Clubs & Organizations

Getting involved: How Joining Has Helped Me Grow as an Individual.

By Christie Kosecki

Being told to “get involved” in organizations and clubs around campus is common advice for college freshmen. How one gets involved, however, is completely up to them. University of Connecticut offers various clubs, sports and events that students can join to meet other students and staff and network throughout the college. Personally, there was a part of me that dreaded the part of college that required me to move to an entirely new area and be surrounded by people I didn’t know. I was an extremely shy and quiet child growing up, and social anxiety was a very real thing for me.

I didn’t always live in Connecticut. Growing up, I lived in a large suburb of Syracuse NY, and because I had been raised there and knew everyone in my class, I had never really had to integrate into a new school or setting before. That was, until I moved to Connecticut my freshman year of high school. Considering the type of person I was, moving away had been a hard but good thing for me. It forced me to go out of my comfort zone and meet new people. However, at that time in my life (due to some injuries, family illness and housing issues), I did not get extensively involved in the community or my schooling, other than participating in some extracurricular sports. Although slightly terrified, I saw college as an opportunity to grow and to discover my own potential. I wanted to stop living my life in fear, and so I took the leap and forced myself to go to both the involvement fair on Fairfield Way and the Ice Cream Social that the Department of Animal Science was hosting that fall for new students. It was in front of the George White Building that I had talked to some of the sisters from Sigma Alpha, a professional sorority for women in agriculture, and also to members of the equestrian team. Although I was nervous (since I had only been riding for a year at that time), I went to the equestrian team tryouts and tried out for Walk/Trot. A few days later, I was surprised to find out I had made it on the team! About a week later, I also decided to attend a recruitment week event that Sigma Alpha hosted in the East Campus dorms, and found myself joining a sorority. Within just a month of being on campus, I had found myself both on a team and joining a sorority, both of which I never would have expected of myself back in high school.

Never at that time would I have anticipated the team or the sorority to have much of an impact on my life. Being on the equestrian team helped me to befriend many great people, and through it I learned not only how to improve upon my riding and better care for horses, but also how fun horse shows can be. The lessons helped me to get into better physical shape, and gave me something to look forward to when classes became stressful. Unfortunately, due to health reasons as well as a very busy schedule, I no longer ride on the team itself, but I hope to participate in the riding practicum again this upcoming fall once I’m back in good physical shape and my schedule is freer. Although I am unable to ride this semester, I still find myself visiting the barns to see the horses and to help plan for this year’s Sigma Alpha Horse Show.

Had anyone told me back in high school that I would join a sorority, I would have laughed. When I thought of sororities back then, partying and socializing came to mind and I never really enjoyed large crowds. Sigma Alpha, however, was different in that it was a professional sorority that promoted fellowship in a way different from going to large parties. I was able to talk with many of the sisters one-on-one and realized that this organization was a good fit for me and could potentially help me achieve my goals of becoming both more involved on campus and less socially anxious (or at least better able to manage my social anxieties). So many opportunities have come my way since joining this sorority.

It all began when one sister helped me get a position on the Academic Integrity Hearing Board. The next semester, another sister had told me that Dr. Safran in the Department of Animal Science was looking for Teaching Assistants for her introductory nutrition class, so I followed-through and got a position. Then, when discussing how I needed more internship/shadowing hours at a veterinary clinic, another good friend and sister recommended I intern at North Windham Animal Hospital during the summer, which is now where I work as a Vet Tech Assistant and Receptionist. Another sister told me about the College Ambassador Program, which I likely would not have known about or applied for had I not been in Sigma Alpha and built up my confidence.

This Ambassador program in turn has not only helped me to become more confident in my presentation and leadership skills but has also opened up a completely new and exciting opportunity for me. Had I not become a college ambassador, I would not have been offered the opportunity to work with Dr. Bushmich to plan a One Health seminar, which turned into a One Health Class, for which I am currently a Teaching Assistant. A few of the other ambassadors and I started up a Students for One Health Club on campus that, since its start this past semester, has gained over 50 members on UConntact! Now I have found myself becoming the vice president of a club and helping to give presentations every other Tuesday, something I never would have expected from myself in years past. Lastly, the sorority elected me to become this year’s Horse Show chair, thereby handing me the responsibility of planning and running the annual horse show. Planning for this show has not only allowed me to utilize the skills learned from previous leadership opportunities but has also taught me quite a bit about event planning, advertising and the importance of clear communication. Had I never joined this sorority, I would have never gained the skills and knowledge that I have now, and I would have never met the people who hold such an important place in my life.

