CAHNR Welcomes New Faculty Members for Fall 2023

This diverse cohort will bring new expertise and fresh perspectives to CAHNR’s thriving academic community

Aerial view of Horsebarn Hill

Aerial (drone) view of Horsebarn Hill and the UConn skyline on Oct. 15, 2019. (Sean Flynn/UConn Photo)

UConn’s College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources (CAHNR) has hired many new full-time faculty members. This diverse cohort will bring new expertise and fresh perspectives to CAHNR’s thriving academic community.

“Over the last several years, we have seen a sea change within CAHNR faculty due to retirements and new positions,” says Dean and Director Indrajeet Chaubey. “With this cohort of faculty, we once again welcome innovative scholars, dedicated educators, and committed extension specialists to ensure CAHNR’s impact is felt both within the UConn community and beyond.”

Renata Bertotti, Assistant Cooperative Extension Educator, UConn Extension

Bertotti holds a master’s degree in geography from Central Connecticut State University. Bertotti previously worked as an assistant extension educator in land use planning and climate resilience for CAHNR and an adjunct faculty member in the UConn School of Public Policy. She has also worked in town planning in Newington, Meriden, Manchester, Windsor, and Coventry.

Margaret Boyle, Assistant Professor in Residence, Natural Resources and the Environment

Boyle’s research, teaching, and service focus on questions of climate change, environmental policy, and governance, with a multidisciplinary lens. Her recent research has focused on understanding how the structure of international agreements and meeting processes for international climate and environmental cooperation can better support outcomes rooted in science, equity, and stakeholders’ aims. Boyle has more than two decades of combined professional and teaching experience. She holds a PhD in geography from Penn State University and previously taught at Colby College.

Margaret Cozens, Visiting Assistant Extension Educator, UConn Extension

Cozens has eight years of experience as an environmental scientist and educator. She has worked for the Maine Coast Heritage Trust as a community conservation outreach manager and an adjunct natural science lecturer for Connecticut State Colleges and Universities. Cozens has also been an educator and researcher for the Save the Sound initiative and the National Estuaries Research Reserve in North Carolina. Cozens holds a master’s degree in environmental science from the University of North Carolina, Wilmington.

Victoria (Tori) DeScenza, Assistant Professor in Residence, Kinesiology

DeScenza is a certified Cancer Exercise Trainer. She has both training and research experience in exercise physiology, community programming for clinical populations, and behavioral health promotion interventions. Her research is rooted in theory-based lifestyle interventions in the promotion of health and disease prevention. DeScenza holds a PhD from The Ohio State University in health and exercise science. Before coming to UConn, DeScenza completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of South Carolina where she was engaged in a study on peer coaching for physical activity promotion among breast cancer survivors.

Christianne Eason, Assistant Professor in Residence, Kinesiology

Eason has served as the president of sport safety and education at the Korey Stringer Institute at UConn. She is the director of the innovATe project, which focuses on increasing athletic training services in secondary schools. Eason received her PhD in sport management from UConn in 2016. Eason has published 73 peer-reviewed articles. She is a certified athletic trainer who has worked clinically in the NCAA Division I, Division III, and secondary school settings. Her research has been supported by funding from the National Football League Foundation and the National Athletic Trainers’ Association Research and Education Foundation.

Jennifer Fields, Assistant Professor, Nutritional Sciences

The goal of Fields’ research is to enhance the health and performance of athletes. Her research involves assessments of nutrition knowledge, body composition, diet quality, and low energy availability in collegiate athletes. She has studied the effects of protein and vitamin D interventions. Before coming to UConn, Fields was an assistant professor in exercise science at Springfield College. Fields holds a PhD in exercise, fitness, and health promotion from George Mason University. She has authored 27 peer-reviewed articles.

Maryann Fusco-Rollins, Assistant Cooperative Extension Educator, UConn Extension

Since 2010, Fusco-Rollins worked as the educational program coordinator for UConn Extension Tolland County 4-H. She is now stepping into her new role in Tolland County. Fusco-Rollins will develop programming focused on healthy lifestyles literacy. Fusco-Rollins earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in animal science from UConn in 1991 and 2008, respectively. She has served on multiple committees in the College including two CAHNR Strategic Vision Implementation Committees. Fusco-Rollins has worked on nine grant projects.

Huijie Gan, Assistant Research Professor, Plant Science and Landscape Architecture

Gan’s research interests include soil health, agroecology, and biogeochemistry. Gan focuses on understanding three ecological processes that support major soil functions and ecosystem services in agroecosystems: soil carbon and nutrient cycling for soil fertility and soil health; plant-soil interactions and biodiversity for integrated pest and weed management; and the soil-water relationships for developing climate resilient agriculture. Gan previously worked as a postdoctoral researcher in the UConn Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture. Gan holds a PhD in ecology from the University of Michigan. She has authored 13 peer-reviewed publications. She has worked on three funded grant projects.

