See Gabi’s story on UConn Today
By Gisele Ingabire
When I was younger, I made up a game that I always loved to play. I called it “The Smiling Game.” I was only 5 years old at the time, so the rules were very simple: get someone to smile without saying a word. I started playing this game because I really liked seeing people happy and I felt a sense of accomplishment knowing I was the one who helped generate their smile. It sort of felt like a superpower. At 5 years old, there was only so much I could do. I couldn’t drive. I couldn’t walk down the street by myself. I couldn’t even reach the kitchen sink without a step stool. But despite all the things I couldn’t do, being able to make people smile helped remind me of all the things I could do. So every morning, I would wake up and set a goal for how many people I wanted to share a smile with.
I continued playing this game for a few years until I learned about this neat little thing called “body language.” You probably already know about this magical concept, but I got to learn it from my older sister. She explained that body language could give you the ability to understand what a person is thinking or feeling without them having to say a word. As a shy kid who refrained from speaking as much as humanly possible, I found this new concept very intriguing. One day, I got curious what my body language said about me, so I asked my older sister. She said, “I can always tell when you’re in a conversation you don’t want to be in. You’re never fully facing the person. You’re sort of sideways, as if you’re ready to jump ship as soon as a moment in the conversation presents itself. And would it kill you to at least pretend to smile?” That last part stung a little cause I thought after all my rounds of “The Smiling Game,” I would have been a pro at smiling. This conversation made me realize that body language is not just limited to examining other people, but examining yourself as well.
On top of being transformational in a personal sense, body language allowed me to add a bit more zest to my smiling game. Instead of setting an arbitrary number that I wanted to reach, I tried to make the smiles shared more organic. Instead of thinking, how can I meet my smiling quota today? I thought how can I give someone an opportunity to smile today? It was through this shift in thinking that I was able to connect with people a lot better. I was now consciously making the effort to acknowledge that they may be sad or upset and trying to understand the root of their situation before seeing if I might be able to help be the ray of sun peaking through a parade of clouds. Sometimes, conversations would reveal that someone’s “clouds” weren’t just a bad day, but months or even years of pain. At this point, I would begin thinking, how can I give them an opportunity to heal? It was really this concept of healing that became a game changer for me. Google defines healing as “the process of making or becoming sound or healthy again.” Notice the word “process,” implying that healing doesn’t just happen overnight—it takes time. But it’s also achievable, hence the word “again.” And I’m not limiting healing to the emotional sense, but also the physical sense.
As a future pediatrician, I know I’m going to see a lot of people in pain or upset, but they are coming into my office because they are looking for an opportunity to heal. I also chose children as my target audience because I want to give them plenty of opportunities to stay healthy so they can focus on opportunities to grow their minds and dreams. I don’t want children worrying about all the things they physically can’t do, but rather all the great things they can. Even if it’s as simple as giving someone the opportunity to smile.
As a freshly admitted student, I came to UConn in the School of Fine Arts. However, I realized that wasn’t the right path for me before I even attended classes, switching my major to Environmental Studies, in CLAS, at my freshman orientation. But I soon found that Environmental Studies was too broad a field for me, and I was missing science classes. So, I explored new, more focused majors, which led me to CAHNR and the Sustainable Forest Resources concentration in the Natural Resources Program. I took Dendrology with Professor Tom Worthley in the fall of 2018, and the rest is history! So I thought I’d share some of the learning that brought me to where I am: about to graduate from CAHNR with a degree that I loved earning. Without further ado, here is a quick guide to recognizing a couple of trees that can be found around the UConn Storrs campus!
In order to begin identifying trees, it is important to acknowledge that tree ID is not an exact science; every individual tree is unique, and there is a lot of variation within all the individuals of a species, the same way no two humans or cats look exactly alike! Even the most experienced identifier may be stumped by a tree every once in a while, (pun intended) especially due to the existence of hybrids; just like a tiger and lion can mate and produce a liger, trees of different species can sometimes produce offspring as well. So, it would often be impossible to know a tree’s species without breaking the question down to the tree’s very DNA. For this reason, I think of Tree ID as more of a mystery to be solved than an equation with a perfect solution.
