UConn Today https://today.uconn.edu/ Sat, 28 Jan 2023 12:24:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=6.0.2 Theater’s Ping Chong Enjoys Three-Day Residency, Shares the Way He Sees Performance https://today.uconn.edu/2023/01/theaters-ping-chong-enjoys-three-day-residency-shares-the-way-he-sees-performance/ https://today.uconn.edu/2023/01/theaters-ping-chong-enjoys-three-day-residency-shares-the-way-he-sees-performance/#respond Fri, 27 Jan 2023 20:53:30 +0000 Kimberly Phillips https://today.uconn.edu/?p=194840 Renowned interdisciplinary artist Ping Chong didn’t use the word “pioneer” Friday to describe his body of work, but as he detailed several of his shows from the latter half of a 50-year career, one could have said what he’s done for theater since the 1970s was indeed pioneering.

He told a crowd during a lunchtime lecture in the Nafe Katter Theatre that changes in the arts world started happening just before he came of age, beginning with visual artists who started to question why paintings had to hang on a wall and why they had to be confined to a frame.

American theater, he said, was slow to change, slow to move itself off the stage and consider different ways to tell stories with dance and puppets, perhaps on a rooftop or beside a lake.

Ping Chong, a theater director and choreographer, leads a master class at the Drama-Music Building on Jan. 26, 2023.
Ping Chong, a theater director and choreographer, leads a master class at the Drama-Music Building on Jan. 26, 2023. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

But once inventiveness took hold, “there were all kinds of wild, adventurous ideas,” he said. “It was a time of very exciting experimentation.”

Chong, who was in the middle of a three-day residency in the dramatic arts department in the School of Fine Arts that wraps Saturday, started out wanting to be a visual artist and later developed a fraught relationship with film – he loved it, but as an Asian American he would have broken a Hollywood ceiling and, he said, he didn’t have the right disposition to do that.

Then life took a different direction.

An almost New York City native – Chong was born in Toronto and moved to New York as an infant – he took a dance class with performance artist Meredith Monk, yet rebuffed her first invitation to attend an afterhours personal workshop.

He agreed after a second invite, and “if I hadn’t walked into her workshop that night I wouldn’t be here. They call that fate,” he said.

Chong – whose long list of awards and honors includes a USA Artist Fellowship, two BESSIE awards, two OBIE awards, and a 2014 National Medal of Arts presented by President Barack Obama – was among the first theater directors to begin using projection screens, sound, puppetry, lighting, and more to convey his stories. In one show, he re-edited a circa-1950s monster movie and incorporated it into the performance.

In his 1991 “Deshima,” he sat the audience in a mobile box, pulling a curtain around them and piping in music before literally moving them to another part of the performance space and planting them in 16th century Japan.

Then, in his 2014 “Collidescope: Adventures in Pre- and Post-Racial America,” he told the story of Black Americans through a series of vignettes as put on by aliens from outer space.

“Whatever you decide to put in front of people who are watching is theater,” he said.

With influence from his family, who worked in the New York Chinese opera scene, Chong said he expected shows to have a certain pageantry that traditional plays oftentimes don’t.

“I was never going to do naturalism,” he said. “Naturalism killed the imagination.”

Michael Chybowski, UConn associate professor of lighting, said Chong is mostly interested in creating theater as an experience rather than as a narrative, which manifests itself into a final product that is different from theater that would have been seen 300 years ago.

Chong’s visit to UConn has been years in the making, Chybowski explained.

Ping Chong, a theater director and choreographer, leads a master class at the Drama-Music Building on Jan. 26, 2023.
Ping Chong, a theater director and choreographer, leads a master class at the Drama-Music Building on Jan. 26, 2023. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

The two worked together in 1989, when Chybowski was recruited to work for theater company Ping Chong and Company and toured the former Yugoslavia with the show “Angels of Swedenborg.” Then in 2011, the show was resurrected for performances at Williams College in Massachusetts and the Ellen Stewart Theatre at La MaMa in New York City.

They kept in touch, and just over three years ago, Chybowski began the work of bringing him to UConn, which started with a masterclass Thursday that discussed the elements of staging and using space and images and continued with the lecture Friday along with an evening masterclass on movement and sound. A third masterclass Saturday afternoon will discuss scenes and rehearsals.

Chybowski said students from various theatrical disciplines have been participating, with even designers taking on performance roles.

“Our theater students are going to take away an inspirational story in Ping himself and the expansive outlook that he has,” Chybowski said. “They’re also going to learn it’s possible to look at performance or theater in more than one way.”

Chong noted in his lecture Friday that his theater company is under new leadership as he steps aside and heads into retirement. Only, he’s not fading away.

He said his latest project continues the ongoing series of works under the same title, “Undesirable Elements,” in which he brings a handful of average people onto a stage to tell their story. The show is done in a documentary style and has detailed the experiences of transgender people, Black Americans, and Muslim Americans, among others.

This latest show will feature five Ukrainians, two of them American-born, telling their stories.

“It’s not all about the war, but how much do you know about why Russians are there,” Chong said, noting that history dates to the mid-1700s.

The show will debut in early May in New York City.

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Respect at the Center of Patient Care https://today.uconn.edu/2023/01/respect-at-the-center-of-patient-care/ https://today.uconn.edu/2023/01/respect-at-the-center-of-patient-care/#respond Fri, 27 Jan 2023 19:40:59 +0000 Christopher DeFrancesco '95 (CLAS) https://today.uconn.edu/?p=194685 It may seem obvious that respect is a critical component of good health care, but Tamara Cardoso is uniquely qualified to understand it.

Cardoso is a performance improvement specialist in UConn Health’s Office of Patient Experience.

“Respect is the foundation of compassionate caregiving, healthy relationship building, and solid teamwork,” Cardoso says. “Respect lives in everything we do as health care professionals. We are humans caring for other humans — this is a hard, unique, and beautiful responsibility.”

Cardoso joined UConn Health as a member of the Epic electronic health record information technology team in 2016. She’s been in patient experience for the last three years.

“The best part of my job is that I can build relationships and positively impact how care is delivered here at UConn Health,” she says. “I have a unique position and an insider’s view of patients’ perception of care, what they need, what they want, and what type of care they expect. And it is my job to listen, share and translate so that our leaders, clinicians, and employees can take meaningful action to elevate the human experience – for all.”

Cardoso’s responsibilities include the role of patient survey administrator, reporting survey data to leadership, providing insightful interpretation and helping identify patient-centric standards and practices.

“The goal is to continue building a supportive environment built on mutual respect, communication, and teamwork, improving patient safety and quality of care.”

Cardoso recalls the importance of respect being instilled on her from her childhood, influenced by her Grandmother, who was born and raised in Georgia.

“I grew up in a Southern household, and at an early age, I learned what respect meant and what it looked like,” she says. “For me, respect is acknowledgment and consideration of another, and it’s about connecting with the individual. Respect allows us to build and preserve relationships with others. This can mean tending to one’s emotions, showing kindness, and demonstrating empathy when someone shows signs of anxiety, discomfort, or even frustration. In health care, demonstrating courtesy and respect enables us to connect as human beings first.”

Cardoso says she and her Office of Patient Experience colleagues exemplify respect by following these tenets:

  • Acknowledge everyone with a verbal greeting and a smile.
  • Connect with the patient as a human being first, then as a patient.
  • Introduce yourself (or your teammate) by name and role.
  • Recognize the high-stress/high-anxiety environment of the health care setting and interact with compassion, empathy, and kindness.
  • Be attentive to a patient’s and family’s needs and provide updates often, even if you don’t have the answers they are looking for.
  • Share information generously and timely.
  • Recognize and be mindful of cultural differences, communication needs and preferences, and personal experiences.
  • Respect and promote inclusivity and diversity.
  • Offer dignity by choosing to see and value others’ needs; advocate for those who are unable to do so for themselves.

“We must honor a shared commitment to providing a mutually respectful environment to support healing for our patients and the communities we serve,” Cardoso says. “Our patients recognize when this is done well.”

Cindy Molin, UConn Health’s vice president for patient experience, is Cardoso’s supervisor.

“Tamara embodies the value of respect – whether giving it, to a patient, a visitor or a colleague, or earning it, from a coworker or an executive leader,” Molin says. “Tamara is a natural leader with the ability to effortlessly strike the balance between being liked and being respected. She is authentic, collaborative, and radiates an abundant positivity that energizes everyone in a room or a meeting.”

Cardoso lives in West Hartford with longtime partner, Stephen, and their dogs, Brooklyn and Dallas. When she’s not working, she enjoys hikes, day trips, and photography.

She says respecting ourselves and others is a small gesture to show others they are cared for and seen, making for small moments that matter to patients, their families and each other.

“I invite everyone to take a moment to recognize and understand that we are humans taking care of other humans — and small gestures of kindness, consideration, compassion, and respect speak volumes — and it will be fondly remembered,” Cardoso says.

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UConn Health Southington Teams with Main Street Community Foundation to Pilot Free Parent Group Sessions to Improve Mental Health of Parents and Children During COVID-19 Pandemic https://today.uconn.edu/2023/01/uconn-health-southington-teams-with-main-street-community-foundation-to-pilot-free-parent-group-sessions-to-improve-mental-health-of-parents-and-children-during-covid-19-pandemic/ https://today.uconn.edu/2023/01/uconn-health-southington-teams-with-main-street-community-foundation-to-pilot-free-parent-group-sessions-to-improve-mental-health-of-parents-and-children-during-covid-19-pandemic/#respond Fri, 27 Jan 2023 18:51:04 +0000 Lauren Woods https://today.uconn.edu/?p=194819
The new program at UConn Health Southington has a lending library and resources for parents and families.

Parenting is never easy, but it has become even more challenging during the never-ending COVID-19 pandemic.

“Parenting is hard! It got a lot harder with COVID-19 struggles which have taken a mental health toll on both parents and children,” says David P. FitzGerald, Ph.D., assistant professor and Director of the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Outpatient Clinic at UConn Health.

FitzGerald reports a steep rise of depression and anxiety among families during the ongoing pandemic and during COVID has received a tripling in parent calls seeking therapy appointments for their kids at UConn Health’s Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Outpatient Clinic due to increased stress levels.

But pandemic or not, parents and children can at times experience elevated feelings of stress, anger, sadness, and anxiety. But even more so during a pandemic with such added stressors as home schooling and quarantine mandates says UConn Health experts.

Given the uptick in demands for child psychiatry appointments during COVID-19, and not enough provider capacity to meet these higher demands, UConn Health experts wanted to work to increase access by offering parent group counseling sessions.

Thanks to a generous $150,000 grant by the Bradley H. Barnes and Leila U. Barnes Memorial Trust at the Main Street Community Foundation a new innovative parenting group pilot program has launched as The Child & Family Development Program at UConn Health Southington.

Victoria Triano
Victoria Triano, chairwoman of the Southington Town Council, speaking on Jan. 26 at UConn Health Southington.

“Parents have great intentions to be advocates and teachers for their children. Having increased support and educational resources is critical for parents to stay on a productive path,” FitzGerald stresses.

On the evening of January 26 UConn Health Southington and the Main Street Community Foundation gathered together with local Southington officials and clinicians to celebrate the successful launch of the new, free parent group pilot program.

Victoria Triano, chairwoman of the Southington Town Council, spoke at the celebratory event calling the new Child and Family Development Program “a gem” for the Southington Community.

