream, featuring black raspberry ice cream with dark chocolate chunks and raspberry swirls, was named the Class of 2017’s Senior Scoop at the UConn Dairy Bar.

The Class of 2017, like so many before it, bleeds blue.

UConn sports fans embraced the return of head football coach Randy Edsall. They also witnessed the phenomenal success of an impressive line of UConn women’s basketball stars: Breanna Stewart, Morgan Tuck, Moriah Jefferson, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, and most recently Katie Lou Samuelson and Napheesa Collier.

On the men’s side, the Class of 2017 celebrated Shabazz Napier’s outstanding performance during the 2014 NCAA basketball tournament. Napier led the Huskies’ defeat of the tournament’s top four teams before UConn toppled the Kentucky Wildcats 60-54 for the national title. That year marked the second time in UConn history that both the men’s and women’s basketball teams won their respective national championships. UConn remains the only school in NCAA Division I history to have won dual national basketball titles, and we’ve done it twice.

Helping others continues to be an integral part of what Huskies do.

Nearly 2,000 students danced the night away at Greer Fieldhouse this past year to set a new record for UConn’s annual HuskyTHON fundraiser. The $836,174 raised will help sick children at the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center.

Members of the Class of 2017 also enhanced the quality of life for others through academic service learning, student groups, religious organizations, and University sponsored initiatives, including those sponsored by the Office of Community Outreach. They participated in a variety of one-day community service projects and ongoing local programs providing medical care, tutoring, and mentoring at schools. Some students provided legal services to clients seeking asylum from political persecution.

Preliminary numbers indicate that more than 15,000 UConn students engaged in more than 1.2 million hours of service last year, says Gina DeVivo Brassaw, associate director for community outreach in the Department of Student Activities. UConn has been named to the (U.S.) President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll for three successive years.

“This class continued the longstanding tradition of learning and serving in wider communities by engaging with hundreds of non-profits to support initiatives throughout the state and worldwide,” Brassaw said.

Speaking of worldwide, more than 880 students participated in the University’s Education Abroad program, choosing to expand their education at one of approximately 250 study abroad programs offered in 70 countries.

Of the approximately 6,000 undergraduate students participating in Commencement this year, approximately 420 are members of the Honors Program, and 24 are University Scholars, UConn’s highest accolade for academic excellence.

Commencement exercises will be especially poignant for 1,496 students, who will be the first in their families to graduate from college.

When it comes to academic achievements, the Class of 2017 is well represented. The graduating class includes five Fulbright Scholars, two Goldwater Scholars, two recipients of National Science Foundation graduate fellowships, and one winner of the prestigious National Collegiate Honors Council Portz Fellowship.

Five graduating students are McNair Scholars. UConn’s McNair program is open to low-income, first-generation college students and those from populations underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields who hope to pursue a Ph.D. degree.