The best way to identify trees is to start by examining the bark, then branching patterns, seeds, flowers, and buds. Leaves are also helpful, but they’re not always available. The characteristics you might look for in bark include color, the size and shape of any scales, hardness, and any unique identifiers like lenticels (regularly spaced markings) or blonding (stripped outer layers of bark). The two branching patterns in trees are opposite, meaning that pairs of branches and pairs of leaves grow from the same node on opposite sides of a branch, and alternate, meaning that pairs of branches and pairs of leaves grow from their own separate nodes on a branch. Seeds take on all shapes, sizes, and colors, as do flowers, buds, and leaves.
All that being said, I will just cover a few trees that have what I call a dead-giveaway trait — one that, if you spot it on a tree around UConn, is 99.99% sure to indicate what species that tree is.
There are five hickories native to New England, but Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata) is the easiest to identify because of the shaggy appearance of its bark. Bats often roost in the loose strips of this tree’s bark. Shagbark Hickory is very tall when mature, so you usually won’t be able to use buds to identify this tree. The leaves are compound, meaning that many leaflets make up one leaf. In the case of Shagbark Hickory, there are five leaflets to one leaf. The seeds have a light green casing (maturing to brown), are divided into four sections, and are a little bit bigger than a golf ball. Squirrels love to eat them. Due to its significance to squirrels and bats, this species is denoted as a wildlife species, and is considered to be of high value in a forest ecosystem. Shagbark Hickory trees can be found at UConn on the green space between the Arjona Building, West Campus Residence Halls, Whitney Road, and Gilbert Road.
Pine is often misconstrued as an umbrella term including all conifers, but it is actually just one genus of many included in the conifer group. Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus) is the predominant pine species in New England. The bark has papery, layered scales that are usually gray and reddish-orange in places. Since most conifers are evergreen, identification by leaf is possible year round. Eastern White Pine needles are long, thin, and pliable. There are five needles to a fascicle, or bundle. It can be found on campus on the edge of the Great Lawn right next to North Eagleville Road (between the Austin Building, Storrs Congregational Church, and the Young/Ratcliffe Hicks Buildings).
Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) is another conifer native to New England. Its needles are short and flat and arranged along opposite sides of twigs. The top sides of the needles are a brighter green while the bottom is a more muted green with two distinct white lines. As can be seen in the photos, hemlock trees are currently under stress from the invasive Hemlock Woolly Adelgid. The Adelgid attaches to the base of the needles, sucking out the tree’s nutrients. They are white and fuzzy and look like a dusting of snow. They can be eliminated by an arborist using horticultural oil. A small stand of them can be found behind Gulley Hall, between Beach Hall and the Family Studies Building.
River Birch (Betula nigra) is a common tree found in landscaping around UConn, though they normally grow near wetlands. The bark peels off of the young trees in haphazard, papery sheets. Young bark has patches of many different colors including white and shades of brown. In the fall, River Birch’s arrowhead-shaped leaves turn yellow. The leaves’ margins are double serrated, which means that there is a large pattern of serration along the edges of the leaves, and a second, smaller pattern of serration along the larger serration. They can be found to either side of the Fairfield Way entrance to the Homer Babbidge Library most notably, but are scattered all across campus. (Bonus: the Pine tree behind the River Birch to the left of the Library entrance is also an Eastern White Pine!)
For more information on the many trees of the UConn campus, check out the Arboretum Committee’s webpage at arboretum.uconn.edu. They have a map of all the trees on campus, among plenty of other resources for the tree-curious. And if you’re curious about learning more Tree Identification in general, I cannot recommend Michael Wojtech’s BARK: A Field Guide to Trees of the Northeast and David Allen Sibley’s The Sibley Guide to Trees enough- they have beautiful photos/illustrations of every tree you might come across! Thanks for reading!
By Dana Chamberlain.
College was hard for me. I came in not really knowing what I wanted to do and am graduating still not fully knowing what’s next for me. But if there’s one thing that I’ve learned over the past four years at UConn, it’s that success isn’t linear. Some people enter college knowing exactly what they want to do, never change their mind, and end up happy in a successful career. Other people spend many years trying to figure out who they are and what they want to do, trying out a bunch of different paths until stumbling upon something they love. So, all of this is to say, you don’t need to know exactly who you are and what you want to do at 18 or even at 22. The most important thing is that you never stop learning or growing. Things will hopefully fall into place when you are honest with yourself about what you want in life and put in the work to get it.
