Anna Welch is a senior in the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment who draws academic inspiration from the natural world around her. She has traveled to South Africa to study ecology and stays involved on campus with Dr. Fahey’s forest ecology lab and the UConn Forest crew. Her keen interest in ecology, forestry and environmental and human health is contagious. One of Welch’s goals is to communicate everything she has learned through writing. She has made the most of her time at UConn and is eager to share her expertise at the McLean Wildlife Refuge, where she will be a contracted forest researcher after graduating in December 2020. Read more about Welch and her zest for adventure, the environment and sustainability.
What attracted you to the UConn College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources?
I discovered CAHNR through my advisor. I am a transfer student who came to UConn with the intention of pursuing an environmental science major. I wanted to deeply understand the natural environment on an intellectual and personal level. When I described what I was looking for from my education, my advisor pointed me to CAHNR. Serendipitously, the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources aligned perfectly with my academic intentions.
Why did you choose your particular major?
I chose natural resources and the environment (NRE) because of the balance it strikes between scientific foundations, practical application and remediation. Ecological and environmental health issues affect every pair of feet, claws, wings, fins—that stand, swim, fly and more. I knew I wanted to serve the earth and everything its light hits. However, I did not know where my skills were best spent. Upon starting my first course in NRE, Dendrology, I discovered that outdoors time did not have to be relegated to “down time.” Instead, my academics enriched my personal pursuits while harmonizing my relationship with the environment towards a holistic perspective: one that includes interdisciplinary knowledge and works not only my brain but also my body! Simply, what I called “forest Fridays,” where class was hiking through the forest and acquainting myself with trees, fulfilled my desires. Since then, the woods are a place where I am most present, responsive and observant—which is how I settled on my concentration of sustainable forest resources.
Which one of your UConn activities, internships or jobs was the most memorable? Why?
Working on the UConn Forest crew under Prof. Tom Worthley. This experience furthered not only my practical understanding of forestry but also fed my academic, social and professional networks within UConn and beyond. Splitting wood, boiling maple sap, helping graduate students or attending forestry conferences with peers in my field yielded long-lasting friendships, seeded scientific inquiries and solidified the refuge I found in CAHNR.
Name two other experiences that have enriched your studies.
Two other experience that come to mind are working in the Department of Forestry and Horticulture of the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station (CAES) and studying abroad as a part of South African Field Ecology.
Spending a month in South Africa as a part of South African Field Ecology conditioned in me an invaluable attitude towards life. I learned to remain alert to my surroundings and open to experiences and exist unencumbered by preconceptions. I learned to prioritize practicing presence. Firsthand exposure to the complex ecological and conservation context of South Africa has continued to serve as a foil by which I can evaluate and interact with conservation issues elsewhere.
Working at CAES, I continue to gain numerous experiences in all facets of natural resources. Every day is unique; one day I might be painting research plot boundaries in a dense mountain laurel stand, and the next I am working with and learning from NRCS soil scientists while a backhoe digs pits. The wonderful thing about natural resources is its multidimensionality; it is a discipline that considers societal, economic, environmental and cultural perspectives (to name a few!). Remaining constantly observant and thoughtful allows knowledge I collect to be applied to an array of natural resources situations. Finally, my work with CAES complements my studies at UConn as I was able to do independent research in Dr. Robert Fahey’s forest ecology lab, using long-term ecological monitoring data from CAES.
What has been the biggest challenge in your UConn career?
The biggest challenge in my UConn career has been making peace with a dynamic pathway to success rather than one prescribed by societal or personal expectations. I only settled on my final plan of study a couple of weeks ago! Seeing change as a useful adaptation rather than an interruption to my aspirations helped. Valuing all information, whether or not I currently recognize where it fits in my personal mosaic, has opened bountiful opportunities that go beyond what I could have planned for! As for avoiding the influence of norms I have learned to trust in my personal passions to guide my endeavors rather than falling in line with what seems practical for others.
When do you expect to graduate? What then?
I expect to graduate in December 2020. Then I will make sure to honor all the things that have nourished my mind, body and soul in my time at UConn! After graduation, I will begin a contracted forestry research position at the McLean Wildlife Refuge, delving into long-term ecological monitoring data on their unique forest tracts while continuing my research with CAES and the forest ecology lab at UConn. I am interested in eventually combining my love of trail running, climbing, backpacking and service with my forestry foundation through a position as a wildland firefighter and arborist. Field research in the Arctic is another goal. Overall, I hope to unite my physical abilities with my research interests while enriching the human experience in any way possible.
Has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your studies or research?
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented major mental challenges in my studies and research. Focusing on a laptop screen while human, ecological, economic and societal health are in such obvious turmoil is exhausting. Professors struggle to lecture from their homes while firefighters struggle to tame flames engulfing homes while people shout to defend basic freedoms that every living creature deserves. Consistently checking in with myself and others has grounded me. When I am feeling especially overwhelmed, small acts of service and allowing moments of self-care away from screens refreshes my hope. I have been working on balancing my studies and my research with accepting my personal needs. Fortunately, my moments indulging in distraction often inspire my studies and research. Thank god for the river trail behind my house!
Is there anything else you would like us to know about you?
During this time, I find comfort in drawing parallels between those pursuits of the environment and those pursuits inherent in humanity. I find comfort and peace in knowing my natural world and understanding its history, our history. Knowing things like how a tree heals (that it grows around a wound rather than filling it in, allowing loss to remain) has in my mind illuminated parts of the human experience. Culture, history, art, science and so forth are all interconnected. An understanding of nature coincides with an understanding of oneself; even more, an acceptance of where one fits spiritually, physically, academically, societally and so forth. It’s important to appreciate that all disciplines are fundamentally multidisciplinary. If anyone is feeling alone or in need of hope, please reach out! I am an open ear.
Specifically, I have found solace in volunteering at the Covenant Soup Kitchen in Willimantic. They are always in need of helpers, so if you are inclined to give time, non-perishables or otherwise, any form of aid, big or small, is a big help!