Maria Gracia Gervasi, Assistant Professor, Animal Science

Gervasi’s research focuses on animal reproduction. She is currently working on a USDA NIFA-funded grant studying the molecular mechanisms by which two novel sperm treatments are beneficial for fertilization and early embryo development in bovine. Her work has implications for the study of both human and animal fertility and reproduction. Gervasi’s domestic and international collaborations have resulted in 34 peer-reviewed publications. Gervasi holds a PhD in reproductive biology from the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Robert Huggins, Assistant Professor, Kinesiology

Huggins’ research focuses on improving athletic training services at the secondary school level, the economic impact of medical services rendered by athletic trainers, heat illness and the assessment of physiological biomarkers, exercise stress, and training load on sport performance. Huggins has authored 61 peer-reviewed publications. His work has been supported by grant funding from agencies including the U.S. Department of Defense and the National Football League. Huggins has served as the president of research and athlete performance and safety at the Korey Stringer Institute at UConn since 2018 and an assistant research professor in the Department of Kinesiology since 2017. He is also a licensed athletic trainer.

Bonnie Kegler, Assistant Cooperative Extension Educator, UConn Extension

Kegler recently retired from her position as an agricultural education teacher at Killingly High School where she taught for 28 years. Throughout her career, Kegler has been engaged in leadership and youth development activities. She served as the president of the Connecticut Association for Agricultural Educators, and has held various positions for Tolland County 4-H. Kegler earned her master’s degree in animal science with a concentration in education from UConn in 1988. In UConn Extension, she will be working for UConn 4-H in the Windham County Extension Office.

Srikanth Kodati, Assistant Cooperative Extension Educator, UConn Extension

Kodati will serve as a pesticide safety education and crop protection extension educator. His research interests include the impact of climate change on pathogenicity of fungal pathogens; pesticide efficacy and fungicide resistance; and integrated pest management. He has authored 14 peer-reviewed publications. Kodati previously worked as a postdoctoral researcher in the UConn Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture. Kodati holds a PhD in agronomy and horticulture from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Evan Lentz, Assistant Cooperative Extension Educator, Plant Science and Landscape Architecture

Lentz’s interests include commercial fruit production, integrated pest management, and agricultural technology. He will focus on fruit production and integrated pest management in this Extension position. Lentz’s research combines traditional production, integrated pest management, and precision agricultural technology. Lentz earned his master’s degree in plant science from UConn in 2022. Lentz has worked on three USDA-funded projects.

Allison MacKenzie, Instructor in Residence, Kinesiology

MacKenzie has several years of leadership, teaching, and clinical experience. Before coming to UConn, MacKenzie worked as the program coordinator of health and exercise science at Manchester Community College (MCC). In 2015 and 2022, MacKenzie received the Merit Award for Faculty Excellence at MCC. MacKenzie holds an MS in clinical exercise physiology from Northeastern University. Her thesis focused on the prevalence of non-prescription dietary weight loss supplement use in subjects with diabetes mellitus.

Mia Maltz, Assistant Professor, Plant Science and Landscape Architecture

Maltz is a microbial ecologist whose research focuses on ecological restoration, biogeochemistry, and agroecology. Maltz uses a combination of field and lab experiments, molecular tools, and bioinformatics software to uncover how assembly processes affect plant and microbial community structure and ecosystem functioning in managed ecosystems. Maltz received her PhD in ecology and evolutionary biology from the University of California Irvine. She was also a President’s Postdoctoral Fellow in the Division of Biomedical Sciences at UC Riverside.

Paula Jean Kalksma McDowell, Lecturer 11 month, Allied Health Sciences

McDowell has experience teaching and mentoring in both academic and non-profit spaces. McDowell previously worked as the health promotion project coordinator at UConn. Prior to coming to UConn, she worked as the program director of CollegeTracks, a nonprofit organization which helps underrepresented students gain admission to and succeed in college. McDowell holds a master’s degree in health promotion from the University of Delaware. She has published three peer-reviewed articles.

Owen Placido, Visiting Assistant Extension Educator, UConn Extension

Placido will be working as an outreach coordinator for the Long Island Sound Study. Before coming to UConn, Placido worked with wastewater pollution from septic systems at the University of Rhode Island’s Onsite Wastewater Resource Center. Placido has experience with community outreach through this position, which involved hosting open houses with the public and engaging the local community at farmer’s markets. Placido holds a master’s degree in biological and environmental sciences from the University of Rhode Island.

Mingyu Qiao, Assistant Professor of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Nutritional Sciences

Qiao is the founder and chief technology officer of Halomine, Inc., a company that produces a patented antimicrobial surface treatment. Qiao’s research focuses on addressing microbial threats to both human health and animal production. He is especially interested in addressing emerging challenges surrounding antimicrobial resistance. Qiao holds a PhD from Auburn University and worked as a postdoctoral researcher at Cornell University before coming to UConn. He has raised more than $9 million in grant funding for his research and company. Qiao holds three patents and has authored 16 peer-reviewed publications.

Aviana Rosen, Assistant Professor in Residence, Allied Health Sciences

Rosen’s research focuses on HIV/AIDS and mHealth strategies to reach vulnerable populations. She has worked on international collaborations with colleagues in Cuba and Spain. Rosen is currently involved in a study looking at data from the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. and Spain. Rosen recently completed her PhD in allied health sciences at UConn, where she also earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees. She received the CAHNR Excellence in Graduate Student Teaching Award in 2023. She has authored eight peer-reviewed publications.