The new pilot program offers several different parent groups, including those that help parents manage child behavior problems, groups that improve parent-child emotion connections, and support groups for parents of children/teens with neurodevelopmental disorders, especially Autistic Spectrum Disorders. The free parenting group program also offers free educational resources to help parents cope with behavioral issues during this pandemic’s elevated time of stress impacting mental health of parents and children alike.

“Parent training in child behavior strategy that is group-based is effective. Research shows that if you work with parents, you may be able to help them better manage their behavior and marry together their more effective behavior with improving their kids’ behavior,” says FitzGerald.

“Working closely with parents could really improve the social-emotional development of their children,” says the new program’s co-director Carolyn Greene, Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry and clinical psychologist at UConn Health’s Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Outpatient Clinic whose research also focuses on emotion regulation and emotion socialization parenting behaviors

Dr. David FitzGerald
Dr. David FitzGerald of UConn Health speaking on Jan. 26 at UConn Health Southington about the new pilot program and its team of experts.

The new program also offers parents referral to clinical services at UConn Health should they or their children be in need.

The UConn Health Southington-based pilot program is leveraging in-depth training certifications co-directors FitzGerald and Greene received from Tuning in to Kids and Tuning in to Teens programs and their online platform resources of materials, videos, and handouts developed by Australia’s University of Melbourne. These programs teach emotionally-intelligent parenting and assist parents in better understanding social-emotional development of their children. Plus, UConn Health Southington educational resources include a lending library for children, adolescents, and families.

“Parents can indeed learn to understand their children’s emotions better and in turn interact with their kids better daily and to also protect their social-emotional development as they grow,” says FitzGerald. “Parents, as children’s first teachers, can serve as emotional coaches to help their children and move them toward their own problem solving.”

According to FitzGerald and Greene parenting success is all about collaboration. Together, parent and child can work to identify their negative emotion, verbalize it, accept it, and figure out what to do together to help the child learn to problem solve. Also, parents should always steer clear of emotion avoidance or emotion dismissing. Plus, always instill positivity whenever possible to help guide children’s future reactions.

Mary Ellen Hobson
Mary Ellen Hobson, Chair, Bradley H. Barnes and Leila U. Barnes Memorial Trust Advisory Committee is also a former longtime employee of UConn Health.

The pilot program started this fall at UConn Health Southington and is already having a positive impact upon Southington parents.

“Parents in our groups are really feeling better. Parents are learning together and from each other,” FitzGerald happily shared. “They are seeing that they are not alone in their child behavior struggles and that other parents have their same issues.”

There has been a lot of parent enthusiasm. One pleased parent shared with UConn Health that the parent group was “sent from heaven.”

“We are teaching parents on how to better collaborate with their child to be more effective,” says FitzGerald. “And parenting takes practice. We want to empower parents to feel confident, competent, and comfortable parenting.”

“Parenting is so important for a kid’s identity- and all the kids within a family,” stresses FitzGerald. “We need to ensure an

adaptive path is taken and everyone in the family stays on trajectory. If we can identify a problematic behavior, we can work to regulate that behavior, and help kids have few conflicts at home, school, and with other kids.”

Susan Sadecki
Susan Sadecki, President & CEO of the Main Street Community Foundation, speaking at the special program’s celebration.

Next, the pilot program looks forward to further growing and expanding its resource library of tools for Southington parents and children and expanding their partnership with Southington Public Schools to offer greater opportunities for school personnel training and a resource repository for school professionals.




The UConn Health Southington-based Child & Family Development Program is in the pilot phase. Southington parents with children ages 5-17 are eligible for the program. Interested Southington parents can call (860) 523-3783 for admission to the parenting groups. Parent groups meet at 1115 West St, Southington, CT.

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Combating Antisemitism Today: Holocaust Education in the Era of Twitter and TikTok https://today.uconn.edu/2023/01/combating-antisemitism-today-holocaust-education-in-the-era-of-twitter-and-tiktok-2/ https://today.uconn.edu/2023/01/combating-antisemitism-today-holocaust-education-in-the-era-of-twitter-and-tiktok-2/#respond Fri, 27 Jan 2023 12:15:24 +0000 Tom Breen https://today.uconn.edu/?p=194782 In the era of social media, antisemitism and Holocaust denial are no longer hidden in the margins, spewed by fringe hate groups. From Ye – formerly known as Kanye West – and NBA player Kyrie Irving to members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, well-recognized personalities have echoed antisemitic ideas, often online.

Beyond high-profile figures, there are clear signs that antisemitism is becoming more mainstream. In 2021, using the most recent data available, the Anti-Defamation League reported that antisemitic incidents in the U.S. reached an all-time high. Eighty-five percent of Americans believe at least one anti-Jewish trope, according to another ADL survey, and about 20% believe six or more tropes – a sharp increase from just four years before. In addition, Jewish college students increasingly report feeling unsafeostracized or harassed on campus.

All of this is layered on top of a widespread lack of knowledge about the Holocaust. As International Holocaust Remembrance Day approaches – Jan. 27, the day Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated – it is important to rethink how educators like me design lessons on antisemitism and the Holocaust.

Rather than teaching the Holocaust as an isolated event, educators must grapple with how it connects to antisemitism past and present. That means adapting to how people learn and live today: online.

Toxic information landscape

The online ecosystem where today’s antisemitism flourishes is a Wild West of information and misinformation that is largely unmonitored, distributed in an instant, and posted by anyone. Social media posts and news feeds are frequently filtered by algorithms that narrow the content users receive, reinforcing already held beliefs.

Mainstream platforms like TikTok, with soaring growth among young people, can be used to promote antisemitism, as can less well-known apps such as Telegram.

According to a 2022 report by the United Nations, 17% of public TikTok content related to the Holocaust either denied or distorted it. The same was true of almost 1 in 5 Holocaust-related Twitter posts and 49% of Holocaust content on Telegram.

An emerging danger is artificial intelligence technology. New AI resources offer potential teaching tools – but also the menace of easily spread and unmonitored misinformation. For example, character AI and Historical Figures Chat allow you to “chat” with a historical figure, including those associated with the Holocaust: from victims like Holocaust diarist Anne Frank to perpetrators such as Joseph Goebbels, Adolf Hitler’s minister of propaganda.

These sites come with warnings that characters’ responses could be made up and that users should check for historical accuracy, but it is easy to be misled by inaccurate answers.

Another potential AI hazard is deepfake videos. Media experts are warning about the potential for destabilizing “truth decay,” the inability to know what is real and what is fake, as the amount of synthetic content multiplies. Holocaust scholars are preparing to combat how historical sources and educational materials may be manipulated by deepfakes. There is particular concern that deepfakes will be used to manipulate or undercut survivors’ testimony.

Media literacy

Much of my scholarship tackles contemporary approaches to teaching the Holocaust – for example, the need to rethink education as the number of Holocaust survivors who are still able to tell their stories rapidly declines. Addressing today’s toxic information landscape presents another fundamental challenge that requires innovative solutions.

As a first step, educators can promote media literacy, the knowledge and skills needed to navigate and critique online information, and teach learners to approach sources with both healthy criticism and an open mind. Key strategies for K-12 students include training them to consider who is behind particular information and what evidence is provided and to investigate the creators of an unknown online source by seeing what trusted websites say about its information or authors.

Media literacy also entails identifying a source’s author, genre, purpose and point of view, as well as reflecting on one’s own point of view. Finally, it is important to trace claims, quotes and media back to the original source or context.

Applying these skills to a Holocaust unit might focus on recognizing the implicit stereotypes and misinformation online sources often rely on and paying attention to who these sources are and what their purpose is. Lessons can also analyze how social media enables Holocaust denial and investigate common formats for online antisemitism, such as deepfake videos, memes and troll attacks.

Learning in the digital age

Holocaust educators can also embrace new technologies, rather than just lament their pitfalls. For example, long after survivors die, people will be able to “converse” with them in museums and classrooms using specially recorded testimonies and natural language technology. Such programs can match a visitor’s questions with relevant parts of prerecorded interviews, responding almost as though they were talking to the visitor in person.

There are also immersive virtual reality programs that combine recorded survivor testimonies with VR visits to concentration camps, survivors’ hometowns and other historical sites. One such exhibition is “The Journey Back” at the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center. Not only can VR experiences transport viewers to such sites in a more realistic way than traditional lessons, but they also allow learners to partially decide how to interact with the virtual environment. In interviews for my current research, viewers report Holocaust VR experiences make them feel emotionally engaged with a survivor.

Society’s ‘family tree’

People often learn about themselves by exploring their family trees, examining heirlooms passed down from ancestors and telling stories around the dinner table – helping people make sense of who they are.

The same principle applies to understanding society. Studying the past provides a road map of how people and prior events shaped today’s conditions, including antisemitism. It is important for young people to understand that antisemitism’s horrific history did not originate with the Holocaust. Lessons that lead students to reflect on how indifference and collaboration fueled hate – or how everyday people helped stop it – can inspire them to speak up and act in response to rising antisemitism.

Holocaust education is not a neutral endeavor. As survivor and scholar Elie Wiesel said when accepting his 1986 Nobel Peace Prize, “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.”


Originally published in The Conversation.


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Dental Match Day for the Class of 2023 https://today.uconn.edu/2023/01/match-day-for-the-class-of-2023/ https://today.uconn.edu/2023/01/match-day-for-the-class-of-2023/#respond Thu, 26 Jan 2023 16:27:19 +0000 Courtney Chandler https://today.uconn.edu/?p=194742 This week, fourth-year students from the School of Dental Medicine gathered to celebrate their residency placements—known as the Match—for the next year.

Dr. Steven Lepowsky, dean of the School of Dental Medicine, congratulated the graduating class on an outstanding year of residency placements.

“Although this exceptional outcome has become commonplace in our school, it should never be taken for granted,” Lepowsky said. “Our students place in some of the most competitive residency programs nationally and it is a reflection of their hard work, dedication, and commitment to excellence.”

“We are proud of what they have accomplished so far and whether this next step takes them to the West Coast, the South, Midwest, mid-Atlantic, North—or whether they remain right here in Connecticut—we know they will represent UConn well,” Lepowsky continued.

Out of the 51 students, 16 will be staying in Connecticut—with six doing their residency at UConn Health. Half of the class placed in general dentistry residency programs, while the other half placed into specialty areas, such as oral surgery, orthodontics, prosthodontics, pediatrics, and endodontics. The students will be practicing across the country—in Oregon, Florida, Oklahoma, Illinois, Vermont, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Minnesota, New York, Arizona, Pennsylvania, California, and Alabama to name a few.

“It’s always so exciting to see where our students are, and where they represent UConn,” said Dr. Sarita Arteaga, associate dean for students.

Gabriel Levin is the first UConn student to place into a dental anesthesiology program. (Tina Encarnacion photo)

Gabriel Levin, from Avon, made history this year as the first UConn dental student to match into a dental anesthesiology program. Levin will be headed to Jacobi Medical Center in New York City.

“I love the medicine aspect of anesthesiology and being able to treat patients with anxiety that is really prevalent in dentistry. Making patients feel more comfortable is something that I am really looking forward to,” said Levin.

Flaviah Muchemi—also interested in both medicine and dentistry—was drawn to the School of Dental Medicine’s unique M Delta curriculum. Muchemi was born in Nairobi, Kenya and grew up in Connecticut. After graduating from Quinnipiac University, Muchemi worked as an ICU nurse for 3 years before enrolling in dental school. She placed for Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery at Case Western Reserve in Ohio, her top choice.

