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.
By Dana Chamberlain.
College was hard for me. I came in not really knowing what I wanted to do and am graduating still not fully knowing what’s next for me. But if there’s one thing that I’ve learned over the past four years at UConn, it’s that success isn’t linear. Some people enter college knowing exactly what they want to do, never change their mind, and end up happy in a successful career. Other people spend many years trying to figure out who they are and what they want to do, trying out a bunch of different paths until stumbling upon something they love. So, all of this is to say, you don’t need to know exactly who you are and what you want to do at 18 or even at 22. The most important thing is that you never stop learning or growing. Things will hopefully fall into place when you are honest with yourself about what you want in life and put in the work to get it.
As I reflect on my time here at UConn, there are a few things I wish I fully understood earlier on. To the incoming first-year class, here are some things I wish I knew my first year:
Mental health above all
I am no stranger to depression and anxiety. I know how hard it can be to get out of bed when all you want to do is sleep the day away or to work on an assignment when your mind is elsewhere. Trying to stay on top of your academics while maintaining friendships, participating in extracurricular activities, and worrying about your future can be really overwhelming and stressful.
At the end of the day, you are not a robot and can only do so much. It is so unbelievably important to put your mental wellbeing first. Take time each day to care for yourself and rest. Set boundaries when you can. If you have a ton of assignments all due on the same day and know you won’t be able to finish it all without depriving yourself of sleep, reach out to your professors to see if you can get a deadline extension. Or if you agreed to hang out with a friend on the weekend but are feeling drained after a particularly hard week, text them to see if you can hang out another time. Most people will understand as long as you communicate with them and are honest about when you think you can get things done.
UConn has quite a few resources to help you out too. You can reach out to SHaW-Mental Health for counseling services, the Dean of Students Office to receive extra academic support, and the Center for Student Disabilities to receive housing and/or academic accommodations to support any learning differences or different abilities you might be have. And don’t underestimate the value of a friend who is a good listener! You’re not alone and you will get through this!
Grades are important, but not as important as you might think
Grades are important, so you should try to attend all class sessions, develop good study habits, go to office hours, make friends with your classmates, form study groups, and reach out to your professor with any concerns you might have. However, your grades don’t define you, and one bad grade isn’t the end of the world. It’s more important that you continue to improve throughout the semester and your college career and develop good relationships with your professors.
If you’re worried about future jobs or graduate school, you can always explain why you received the grade you did in a cover letter or interview (whether it’s because you were attending to a personal issue or math just isn’t your strong suit, for example.) Also, having formed good relationships with your professor means that they can vouch for you when you need it. Ultimately, letters of recommendation speak louder than grades.
I know that everyone says this, but it’s so important to get involved. College is supposed to be fun! Go to the Involvement Fair each semester and sign up for any and all clubs that interest you. I met so many cool people through attending club meetings and events. Getting involved helps you make friends, learn more about your interests, and feel connected to your campus.
I didn’t really understand how important networking was until my junior year. Job hunting can be rough. Sometimes a familiar face is all you need to get your foot in the door. So, develop good relationships with your professors, TAs, advisors, mentors, classmates, coworkers, etc. You never know who might know of a great opportunity for you or who can speak highly of you in spaces you don’t have access to.
Be open to trying new things and take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way. I applied to a summer research program for undergraduates (REU) my freshman year on a whim and got in. Now, I’ve been doing research for three years, have had so many doors opened for me, and am planning on a career in research. You never know what could come from saying “yes!”
UConn has a lot to offer. Reading “The Daily Digest” every day is a great way to find out about what’s happening on campus.
Be your own advocate
Last but not least, it’s important to be your own advocate. With so many students on campus, sometimes your professor or advisor won’t notice that you’re struggling. Ask for what you need. Reach out. Remember: closed mouths don’t get fed.
by Kimberly Alvarez
Since I was 15 years old, the jobs I usually obtained were in the agricultural field, whether it be at the Stew Leonard’s petting zoo, ShopRite’s floral department or at a dog boarding facility. Being so familiar with these types of jobs, I was always hesitant to work in any other field. While I know for a fact that an agricultural career is in my future, I decided towards the end of April 2020 to venture into social work.
I believe that stepping out of my comfort zone every once in a while can prepare me for that unpredictable future, so I took on a job working at my city’s emergency homeless shelter. As the COVID-19 pandemic took a toll on everyone’s lives, many seemed to forget about the neglected edges in each community, like the homeless. Key public locations, such as libraries, public restrooms and food banks closed down. These prime locations were a necessity for many individuals. Luckily, the State of Connecticut opened an emergency shelter housing 50+ residents, and I was able to get a position there. Before working at the shelter, I was never aware of how many individuals were affected by homelessness. Stepping out of my comfort zone has benefited me with this knowledge and allowed me to offer support to my community.
Going into the shelter I had no idea what to expect regarding the precautionary measures for COVID-19. There are rules that must be followed by every resident: always wear your mask; apply hand sanitizer whenever you enter the building; keep a 6ft distance from anyone at the shelter. Monthly testing is required for all staff members/residents and both day/night temperature checks are mandatory. Adhering to these rules has been successful and makes the environment safer in my eyes. On a daily basis, breakfast, lunch and dinner is provided to the residents. There are also caseworkers who help them with rapid housing or with job searches. Shelters tend to be all about stabilizing those in need, as they overcome the obstacles in their way and find a stable path. This is when housing opportunities are brought up and jobs are encouraged. Unfortunately, homeless individuals can lack many things such as affordable housing options, a genuine support system and many tend to struggle with addiction. The goal is to provide guidance and not be seen as an authoritative figure.
