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.
I come from an incredibly global family. My maternal grandmother was born in England and raised in Rhodesia (now modern-day Zimbabwe), and my father immigrated to the United States from Peru. Over time, my family has slowly expanded to five of the seven continents, and as a result, I have had the unique experience of learning and incorporating lessons from various cultures around the world. My experiences and interactions with my family have shaped me into the person I have become today and continue to influence me. It is through my family, friends, and experiences that I have recognized the importance and benefit of maintaining a global perspective in everyday life.
My grandmother has lived in three different continents throughout her lifetime, each different from the first. She and her family moved from England to Rhodesia at the age of eight and then later moved to the United States as an adult. Her stories of adventure and travels circulate throughout my family, and have created a desire in me to travel and have similar experiences. My grandmother and her stories have helped me gain a better understanding of the differences and unique aspects that make up our world.
My father came to the United States when he met my mother and started a completely new life. He learned a new language, began a new career, and raised a family. My father instilled in me a strong work ethic, and helped me become a decisive problem solver. Through my father, I learned that with an open mind and creative thought, every problem could have a solution.
While my family is composed of a variety of cultures, my parents ensured that my brother and I would be able to participate in our cultures and have a strong understanding of them. A mix of Peruvian, English, Zimbabwean, and American objects, dishes, music, and more filled the inside of my home. Outside of my home, my family also worked to ensure that my brother and I would be able to travel to these same countries to visit family and appreciate our background. This upbringing has taught me to remain open and accepting to new people, cultures, and ideas. It has taught me that being open to new experiences can only bring adventure, and enhance an individual knowledge of the world. Most of all, it has helped me to embrace my own identity and filled me with a motivation to learn about the various other cultures of the world.
Over time and travels, I have discovered how a global perspective allows for new ideas and innovation to be brought about through diverse thought: how it allows for an openness and acceptance to new ideas, provides a better understanding of the globe, and creates a motivation to learn more about the world around. Of course education abroad is a great opportunity to experience this wider view, but a global perspective does not have to be brought about just by travel or family background, it can be achieved through your immediate surroundings.
At UConn, we have the opportunity to enroll in a large variety of classes and participate in different organizations that can help further our knowledge of the world. Different opportunities include the courses we enroll in, such as anthropology, women and gender studies, or language study. We can participate in various organizations and communities, such as the global house learning community, the cultural centers available at the Student Union, different clubs, or study abroad. We can even gain this view by the shows we watch, the music we listen to, and the books we read. It is simply how we view and learn from the world and the experiences with which we surround ourselves that can help us better understand the world and those who live in it.
A global perspective does not need to come from a grand life experience and it may not always provide the same set of benefits. However, we can only stand to gain from trying to learn more about others. While some may apply this perspective in their future career, a global perspective can help with daily interactions with others as well. It can make people better listeners, more accepting, more understanding, and help strengthen our connections to another across the planet and here at home.
As a child I was always taught that no one could be the best at everything, no individual had all the answers, and ultimately it takes many people to accomplish a significant task. Growing up with this mindset gave me an interest in the stories other people had, the experiences I lacked and how I could use the perspective of others to form opinions rooted in something other than my own personal path.
Here at UConn, the value of perspective is a key component to working with others. In a community that brings people together from all walks of life, our success depends on our ability to welcome differences and weave them into one complex communal story.
For me the story began when I first arrived at the Waterbury Regional Campus, where I spent the first year of my UConn undergraduate career. At the time, I was milking cows morning and afternoon at a dairy farm a half an hour away. Often, I would arrive on campus smelling less than ideal for class and definitely had a fair share of comments thrown my way. Many of my fellow students were from urban and suburban minority communities and virtually none of them had ever seen a farm, let alone worked on one. This led me to realize how different thirty minutes of travel by car can be in our small state. To put it bluntly, I stuck out like a sore thumb.
As the days and weeks passed in my first semester, I began to make new acquaintances at the campus, fellow peers with different backgrounds and skin tones, who, just like me, were trying to find their piece in the larger puzzle. I would talk to them about the farm, cows, and corn they would often say things like, “I didn’t know we have farms in Connecticut,” or “I can’t believe people still milk cows.” All of this was fun really; what I learned from them about living in an urban area, not seeing open fields or traveling by car to every destination and what they learned from me about a more rural life broadened the way we looked at our thirty minute separation. However, out of my entire year spent at Waterbury, one experience made me realize how we can never take our own perspective for granted. As a white, rural, male freshman, I had made several friends with students from races, genders, religions, and economic backgrounds different from my own.
One day when I arrived at school, still wearing my chore clothes from that morning and reeking of cows, I saw my friend Woody with a group of his friends and decided to walk over and greet him. Naturally, as we always did, we shook hands and talked for a few minutes and I went on my way. Later that day, in the class we had together, Woody sat down next to me and said that his friends, who were all African American, like he was, had been surprised that we were acquainted. He explained to me that his friends had thought I was racist due to the way I dressed and the job I had. That’s why up until that point they never talked to me. Our different lives, locations, and appearances made them believe I was something I was not. Just as I could draw up assumed conclusions about them before having ever talked to them. I asked myself then how many times were they thought to be something they were not? How often are we all judged on first glance, without any connection made?
This single event made me realize how valuable perspective is in every single case where two differing stories meet. After that experience, I realized that the most important tool I had to make friends with anyone was perspective. When used properly, a wider perspective facilitated by the stories we share helps us realize that people share a common humanity even when their lives may appear very different. It is human nature to judge–we all do it; however, we cannot let our first-hand judgements become our lasting impressions. In a community like UConn, we can either see the differences around us as isolating who we are, or we can embrace the diversity and connections we have to expand our view on the world around us.