Finally, there is one more club that has thoroughly changed me and my life for the better. It was in April of 2017 that I finally worked up the courage to sign up for a tandem skydive through UConn’s Skydiving Club. Skydiving had always been something I found intriguing but I was always too terrified to attempt. However, when I found out that the club hosted a tandem weekend with discounted tandem skydives, I knew that if I didn’t try it now I would probably never try it. Unlike some of my friends currently on the team, I never saw myself jumping out of airplanes for fun until I did my first tandem skydive and realized I absolutely loved the feeling of being in freefall and the views under canopy. Once I learned more about the sport of skydiving and made a second tandem skydive (just to be sure), I committed to getting my skydiving license so I was able to jump on my own and eventually jump with others competitively and for fun. Not only have I learned a lot about the sport itself, but I learned that I am capable of so much more than I ever imagined. Skydiving is not just fun to me, but also a huge confidence booster as well as a stress reliever. Through this sport I have met some of the most amazing and unique people around and have had some spectacular adventures, creating the best memories with all of them.

I write about these experiences today with the hopes that they will motivate someone with similar feelings and experiences to those I have had, to work up the courage to attend that club meeting or join that organization you may have been interested in but were either too nervous or too busy to consider at the time. Had I just said “Eh, I’m not qualified and shouldn’t even bother,” and skipped Equestrian Team tryouts that morning, I would have never made it on the team, met some of the greatest equestrians, and learned as much about good horsemanship and riding as I know now. Had I let my nervousness get the best of me and skipped that recruitment week meeting for Sigma Alpha and stayed in my dorm room that evening, I wouldn’t have formed the close ties and relationships with those in the sorority, which has given me an amazing support system as well as some unexpected and amazing opportunities to grow. Had I chickened out of doing my tandem skydive that morning, I wouldn’t have met some of my favorite people, gone on half as many adventures, or gained the confidence in myself that I have now. Had I not joined any of these three organizations, I can guarantee that I would not be the person that I am today and would not have gained the knowledge, leadership and social experiences that I now possess. It is because of these three extracurriculars that I have grown into the person I am today, and while I am far from perfect and still have a lot to learn in life, I like the person I am becoming. If you have the time or can make the time, check out that organization that has caught your attention. You never know how it may transform you and your life for the better.

 

 

 

Tips for Tackling Independence in College

By Lauren Engels

Being a first-year student at UConn is a lot different from being a high school student. You make your own class schedule with classes you want to be taking, you live with peers instead of your parents, and you control what you want to do with your time. The transition to college comes with a great deal of independence that many high school students may not have had before. Here are some tips that I have come up with in order to help new college students use their new independence wisely:

Your time is valuable, be smart with it!

*When you first arrive at school, you will probably have loads of free time on your hands. Use that time to make new friends and join new clubs and organizations on campus! As the semester goes on, your free time will begin to dwindle down and you will need to manage your time. The best way to manage your time is to track when every assignment or exam is due. This could be through a paper planner and calendar, or an online calendar or study app, such as MyStudyLife. Find what works for you and make it a routine to keep it as updated as possible. This allows you to stay on top of your school work and plan for a successful semester.

*Join as many clubs as you want at the beginning of the semester. By mid-semester you should know which clubs you are really interested in and which ones you wouldn’t mind missing to hang out with friends or study. Your time is valuable in college, so if you do not want to be in a club any more or can not find the extra time in your schedule for it, don’t go. Being involved on campus is very important, but be sure not to overcommit yourself to certain activities and prioritize your responsibilities.

Do not get behind on your school work.

*It’s not enough to just write down the exam and assignment due dates, actually be cognizant of them. School work is a lot more manageable and less stressful if you study a little bit everyday instead of trying to cram everything in all before your exam the next day. Go to class, ask questions, and give yourself plenty of study time before an exam in order to do well.