As I reflect on my time here at UConn, there are a few things I wish I fully understood earlier on. To the incoming first-year class, here are some things I wish I knew my first year:
Mental health above all
I am no stranger to depression and anxiety. I know how hard it can be to get out of bed when all you want to do is sleep the day away or to work on an assignment when your mind is elsewhere. Trying to stay on top of your academics while maintaining friendships, participating in extracurricular activities, and worrying about your future can be really overwhelming and stressful.
At the end of the day, you are not a robot and can only do so much. It is so unbelievably important to put your mental wellbeing first. Take time each day to care for yourself and rest. Set boundaries when you can. If you have a ton of assignments all due on the same day and know you won’t be able to finish it all without depriving yourself of sleep, reach out to your professors to see if you can get a deadline extension. Or if you agreed to hang out with a friend on the weekend but are feeling drained after a particularly hard week, text them to see if you can hang out another time. Most people will understand as long as you communicate with them and are honest about when you think you can get things done.
UConn has quite a few resources to help you out too. You can reach out to SHaW-Mental Health for counseling services, the Dean of Students Office to receive extra academic support, and the Center for Student Disabilities to receive housing and/or academic accommodations to support any learning differences or different abilities you might be have. And don’t underestimate the value of a friend who is a good listener! You’re not alone and you will get through this!
Grades are important, but not as important as you might think
Grades are important, so you should try to attend all class sessions, develop good study habits, go to office hours, make friends with your classmates, form study groups, and reach out to your professor with any concerns you might have. However, your grades don’t define you, and one bad grade isn’t the end of the world. It’s more important that you continue to improve throughout the semester and your college career and develop good relationships with your professors.
If you’re worried about future jobs or graduate school, you can always explain why you received the grade you did in a cover letter or interview (whether it’s because you were attending to a personal issue or math just isn’t your strong suit, for example.) Also, having formed good relationships with your professor means that they can vouch for you when you need it. Ultimately, letters of recommendation speak louder than grades.
I know that everyone says this, but it’s so important to get involved. College is supposed to be fun! Go to the Involvement Fair each semester and sign up for any and all clubs that interest you. I met so many cool people through attending club meetings and events. Getting involved helps you make friends, learn more about your interests, and feel connected to your campus.
I didn’t really understand how important networking was until my junior year. Job hunting can be rough. Sometimes a familiar face is all you need to get your foot in the door. So, develop good relationships with your professors, TAs, advisors, mentors, classmates, coworkers, etc. You never know who might know of a great opportunity for you or who can speak highly of you in spaces you don’t have access to.
Be open to trying new things and take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way. I applied to a summer research program for undergraduates (REU) my freshman year on a whim and got in. Now, I’ve been doing research for three years, have had so many doors opened for me, and am planning on a career in research. You never know what could come from saying “yes!”
UConn has a lot to offer. Reading “The Daily Digest” every day is a great way to find out about what’s happening on campus.
Be your own advocate
Last but not least, it’s important to be your own advocate. With so many students on campus, sometimes your professor or advisor won’t notice that you’re struggling. Ask for what you need. Reach out. Remember: closed mouths don’t get fed.
By Yvette Oppong.
All of the injustice that took place in 2020, from the exacerbation of environmental injustice due to COVID-19 to the many examples of racial injustice in our society, had made me feel very hopeless. It just seemed as though African Americans and people of color were not made for success while living in America. One thing that helped me get through the traumatic events of 2020 up until now is trying to find the positivity in every situation, especially in light of the negativity surrounding this pandemic. One way I did this was making a goal to learn how to truly take a break and relax. Before the pandemic, I always felt as though I did not have enough time for anything, like completing the next assignment, planning for the classes I needed to take, applying for programs for the summer, etc. Throughout this entire quarantine, I have made a purposeful effort to try not to worry constantly about what I have to do next, because everything that has happened has taught me to be grateful for the moment and to cherish it.