From left to right: Edward Amelemah, Flaviah Muchemi, and Kaimen Obeng celebrate their residency placements. (Tina Encarnacion photo)

“This is the best specialty for me with my background as a nurse in the ICU, where I got to see patients in the operating room,” said Muchemi. “Being able to combine dentistry and medicine is what I’m interested in.”

DeCélia Browne grew up in Florida and attended Oakwood University in Alabama. Browne is the only student in her class to head to a Community Health Center in Connecticut after she graduates this year. Browne spent a lot of her time volunteering at Community Health Centers as an undergraduate.

DeCélia Browne will be practicing at a Community Health Center in Connecticut. (Tina Encarnacion photo)

“I grew up in an underserved community, and I have really missed serving and being part of the community—I’m really excited to give back in a different way,” Browne said.

Browne is hoping to practice pediatric dentistry after she gains experience at the Community Health Center.

“I want to get my foot in the door and give back to my community as much as I can,” she continues.

Chris Allen, of Burlington, is a “double Husky”—he completed his undergraduate at UConn in Storrs before attending the UConn School of Dental Medicine. Allen, who will be headed to the University of Alabama for a general practice residency, is looking forward to leaving Connecticut for the first time to explore another part of the country.

Chris Allen will be pursuing a general practice residency at the University of Alabama. (Tina Encarnacion photo)

“I’m excited to provide general dental care to a population that’s in need and looking to grow and develop my skills so I can be a competent general dentist in the future,” Allen said.

Allen hopes to one day open a private practice as a family dentist and provide care for “everyone that walks through the door.”

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UConn Director of One Stop Student Services Named https://today.uconn.edu/2023/01/uconn-director-of-one-stop-student-services-named/ https://today.uconn.edu/2023/01/uconn-director-of-one-stop-student-services-named/#respond Thu, 26 Jan 2023 15:15:33 +0000 Combined Reports https://today.uconn.edu/?p=194778 Michael Ormsby has been named the Director of One Stop Student Services at UConn Storrs. He will begin this newly created role at the University on January 27, 2023.

Michael Ormsby.
Michael Ormsby (contributed photo)

Ormsby, who most recently served as the Director for Student Success at the University of Hartford, brings over 11 years of experience as a leader in student services. During his time at UHart, Ormsby directed the Center for Student Success, UHart’s one-stop student services center, having played a critical role in the Center’s creation and establishment. His extensive experience includes directing UHart’s orientation program, teaching and advising first-year students, and working in residential life. Ormsby is an active member of the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) and has presented at various professional conferences including, “Creating a One-Stop Shop to Increase Retention” at the National Conference on Students in Transition.

“Mike brings enthusiasm and experience in placing students at the center of our new service model,” says Nathan Fuerst, UConn’s Vice President for Enrollment Planning & Management. “Mike Ormsby is the visionary and positive leader we were searching for to lead the charge, as we design the manner in which we support our UConn Huskies today and in the future.”

“I am excited to join UConn nation and contribute knowledge and experience across departments, together, for the benefit of our Huskies.” says Ormsby.

The Division of Enrollment Planning and Management is excited about its upcoming establishment of a One Stop Student Services Office. UConn’s One Stop is an opportunity to be innovative and modernize our approach to student support services. As our students evolve, so will the services and support provided by the One Stop in a continued effort to elevate service levels for all UConn students across all campuses. In this important new role, Ormsby will provide strategic planning, vision, and direction for the staff, operations, and activities of the UConn One Stop in support of counseling and customer service for the integrated functions of the Offices of Undergraduate Admissions, Orientation Services, Student Financial Aid Services, Registrar, and other offices outside of Enrollment.

“At UConn, we continue to push to enhance the manner in which we provide an exceptional experience for our students,” added Fuerst. “The UConn One Stop, in its design and under Mike’s leadership, will be a place that students fondly recall when speaking to their UConn experience.”

As the Director of One Stop Student Services, Ormsby will expand the vision, implement, and manage UConn’s establishment of the One Stop shared services organization in a manner that places service to students and families as the highest priority, while understanding the unique needs of increasingly diverse and traditionally underserved student populations.

“Throughout my time in higher education I have always looked for ways to remove barriers for students and their families.” added Ormsby. “The more questions and concerns we can address in one place, the fewer barriers students will experience. I am very excited to continue that work through UConn’s One Stop.”

Please join me in welcoming Michael Ormsby to this role and to the UConn community.



Nathan Fuerst

Vice President for Enrollment Planning and Management


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Mercury Helps to Detail Earth’s Most Massive Extinction Event https://today.uconn.edu/2023/01/mercury-helps-to-detail-earths-most-massive-extinction-event/ https://today.uconn.edu/2023/01/mercury-helps-to-detail-earths-most-massive-extinction-event/#respond Thu, 26 Jan 2023 13:00:24 +0000 Elaina Hancock https://today.uconn.edu/?p=194337 The Latest Permian Mass Extinction (LPME) was the largest extinction in Earth’s history to date, killing between 80-90% of life on the planet, though finding definitive evidence for what caused the dramatic changes in climate has eluded experts.

An international team of scientists, including UConn Department of Earth Sciences researchers Professor and Department Head Tracy Frank and Professor Christopher Fielding, are working to understand the cause and how the events of the LPME unfolded by focusing on mercury from Siberian volcanoes that ended up in sediments in Australia and South Africa. The research has been published in Nature Communications.

Though the LPME happened over 250 million years ago, there are similarities to the major climate changes happening today, explains Frank:

“It’s relevant to understanding what might happen on earth in the future. The main cause of climate change is related to a massive injection of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere around the time of the extinction, which led to rapid warming.”

In the case of the LPME, it is widely accepted that the rapid warming associated with the event is linked to massive volcanism occurring at a huge deposit of lava called the Siberian Traps Large Igneous Province (STLIP), says Frank, but direct evidence was still lacking.

Volcanos leave helpful clues in the geological record. With the outpouring of lava, there was also a huge quantity of gases released, such as CO2 and methane, along with particulates and heavy metals that were launched into the atmosphere and deposited around the globe.

“However, it’s hard to directly link something like that to the extinction event,” says Frank. “As geologists, we’re looking for a signature of some kind — a smoking gun — so that we can absolutely point to the cause.”

In this case, the smoking gun the researchers focused on was mercury, one of the heavy metals associated with volcanic eruptions. The trick is finding areas where that record still exists.

Frank explains there is a continuous record of the earth’s history contained in sediments in marine environments which acts almost like a tape recorder because deposits are quickly buried and protected. These sediments yield an abundance of data about the extinction and how it unfolded in the oceans. On land, it is more difficult to find such well-preserved records from this time period.

To illustrate this, Frank uses Connecticut as an example: the state is rich with 400-500-million-year-old metamorphic rocks at or near the surface, with a covering of glacial deposits dating to around 23,000 years ago.

“There’s a big gap in the record here. You have to be lucky to preserve terrestrial records and that’s why they aren’t as well studied, because there are fewer of them out there,” says Frank.

Not all terrains around the world have such massive gaps in the geologic record, and previous studies of the LPME have focused primarily on sites found in the northern hemisphere. However, the Sydney Basin in Eastern Australia and the Karoo Basin in South Africa are two areas in the southern hemisphere that happen to have an excellent record of the event, and are areas Frank and Fielding have studied previously. A colleague and co-author, Jun Shen from the State Key Laboratory of Geological Processes and Mineral Resources at the China University of Geosciences, reached out and connected with Frank, Fielding, and other co-authors for samples, with hopes to analyze them for mercury isotopes.

Shen was able to analyze the mercury isotopes in the samples and tie all the data together says Frank.

“It turns out that volcanic emissions of mercury have a very specific isotopic composition of the mercury that accumulated at the extinction horizon. Knowing the age of these deposits, we can more definitively tie the timing of the extinction to this massive eruption in Siberia. What is different about this paper is we looked not only at mercury, but the isotopic composition of the mercury from samples in the high southern latitudes, both for the first time.”

This definitive timing is something that scientists have been working on refining, but as Fielding points out, the more that we learn, the more complicated it gets.

“As a starting point, geologists have pinpointed the timing of the major extinction event at 251.9 million years with a high degree of precision from radiogenic isotope dating methods. Researchers know that is when the major extinction event happened in the marine environment and it was just assumed that the terrestrial extinction event happened at the same time.”

In Frank and Fielding’s previous research, they found that the extinction event on land happened 200-600,000 years earlier, however.

“That suggests that the event itself wasn’t just one big whammy that happened instantaneously. It wasn’t just one very bad day on Earth, so to speak, it took some time to build and this feeds in well into the new results because it suggests the volcanism was the root cause,” says Fielding. “That’s just the first impact of the biotic crisis that happened on land, and it happened early. It took time to be transmitted into the oceans. The event 251.9 million years ago was the major tipping point in environmental conditions in the ocean that had deteriorated over some time.”

Retracing the events relies on knowledge from many different geologists all specializing in different methods, from sedimentology, geochemistry, paleontology, and geochronology, says Frank,

“This type of work requires a lot of collaboration. It all started with fieldwork when a group of us went down to Australia, where we studied the stratigraphic sections that preserved the time interval in question. The main point is that we now have a chemical signature in the form of mercury isotope signatures, that definitively ties the extinction horizon in these terrestrial sections that provide a record of what was happening on land due to Siberian Traps volcanism.”

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UConn Health Starting Patient Lunch-and-Learn Series https://today.uconn.edu/2023/01/uconn-health-starting-patient-lunch-and-learn-series/ https://today.uconn.edu/2023/01/uconn-health-starting-patient-lunch-and-learn-series/#respond Thu, 26 Jan 2023 12:55:11 +0000 Christopher DeFrancesco '95 (CLAS) https://today.uconn.edu/?p=194774 This winter UConn Health will start offering free monthly webinars to guide current and prospective patients on their role in their own well-being.

Organized by Khadija Poitras-Rhea and Wendy Martinson from UConn Health’s population health team, the Virtual Community Education series starts with “Learn How to Use MyChart” Feb. 15. Naomi Donat from UConn Health’s Information Technology Department will demonstrate how to use UConn Health’s online patient portal. The debut webinar is open for registration.

“We are hoping this would engage some of our patients to actively engage in taking care of their health, for example getting their colon screening, managing their diabetes, and scheduling their annual wellness visits,” says Martinson, ambulatory quality manager.

UConn Health faculty and staff will be the presenters, and the webinars are open to all. Links to join the sessions will be part of UConn Health’s regular public outreach channels, including the community programs page and the monthly patient newsletter.

The topics scheduled for March and April are colon cancer prevention and managing medications at home. Other topics tentatively planned include stroke, fall prevention, behavioral health, heart health, diabetes, and making the most of annual wellness appointments.

“The virtual education program is a great series for patients to educate themselves on ways to stay healthy,” Martinson says. “It’s scheduled at noon on the third Wednesday of every month —a perfect time to have a virtual lunch and learn.”

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A Self-Cooling Tent that Runs on Just Water and Sunshine https://today.uconn.edu/2023/01/a-self-cooling-tent-that-runs-on-just-water-and-sunshine/ https://today.uconn.edu/2023/01/a-self-cooling-tent-that-runs-on-just-water-and-sunshine/#respond Wed, 25 Jan 2023 12:30:34 +0000 Mac Murray https://today.uconn.edu/?p=194142 For many avid outdoorspeople, summertime and camping go hand in hand. But as climate change continues to drive summer temperatures higher, outdoor recreation could become less relaxing—and cooling technologies like fans and portable air conditioners require electricity that is seldom available at the average campsite.  