*No one is going to pester you to study; it is up to you to be responsible for your grades. Part of the new independence that you have gained is knowing what your responsibilities are and making them a priority.

Be comfortable being alone.

*A lot of your college experience is going to include your friends. Your friends are important to your happiness and it is important you establish connections with your peers in order for you to truly enjoy college. However, for a good portion of your college experience you will be alone as well. This may be the first time in your life when you are truly alone, but this is important because it allows you know who you are and what is important to you. Get used to every once in a while eating by yourself in the dining hall, or going to the gym or library by yourself. You may need to say no to plans with friends because you personally need to have some time to yourself. Your relationship with yourself is equally as important as your relationship with others, and college is a good time to embrace being alone.

    Have fun!

    *There are so many opportunities for you to have fun on campus, such as joining a sorority or fraternity and playing intramural sports. Make sure you allow yourself to have fun with friends while in college. It is a stress reliever and a good way to develop time maintenance strategies. College is only four years long, so make sure you are having fun and making memories!

    Good luck new first year students. I hope your time at UConn is exciting and memorable!

    Finding Yourself in College: Riding Teams

    by Elaine Wehmhoff

    Throughout my college career I have been a student at three different universities, so if there’s anything I’m used to by now, it’s adjusting. I started out at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, CO and decided to transfer when I came home that Christmas break. Since the deadline for UConn in the Spring had passed, I took a semester at Southern CT State before attending UConn in Fall of 2017. If there was anything I learned from being a student at two large public universities, it is that you need to find yourself in your school otherwise you can feel very, very lost.

    Leaving behind the country home roads I grew to master, and the people around me who made me who I am, made me feel lost upon arriving to university. I didn’t know where I was or where I was going. I didn’t know anyone around me. Everything constant had suddenly fleeted…except for one thing: me. While everything else is changing in college, the best way to plant your feet can be staying true to yourself. What can you keep the same? Not to say that change is bad, or that you won’t change in school, because you will…but what can you do to bring yourself comfort?

    Answering these questions for yourself can make the university feel tenfold smaller. When I was feeling lost  across the country, I knew that one thing still constant was my love for horses and riding. Knowing this, I sought out a riding program at CSU. I immediately signed up and rode once a week, maybe more if I so desired. While everything around me was changing, it felt right to have something that felt natural and felt like a little bit of home. To me, that’s what riding was. Every time I rode, I was given that connection of a horse and rider with which I was familiar and loved. It gave me something that I knew how to focus on, an outlet of sorts. When I was riding, I was able to forget for a moment, about everything that was new, daunting, and on my agenda. It gave me a place to feel at home while I was in a place with many new stressors. While signing up for one thing won’t stop you from missing your parents or pets, it will renew that sense of purpose and belonging that can feel unsteady upon arriving at a new place. When I transferred to UConn, I did the same thing and immediately looked up the riding program and found out they had several teams. I ended up joining the dressage team which as an eventer, I was already into. Now, I look back and can’t believe that a year of travels, adventures, memories, and best friends came simply out of some easy searches. 

    (Author on right)

    Now your next question might be, what if they don’t have what I am interested in? At Colorado State, they didn’t have an English riding team, so I ended up joining polo and trying something totally new, fun, and exciting. In addition, finding something related to your interests gives you immediate common ground with a whole new group of people. While giving this advice to a fellow student recently, he asked me, “I’m interested in beekeeping, do you think they have that?” I wondered if this would be the one that stumped me; did I have to bite my tongue? Sure enough, we looked it up, and a whole UConntact (club) page was displayed with an informative video on the UConn Beekeeping Club. So there you have it!

