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 was a child, I loved stories. My mother would read me countless bedtime tales when I was young, and after I immigrated to America from Bangladesh, I often found myself buried in a book because it was easier to get lost in fantasy worlds with fictional characters than to confront the foreignness of my new home or the faces around me. Now as an adult, I am proud that I am at least a little braver than I once was. Years of forcing myself to reach out and get involved in my community and later on campus have made talking to people less difficult than it once was. Unfortunately, the busier schedule now also means that the natural bookworm in me has little time to get lost in a traditional book like before. So, I’ve had to be creative and search for stories in unconventional places and in unconventional ways.
Not everyone is meant to be a writer, that much is true. But in my time as a nurse aide (albeit only eight months), I have come to find that some of the best stories are told by ordinary people. As I work in a rehabilitation clinic, it is always exciting to watch patients who previously could not move, walk on their own again in a matter of weeks, thanks to therapy, a supportive network, and their own determination and effort. Hearing from some patients as they work to regain their capabilities is always inspiring, and I strive to be just as hardworking and optimistic as they are. But for other patients, there is no recovery, no return path to normalcy.
For these individuals, I cannot do much but be present and listen. It is actually one of the most rewarding aspects of my job and a privilege I hold dear because I am aware of how difficult it is to be vulnerable around strangers. But I have also come to appreciate how comforting it can be for them to open up to someone. The few minutes I take to ask patients about their day and listen to them talk about their families, their goals, their lives beyond the hospital, is just me being friendly. Not everyone cares, but for some, my efforts make enough of an impression that they recall our exchanges fondly whenever I come to see them. So in between tasks, I try to make time to talk to my patients. Whatever their prognosis is, I am thankful to be there for them. Even if I cannot do much to improve their overall condition, I can at least listen, and that itself can make all the difference to a patient’s outlook on their recovery.
Here at UConn, I deal with a different kind of story – that is, the story being told, and now actively being written by me, through research. Switching out a pen for a micropipette and a library for the NCBI database, I coauthor a mystery in which I am a detective. The mystery: how does the gut microbiome affect liver health? It’s a question that has come to dominate my research experience ever since I joined the Blesso lab in the Nutritional Sciences Department sophomore year, and one I am not sure I have the answer to as I prepare my honors thesis, nor one I expect to know the answer to even after graduation in May. It’s a frustrating situation getting insignificant results and not knowing the answer; I’m not used to not getting answers as a student. But as my PI reminds me time and again, this is an open-ended tale. As more evidence is compiled by many scientists across the world over time, the story will build, but the mystery itself may never be fully resolved. I still cross my fingers hoping that sooner or later, I will encounter an exciting detail that furthers the field tremendously. But for now, I’ve learned to be proud of my involvement (however small) in the development of this global story of human curiosity and intellect.
Being an ambitious full-time student leaves little time for reading books that are not the required course readings. Even if I found time to travel to the library, most are closed now anyways, thanks to the pandemic. But that has not stopped me from seeking out stories and feeding my inner bookworm. Whether happy or sad, complete or incomplete, I want to hear them all. But more importantly, I want to be a part of building those stories – stories of human ambition and achievement. The future is unpredictable and unwritten, but I am my own author, and this story will have a happy ending. “The End” (for now…)
Let’s be honest, the Covid-19 pandemic has dramatically impacted how we go about our everyday lives. It has influenced everyone in different ways and poses one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century: how to be social from afar. For anyone who knows me or has met me, they know that I am a ball of social energy and thrive on human contact to maintain that outgoing personality. I’m not gonna lie, I have struggled with finding creative ways to connect with others during this pandemic. I’ve tried everything from texting to social media to face-timing and zoom calls — they were all great ways to socialize safely, but still left me feeling empty and longing for physical contact. That’s when I realized how important my physical connection with animals was going to be for my mental health and wellbeing.