Seeing an unmet need, UConn researcher Al Kasani, working with Technology Commercialization Services (TCS) and the university’s Center for Clean Energy Engineering (C2E2), has developed a new off-grid technology that allows a tent’s internal temperature to cool up to 20°F below the ambient temperature. 

The tent requires just one external element to function, one that is typically found in abundance around campsites: water. A single gallon of water can power the tent’s cooling technology for up to 24 hours. 

“Looking into nature is the key to many of our problems. Plants wick water from the ground and then sweat to cool themselves, and they get the required energy from the sun. What I did was simply to find a material that could do the same job,” Kasani says. 

Al Kasani stands in a labcoat and gloves, holding a beaker and smiling at the camera.
Al Kasani is currently a research assistant at UConn’s Center for Clean Energy Engineering (C2E2).

A proprietary fabric wicks water from a reservoir up through the entire surface area of the tent, leading to an electricity-free temperature decrease far more substantial than existing cooling technologies. The most efficient technology currently on the market, explains Michael Invernale, a senior licensing manager at TCS, is an infrared reflective tent.  

“All the heat gets bounced off of an infrared reflective tent, and the best-case scenario there is that it’s just as hot in the tent as it is outside,” he says. “It’s not any hotter, but depending on what’s inside the tent versus outside, and air flow, it might still feel hotter inside the tent, even if the temperature is the same. With this new evaporative cooling technology, you can get the inside temperature down to 15 or 20 degrees cooler inside versus outside.” 

The tent has a tiny footprint, both physically and ecologically. Its lightweight fabric makes it packable and far more portable than electric fans, and its cooling system is “powered” by endlessly repeatable reactions between water and titanium nanoparticles – eliminating emissions and utilizing renewable resources. The wide availability of titanium ensures that the tent’s production will remain cost-effective for producers and affordable for consumers. 

The moisture-wicking technology also has an added benefit: an air-purifying effect provided by the antimicrobial nanoparticles.  

“The water and the nanoparticles are undergoing a reversible reaction, over and over as the water leaves. But the water is getting in contact with this catalytic material, and the process of that generates radicals and it will kill [infectious] material that’s in and on the tent. So, it could also be considered a bit of an air cleaner,” Invernale says. 

Industry interest in Kasani’s technology has been high, according to Invernale, whose office assists researchers in commercializing their innovations into products that benefit society and fuel economic development. Eventually, he hopes to see the tent on the market for recreational campers, as well as foresters, military personnel, and all who could benefit from a cooler place to take shelter. 

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Exercise Class for People with Parkinson’s Disease Celebrates 10 Years https://today.uconn.edu/2023/01/exercise-class-for-people-with-parkinsons-disease-celebrates-10-years/ https://today.uconn.edu/2023/01/exercise-class-for-people-with-parkinsons-disease-celebrates-10-years/#respond Wed, 25 Jan 2023 12:15:19 +0000 Jason Sheldon https://today.uconn.edu/?p=194633 There were warm embraces, touching stories, tears of joy, and lots of laughs at a celebratory lunch to mark 10 years of an exercise group to aid people with Parkinson’s disease.

Since 2012, the exercise group for people with Parkinson’s disease has met weekly for a movement-based therapy class developed by Cristina Colón-Semenza, assistant professor of kinesiology in the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources.

“I believe in holistic care and this disease can bring feelings of depression and isolation,” says Colón-Semenza. “Coming together and making these social connections is good for the body and mind along with our main focus: physical rehabilitation.”

The class was originally offered through the Nayden Rehabilitation Clinic at UConn Health. The Nayden Rehabilitation Clinic offers outpatient physical therapy services to the UConn community and local residents. Using evidence-based research to deliver high-quality patient care, the clinic also serves as an educational facility and outreach setting for the Department of Kinesiology’s Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) Program.

The Parkinson’s disease exercise class provides an opportunity for students and faculty to work directly with patients to support and improve their health and well-being.

Exercise is important for everyone and those with Parkinson’s can benefit in slowing the progression of the disease and its effects on the brain and body. Parkinson’s, a neurodegenerative disease, affects nerve cells in the brain, which causes unintended and uncontrolled movements.

The class uses aerobic, balance, and coordination exercises, and offers a supportive space that can improve its members’ physical and mental health and motivation to exercise.

Colón-Semenza created the exercise class during her time working as a physical therapist at the Nayden Rehabilitation Clinic at UConn Health. Upon discharging a patient from their rehabilitation, she suggested they continue therapy at an exercise class for Parkinson’s patients in Glastonbury.

“There were many people in the area who had Parkinson’s disease. As I saw patients with Parkinson’s at the clinic, I’d recommend the class to them. In the time since, we’ve become more known and grown to offer the class well beyond the clinic’s patients.”

Colón-Semenza and Colleen Bonadies, physical therapist at UConn Health, have co-led the class as it transitioned from the Nayden Clinic to the Department of Kinesiology on the Storrs campus.

The class is now offered as a free service for the community through the UConn PT C.A.R.E.S. Pro-Bono Clinic, a student-run, faculty-guided program that offers health and wellness services to uninsured or underinsured members of the community to access physical therapy services.

The class creates a learning environment for students in the physical therapy program. Every semester, two students in the doctor of physical therapy program participate to gain experience working with patients with Parkinson’s disease.

Colón-Semenza has embarked on additional research exploring ways to treat patients with Parkinson’s disease, assessing their conditions and ensuring they experience the highest-possible quality of life.

Her current research examines which physical activities and interventions might work best for underrepresented populations, such as Hispanic communities. These groups have historically been marginalized in research studies on Parkinson’s disease and frequently experience barriers to access healthcare.

She is exploring peer support for exercise through a virtual program that aims to reach geographically diverse areas with support from the UConn Center on Aging.

In another project, Colón-Semenza is working with Clare Benson, an assistant professor of photography in the UConn School of Fine Arts, on an interactive project to create images through movement to improve walking ability and the motivation for practice. The project is funded by a STEAM Innovation Grant from the Office of the Vice President for Research.

“This is all research that has been spawned by this class and these participants,” says Colón-Semenza. “For the last ten years, our program has grown from clinical services to incorporate research, community outreach, and student learning. We wanted to recognize and celebrate this group for the inspiration we give one another.”

This work relates to CAHNR’s Strategic Vision area focused on Enhancing Health and Well-Being Locally, Nationally, and Globally.

Follow UConn CAHNR on social media

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UConn to Test Campus Emergency Systems on Tuesday https://today.uconn.edu/2023/01/uconn-to-test-campus-emergency-systems-on-tuesday-5/ https://today.uconn.edu/2023/01/uconn-to-test-campus-emergency-systems-on-tuesday-5/#respond Tue, 24 Jan 2023 14:31:15 +0000 Mike Enright '88 (CLAS), University Communications https://today.uconn.edu/?p=194726 The University of Connecticut will test its emergency notification and alerting system, UConnALERT, on Tuesday, January 31 at 12:25 p.m., on all campuses.

The test involves multiple messaging platforms. A notice will be posted on the UConn Alert website (alert.uconn.edu); an email will be sent to all students, faculty, and staff; and posts will appear on the University’s Facebook and Twitter accounts.

In addition, cell phone numbers registered with the UConnALERT system will receive text messages. On the Storrs campus only, outdoor sirens will be tested with an audible tone.

This test includes emergency notifications at UConn Health in addition to the Storrs and regional campuses.

In an actual emergency, information will be updated regularly through the UConn Alert website at alert.uconn.edu.

Students, faculty, and staff should visit this site to register for cell phone text alerts, update their contact information, and obtain information related to emergency procedures and campus safety.

Thank you for your cooperation during the exercise and your support of public safety initiatives at UConn.


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A ‘Feel Good’ Mentoring Success Story, For National Mentoring Month https://today.uconn.edu/2023/01/a-feel-good-mentoring-success-story-for-national-mentoring-month/ https://today.uconn.edu/2023/01/a-feel-good-mentoring-success-story-for-national-mentoring-month/#respond Tue, 24 Jan 2023 12:30:48 +0000 Jaclyn Severance https://today.uconn.edu/?p=194332 Ryan Gresh ’09 (ENG) started his career as an eager young UConn School of Engineering graduate – he took a job with Sikorsky, the esteemed aircraft manufacturer located in Stratford, as a design engineer.

“I thought I’d be designing helicopters, the coolest job you could imagine,” he says, “and little did I know, my real job was working for six months on a bolt that went in a helicopter.

“I was so naïve as to what the real world was like.”

After a couple of years, Gresh left a nine-to-five life behind to chart a drastically different entrepreneurial path. He’s now the chief executive officer and co-founder of The Feel Good Lab, a wellness-focused company that works out of UConn’s Technology Incubation Program, or TIP, in Farmington and is primarily known for its successful line of over-the-counter pain-relieving creams for arthritis sufferers, athletes, and people experiencing chronic pain.

“I’m kind of a grass-is-always-greener guy,” Gresh says, “and if I didn’t know what I know now, I’d always be like, ‘you know, man, I could go design those helicopters.’ And you couldn’t pay me a million dollars to quit what I’m doing now to go do that.”

While Gresh’s company is unique, his path to entrepreneurship is relatable – a lot of students may not know what they want to do in their life after graduation, or they may enter a career field and later find it’s not what they thought. And he wants UConn undergraduates to know that it’s alright to not have all the answers right away.

“You’re young when you’re in college, you’re young 10 years out of college, you’re young 20 years out of college,” he says. “You don’t need to have it all figured out. It’s OK to try a lot of different things and really learn what you want.”

A desire to give back is part of why Gresh has volunteered his time and experience to various programs at UConn as an alum – he serves on the advisory board for UConn’s Connecticut Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, or CCEI, and has volunteered as a mentor for NetWerx, a signature program offered by the Peter J. Werth Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation that matches current students with alumni mentors.

It was through NetWerx that he met another now-alum, Devin McNamara ’21 (CLAS), an undergrad studying economics at the time.

As a student, McNamara had immersed himself in the growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at UConn. He joined the Werth Institute and ran an entrepreneurship club on campus. He was a part of Hillside Ventures, the University’s student-run venture capital fund, and he joined NetWerx when the program was still in its early stages of development.

“I just thought it be a good experience to meet somebody who is an alum from UConn who ran their own business or was kind of in a similar field to where I wanted to be,” McNamara says.

While both mentors and mentees through NetWerx can participate and be matched multiple times,  Gresh was McNamara’s first mentor through the program.

To say they hit it off would be an understatement.

“When I met Devin, he just was so mature, and even though he was still a student, I was like, wow, he brings so much to the table,” says Gresh.

“It was kind of right as COVID was starting,” McNamara says. “I had lost a lot of internship opportunities due to the pandemic, and Ryan was like, ‘hey, listen, we need some help here, if you’re interested.’”

McNamara took an internship with The Feel Good Lab, graduated from UConn in 2021, and then went out into the workforce.

“I went to a more traditional nine-to-five,” he says, much like Gresh did as a recent grad. “After a couple years, we reconnected, and here we are.”

Where they are is back at The Feel Good Lab, where McNamara is now an employee, working side-by-side with his NetWerx mentor primarily on marketing efforts, but with opportunities to work on many aspects of the growing business.

“I think my favorite thing about working for a startup is that you wear a lot of different hats,” he says. “It’s not like Ryan was saying, where you’re focused on just that one bolt. It’s cool, because you get to touch a little bit everything.”

Their NetWerx experience, McNamara notes, is a perfect example of an ideal situation – creating an opportunity for both parties to continue having a positive working relationship, even after the program ends or the student graduates.