    Rarefied interests aside, getting involved is seriously very important. Had it not been for my involvement these past years, my mental and physical health would have really suffered as I transitioned from place to place. Getting involved is the best possible way to make the university seem smaller. You develop a schedule, a familiarity with the people and resources for whatever you’re doing, and it really helps having something healthy and positive lining up alongside stressful academic life and classes. While going to large universities like UConn and CSU can make it hard to settle in, they also provide an immense collection of activities, clubs and organizations that appeal to the interests of every student. Even though college is an incredible experience, that will push and pull you in the best of ways, it can be hard and that is the reality of it. It isn’t natural to be absolutely deprived of everything you knew and had overnight; however, that’s what move in day feels like for some. While attending University will challenge and change you for the better, it is important to have a place where you feel “at home” or comfortable so that you have a healthy break from your stressors. While I love learning new things and being involved in my academics at UConn, I am more than just a student. In order to have a healthy balance, you need to restore a little “you” in your life at school, and the only way to do that is to engage yourself. Finishing an exam and heading up to Horsebarn Hill for my weekly lesson balances things out at a pace I can handle, a mix of new and old. Now try it for yourself!

    Clubs You Should Know About

    By Noah Freeman

    As the second consecutive CAHNR ambassador from the UConn Men’s Crew Team, I can’t help but feel that I have big shoes to fill.  My predecessor, “Pistol” Pete Apicella, wrote a blog post about the irresistible draw of the 5am practices, which can be read here: https://collegeambassadors.uconn.edu/2018/04/26/mens-crew/  However, rowing isn’t the only club activity that encompasses the spirit of CAHNR.

    While there is a whole list of clubs available on the college website (https://grow.uconn.edu/clubs/), I have found that two I most enjoyed in my time at UConn are not included in this list.  Both are involved in many ways with various CAHNR majors, but are not formally linked to the college.  I feel, therefore, that these clubs deserve more time in the spotlight, and I would like to pay due respect to the UConn Woodsmen team and the UConn Exercise is Medicine club, respectively.

    As a rower, I spend a good amount of my winters training with my teammates in the Ratcliffe-Hicks arena, and through that time I was lucky enough to be able to catch the UConn Woodsmen in action.  As a good amount of the Agriculture students have been active in 4-H clubs or simply in chores back home, there is nothing quite as rewarding as seeing some clean log cuts and neatly stacked wood. The Woodsmen excel in a wide array of different athletic feats, and were able to entice enough attention at practice to bring out several members of the UConn Men’s Crew to spectate at the spring invitational. If you are interested in learning more about the Woodsmen team, please check their RSO page here; https://uconnwoodsmen.rso.uconn.edu/

     

    Next, the UConn Exercise is Medicine Club (EIM).  In my time at UConn I have been closely involved with EIM as a member, Director of Membership, and Vice President. This club has been incredibly active in the development of new university protocol over the past two years, especially in earning UConn a gold status from the national Exercise is Medicine Council. This standing is earned by instituting campus wide initiatives such as more active daily lifestyles (walking instead of bussing to class, accomplish by the “Everybody Walk!” campaign), as well as including activity levels in the Health Center vital measurements. For any student interested in the health majors offered through CAHNR, EIM provides a great way to get hands on experience in real world policy changes. Check out the EIM UConntact page to find out more about how to get involved! https://uconntact.uconn.edu/organization/uconneim

     

    Being a Pre-Med in the College of Ag, Health & Natural Resources

    By Kathleen Renna

    Believe it or not, the amount of times I am sitting in a pre-med heavy course (organic chemistry, microbiology, you name it) and someone asks me why I have a CAHNR sticker on my laptop is more than I can count. People often assume that if you are considering a career in medicine, you are a PNB, MCB, or really any hard sciences major in CLAS. In reality, yes – those majors set you up for every course you need for medical school. So why on earth would I not just follow the pack?

    I think this dilemma comes from a lack of understanding of two critical pieces of information. Firstly, CAHNR stands for the College of Agriculture, ​Health​, and Natural Resources. Allied health sciences (AHS) and its associated majors is a very real plan of study that prepares students for careers in various health professions, such as physical therapy, occupational therapy, or mental health counseling. You can find out more about these and other potential career options for AHS students on The Major Experience ​website​.

