Class of 2021: CLAS Students share What – and Who – Inspires Them

Family, faculty, and peer connections are some of the things that motivated the students in the CLAS class of 2021 through an unprecedented year.

Three graduating student portraits. From left: William Aleman, Yasaman Homayouni, and Kristyn Leamon.

Editor’s note: This is the first in our annual College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Graduating Student Spotlight series. This year, students with a broad array of backgrounds and majors reflect on their college experience, remembering the good times and how the COVID-19 pandemic changed their senior year.  


What has been most inspiring to you at UConn?  


William Aleman ’21 (CLAS), BA

Data analytics
New Haven, Connecticut

William Aleman smiles for a portrait.
William Aleman, an economics major and data analytics minor. Photo courtesy of William Aleman. 

My family played a huge part in my eagerness to succeed and motivation to graduate. Both of my parents came to the United States in their early 20’s with nothing but hope, to be able to give my little brother and myself a better life. Being a first-generation student, it was tough at times and there were definitely a lot of stressful nights. But I knew I had to graduate because I wanted to make my family proud. I owe them that. My parents are my role models and they are my biggest inspiration, as well as my support system. I am hoping to set the path for my little brother so he can be just as, if not more, successful than I am.


Victoria Sun ’21 (CLAS), BA

Major: English
Hometown: Queens, New York and Norwich, Connecticut

The first class I took with Barbara Gurr, associate professor in residence of women’s, gender, and sexuality studies, was her Feminism in Science Fiction course, and it was incredible. Her content was engaging and relevant in every way imaginable. Occasionally, we would have emergency simulations where our pods would have to overcome hypothetical situations on the spot without being able to fully communicate. Everyone in the class was still able to retain all the knowledge we were told, but Barb also gave us a chance to put it to use. 


Mukund Desibhatla ’21 (CLAS), BS

Majors: Physiology and neurobiology and Spanish
Minor: European studies
Hometown: Newton, Massachusetts

He not only pushed me to become a better student and scientist, but taught me to always consider the greater implications of research and who it will benefit.

My research mentor, Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor of Psychological Sciences John Salamone, was integral in shaping my college experience. He not only pushed me to become a better student and scientist, but taught me to always consider the greater implications of research and who it will benefit. I am grateful for his guidance, and will always have a deep passion for psychopharmacology due to his influence. 


Yasaman Homayouni is a graduate student studying astrophysics. Photo courtesy of Yasaman Homayouni.

Yasaman Homayouni ’21 Ph.D.

Major: Physics
Hometown: Tehran, Iran

I was lucky to have a supportive advisorAssociate Professor of Physics Jonathan Trump as well as amazing mentors and role models. They made me believe in achieving things that I never even dreamed about 

When I started at UConn, there was no astronomy group. Around the time I set my mind on pursuing astronomy for my Ph.D. at other universities with an existing astronomy program, UConn CLAS hired three amazing astronomers and started its first astronomy group. It was such a right time for me! 

Black holes are among the most extreme objects in the Universe, creating literal rips in the fundamental fabric of space and time. Supermassive black holes reside at the center of every galaxy. But we still don’t understand how they form and grow. During my Ph.D., I led a program with the Hubble Space Telescope to monitor three extreme supermassive black holes.


Kristyn Leamon ’21 (CLAS), BS

Major: Speech, language and hearing sciences
Hometown: Manchester, Connecticut

Kristyn Leamon smiles at the camera.
Kristyn Leamon, a speech, language and hearing sciences major. Photo courtesy of Kristyn Leamon.

I’m thirty, and throughout my twenties I was living a life that was more free-spirited. And I wanted stability. wanted a career. I wanted to invest in something, where I could work with people one-on-one, and understand who I am as a person. I like to be nurturing and encouraging, and working one-on-one either with children or adults, and something to help them regain abilities that they might have lost, anything like that. Knowing that once I’m done, I can walk into a field where I can actually start doing this, that was one of my motivators. Just knowing that I will finally be able to invest myself into something, into patients, into this career. That was something I was really craving.  

Zhian Xie ’21 (CLAS), BA

Major: Applied mathematics
Hometown: Nanchang, Jiangxi, China

I would say all my extracurricular activities motivated me. Being an Asian American Cultural Center staff member, Global gateways coordinator, FYE mentor, and more. All of these have really motivated me during my college experience. It is not really about what I have done, or what I have learned. It is all about the amazing people that I have met during this process. I really appreciate all of them as they have really brightened my days at UConn. The days that I worked with them were just beautiful, and they have really influenced me and changed me a lot.