But the value of a program like NetWerx, and of networking in general, stretches far beyond any potential job opportunities, both McNamara and Gresh agreed.

“There’s value in students, such as myself or who are in my shoes, to go out and just make that one extra connection,” McNamara says. “Maybe it’s someone who’s going to lead you to a new job opportunity, or someone that you may become founders with one day. You never know what one connection in life – and never mind the business aspect – can really do.”

McNamara adds, “I think networking is probably the most valuable skill anybody can really learn. Classes are great, all that stuff is great. But it only gets you so far if you don’t have that network and continue to develop those skills.”

“You have four years of being a student, and that dot-edu email – oh my goodness, it can open so many doors for you, because people do want to help,” says Gresh. “And UConn has such an amazing alumni network. I can almost guarantee that if you come in as a student genuinely wanting to learn, there’s almost nobody that you can’t reach out to and get in touch with.”


January is National Mentoring Month – to learn more, visit mentoring.org. NetWerx, the Werth Institute’s signature one-on-one student-alumni mentoring program, accepts both student mentor and alumni mentee participant applications on a rolling basis. Visit entrepreneurship.uconn.edu for more information.

Gresh is always interested in connecting with UConn undergraduate students looking to network – you can find him on LinkedIn or email him at ryan@thefeelgoodlab.com.

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Neag School Alumni Board Announces the 2023 Alumni Award Winners https://today.uconn.edu/2023/01/neag-school-2023-alumni-award-winners/ https://today.uconn.edu/2023/01/neag-school-2023-alumni-award-winners/#respond Tue, 24 Jan 2023 12:30:00 +0000 Shawn Kornegay https://today.uconn.edu/?p=194620 The Neag School of Education and its Alumni Board are delighted to announce the 2023 Neag School Alumni Awards honorees. Eight outstanding graduates will be formally recognized at the Neag School’s 25th Annual Alumni Awards Celebration on Saturday, March 11.

Outstanding School Educator – Kristen N. Negrón ’12 (CLAS), ’15 MA

Kristen N. Negrón
(Submitted photo)

A graduate of Neag School’s Counselor Education program, Kristen Negrón recently joined Connecticut RISE Network where she is a freshman success coach working with core network schools on closing educational and achievement gaps for ninth grade students. She previously served as the school counselor and on-track coordinator for Middletown High School in Middletown, Connecticut. She is fluent in Spanish and has a Bachelor of Arts in psychology and a minor in Latino studies from the University of Connecticut. In her prior role at Middletown High School, Negrón worked with an identified population of at-risk freshmen to ensure they were on track throughout the school year and provided necessary support. In addition, she was a co-advisor for the Middletown Minority Student Coalition (MSC), where she sought to empower minority students of various backgrounds within the school to create an environment that offers freedom of expression. Negrón co-authored a chapter in Neag School Dean Jason G. Irizarry’s book “Diaspora Studies in Education: Toward a Framework for Understanding the Experiences of Transnational Communities.”

Outstanding Professional – Margery H. Daniels ’71 (ED)

Margery H. Daniels
(Submitted photo)

Margery Daniels has served for the past 15 years as the executive director of Massachusetts Partnerships for Youth in Wakefield, Massachusetts. In that role, Daniels is responsible for managing a nonprofit organization’s programmatic and fiscal operations, providing more than 250 school districts and community agencies with professional development activities in the areas of mental and behavioral health, social and emotional learning, and anti-racism. She previously served as the assistant superintendent for pupil services for Newton Public Schools, director of special services for Lynnfield Public Schools, and director of special education for Georgetown Public Schools, all in Massachusetts. Daniels also is an adjunct professor in the C. Louis Cedrone International Education Center for Framingham State University. She began her education career in 1971, as a Title 1 teacher in Lawrence, Massachusetts. In addition to educational licenses in Massachusetts, Daniels is a licensed independent clinical social worker (LICSW) and had a private practice serving individuals and families for more than 25 years.

Andrew Alexi Almazán Anaya
(Submitted photo)

Outstanding Early Career Professional – Andrew Alexi
Almazán Anaya ’18 MA
Andrew Alexi Almazán Anaya is the director of the department of psychology and coordinator of the project research unit of the Talent Attention Center in Mexico City. He also serves as a professor of the Intellectual Enhancement Program for the Mexican School of Gifted Students. Almazan has a Master of Arts in educational psychology from the Neag School of Education. He has published numerous articles on gifted education and is a frequent speaker on the topic throughout the world. In 2021, he was recognized by the World Council for Gifted and Talented with the 2021 Emerging Leader in Gifted Education award, and Harvard University recognized him in 2020 with the Harvard Derek Bok Award for Public Service. Other notable awards include Mexico’s National Prize of Psychology from the Mexican Federation of Psychology and the Extraordinary Award of Research from Universidad Panamericana.

Outstanding School Administrator – Emily B. Gomes ’06 (ED), ’07 MA

Emily B. Gomes
(Submitted photo)

Emily Gomes has served since 2019 as principal of Ivy Drive Elementary School in Bristol, Connecticut. Ivy Drive was identified as a School of Distinction this year. This honor comes following the release of the Connecticut State Department of Education New General Accountability data from 2021-2022 in which Ivy Drive was highlighted for high academic growth and improvement in student achievement and performance. She works tirelessly and relentlessly to ensure her building meets expectations for rigorous and highly effective instruction in all content areas. She’s the sole administrator of the Pre-K-5 elementary school of 400 students and 70 staff members and runs the climate/culture, equity, and school leadership teams. Gomes previously served as Bristol Eastern High School’s assistant principal, overseeing a school with 1,200 students and 150 staff members. In addition to her leadership responsibilities at Ivy Drive Elementary, Gomes was instrumental in writing and managing a 21st Century Learning Grant which provided her school $150,000 a year to host a no-cost extension to the school day for students in grades K-3. Gomes also served as an active member of the district’s climate and equity team and was recognized in 2021 with a Bristol Public Schools Staff Achievement Award.

Outstanding School Superintendent – Joseph P. Macary ’94 (CLAS), ’05 ELP, ’16 Ed.D.

Joseph P. Macary
(Submitted photo)

A graduate of the Neag School’s doctorate (Ed.D.) in educational leadership and Executive Leadership Program (ELP) for superintendency, Joseph Macary has served as the superintendent for Vernon Public Schools in Vernon, Connecticut, since 2015. In his superintendent role, Macary serves as the chief executive officer, advocating for students’ academic, social, and emotional growth and development while focusing on student learning and achievement. Some of the district’s specific accomplishments under his leadership include: Rockville High School named to the 10th Annual Advanced Placement (AP) District Honor Roll, one of 250 schools in the U.S. and Canada to receive this honor; 89% of Rockville High School graduates going on to further their education at institutes of higher learning; and the Vernon Public School District awarded a $1 million grant for family and community engagement by the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving. In addition, Macary is an active member of the professional education community and has served as a mentor for the Neag School’s ELP program and as president of the Hartford County Superintendent Association, among other positions. He was previously recognized as “Educator of the Year” by the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Waterbury and was selected for three consecutive years for the “Who’s Who Among America’s High School Teachers” list.

Outstanding Higher Education Professional – Raymond L. Pecheone ’78 Ph.D.

Raymond L. Pecheone
(Submitted photo)

Raymond Pecheone has served since 2009 as the executive director of the Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning, and Equity (SCALE) at Stanford University, where he works with schools, districts, states, and federal agencies to develop performance assessments for teachers, administrators, and students. At SCALE, he also supports a network of states working to create curriculum-embedded performance assessment tools and policies that leverage inquiry-based pedagogies and instructional improvement in teaching and performance assessments in English Language Arts, math, and science. Pecheone has published numerous articles and technical reports and is a frequent presenter at educational conferences across the U.S. and abroad. In addition, he has a long history of serving on advisory boards, including with the Global Educational Community, Buck Institute, and Oracle Education Foundation. Pecheone has secured grants with notable organizations such as the Hewlett Foundation, Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation, and George Lucas Foundation, among many others. His colleagues know him as an innovator who has contributed enormously to the capacity of schools and universities to assess learning and performance in authentic ways.

Outstanding Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Professional – Roszena L. Haskins ’17 Ed.D.

Roszena L. Haskins
(Submitted photo)

As West Hartford (Connecticut) Public Schools’ executive director of equity advancement for the past 12 years, Roszena Haskins leads, monitors, and evaluates district-wide equity, diversity, and inclusion programs; policy development; professional development; practice; and conditions concerning 9,500 students, families, and over 1,000 staff members. Haskins was also recently appointed to the same role for the Town of West Hartford, serving 65,000 residents and over 200 town employees. A graduate of the Neag School of Education’s Ed.D. program, she has been recognized with numerous accolades, including State Education Resource Center’s Excellence in Equity Award, West Hartford “Hometown Hero,” and 100 Women of Color for Connecticut. She previously served in administration leadership roles for schools in West Hartford and began her education career as a special education teacher in Hamden, Connecticut. One of her most notable accomplishments was co-creating a high-tech multimedia exhibit focusing on West Hartford residents’ personal stories, funded by a $50,000 Inspiring Equity Grant from the William Caspar Graustein Memorial Fund.

Distinguished Alumnus – Richard L. Schwab ’79 MA, ’81 Ph.D.

Richard L. Schwab
(Submitted photo)

A two-time Neag School alumnus, Richard Schwab had an exceptional 25-year career at the Neag School that included two stints as dean. He is recognized as the longest-serving dean in the history of the Neag School and the only UConn alum to hold that position. During his 14 years as dean, Schwab worked with faculty to craft and implement two strategic plans to raise the quality of programs, research, and scholarship while moving the Neag School toward its goal of becoming one of the top education schools in the country. The effort sparked the interest of Ray Neag, a UConn alum and successful entrepreneur, who decided to make what he called a “strategic investment” in the Neag School and public education. His $21 million gift in 1999 was, at the time, the largest any school of education had ever received. Schwab raised an additional $25 million for the Neag School, including the prestigious $5 million Teachers for a New Era grant from the Carnegie Corporation. Other accomplishments include taking the Neag School from unranked in 1997 to No. 21 in 2012 on U.S. News & World Report’s best education graduate school rankings; establishing a Neag School of Education Alumni Society; constructing a new addition and renovating the Gentry Building with a $22 million grant from the UConn 2000 initiative; and creating new programs in all the regional campuses of the University.

To learn more about the UConn Neag School of Education, visit education.uconn.edu and follow the Neag School on InstagramFacebookTwitter, and LinkedIn. 

]]> https://today.uconn.edu/2023/01/neag-school-2023-alumni-award-winners/feed/ 0 Four UConn Researchers Take DoD University Research Equipment Awards https://today.uconn.edu/2023/01/four-uconn-researchers-take-dod-university-research-equipment-awards/ https://today.uconn.edu/2023/01/four-uconn-researchers-take-dod-university-research-equipment-awards/#respond Tue, 24 Jan 2023 12:01:49 +0000 Mac Murray https://today.uconn.edu/?p=194564 The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has awarded four UConn scientists with high-profile grants to fund the acquisition of technology to bolster their research capabilities.  

The highly competitive Defense University Research Instrumentation Program (DURIP), offered by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR), the Army Research Office (ARO), and the Office of Naval Research (ONR), funds cutting-edge research projects with potential to assist national defense. 

Daniel McCarron: “Stimulated Optical Forces To Cool and Trap CH Radicals” (AFOSR) 

McCarron, a physics professor, received a grant from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research for his work analyzing the quantum mechanical behavior of a simple hydrocarbon molecule: CH, or methylidyne. A highly reactive gas, methylidyne is abundant in the interstellar medium, and its simple composition promises to allow researchers to study the role of quantum mechanics within organic chemistry. 