This fall semester, I was working in the UConn dairy heifer barn to help with Little I training, and just being down at the barn physically working with calves elevated my mood and restored that social energy I would usually receive from human contact. I’ve always considered the barn to be my home away from home, and that has never proven more true than it has in 2020. Even on my worst days, when physically isolated from others, the calves I worked with made my entire day go from dreary and hopeless to exciting and cheerful. I always knew that being around animals made me feel better, so this was all I needed to maintain a positive and hopeful attitude towards life.
Once I came home from school for winter break, I would go out to my barn and just sit in the hay with one of my calf’s heads in my lap. It made every worry I had go away. Similarly, snuggling up by the fire with a warm blanket and a fluffy cat to pet made me feel at peace. There are so many people who have suffered so much during this pandemic, and although I am grateful that I have not lost any close friends or family to Covid, I know many friends who have lost loved ones or have suffered in other ways. Whether you lost your job, are struggling to make financial ends meet, feel overwhelmed with virtual classes, and/or miss seeing your friends and family dearly, everyone is looking for an outlet for the stress, grief, and hopelessness associated with this global health crisis. As more and more businesses, gyms, schools, libraries, and more close, the world is becoming crippled mentally and socially. It is vital for each and every one of us to find what works best for us to help us combat these dark times.
I am grateful that I have various pets to spend quality time with. However, not everyone is fortunate enough to have cows in their backyard or even have a pet cat or dog, but for those who don’t, I’d implore them to buy some plants. Yes, you heard me, plants. Even if they’re small succulents from the store, being surrounded by any source of life, even plants, can make the greatest difference in mental health and can significantly improve your mood. This pandemic has been one of the biggest tests of willpower and resilience for humankind in a while (or at least in my lifetime so far) and is going to continuously knock us down when we least expect it. It is up to each and every one of us to muster the strength to keep getting back up and fighting back harder. Whether it’s spending time with your pets, going on a hike, or even watering that little cactus on your bedside table, give yourself a reason to persevere through this monumental obstacle. Do not let Covid win. We are all in this together, even when physically apart. So go buy that succulent, pet your dog, or go on a walk around the neighborhood. Nothing can stop you from practicing the self-care that you deserve… not even a global pandemic.
By Matt Anzivino
As a transfer student coming into UConn, I thought I had the next two years of my life all figured out. Because I transferred from a community college in New Hampshire, I didn’t know what UConn’s large school atmosphere was going to be like. Let me start off by saying this: deciding to attend UConn has been one of the best decisions I’ve made. With aspirations of running my own veterinary hospital in the future, I knew UConn’s College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources was the only college for me and animal science was the only major. Little did I know that my idealistic future and plan of study was going to change in the matter of months.
From placing third in “Little I” with my sheep Claire, to getting involved with lots of clubs and activities on campus, I felt happy with how my fall semester started off. About halfway through the semester, however, the workload really picked up. I felt a step behind everyone and didn’t know why the drive for my future was no longer there. It wasn’t until my evening biology lab that everything unfolded for me. My body completely shut down, and I fell unconscious for about two minutes. According to the ambulance EMTs, I couldn’t even remember my name en route to the hospital. I woke up in the hospital bed sweating from head to toe, just trying to wrap my brain around what happened to me.
All my thoughts and doubts about my first semester at UConn came to me that night in the emergency room. All the times I walked back to my dorm at one in the morning because I chose procrastination over productivity, all the meals I skipped to cram work, all the 8 am lectures that I didn’t attend—they all played a role in why my body decided to react the way that it did. College students shouldn’t have to experience what I went through. Everything I learned and changed from that day on wouldn’t have been possible without the doctors who made sure I was okay, as well as all the advocates who helped me adjust by changing my curriculum.