Sarah Schechter, Visiting Assistant Extension Educator, UConn Extension

Sarah Schechter will be working with Connecticut Sea Grant and UConn Extension programs. She will support the Long Island Sound Study’s sustainable and resilient communities goals. Schechter recently completed her master’s of environmental science and management at the University of Rhode Island. She completed a graduate certificate in geographic information systems (GIS) and remote sensing. She earned her bachelor’s degree in environmental studies and anthropology from UConn in 2021.

James Smith, Assistant Professor in Residence, Kinesiology

Smith is a licensed physical therapist who served as the founding director of a physical therapist assistant education program. He has 17 years of experience teaching at Utica College’s physical therapy education program. Smith holds a Doctor of Physical Therapy from Simmons University. Smith’s expertise is acute care physical therapy. He also has experience with pharmacology, integumentary disorders, and examination and intervention for neuropathology. Smith’s scholarship has focused on critical illness and recovery from critical illness. He has authored more than 20 peer-reviewed publications.

Shinsuke Tanaka, Assistant Professor, Agricultural and Resource Economics

Tanaka’s research interests include environmental economics, health economics, and development economics. In particular, he is interested in the effects of environmental pollution on human health; evaluations of environmental policies regulating pollution emissions or automobile fuel economy; valuation of environmental risk; and health policies and early childhood health. Before coming to UConn, Tanaka worked as an assistant professor of economics in The Fletcher School at Tufts University. Tanaka has authored eight peer-reviewed publications.

Edan Tulman, Instructor in Residence, Pathobiology and Veterinary Science

Tulman has 25 years of research experience in academic and governmental positions. Tulman studies topics including viral and bacterial comparative genomics and bioinformatics, virology, molecular biology, pathogen-host interaction, and host response and immunity. He currently coordinates a USDA-funded network for research vaccinologists. Tulman received his master’s degree in pathobiology from UConn in 1996. He has worked as a research associate at the Center for Excellence for Vaccine Research and the Department of Pathobiology and Veterinary Science at UConn since 2004. Tulman has authored 65 peer-reviewed publications and worked on grants funded by the USDA NIFA, USDA, and NIH.

Md Elias Uddin, Assistant Professor, Animal Science

Uddin’s research focuses on evaluating diets and feed additives on enteric methane; manure methane and nitrous oxide, and farm-gate footprint; and understanding the aspects of carbon and nitrogen utilization efficiencies in large ruminants both at the animal and farm scale aiming to improve the sustainability of ruminant production systems. Uddin has secured $5.5 million in industry grants for his research program. Uddin holds a PhD in ruminant nutrition and systems modeling from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Before coming to UConn, Uddin worked as an assistant professor in the Dairy and Food Science Department at South Dakota State University.

Poonam Vinayamohan, Assistant Research Professor, Animal Science

Vinayamohan’s research interests include reducing antibiotic resistance transmission among foodborne pathogens and commensals using food-grade antimicrobials and study of their mechanism of action; developing strategies for controlling food-borne pathogens by targeting their virulence mechanisms across various environments; and identifying novel non-antibiotic strategies for reducing C. difficile infection using animal models.Vinayamohan earned her PhD in animal science from UConn in 2020. She also holds a DVM from the Kerala Veterinary and Animal Sciences University. Before returning to UConn, Vinayamohan worked as a postdoctoral researcher at the Ohio State University

Chandi Witharana, Assistant Professor, Natural Resources and the Environment

Witharana’s research uses high-resolution remote sensing to study the environmental, industrial, agricultural, and humanitarian applications of this technology. The diverse topics of Witharana’s research have included Artic ice, wildlife, electric utilities, pest management, and censusing refugees in armed-conflicted areas of South Asia. Witharana earned his PhD in geological science from UConn in 2013. He has worked as an assistant professor in residence at UConn since 2020. Witharana is the program director for the Remote Sensing and Geospatial Data Analytics Graduate Certificate at UConn.

Elsio Wunder, Assistant Professor, Pathobiology and Veterinary Science

Wunder has an established research program specializing in leptospirosis. He has also studied Zika virus and SARS-Cov-2. Wunder’s work focuses on the public health aspects of zoonotic diseases. Wunder holds a PhD in investigative medicine from the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation in Brazil and a DVM from the Veterinary School of the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul. Before coming to UConn, Wunder worked as a research scientist at the Yale School of Public Health. In his new role, Wunder will focus on One Health approaches to infectious diseases.

Zhenlei Xiao, Associate Professor in Residence, Nutritional Sciences

Xiao’s research focuses on improving the nutrition, quality, and safety of fresh produce by exploring new agricultural practices and pre- and post-harvest interventions. Her lab is also interested in sustainable food systems and food innovation and product development. Xiao holds a PhD in nutrition and food science from the University of Maryland. Before coming to UConn, Xiao worked as an associate professor in the Department of Culinary Services & Product Development at Johnson & Wales University. She has served as the PI or co-PI on four grants and authored 22 peer-reviewed publications.