In order to expose the quantum nature of these molecules, McCarron has devised a way to cool them down to a millionth of a degree above absolute zero using laser light. At such a low temperature, “quantum effects are amplified and can reveal themselves in the lab,” he says. 

“You don’t really get that in a beaker at room temperature – things just happen too quickly and too chaotically.” 

The AFOSR is funding the purchase of a high-powered laser to assist in slowing down beams of CH radicals from about 100 meters per second to a more stationary several centimeters per second. This laser-cooling and trapping technology will allow McCarron to amplify and better study the quantum behavior of this organic molecule, with an eye toward furthering scientific knowledge about the role of quantum mechanics in chemical reactions in general—a field where successful research has been scarce. 

“We don’t really know what role quantum mechanics plays in chemical reactions yet,” McCarron says. “Once we have an improved understanding here, there will likely be a wide range of applications,” from pharmaceuticals to other organic chemistry technologies. 

Naba Karan: “Thermal Characterization Test Instrument for Lithium‐Ion Battery Safety Evaluation for Advanced Marine Technologies” (ONR) 

Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries are one of the most common rechargeable energy storage technologies on the market. As a rule, they are quite safe under normal operating conditions, powerful, and scalable, from smartphones to electric cars. But given the number of Li-ion batteries produced around the world, their relatively small failure rate has still resulted in some high-profile stories of Li-ion batteries going into thermal runaway – an event when a battery catches fire, explodes, and releases toxic gases. 

Karan, an assistant research professor at the Center for Clean Energy Engineering (C2E2) in the School of Engineering, isn’t surprised. 

“You can think of them as bombs,” he says, noting the high quantity of chemical energy contained within Li-ion batteries. And he’s looking to blow them up—on purpose. 

With funds from the Office of Naval Research, Karan is constructing a facility at UConn that will explode the batteries in a controlled environment to determine critical safety parameters needed for designing advanced engineering protocols to mitigate thermal runaway events. In a military context, this information will help operators of machinery that depends on these high-powered batteries, such as submarines, determine when internal battery temperatures are exceeding safety thresholds. Most crucially, it will allow them to avoid catastrophic failure by diverting some of this heat. 

The equipment will be able to analyze thermal characteristics of all types of energy storage technologies, not only Li-Ion batteries. Since it will be one of the only such facilities in the northeast region, Karan anticipates a high degree of interest and collaboration from other universities and companies looking into studying the safety characteristics of existing and emerging battery chemistries. 

Volkan Ortalan: “Multimodal Ultrafast Electron Microscopy and Femtosecond Spectroscopy in Materials for Extreme Environments” (AFOSR) 

“Nanotechnology is the science of understanding and controlling matter at extremely small dimensions, ranging from 1 to 100 nanometers (nm),” says Ortalan, an associate professor of materials science and engineering. “For comparison, a fingernail grows about 1 nm in a second.” 

Because of their small size, nanomaterials demonstrate unusual properties that can make them useful for an array of applications, such as highly sensitive sensors and new kinds of electronics, according to Ortalan. 

His imaging techniques for these nanoscale materials allow researchers to study the nearly instantaneous changes that can occur on extremely short time scales — down to a femtosecond, which is equivalent to one millionth of one billionth of a second. Nanotechnology is of increasing importance for defense technologies, he says, and these imaging techniques may facilitate the design and synthesis of superior materials. 

Ying Li: “Molecular Design of High‐Temperature Polymers” (AFOSR) 

Li, a former assistant professor in the department of mechanical engineering, received a grant from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research to continue his work designing materials that can withstand extreme high-temperature environments. This project builds on his previous work at UConn pushing the physical limits of materials like rubber and plastics to synthesize highly resilient and self-healing materials — much of which was also sponsored by the Air Force. 

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School of Nursing Ranks Among Top 20 Online Master’s Programs for 2023 https://today.uconn.edu/2023/01/school-of-nursing-ranks-among-top-20-online-masters-programs-for-2023/ https://today.uconn.edu/2023/01/school-of-nursing-ranks-among-top-20-online-masters-programs-for-2023/#respond Tue, 24 Jan 2023 11:50:01 +0000 Ashley O'Connell https://today.uconn.edu/?p=194582 U.S. News & World Report has released its 2023 rankings for the best online nursing master’s programs in the country. We are pleased to report that the UConn School of Nursing has again proven to be exceptional nationwide within its graduate programs.

Online school programs have remained competitive over the years. UConn’s School of Nursing has managed to thrive and stay within the top 20 in the nation.  The 2023 online nursing master’s rankings evaluated 203 programs across the country and evaluated more than 1,800 online bachelor’s and master’s degree programs.  The best online programs include rankings of bachelor’s programs as well as master’s-level disciplines.  These rankings only include degree-granting programs that are offered primarily online by regionally accredited institutions.

“This prestigious ranking reflects students’ hard work in a competitive program and our faculty’s continued dedication to their students’ success.  I am delighted that for the first time all of our master’s tracks, not just our highly rated Neonatal Nurse Practitioner track, have contributed to our No. 18 ranking,” Dean Deborah Chyun says.

“Our national standing clearly showcases the outstanding graduate program at the UConn School of Nursing.” Dean Chyun

UConn’s School of Nursing offers a significant opportunity for online programs in continuing education.  This has grown from past years to include: family nurse practitioneradult gerontology acute care nurse practitioneradult gerontology primary care nurse practitionernurse educator, neonatal nurse practitioner concentration, and nurse leader.

“The UConn School of Nursing master’s program supports students in becoming leaders and science-driven practitioners who can meet the evolving and diverse health care needs of their communities.  It is exciting to see the rankings which are a true testament to the determination and commitment of our faculty and students” says Associate Dean for Graduate Studies, Annette Jakubisin Konicki.

As the University of Connecticut continues to grow, the School of Nursing is excelling in enrollment and diversity.  The past two years have had the highest applicant number in the school’s history.  Exceeding enrollment numbers and diversifying programs have been one of the highlights of this past year, with extensive plans underway for 2023.  UConn’s School of Nursing continues to pave the path in innovative research, excellence in nursing courses, and diversified programs which allow for continued areas of study.

To review the complete list of the 2023 U.S. News & World Report Best Online Master’s in Nursing Programs rankings and to obtain ranking standards, please visit https://www.usnews.com/education/online-education/rankings.

To learn more about the UConn School of Nursing, visit nursing.uconn.edu and follow the School on FacebookInstagramTwitter, or LinkedIn.

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Dr. Cato T. Laurencin Meets with St. Lucia Prime Minister to Review Progress of UConn-St. Lucia Cooperation Agreement https://today.uconn.edu/2023/01/dr-cato-t-laurencin-meets-with-st-lucia-prime-minister-to-review-progress-of-uconn-st-lucia-cooperation-agreement/ https://today.uconn.edu/2023/01/dr-cato-t-laurencin-meets-with-st-lucia-prime-minister-to-review-progress-of-uconn-st-lucia-cooperation-agreement/#respond Mon, 23 Jan 2023 18:21:57 +0000 Lauren Woods https://today.uconn.edu/?p=194662 Cato T. Laurencin Regenerative Engineering Founder’s Award
Struck medal of the Cato T. Laurencin Regenerative Engineering Founder’s Award.

University of Connecticut Professor Cato T. Laurencin, CEO of the Connecticut Convergence Institute at UConn Health, met with the Prime Minister of St. Lucia during a January 18- 22 trip to the country.

The American Institute of Chemical Engineers recently endowed the Cato T. Laurencin Regenerative Engineering Founder’s Award and Laurencin had the honor of bestowing the first struck medal upon the Honorable Philip J. Pierre, Prime Minister of St. Lucia, in honorary recognition of his support of regenerative engineering in the country.

This January the Honorable Philip J. Pierre, Prime Minister of St. Lucia, met with University Professor Dr. Cato T. Laurencin of UConn (Photo Courtesy of Dr. Laurencin).

During the recent trip, he attended the 30th annual Nobel Laureate Festival celebrating Sir Arthur Lewis and Sir Derek Walcott.  Laurencin was selected to lay the official wreath at the tomb of the St. Lucian poet and Nobel Laureate, Derek Walcott. In addition, he visited Sir Arthur Lewis’ tomb site with Sir Arthur Lewis’ nephew, Sir Vaughan Lewis.

Dr. Laurencin in St. Lucia
Dr. Laurencin laying a wreath at the tomb of the St. Lucian poet and Nobel Laureate, Derek Walcott.

Finally, he met with officials in St. Lucia on the highly successful UConn JUMP Saint Lucia Program aimed at encouraging and educating Saint Lucian communities on healthy eating and exercise.

“The initiative has now grown to be a grassroots program for St. Lucians by St. Lucians,” Laurencin noted.

The program serves as a centerpiece of a cooperative agreement between UConn and St. Lucia.

Dr. Laurencin in St. Lucia
Dr. Laurencin visited Sir Arthur Lewis’ tomb site with Sir Arthur Lewis’ nephew, Sir Vaughan Lewis.





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Laying a New Foundation Before Building Up https://today.uconn.edu/2023/01/laying-a-new-foundation-before-building-up-uconns-first-integrative-studies-student-bridges-passion-for-art-engineering-in-research-and-life/ https://today.uconn.edu/2023/01/laying-a-new-foundation-before-building-up-uconns-first-integrative-studies-student-bridges-passion-for-art-engineering-in-research-and-life/#respond Mon, 23 Jan 2023 12:30:36 +0000 Kimberly Phillips https://today.uconn.edu/?p=194183 Arpita Kurdekar’s story doesn’t start at the point she came to the United States, or when she got her dream job as an engineer, or when she pivoted to graduate studies at UConn. It doesn’t even begin when, as a young woman just starting out, a tree limb fell on her, rendering Kurdekar paralyzed from the chest down.

Her story begins long before all of that, when she was a young girl in India, and first picked up a paintbrush. It was a childhood hobby stoked by two artist parents and encouraged by accolades and a few awards for her work.

Growing up, Kurdekar was caught between an affinity for art and a passion for math and science, the latter winning out educationally and professionally when she pushed painting aside and sought to design bridges as masterful as her favorite, the Brooklyn Bridge.

Never did she think the bridge that would become her greatest accomplishment to date would be the one that marries engineering and art, bringing travelers to a place that merges the two – if only virtually.

‘My life changed in just a moment’

Kurdekar earned a master’s degree in engineering from the University at Buffalo in 2015 after completing her undergraduate degree in India and working a few years at a structural engineering firm there. She came to the U.S. for the opportunity of advanced education and the hope for a professional license not long thereafter.

While at Buffalo, an internship at the New Hampshire Department of Transportation provided a conduit to a full-time position in the Granite State at GM2 Associates, where she focused on structural design calculations for projects in Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Vermont.

She says she enjoyed the work, suiting up in a safety vest and headlamp out in the field, ascending into the underbelly of structures for visual inspections, and sometimes walking through construction sites as workers laid the steel girders that help give a bridge its strength.

“One day, about seven months after I started at GM2, I went home after work and planned to go to the gym. As I walked down the driveway, a neighbor’s tree fell on me and immediately I was paralyzed with a spinal cord injury,” she says. “My life changed in just a moment.”

Kurdekar says she lay on the ground calling for help for an hour because she was in a location that neighbors couldn’t readily see. Eventually her roommate came home, and Kurdekar says she remembers being found. She then lost consciousness.