Weeks after the incident, I realized that I was pushing myself to do something that I didn’t truly want. I’ve loved animals my whole life and am passionate about them, but a part of me was yearning for a different future with animals. As a student always looking for the next best option, I wanted to venture into a different major. This time around one major and concentration stood out more than anything else: Natural Resources with a concentration in Fisheries and Wildlife. Now, as a natural resources major, I couldn’t be happier with my schedule. The goals I have in mind for my future is much stronger because I’m not a step behind; rather, I am a step ahead thanks to UConn’s prestige. Just three days after my seizure, I went to the rec center to play basketball. I took the opportunity to play because it’s easy to take for granted how much we work each day; just enjoying the moment put into perspective why I started playing in the first place.
Whether you’re transferring into UConn, or starting out as freshman, be open to new ideas, new people, even a new environment. Take time to really form meaningful relationships, especially with teachers, because more often than not they’re going to be your key to the next step in your life. Don’t forget the simple things like getting enough sleep, managing your time, having a concrete plan for each day, and asking for help when you need it.
I wanted to share this part of my life because it’s important to know yourself and why you wanted to be a part of Husky Nation in the first place. I encourage anyone who’s reading this to ask truly why you’re pursuing what you’re pursuing, and to remember always the people who helped you get there. I’m grateful to be at UConn, because what turned out to be a scary end to my fall semester last year, has turned out to be the reason I want to conserve our land and save endangered animals. Whether it be on the ocean, in the forests, or locally, I know that I’ll be right where I need to be because events like this have shaped me.
I began my undergraduate career at the University of Rhode Island (URI), and it seemed that from day one I was told of the importance of joining a research lab. The advice I received sounded daunting. I was told to look up the research labs in my major and see if any of the descriptions match my interests, but as a freshman in college I did not yet know my interests.
I began with the professors who were right in front of me. They were an amazing resource not only for the research that they are doing in their labs, but they were also aware of the types of research that other professors were engaged in. I started the conversations by asking if they were taking undergraduate students to work in their labs. I would then ask them to explain what their research was like and if I would be able to shadow a member of the lab for a day. I got a good understanding of the overarching topic that the lab was researching, but was not always told what my responsibilities would be once I became a member. So, before shadowing I would prepare a list of questions to ask the student, including: “What would a typical day in the lab look like for me if I were to join this lab?” This gave me a better idea of what I would be doing each day and if it fit my interests and skillset. After this, I signed up for an independent study for the fall of my sophomore year.
In the meantime, I got an email from my department head at URI about a summer research opportunity run by the UConn Department of Nutritional Science and funded by the USDA called Bridging the Gap. I applied and was accepted, and spent the summer after my freshman year learning how to write a literature review, while many other members of the program got to be in labs with more hands-on work. It wasn’t until two years later that I realized how valuable learning that how to do a lit. review would be!
Returning to URI in my sophomore year, I joined a community-based nutrition lab. There, I met with a weekly focus group for people who had acquired neurological impairments, whether they were from a stroke, car accidents, Parkinson’s disease, etc. I delivered nutrition education to them through fun and interactive games and by providing a healthy snack. I would then draw their blood to measure their plasma lipids. As much as I loved participating in this weekly group, I knew that community nutrition was not what I was passionate about, and after my second semester in that lab I began looking elsewhere.
Over the next summer, I went home to the New Haven area and decided to see what local research opportunities I could find. I went online and looked up research labs at Yale University and sent out emails with my resume to the principal investigator (PI) of lab that captured my growing interests. After sending about ten emails, I finally received a “yes” reply! I spent that summer in a food science-based nutrition lab working with food, people, blood samples, and Excel, and learned to screen patients for research studies. Being in a food science lab only confirmed that community nutrition was not for me — I wanted something more hands on. However, food science didn’t completely fit either, so I continued looking.