    Personally, I am a diagnostic genetic sciences (DGS) major. So, even if people have heard of AHS, they look at me as if I have ten heads when I throw ​that​ doozy of a major out there. DGS is a professional degree program in the AHS department that students apply into their sophomore year. The program sets students up for ​careers​ as lab technologists, genetic counselors, and clinical geneticists, the latter being the one I am pursuing and which requires a medical degree. I decided on clinical genetics because I have always been interested in the genetic basis of disease; however, I have found out over time that I could not spend my whole life working in a lab. I spent a lot of time searching for a career that would meet my needs and stumbled upon clinical genetics. After some careful thought of whether medical school was for me, I decided that it was worth a shot. I enjoy engaging with people and like the fact that this is one of the few professions where you never stop learning because there are always things being discovered, so becoming a physician seemed like the right choice for me. Therefore by choosing to be in CAHNR, I made a choice to take classes more tailored to my individual interests!

    Ultimately, I chose DGS because clinical genetics is a specialty I am not likely to encounter in medical school. In fact, doctors don’t typically get involved with clinical genetics until potentially the third or fourth year of ​residency.​ For me, that seemed like a long time (eight or nine years from right now) to wait and see if I was actually content with my career choice. Instead, I chose to pick an undergraduate school that gave me the opportunity to study exactly what I was interested in instead of waiting ten years and spending copious amounts of money on medical school just to find out I didn’t make the right decision. Even though I am only a few weeks into my DGS major, I am really enjoying the concepts that I am learning and am very excited to see what I learn next.

    The second critical piece of information that people don’t fully understand is the one that I consider the most important: you can be ANY major and still get into medical school as long as you complete the required coursework for the schools you are applying to. So yes, being a PNB or MCB major is great because you are taking all of the typically required classes and then some, and I commend anyone who chooses to do this because they enjoy this plan of study. However, sometimes I feel as though students choose these majors because they feel as though this is what medical schools want to see rather than taking courses that genuinely spark their interests.

    Truth be told, medical schools want to see a diversity of majors and interests. If you are taking only science classes and participating in solely medically-oriented organizations, you are not showing the admissions committee a diversity of interests. And, for your own sake, doesn’t taking all science classes get a little overwhelming or, some would even go as far to say, boring? Some of the most interesting courses that I have taken, like Sociology of Gender and Anglophone Literature, are not directly related to human cells or tissues, but they are intimately connected with the human condition. They sparked my interest in contemporary topics like gender fluidity and race while also providing me with a background that I wholeheartedly believe will make me a better physician.

    One of my good friends, who is also pre-med and in CAHNR, works with animals and shows cows in her free time because it is something she has enjoyed doing since she was 5 years old and in FFA. She makes sure that she is accomplishing all of her medical school requirements but also sets aside time for recreational activities that truly make her who she is! Now, I don’t show cows, but that doesn’t mean I only do science. I have always seen the value in volunteering so here at UConn I made it a point to participate in community service days for Special Olympics Connecticut and for a 4-H program at an elementary school in Rockville. These activities have taught me a lot about working with diverse groups of people and how to empathize more with those who don’t share the same background as me. I also work for the cafes here on campus and for a bakery back at home, so I have been able to learn how to communicate effectively with others, especially in high-stress situations. One of the clubs I am involved in on campus has even allowed me the opportunity to volunteer at a homeless shelter, which both humbled and educated me on privilege and what it means to different people. Because of this, I can truly say that some of my most formative experiences, the ones that make a good doctor into a great one, have not been through science-related activities.

    Therefore, who’s to say that a student in CAHNR majoring in environmental studies or natural resources is not qualified for medical school, especially as we increasingly recognize the intimate connections between the environment and our health? You should absolutely focus on your academics with a goal in mind, but you should also explore other areas of interest throughout your coursework and extracurricular activities that will help to shape you as a whole person. College is about doing what is most enjoyable for ​you,​ so make the most of it!

    Thank you, UConn Men’s Crew

    The infamous dirty four cruising at sunrise
    The infamous dirty four cruising at sunrise

    I’m graduating a week from Saturday, so that means I’ll be seeing one of my last sunrises on Coventry Lake in the next few days. I have spent three out of my four years at UConn on the Men’s Crew team. Joining the ranks of this club sport was the best decision I made during my undergraduate career. After a rocky first semester in college, I decided that I wanted to be part of something bigger and worthwhile, so I decided to try rowing.

    Over the years, crew has instilled in me discipline to strive for bigger goals, taught me how to be passionate about what I care about, believe in myself, and introduced me to the people who make me love my Alma Mater.