Girish and Vandana Kurdekar traveled from India as quickly as possible to sit by their daughter’s bedside, and today provide her around-the-clock care. Her first memory after the accident was waking to them in the hospital.

“It was a very difficult time,” Kurdekar says of those early days of recovery. “I was on a ventilator, so it has been a long recovery journey. I had to learn to breathe on my own again, how to talk, how to eat, and how to move what parts of my body I could. It has been a very, very long and difficult six years.”

Those early days of rehab at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital Boston were centered on regaining the most basic of life skills. Once Kurdekar moved to Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center in Greenfield, New Hampshire, a therapist suggested she tap not just into the muscle memory of the art from her youth but also the peace it gave her.

At first, Kurdekar says the only movement she had was shrugging her shoulders. Then, with the aid of a splint, she learned to hold a paintbrush. Eventually, she wrote her name, and later she painted flowers.

“I remember those sunflowers,” she says with a giggle. “They didn’t look like sunflowers – only my therapist and I knew they were sunflowers. Still, art has been an outlet of joy for me to fight depression and feel happy again. It gives me a lot of rest and peace.”

As she awakened to the value of art in her life, Kurdekar returned to work at GM2 for a few months before assessing her professional future and recognizing academia was the place she wanted to be.

GM2 President and CEO Manish K. Gupta ’98 MS, ’01 Ph.D. had become a mentor to Kurdekar and spoke fondly of his time at UConn. At his urging, she applied.

Arpita Kurdekar, an integrated studies Ph.D. candidate in the School of Fine Arts and the School of Engineering at UConn, works on a painting in her apartment on Jan. 12, 2023. Kurdekar uses a wrap on her hand to help hold her paintbrushes, and one of her engineering friends made the easel she works on adaptable so she can adjust the position of the canvases on it with ease using a joystick.
Arpita Kurdekar, an integrated studies Ph.D. candidate in the School of Fine Arts, Neag School of Education, and the School of Engineering at UConn, works on a painting in her apartment on Jan. 12, 2023. Kurdekar uses a wrap on her hand to help hold her paintbrushes, and one of her engineering friends made the easel she works on adaptable so she can adjust the position of the canvases on it with ease using a joystick. (Sydney Herdle/UConn Photo)

Teaching with VR Technology

Accepted into the School of Engineering Ph.D. program in 2018 and poised to study civil engineering, Kurdekar realized the passion she’d had for engineering had waned, though it wasn’t extinguished. She thought there might be a way to bring art and engineering together to complement each other.

Kurdekar says she shared with faculty in the schools of Education, Engineering, and Fine Arts her idea to create virtual reality technology to help students learn engineering principles that can be difficult to understand via a two-dimensional description in a textbook or on a screen – think thermodynamics, angular momentum, and gyroscopes.

It’s technology that visual artists, too, could use to practice their skills or plan for a piece that might be too large or cost prohibitive to build as a prototype.

“I’m aiming to teach concepts related to rigid body dynamics and specific art movements and art-making techniques through the overarching theme of kinetic sculptures,” she says. “I wish to present the learning experience in a more interesting and playful manner, in which the students can engage in creative thinking and problem solving by applying learning from both fields. That’s the kind of education we need to give students to prepare them to become innovative thinkers.”

She assembled a team of advisors from each of the three schools and became UConn’s first Integrative Studies Ph.D. candidate. It’s a program that allows students to combine several disciplines into one study track that doesn’t fit neatly into an existing department. Kurdekar hopes to finish her degree in 2024.

She has a fellowship from the Krenicki Arts and Engineering Institute, for which she’s been a teaching assistant in courses such as Entrepreneurship & Innovation in Industrial Design, Packaging Design, and Human Factors in Design. Kurdekar also has received support from the Dr. Radenka Maric Fellowship Fund for Engineering.

“There are a lot of parallels between my research and the art-making process,” she says. “In both, I focus my energy on solving creative challenges, whether on canvas or in a 3D virtual space. I want the viewer to be moved by the visuals and feel the same sense of engagement and enjoyment as I had during the making of it.”

In the beginning, though, Kurdekar was not a computer programmer. She says she’d picked up only bits of coding experience during school and needed to lay that foundation before building up.

Advisor Kenneth Thompson, an assistant professor in-residence in UConn’s Digital Media & Design department, taught Kurdekar’s first class, Introduction to Game Scripting.

“It takes grit to go from nothing to where Arpita is now,” Thompson says. “Since she came at it with a background in engineering, she already had the foundational logic and thought process that allowed her to excel in class. She knew where she wanted to go, and that made it easy to point her toward the material she needed to learn.”

Kurdekar found supplemental instruction on YouTube, and, coupled with DMD classes, gained proficiency in the language C#, or C Sharp.

Making Her Mark in a Burgeoning Field

“Game development is a ubiquitous thing that we see everywhere,” Thompson says. “Your mailer that you get from the grocery store asks you to go on a quest for a 75-cent-per-pound ham to get experience points on your badge when you scan your card. Gaming is applied in different ways. Arpita really made the case that what she’s doing with VR is valuable from an educational research perspective and adds to the numerous projects being done across campus and disciplines.”

Thompson says that while people might associate VR mostly with gaming or entertainment, the technology merely helps users understand something at scale: “It’s like the first time you step out of a car or an airport in a big city and you have that feeling of looking up. It’s kind of overwhelming to feel that sense of height. VR provides that kind of experience and makes it possible to communicate or teach it.”

He says that a giant swinging pendulum, for instance, might be too dangerous, too difficult, or too expensive to create or too limited to have more than one per class. Kurdekar’s VR technology will allow students to learn concepts related to that pendulum because it will be right in front of each of them.

“People who are working on VR technology now, like Arpita, they’re the ones who are going to make marks and be the forebearers of how we have new experiences and interact with things,” he says.

School of Engineering Associate Dean Daniel Burkey, another of Kurdekar’s advisors, says some UConn faculty members already have begun to use VR technology for straightforward purposes, like looking at landscapes, viewing topographical maps, or manipulating objects.

Kurdekar’s work differs in that it’s more immersive.

Burkey says what’s being used now is in addition to classroom lessons, whereas Kurdekar’s technology will bring the educational space into the virtual world.

“That’s the defining feature and that’s something that will be really impactful moving forward,” he says. “The other interesting thing about Arpita’s work is that it is applicable to a lot of different engineering fields. Engineering has a strong psychometric component; it’s very hands on. Sometimes it’s difficult to give students an authentic hands-on experience. Virtual reality allows you to do that in a much more authentic way than simply interacting with something on a screen, or reading a case study, or doing it in pen and paper.”

Thompson adds that the pandemic accelerated the mainstream’s adoption of VR technology, especially since the cost of the requisite hardware is decreasing.

Burkey says, “Previous generations of the hardware have been large. They’ve been bulky. They’ve been attached to a computer with a lot of wires. There’s lag time that can be disorienting for people. The increases in computing power, the shrinking of technology, the reductions in cost are all making it a lot more accessible.”

Accessibility for those with limited mobility also has been central to Kurdekar’s research, especially since she’s just beginning to move her fingers at the first knuckle thanks to surgeries in 2021 and 2022.

“For five years I couldn’t move a finger, and now I can,” she says. “This is very new research, and Dr. Justin Brown, my doctor, at the Paralysis Center at Spaulding, is one of only a few doing it. Who knew this could happen for me, but it did. People are doing research and breakthroughs are happening every day. These unbelievable changes in my life have made me look at the future in a very positive way.”

Immersed in Art, Memorizing Nature

At home, Kurdekar paints as often as possible, trying to fill most of her free time with it and having done hundreds of pieces, many of which she has posted on Instagram and her website. Lately, she’s tried painting on wood and even using clay to create pottery.

“Woods in My Dream” oil painting by Arpita Kurdekar
“Woods in My Dream” oil painting by Arpita Kurdekar on Jan. 12, 2023. (Sydney Herdle/UConn Photo)

I started off with representational style paintings, trying to make things look real, very life-like,” she explains. “But slowly, I realized my inner voice was missing in the art I was creating. So, I started laying fragments of my memories and experiences with people, places, and things on my canvases. My work started becoming more abstract and meaningful as I traced those memories with the use of expressive brushstrokes and vibrant colors.”

Using the beauty of New England as a muse, she adds, “It’s hard not to have imprints of the sunsets, the sky mixing with the water, or even the energetic shifting movements of the birds foraging the farms and the feeders in your mind and heart.”

In 2019, Kurdekar’s work went on display for the first time at the Mansfield Community Center. Since then, she’s exhibited there and at various galleries, including Arts Center East in Vernon, and has won a few awards in area juried art shows.

She continues to find inspiration in nature. Last summer, she and her parents visited Maine and ascended Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park via wheelchair ramps that stretched to the top. She saw views of the ocean and islands below, memorizing the shapes and colors of the scenery.

“Juicy Fruit Platter” oil painting by Arpita Kurdekar
“Juicy Fruit Platter” oil painting by Arpita Kurdekar on Jan. 12, 2023. (Sydney Herdle/UConn Photo)

“I was a totally different person before the accident,” she says. “I was active. I would dance, I would hike, I would drive to different places. I lost a lot. But this journey has made me a different person. It’s opened my eyes to see what’s important in life. I realized who my true friends are and what really matters. I would never have gone on for my Ph.D. and do the research I’m doing if this hadn’t happened. It gave me a new direction and I totally enjoy what I do now.”

The biggest obstacle at this juncture is her and parents’ immigration status. None of them have U.S. citizenship, keeping Kurdekar from obtaining certain home-care services and her parents’ the ability to apply for driver’s licenses, work here, and get medical insurance.

U.S. Rep. Ann M. Kuster, D-N.H., introduced legislation in 2021 to relieve some of that strain and grant the family of three lawful permanent resident status. That bill, HR680, passed the House in June, the Senate on Dec. 21, and received President Joe Biden’s signature on Jan. 5.

“My parents had tourist visas and every six months they had to renew them in order to stay here legally to care for me. There was always uncertainty they wouldn’t get approved and that was a very big worry for me,” Kurdekar, who now will have a green card, says.

Going back to India isn’t an option. The infrastructure is not handicapped friendly, which means she wouldn’t have job opportunities let alone be able to obtain medical care that, she says, would be inferior to what she’s receiving here.

“I don’t know if I’d even be able to survive there,” Kurdekar says. “All the skills, all the hard-earned skills I have wouldn’t be utilized. In the U.S., every individual has equal opportunities in spite of their physical abilities. I can do a lot here. I can use my knowledge and skills to contribute to society.”

Despite all of this, she’s carried on.

A piece of pottery made by Arpita Kurdekar
A piece of pottery made by Arpita Kurdekar on Jan. 12, 2023. (Sydney Herdle/UConn Photo)

An engineer friend designed and built an adaptable easel that, with the push of a joystick, can rotate a canvas, lift it, push it left or right, or tilt it to give Kurdekar easier reach. The palate of paint rests on the tray of her motorized wheelchair as she gets lost in the small brushstrokes that give her paintings their texture and movement.

“Life is much better than what it was five years back,” she says. “I want to tell people who are struggling not to be afraid. Take one day at a time. Have small goals and try to achieve them. If you really work hard, there’s always a way out. You can always find a way. If you keep looking, you’ll eventually find an answer.”