Having decided by this time to transfer to UConn, I began emailing research labs at UConn during the summer, hoping to join one in the fall semester. Unfortunately, every PI had a full lab. Initially, I found having to take a break from research upsetting, but the right research experience is sometimes a matter of timing. That fall, I found a PI who would be my professor the following semester who had an opening in his lab. We met and I asked my role in the lab and he ensured me that I would be putting in minimal time and that undergraduate students do not do very much hands on work. This was not ideal, but I felt that any exposure was better than no exposure. Soon after meeting with that PI, Dr. Ji-Young Lee gave a guest lecture in one of my classes, and at the end of her presentation she mentioned that she was looking for undergraduate students for her bench-based research lab for the first time in years. Since I was still looking for a lab, I approached her at the end of her lecture to tell her that I was interested, and after meeting to go over what her lab entailed, I had to make a decision. I asked the opinions of peers, professors and advisors whether I should enroll in a labor-relaxed lab where I would still expand my knowledge or join a lab with a reputation of being intense. After some deliberation, I enrolled in an independent study with the more demanding lab for the following spring.
Dr. Lee’s lab surpassed my expectations for what being an undergraduate student in a research lab could mean, and I am happy to still be there today. Every day I am doing hands-on experiments, culturing my own cell line and performing real-time PCRs (Polymerase chain reactions). I have worked my way through six, nine and now twelve hours a week in the lab and even have my own lab bench and set of equipment. Since I was able to experience other forms of research, I can be confident in my love for this lab and have now made the decision to stay in this lab for a master’s degree.
If I were able to give advice to anyone currently looking to get involved in research, I would say, don’t worry about choosing the wrong lab! You never know until you try. Professors are very understanding and empathetic that you are looking for your best match. I was always uncomfortable telling my PIs that I was leaving their lab, especially future professors of mine, and each time I was met with encouragement and compassion. There is no wrong lab to spend time in because every research lab that you join gives you a new set of skills and a better understanding of the field as a whole. I have been a member of four research labs in my undergraduate career and it has not only expanded my breadth of knowledge, but also given me insight into my goals for the future.
by Shawn Perry
In high school, I was asked constantly what career path I wanted to take. I needed to choose so that I could figure out which AP exams to take, what schools to apply to, and what extracurriculars I should be participating in. At 17-years-old, I was being asked to choose what I wanted to do for the “rest of my life.” It felt overwhelming. Under this pressure and from everyone telling me I was good at science and math, I chose to major in engineering. This might have been a good fit for my skill sets, but I soon realized that my interests did not align with engineering. My freshman year classes seemed a bore, and I struggled to maintain interest in them. This made it really difficult to get good grades; still, I squeezed by.
When I told people that I was an engineering major they would often comment on how great it was that I was a girl in a male-dominated field or what a great career choice it was since I would make “good money” someday. I was scared to ever mention that I hated it. I noticed that the classes my nursing or pre-med friends were taking seemed so interesting to me, while I was stuck taking statistics and physics. My friends from other fields would tell me about the interesting facts they had learned about healthcare or the human body and these things would stick in my head. Meanwhile, I couldn’t manage to recall the Bernoulli Principle or Newton’s Laws no matter how many times I studied them.
When I finally decided to change my major, there was push-back — just as I had feared. While my parents were supportive of my choice, there were others who contradicted them. My advisor asked me a hundred times if I was sure, because if I switched out of engineering I could not come back. My friends, mainly engineering students, couldn’t understand why I would want to leave the field when they found it so interesting. Even random strangers would constantly remind me that engineering was a great field. Engineering is a great field. I couldn’t deny that. My doubts surrounded me, but I was drawn to something different.
The day I received my acceptance into the allied health sciences major, I felt a wave of relief. I knew then that this was the right choice. Yet even when I made it to the right major, my decision on a specific career was still up in the air. I wandered between optometry, physician assistant, nursing, physical therapy, among others. However, at this point I had at least found classes that got me excited, and school became easier as studying no longer felt like pulling teeth. I shadowed people in each area of interest. When I went to any doctor’s appointment, I would ask everyone I met how they liked their jobs. When I settled on nursing, I chose to become a nursing assistant. From here my doubts subsided as I encountered role models every day, including my mom as she switched between numerous nursing jobs within her career. I noticed the flexibility and range of opportunities that nursing provided her, and realized that this was a profession I felt excited to pursue.