    Crew is pretty intense. It’s a two-season sport, meaning that we have races in both the fall and the spring. To prepare for races, we practice every day at 5:00am. During the off-season, we also practice 3-4 days a week indoors in the wee hours of the morning as well.

    Spring break training at Camp Bob Cooper
    Spring break training at Camp Bob Cooper

    Now, I am not a morning person, but, once you get hooked, crew is almost addicting. The people that stick with crew are athletes that are driven not only by winning medals, but by the kinship and comradery that comes with being part of the team. These athletes can also roll with the punches too because rowing does not come without making sacrifices. While balancing classes, work, and other activities, many athletes do not get the normal eight hours of sleep on a nightly basis that most people are used to. In addition, while some of your non-crew friends are going out two or three days a week, you won’t risk disappointing your teammates, and stay in on weeknights and nights before races. This is not to say we don’t have fun (or that we don’t go out), though.

    As soon as we start warming up for practice, teammates are talking and laughing the whole way until we pick up the boat and carry it into the water. Coventry lake blesses UConn Crew with water that is typically calm and glassy; however, the windy, rainy, and snowy mornings are at some point inevitable. At the end of every practice, the team heads to Northwest or South dining halls for team breakfast. We apologize to all UConn students for being the most awake, loquacious people while you’re trying to ignore every single person ever at 7:30 in the morning. For new members of the team, this can be first point when you start to appreciate that being a part of this team is worth it. You realize that the day has hardly started already, and you’ve already accomplished so much.

    First place at Fall Metropolitan races
    First place at Fall Metropolitan races

    As much as rowers compete against other crews, they also compete against themselves. This is very comparable to runners who are constantly trying to get their time down. What’s different about rowing is that each boat has a coxswain, the typically smaller person that steers the boat and motivates his or her teammates to row faster. Last fall, in the Metropolitan races, my boat immediately pulled ahead of four of our competitors right off the starting line. This was extremely exhilarating to me, someone who had never won a medal. Soon we’re more than halfway through the race and in second place. Our coxswain, Christine, bellows that we are inching up on the boat in first place and that only first place receives a medal. Previously oblivious of this fact, a switch turned on in my mind bringing me to a state in which I suddenly could not feel the burning sensation in my muscles. With several powerful strokes, we edged ahead of the boat, winning by a fraction of a second. Together we beat the odds, and I won my first race with most extraordinary group of oarsmen. In this regard, crew has helped me unleash potential in myself that I didn’t know I had. Through the sport and through my teammates, I have found courage in myself to achieve accolades I used to only dream about. This concept materializes not only in my success at rowing competitions, but in the classroom and the laboratory as well.

    In this environment, I grew as a person and as a young professional as well. As a student and budding scientist, I know that this culture has been instilled into how I live. When it comes to academics and research, this means studying and getting lab work done late at night. Nonetheless, just like striving to get faster to earn those medals, I became more comfortable with working relentlessly towards academic and scientific goals. I will take this valuable wisdom with me beyond commencement into my next endeavor.

    I get the impression that perspective of non-rowers about rowers is that they’re crazy considering the early mornings, the commitment to a club activity, and the intense workouts. Yet, when I see my teammates, my best friends, I see the most dedicated people that I’ve met at UConn. Rowers are people that have found a passion that drives them to want more from themselves and from others. Over time, the sport teaches you discipline and passion that translates to conducting yourself and approaching everything you do with determined conviction.

    UConn’s First Agriculture Awareness Week

    Vice President Mindy (left) and President Erin (middle) are shown tabling at the annual animal science ice cream social for agriculture advocacy club in Fall 2017.
    Vice President Mindy (left) and President Erin (middle) are shown tabling at the annual animal science ice cream social for agriculture advocacy club in Fall 2017.

    Being within the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources, I have learned a lot about One Health issues that I did not know much about previously. Specifically, the importance of agriculture and how it affects our everyday lives. In addition to learning about this in classes, my roommate Erin – an animal science major and dairy farm owner – taught me about agriculture. My interest and unawareness and Erin’s drive to educate others in agriculture, inspired the idea to spread the word about this industry through creating an agriculture advocacy club. In Fall 2017, UConn’s agriculture advocacy club was formed with the mission of planning an agriculture awareness week to engage students that may not be exposed to agriculture or realize how it affects their everyday lives. This would give students the opportunity to learn about food, sustainable agriculture, and livestock.