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UConn Receives Inclusive Excellence Grant From Howard Hughes Medical Institute https://today.uconn.edu/2023/01/uconn-receives-inclusive-excellence-grant-from-howard-hughes-medical-institute/ https://today.uconn.edu/2023/01/uconn-receives-inclusive-excellence-grant-from-howard-hughes-medical-institute/#respond Mon, 23 Jan 2023 12:00:45 +0000 Mike Enright '88 (CLAS), University Communications https://today.uconn.edu/?p=194571 The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) has awarded UConn a grant of $505,000 to study transformative strategies to advance inclusive learning experiences for students and enhance student belonging.

HHMI invited select colleges and universities in the United States to build their capacity substantially and sustainably to advance student belonging, especially for those who have been historically excluded from the sciences.

“Sustaining advances in diversity and inclusion requires a scientific culture that is centered on equity,” says Blanton Tolbert, HHMI vice president of science leadership and culture. “In science education, increasing the number of individuals from underrepresented backgrounds must go hand in hand with creating inclusive learning environments in which everyone can thrive.”

Lack of diversity is most notable, but not limited, to the STEM fields.

The financial value of the grant for UConn is over a six-year period and is complemented by extending funds of knowledge principles to organizational learning: 104 schools receiving funds as part of the Inclusive Excellence 3 (IE3) initiative; $8.625 million will go to a Learning Community Cluster of 14 institutions that UConn is paired with.  Distinct from previous HHMI education initiatives, the unique funding mechanism emphasizes cooperation over competition. IE3 started with a learning phase during which the community envisioned how support of each other during implementation may look like.

The UConn team that prepared the school’s proposal include Martina Rosenberg, Director of Teaching and Learning Assessment at the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL); Andrew Moiseff, a professor of physiology and neurobiology and Associate Dean for Behavioral and Life Sciences; a professor-in-residence and Director of Undergraduate Studies Xinnian Chen; and Associate Vice Provost Peter Diplock of CETL.

“Our core team has been working on this grant and engaging in the national learning community network since 2020,” says Rosenberg. “This award is an opportunity to highlight the complexity and value of teaching-related activities. We believe that teaching cannot be effective without being inclusive and equitable. It will take more than professional development offered to faculty, it takes committed people at every single level and a sustaining community.”

A closer look at the challenge question chosen by UConn in answer to HHMI’s call underlines why collaboration within the institution is important when going forward:

How can we evaluate effective inclusive teaching, and then use the evaluation in the rewards system including faculty promotion and tenure?”  requires a departure from deficit- to-achievement-oriented thinking and practices that work in synergy.

During the next years the two anchor points will be language around understanding of inclusivity around teaching and learning as well as instructor professional development. In the executive summary of the grant proposal, the team wrote: “Articulating concepts like inclusive teaching with precision allows us to communicate about and to recognize observable behaviors that institutionalize educational justice. UConn is specifically interested in how operationalizing frameworks in different contexts work and gathering field data related to these questions:  What do faculty and students currently consider to be characteristics of inclusive and -per extension-excellence in teaching? Are views of the two groups aligned, and what evidence is reasonable to make judgements about inclusive teaching excellence?

“We are aiming at departments among our 130 undergraduate degree programs that wish to impact faculty mindsets but lack high visibility of traditional STEM classes. A synergistic UConn proposal, HHMI Driving Change, focusses on gateway courses with high enrollment. Activities are building on existing internal and external training to advance capacity for equitable teaching, educator engagement to operationalize UConn’s mission and commitment to ongoing improvement of individual and programmatic practices.”

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New Paper Presents Multifaceted View of Land Change through the Lens of Remote Sensing https://today.uconn.edu/2023/01/new-paper-presents-multifaceted-view-of-land-change-through-the-lens-of-remote-sensing/ https://today.uconn.edu/2023/01/new-paper-presents-multifaceted-view-of-land-change-through-the-lens-of-remote-sensing/#respond Mon, 23 Jan 2023 12:00:31 +0000 Anna Zarra Aldrich '20 (CLAS), Office of the Vice President for Research https://today.uconn.edu/?p=194207 In a new paper published in Remote Sensing of Environment, a team of UConn researchers from the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment (College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources) proposes a new framework that emphasizes the multifaceted nature of land change through the lens of remote sensing.

Many scientists are studying land change using remote sensing satellite data. But, given that land change science is still relatively new, there is often confusion about what language to use to describe what, exactly, people are observing.

Zhe Zhu, assistant professor and director of the Global Environmental Remote Sensing Laboratory (GERS), is also editor for multiple remote sensing journals. In this capacity, he noticed many authors using terms that have different meanings interchangeably, something he noticed this among his own lab members as well.

“I think the most important problem is that land change is an extremely complicated term,” Zhu says.

Land change is not a binary process in which land either changes or does not. It is a multifaceted and dynamic process, meaning scientists need a consistent and systematic framework to accurately describe their observations.

In their recent publication Zhu, Research Assistant Professor Shi Qiu, and postdoctoral researcher Su Ye define the need for a multifaceted perspective in remote sensing of land change.

“If you look at different facets of land change, you see different aspects of change,” Zhu says.

There are five major aspects of land change the authors define: location, time, target, metric, and agent. The location is where the change happens. The time is when the change happens. The target is what is changing; this can be factors like how the land is being used and what the land cover looks like. The metric describes how the land is changing; this aspect considers factors like if the change is abrupt or gradual, subtle or dramatic, and the duration of the change. The agent, or driver, explains why the land is changing; this can be something direct like a natural disaster, human construction, or an insect infestation. There may also be distal drivers, which are less direct forces like changes in human population or land management policies.

If you look at different facets of land change, you see different aspects of change. — Zhe Zhu

Qiu’s work is addressing this final aspect with a project that uses the group’s previously developed algorithm to map land change location and time, and combines it with machine learning algorithms that can define the drivers of land change in the conterminous U.S.

The paper emphasizes scientists publishing in this field should first clearly identify which change aspect they are talking about, then consider the multifaceted nature of land changes, and third, engage in multi-source data fusion.

Incorporating data from multiple sources and even other fields is critical to creating an accurate picture of land change.

As part of this paper, the researchers reviewed the current available global and North American remote sensing land change datasets. They found these datasets only capture one or two aspects of land change.

Data from the social and environmental sciences can contribute important ancillary data. For example, data on human population density and poverty levels can provide insight into the drivers of land change not captured in satellite data.

Scientists can even use social media to capture near-real-time images of land conditions. For example, during a natural disaster, data from social media can be combined with satellite data to determine where an image was taken and gather important information about the conditions on the ground.

“This is a direction we think will be very important in the future,” Zhu says.

Another problem the paper addresses is that when using satellite data, scientists have access to a tremendous wealth of information about where and how the land is changing. But this data also includes noise that scientists need to untangle.

Ye is developing a model that can isolate subtle land changes, which are often confused with noise.

“Usually, subtle change and data noise would be very easy to mix up, so we need some sample data to direct our models,” Ye says.

Zhu says his research group plans to implement this framework moving forward to investigate all aspects of land change from this multifaceted perspective, a framework he says will be useful for others in the field as well.

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The Road(side) to a Thriving Native Ecosystem https://today.uconn.edu/2023/01/the-roadside-to-a-thriving-native-ecosystem/ https://today.uconn.edu/2023/01/the-roadside-to-a-thriving-native-ecosystem/#respond Fri, 20 Jan 2023 12:15:54 +0000 Anna Zarra Aldrich '20 (CLAS), Office of the Vice President for Research https://today.uconn.edu/?p=194074 The side of Interstate 91 may not be the most obvious site for developing habitat for native plants and pollinators. But roadsides in New England can provide significant ecological benefits when properly managed.

Professor of Horticulture Julia Kuzovkina in the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources has received a grant from the New England Transportation Consortium to make New England’s roadsides more ecologically valuable and sustainably managed by introducing native plants and sustainable management practices to these vital yet overlooked areas.

Because roadsides are long, continuous strips of land, they provide migration pathways for pollinators. Many pollinators have lost these pathways in recent years as human developments fragment landscapes. This means pollinators need to expend extra energy to travel between patches of habitat, making the trip more taxing and dangerous.

“Roadsides constitute a lot of land,” John Campanelli, a graduate student working with Kuzovkina, says. “So their impact, ecologically, is far more than people realize.”

Roadside flora also provides ecosystem services like runoff filtration, carbon sequestration, supporting biodiverse habitats, and improving aesthetics.

The grant will establish demonstration sites in three different New England states. The researchers say they are currently considering areas along Interstate 91 since it corresponds with monarch butterflies’ migration route.

One change Kuzovkina’s team will implement in these test sites is swapping out the “cool-season” turf grasses currently planted along roadsides with more ecologically appropriate “warm-season” grasses.

As their names suggest, cool-season grasses can grow in both warm and cool seasons, while warm-season grasses only grow in warmer seasons, meaning they need to be mowed less frequently.

CT DOT worker and Campanelli (right) select a demonstration site in a meadow of warm season grasses. (Contributed photo)

The need to mow cool-season grasses year-round means the state uses more time, labor, and carbon-emitting machines to maintain them. Warm-season grasses only need to be mowed once a year, reducing all these costs.

Mowing less frequently also allows native plants to thrive and provide wildlife with habitat to nest and lay larvae.

Connecticut implemented reduced mowing practices in 2016, designating Route 6 as a conservation road. Since then, milkweed, the only plant on which monarch butterflies lay their eggs, and other native plant populations along this road have proliferated.

“We can achieve significant benefits by doing just reduced mowing in many areas,” Kuzovkina says. “This is our goal of the project to develop these practices for other states.”

Warm-season grasses also have much deeper roots – three to four feet – compared with cool-season grasses’ six-inch root systems.

Because of their deeper root systems, warm-season grasses are much better at erosion control, which protects the ecosystem and the roads. They are also more drought-resistant because they can reach water deeper underground. This will become increasingly important as global warming makes droughts in New England more common.

In addition to warm-season grasses (which will include little bluestem, purple top, and purple love grasses) the research team will create seed mixes with a variety of native plants that will be short enough to maintain sight lines for drivers and not out-compete each other. The mixes will be designed to include flowers that bloom at different times of year, providing blooms year-round. They will include flowering plants like asters, goldenrod, bee balm, foxglove beardtongue, and milkweed.

All native bees, all native pollinators will benefit from the roadsides. — Julia Kuzovkina

This effort will support all New England pollinators including butterflies and “buzz pollinators” like bumblebees, who use buzzing to vibrate the plant and release its pollen.

“All native bees, all native pollinators will benefit from the roadsides,” Kuzovkina says.

As part of this project, the researchers will help build up New England’s ecotypic seed industry. Ecotypic seeds are native plant seeds grown and used in the same region.

Currently, New England gets its seeds from other parts of the country, like the Midwest, where they have a more robust agricultural infrastructure. Seeds acclimated to the climate in which they were grown may not do well in New England’s environment. This could disrupt the genetic balance between plants and have a negative impact on biodiversity.

With this study, the researchers will connect private seed producers with the stakeholders to encourage the development of the region’s ecotypic seed capacity.

“The seed is harvested from our area, and grown in our area under our climatic conditions,” Campanelli says.

The project will include recommendations for developing public education campaigns to help residents understand that the less-manicured look of the roadsides reflects significant ecological and economic benefits.

“One of the problems that some DOTs encounter, is there’s public resistance because people are so used to the aesthetic of mowed roadsides,” Campanelli says.

While this grant is a two-year study, the researchers say they would like to continue the work since many plants take three to five years to meaningfully establish in a new ecosystem.

“It requires more than two years to see the proliferation of the species and dynamics of this re-installed ecosystem,” Kuzovkina says.

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