In doing this, I have also made an effort to set aside time for myself for myself. I have been spending more time in nature, which has really helped me to relax and be more appreciative of life and the planet. In addition to this, I have been learning how to cook, learning how to do box braids, cornrows, twists, and passion twists on myself. Learning how to cook has been a very enjoyable experience for me because it keeps me from stressing about my work, and I am able to make food I enjoy eating. Learning how to do different styles on my hair has also been very fun for me because I have always wanted to learn how to do my hair and the process of learning, although frustrating at times, is rewarding in the end when you see the results. Doing this also helps me relax and forget about anything I am stressing about because I am focusing on one thing. Although I can improve on these, I am so glad that I was able to have the time to learn more about myself and challenge myself.
Another thing has helped me relax is embracing, pursuing and incorporating my passions with my career interests. Whenever I used to think about what I would be doing after graduation, I would get overwhelmed and stressed out. Now, I am trying to change how I think about my future; so instead of worrying about how I am going to get to where I need to be, I have been planning and incorporating my passion for Environmental Justice into my passion for medicine. I am always trying to affirm within myself that I can accomplish this goal and anything else I want to pursue because I didn’t get this far just to get this far. I am doing my best, and that is something I have been reminding myself of lately so that I do not put too much pressure on myself. Getting to this point was a very difficult process for me, and although I have a lot to improve on, I am grateful for the progress I have made and where I am at.
By Soohyun Oh.
As a sophomore here at UConn, my life is filled with uncertainties. I like to think that I have my life and my future figured out, but quite frankly, I am not very sure if I do. This “college thing” came to me like a quick tsunami wave: from taking SATs in high school to being a sophomore in my spring semester. While some students might have already figured out their whole life plan, some might still be undecided majors who aren’t sure what they want to do after graduation.
I entered the University of Connecticut as an exercise science major and I had two possible plans: physical therapy or medical school. Exercise science was a familiar field to me. Like many exercise science majors, I was involved with sports throughout high school, and I was in an environment with a lot of rehabilitation work and physical therapy. For some reason, I wanted to go into the medical field. It was strange because I had no prior experience in the medical field except for hospital TV shows and documentaries which are often a misrepresentation of the realities of medicine. Maybe I was drawn to the white coats, their high social status, not to mention their high payroll. I had very little knowledge about both fields of physical therapy and healthcare, and that’s where the uncertainty developed and my anxiety kicked in.
However, with my experiences at UConn, I can turn my uncertainties into opportunities. As soon as I started my classes, I loved my major. The thing that I love the most about the major is the interdisciplinary course offerings and the flexibility. As a pre-medical student in exercise science, I am taking classes in hard sciences, kinesiology, nutrition, public speaking, psychology, and the list goes on. All these different courses allow me to gain knowledge in various science fields that are relevant not just to exercise science. The coursework is interdisciplinary, but they are also classes that I can apply in my daily life. Courses such as exercise prescription, nutrition, and principles of weight-training provide me with knowledge of exercise planning, nutrition management, and weightlifting. With these classes, I am also able to gain a small insight into what kind of work the physical therapists, nutritionists, and athletic trainers do.
In addition to the courses that help me get a sneak peek of what the fields entail, I also am able to expand my learning outside of the classroom through the College of Agriculture, Health & Natural Resources (CAHNR) itself. I can talk to the CAHNR faculty and professors about my interests. I’ve learned about the different types of physical therapists in addition to those working with athletes. Some physical therapists work with flight attendants, children, and horses (how cool is that!). I have also learned that physical therapy isn’t the only path you can take. I discovered you can continue in graduate school in biomechanics or exercise physiology to be in a research field and even work with companies like Nike or Hershey’s to develop their products. Also, with involvement in research, I can explore cellular and molecular biology, studying how various cell stresses can affect the development of organisms. Through research, I can learn lab techniques, data analysis, questioning, and problem-solving, all of which are necessary skills for graduate school.
One project that I and a colleague started recently with my principal investigator, Dr. Elaine Choung-Hee Lee, is the B.ethical project, which is a blog discussing the medical and scientific ethical issues to educate and bring awareness on the topic. The field of bioethics was something that I have never expected myself to be interested in and study. With this project, I expanded my knowledge on topics such as scientific data on women, racism and discrimination in scientific publications and experimental designs, microaggressions, health disparities in medicine and STEM professions.