    It is currently Agriculture Awareness week on campus and Wednesday, March 21  is National Agriculture day. Everyday for the rest of this week there will be Continue reading

    How do I prepare for Medical School or Dental School?

    Shaun getting involved in extracurricular activities – Husky Hungama

    This is a question that most Pre-Med/Pre-Dental students ask themselves as they make the transition from high school to college to continue their undergraduate studies. As a Pre-Dental student, this was the same question I asked myself when I started my freshman year at UConn. When I first started thinking about dental school, I didn’t know where to begin or who to talk to about my future aspirations.

    The first step is to do research about the field you are interested in to see if it is a potential career path that fits your interests. Most people will tell you to speak with a Pre-Med/Dental advisor first, but from experience, it’s better to read about the field first so you are well-versed about the opportunities available and requirements that need to be met prior to applying to a dental program. For me, I started to research dentistry while I was a senior in high school. Despite spending many hours researching different dental programs, I found that doing this was extremely helpful because it showed me what dental schools were looking for from a well-rounded applicant. After doing some research, I met with not only Pre-Med/Dental advisors, but also spoke with other students who were currently applying to dental programs to hear their advice about what they did to become a well-rounded applicant and what they would do differently if they were to change the way they prepared their application for dental school.

    After taking all of these steps, one of the most important things in this whole process is to shadow a physician or dentist by contacting different medical or dental practices. I believe this is a crucial step because when you are shadowing a physician or dentist in the field, you can see hands on what kind of work they do on a daily basis and what the work entails. For most people, this is a checkpoint because it gives you an idea of what kind of work you may potentially do as a physician or dentist. If you feel passionate about this work and you are certain that this is the career you want to pursue, then every measure you take beyond this point will become easier. When I shadowed different dentists during my winter and summer breaks, I knew that this was the career I wanted to pursue in my life. For me, not only did the dental procedures and the work environment of a dentist inspire me greatly, but it was the impact a dentist can have on their patient’s self-esteem that truly touched me.

    After the first two years of undergrad, I began my preparation for the dental admission test (DAT) where I scheduled study sessions for two and half months prior to taking the DAT. This was a very stressful point in my college career because I had to be very disciplined in keeping up with my study schedule so I could perform well on the DAT.  Despite this struggle, I can assure you that creating a tight schedule with breaks included will make this difficult time easier. After taking the DAT, I remember starting to write my personal statement which required a lot of time and effort to write. One thing I would suggest is to start writing your personal statement in advance because it is the one of most important factors of your dental application that admissions committees will review and it is not something that can be written overnight. My personal statement took three months to write and after doing many edits on it, I soon was able to reach a point where I was satisfied with my work by making small changes on it each day.

    Among all of the pre-requisite courses, shadowing hours, extracurricular activities, research, and employment opportunities I had throughout my undergraduate studies, one thing I learned was never to give up. At some point, you will reach a roadblock, by not doing well in a class or feeling overwhelmed with all of the responsibilities that you are given. When you reach this point, ask yourself one question, how bad do I want it? If you want something as bad as you want to breathe, I assure you everything will fall in place.

    A Seat at the Table

    Though the University of Connecticut is diverse in a myriad of different ways, and offers a number of different resources for minorities, it can still be difficult for minorities to adjust to this environment. I attended a high school that had predominantly minority students. It was definitely a challenge for me to adjust to a predominately white campus during my freshman year. I was curious as to whether or not other minorities on this campus felt the same way as I did. I sat down with a group of my peers to discuss their experiences as minorities here on campus.  

    “Underrepresented, unfair, interesting, annoying,” are just a few of the ways that the women I spoke with described their paths at UConn. K.C. (of Haitian American Descent), spoke about how the common “stereotypes about African Americans can cause additional pressure on students.” For instance, it is a common misconception that minorities are only on this campus as a result of Affirmative Action. Some people even believe that minorities are incapable of producing the grades to earn a position here at this University, just as any other student. UConn’s position of 18th on a list of top public schools proves that acceptance into this university is no small feat. K.C. describes this undermining of minorities, specifically African Americans, as “unfair.” This is not only an issue on this campus but throughout the nation, such as the Fisher v University of Texas case.