Now, when people ask about my major, many still remember when I was an engineering student. Some still ask why I would dare switch out of such a great major. Most of them, though, just tell me that nursing is also a great field. They tell me I am cut out for the profession and will do great following in my mom’s footsteps. While it has been a long journey, and I am still on the path to success in nursing, I feel that I am in the right place, finally. I am glad that I trusted my gut and didn’t allow the doubts of others and myself from letting me pursue the career for me.
by Krysten Rose Holland
Attending a large university was a great change for me, coming from a small all-girls high school. There were so many new opportunities available to me at UConn, particularly in the College of Agriculture, Health & Natural Resources (CAHNR), which is a smaller college within the very large university with a lot of academic and extracurricular support. Starting off pre-veterinary in animal science, I knew that I would have nothing short of excellent academic and professional preparation. Outside of the classroom, I decided to join a professional agriculturally-based sorority, Sigma Alpha. Through this organization, I became connected with many other students and was able to enhance my journey as a first-year university student in a field that I knew little about but wanted to explore–agriculture! Through the encouragement of my peers and advisors, I was able to try new things and discover different opportunities within the college. For example, I was encouraged to try participating in the annual Dairy Show and learn about dairy showmanship. To my surprise, I placed top in my showman class and among the top overall for fitting, which includes presentation of the animal!
Before entering college, I thought I was certain in what I wanted to do and what I wanted to study: animal science. My freshman year was a difficult transition, however, and I knew I wanted to explore my options. Through one of the Sigma Alpha sisters who was heavily involved in CAHNR activities, I was directed to talk to different academic advisors, one of which was Dr. Sandra Bushmich in Pathobiology and Veterinary Sciences (PVS). I wanted to switch my major to something that would involve laboratory preparation and focus on disease studies in order to broaden my experience in case I decided not to go into veterinary medicine. I learned that in studying PVS, I could change my concentration if I my interests changed and stay on track to graduate.
During my sophomore year, I decided to look into careers in human healthcare and public health. Although a veterinary path could be enormously rewarding, I did not necessarily know if I wanted to commit a large portion of my life and finances to a professional program when I did not know enough about the profession. Veterinary schools are among the most competitive graduate programs to get into, so the preparation in pre-veterinary studies requires a lot of dedication. I already faced a lot of stress adjusting to a new environment out of my home state.
Ultimately, I decided to pursue human healthcare. For that, I would need patient care experience. I enrolled in certified nurse’s aide programs in Massachusetts in the Greater Boston area and took night classes to earn a certificate to gain experience and make some money. Although during that time I considered myself on a pre-physician assistant route, I discovered that I loved the nursing model! From there, I decided to look into ABSN programs. Throughout the journey of navigating the healthcare field, I have worked in a wide variety of environments such as zebrafish research in Longwood Medical Center, personal care in client homes as a personal aide, managing medications at an assisted living facility, assisting doctors in facilitating patient appointments at a globally-renowned hospital, and then being promoted to a medical assistant in a private practice. Although my experience in the field were out-of-state by my own initiation and ambition, my classes in PVS (and Allied Health Sciences [AHS], another department within CAHNR) put my experiences into perspective. I took a diagnostic medical techniques class within PVS where we extracted DNA and RNA and processed diagnostic tests, histological structure and function, which is basically anatomy and physiology based on slides, and a seminar in which various guest speakers from all over the world presented their research. In AHS, courses in medical terminology and counseling and teaching for the health professions helped enhance my knowledge and further my skills.
Pathobiology and Veterinary Science is a small, close-knit department and has a variety of classes and opportunities for research for undergraduates. Due to the variety of interests that PVS can accommodate and great academic advisors willing to help me navigate the unknowns of career preparation, I did not fall behind in my studies and fulfilled requirements for programs that I explored throughout the my years as a PVS major.