When I started college, I expected my life to play out smoothly like a record player because now I am a “grown-up” in college studying a particular field. However, I was not in a place where I expected to be at this stage of my college career. Also, the COVID-19 pandemic put us, college students, into quarantine, limiting our learning opportunities inside and outside of school. Uncertainties and not having a set plan in your life can be scary and challenging and can make you anxious. However, not having a set path also means that your education is limitless: you are not bound in your learning. Through this learning process, I have gained more experience and knowledge about my fields of interests interested in order to someday soon decide on my future path. If your future is uncertain like mine, learn and explore, and you’ll find something that calls you!
Ever since I enrolled at UConn, balance has been one of my biggest mantras. Finding it has allowed me to experience a wide variety of opportunities, from networking with UConn alumni to embarking on field trips with UConn’s Wildlife Society. Likewise, I wanted my degree to to prepare me for the diverse array of situations the future will have in store. That is why I majored in Applied and Resource Economics or ARE for short. Majoring in ARE has prepared me to think analytically about problems in production, marketing and management within business firms through examples in natural resources and agriculture industries. The program grants a Bachelor of Science degree, and offers three main concentrations. I have taken courses that apply to each of the three, and all have enabled me to develop highly advantageous skills that I can carry forward into my professional life.
Business Management and Marketing will especially suit those interested in business. One course I took within this area, Computational Analysis in Applied Economics (ARE 3333), laid the foundation for me to analyze agricultural business problems and management decisions through Excel. Because of the course, I now know how to create formulas that minimize the amount of actual work needed in setting up a spreadsheet and get the necessary data I need faster. This skill in Microsoft Office and similar programs is key for communicating a presentation or data entries within a business environment. On top of this, the courses in the concentration help establish a strong understanding of consumer choices as well as profit and risk management, while also explaining how factors such as law and government policies have an impact on agricultural business decisions.
Environmental Economics and Policy is great if you are interested in legislation and the state of natural resources. This is especially true for Environmental and Resource Policy (ARE 3434), which lays out the history and procedures surrounding important environmental and natural resource issues like environmental quality, energy use, natural resource management, and valuation of natural resources. This information gave me a strong understanding how policies are crafted within the United States and provided an important context to answering these same issues in the future if I am part of a government agency or private business that provides services in sustainability, environmental, or natural resource areas.
The Developmental Economics and Policy concentration seeks to address issues like world hunger and poverty both domestically and internationally. I gained a better understanding about how national and international agricultural analysis is conducted in Food Policy (ARE 3260), while in Economic Geography (GEOG 2100), I was given a thorough overview of issues such as transportation and allocation of resources at the local, regional and global economic level. Both gave me the chance to apply techniques such as cost-benefit analysis and risk investment decision-making, which is key for careers in governmental policymaking as well as international organizations such as the World Bank and Save the Children.
ARE also offers 3 minors, including Business Management and Marketing along with Environmental Economics and Policy. The third option is Equine Business Management, which provides an overview of marketing, management, and financial principles in equine management. On top of this, there are opportunities to receive credit for approved internships and projects, which allows you to apply the knowledge from coursework to the real world. I had the chance to do so in the Farm Credit East Fellows Program through the Professional Internship Course (ARE 4991). Even though my experience was cut short due to the pandemic, it still provided an insightful opportunity into how a lending financial services provider such as Farm Credit East serves agriculture and natural resource-based businesses. Assignments given throughout the course simulated the tasks done daily within the firm, including determining the creditworthiness of borrowers, analyzing a company’s probability of defaulting, and evaluating real estate property value.
Thanks to the programs offered in Applied and Resource Economics, I have been able to balance my efforts into a specific set of skills and experiences that suit me best. Now I know how to be both analytical and constructive when it comes to information thanks to Business Management and Marketing. My time in Environmental Economics has made me more aware of how our natural resources are managed and maintained to suit our needs, and Development Economics and Policy has given me a better understanding of how logistical decisions are made here in America and abroad. These approaches, accompanied by hands-on internship experience, have set me up for a well-balanced career path as I look ahead to the world beyond college.