    “Minorities are not represented in many of the student activities.”  S.E., a Jamaican student, expressed how the lack of representation affects how much our voices are heard. Whether it be through faculty members or our student body, issues that pertain specifically to minorities are often ignored as a result of this underrepresentation. “Our voices are not heard; we do not receive the equality.” One issue S.E. spoke about was how some campus programs that all students could potentially benefit from are not properly advertised to the entire student body; specifically minorities. Thus, lack of representation can cause missed opportunities for minority students.

    Many of the issues that my peers spoke about resonated with me and my experiences as a Jamaican American student. I find myself being one of the few minorities, and/or the only black student in the programs that I’m involved in that aren’t specifically geared towards people of color. And in most of my classes I am the only black student. The intersection of lack of diversity, misrepresentation through the media, and lack of exposure, has often put me in a position where I represent my entire race. In everything I do on campus, I think of how I represent Black people, and Jamaicans, to all my peers, some of which have only experienced minorities though the media. Though this is a role that I have long played, it still adds a certain level of pressure on me as a student in these situations.

    My experiences as a minority student on this campus have been trying in some ways; in contrast, I’ve been exposed to so many valuable experiences and people as a result of it. I have personally gained from my participation in the African American Cultural Center, the Women’s Center, and the Puerto Rican and Latin American Cultural Center. These centers have connected me with students and faculty members that understand and have faced similar issues as I have. In these safe spaces, I have a voice and I am represented. Through involvement in academic programs such as The Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (LSAMP), I have been connected with a community of STEM scholars that are all underrepresented on campus. Through LSAMP, I learn about valuable opportunities that I may have otherwise missed, I am connected with other STEM majors that face similar challenges, and I have gained mentors and have had the opportunity to act as a mentor to other students. As a member of the National Council of Negro women, I have found a safe space to connect and develop with other black women on campus. Though many of the members come from different walks of life, and have different experiences on campus, we are all able to bond over a shared culture, and uplift one another through the challenges we face specifically as black women on and off campus.

    Like me, many of the minorities that I’ve interacted with on campus have faced similar issues; on the other hand, we have also found solace in similar programs geared specifically towards the culture we identify with. For this very reason, the cultural centers, the programs they house, and other academic programs specifically for minorities are vital at UConn. There is a need for more diversity in all aspects of campus life at UConn.  Though the resources that I’ve touched on have a powerful impact on many students, there is still much to be done. It is incumbent upon those that hold positions of privilege on this campus to step out of their comfort zone, communicate, listen and take a seat at the table with minorities, to understand and help foster true diversification at UConn. I believe that through education, and more exposure, UConn can begin to alleviate some of the challenges minorities face on campus.

    A Simple Hack to Improve Your College Experience: Get Involved!

    Brite with her two Collegiate Health Service Corps site volunteers, Radha (middle) and Mehak (right).
    Brite with her two Collegiate Health Service Corps site volunteers, Radha (middle) and Mehak (right).

    College is the land of opportunity. Although everyone who attends has the same goal of walking away with a degree, academics are only a small portion of the experience. There are over 300 student-run extracurriculars you can choose from, including Undergraduate Philosophy Society, 3D Printing Club, and even UConn Kendo, a Japanese sport that uses bamboo swords to spar. It’s not difficult to discover new interests and find your own niche.

    I began my college career trying out different activities. For me, getting involved with Community Outreach has been a very life-changing experience. It is a student-run volunteer organization that coordinates various programs to work with local underserved populations. Some are one-time or weekend service events, while others are semester-long programs that fall under one of the three categories: youth development and education, health, and language learning and literacy. I am currently a site leader for Collegiate Health Service Corps (CHSC) and Windham Hospital Volunteer Program. Out of the two, CHSC has impacted me the most. Every semester, teams of three are assigned to specific local populations to teach health topics to, where each team has the freedom to design their own lesson plans and incorporate interactive activities. Continue reading