Raising awareness for the homeless is so important for every community. I have been blessed with the opportunity to work with such amazing people and listen to them when they need a shoulder to lean on. I recommend adding new dimensions to your life, whether it be once a week, once a month or once a year. Stepping out of your comfort zone may lead you to discover a whole new passion. Agriculture will always be my forte; however, being there for any individual in need is key to my lifestyle now. Eventually these small changes you make in your life accumulate and create a positive outcome as the time goes by.
By Yvette Oppong
When I first came to UConn as a freshman in 2017, I did not major in environmental studies. I had decided on being a biology major on a pre-med track. I had always cared about the environment ever since I learned about it in my AP Environmental Science class; that is where my passion for the environment grew and was nurtured. I was hesitant to be an environmental studies major because I did not know if you could be on a pre-med track and not be a STEM major. I had always wanted to combine my passion for the environment with my career, but I didn’t think it could happen because of how common it was to separate environmental issues from human health and social issues.
It was not until I did a summer research program with the UConn Health Health Disparities Clinical Summer Research Fellowship Program where I learned about the health disparities occurring in Hartford, a city I have lived so close to for so long. This program opened my eyes to the importance of health disparities and why there needs to be more people of color in the health and medical field. In the beginning, it was overwhelming to be learning about how, for example, children of color, regardless of socioeconomic status, are less likely to be diagnosed with autism. It took a while for this to soak in because I was scared of what this meant for people of color: no matter how wealthy one may be, they can never immunize themselves from health disparities.
Similar to how there needs to be more black people and people of color in the medical field, I realized the same also needs to occur in the environmental arena. When learning about the health disparities occurring in Hartford and in other areas, I realized it all connected somehow to environmental injustice, environmental racism, and environmental inequality. People suffering from health disparities are low-income residents and these residents also are more likely to suffer from health problems due to their proximity to Locally Unwanted Land Uses (LULUs) and food deserts. All of these factors are related to environmental racism and create a cyclical cycle of poverty that continues to keep low-income black and minority residents trapped. People who live in these communities have no power or say in what is built around them, so instead of having grocery stores, healthier food, and green spaces, they get fast food restaurants, corner stores, and pollution-causing facilities, making them suffer physically, emotionally, and mentally.
Being an environmental studies major has helped me realize that I do want to do more as a doctor than see my patients for 15 minutes and treat a symptom of a larger problem. I want to be able to help my patients outside of the doctor’s office, in their community. I want to be able to make long-lasting change for residents and that begins with unpacking the issue of environmental injustice, environmental racism, and environmental inequity. Being an environmental studies major has allowed me to be able to plan how I will be able to accomplish this goal of mine because unpacking all the environmental injustices is very overwhelming and complex, but this major allows one to think from multiple perspectives, including an intersectionality perspective, which is important in being able to not only solve the environmental injustices, but also the threat of climate change. The only way we will be able to start fixing the issue of climate change is when we fix the environmental injustices.
Too often when an advancement is made toward the development or convenience of human society, it only improves the lives of certain people and makes the lives of others increasingly worse. The injustice is ignored because those who benefit from the advancement or convenience do not experience any form of pollution or climate change. This perpetuates a cycle of people continuing to live unsustainable lifestyles with little concern for the long-term or larger impacts of climate change. Ironically, indigenous people, who do know how to make the environment livable for generations to come and are well-versed in a sustainable lifestyle, suffer the most from the pollution, excess waste, and climate change, while top polluters are able to protect themselves from the immediacy of climate change with power and money. The voices and perspectives of indigenous people are neglected, ignored, mistreated, and silenced. This is environmental racism. If people were to treat others equally and equitable, there would be consideration and fair treatment of how the earth’s resources are managed. Until this can happen, we will continue to lack the necessary tools needed to solve our climate change crisis. Being an environmental studies major has helped me realize this, and I am so grateful for being able to gain this knowledge and perspective before graduating from college.
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.
By Julia Brower
My entire life I have loved horses. In fact, when I was a kid, my mom used to tell me that there were no horses in Connecticut, hoping that it was just a phase. It was not just a phase, and I eventually called her bluff. When I turned eight years old, I had my first riding lesson on a big chestnut horse named Jackson and have continued riding ever since. At home, I get to ride at least two to three horses every time I go. Their names are Venus, Roxy, and Otis, and they are all fun in their own way.
When it finally became time to embark on my journey at UConn, I continued my horseback riding lessons in order to provide a comfort zone that could make the university feel a bit smaller. Since I was only a freshman, I decided to wait until I had gotten used to the college lifestyle before finding an on-campus job. Being an animal science major on the pre-vet track, I was worried about struggling in the hard classes that were soon to come. When sophomore year came along, however, a job opened up at the horse barns, just as I felt ready to become more involved on campus. I was already in the barn a lot, considering that I took lessons and had just started an independent study with a horse named Slick that I rode and worked with every day on my own time. (Now that horse has actually been sold and is doing really well!) That October, I started my first day as a student employee of the UConn horse barns.
Working at the horse barns can be tough. It involves a lot of hay splinters, and dust, as well as the cleaning out of fifty stalls every day, but I would not change it for a thing. The good times of this job outweighs the bad. We get to see the baby horses and even help take care of them. My favorite baby of this bunch is Ziva, who is the daughter of Zoe, a big Friesian, and she can be very feisty.
We sometimes play music while cleaning stalls and do side projects like walking polo ponies to a pasture down the road in the summer or taking pictures of horses that are for sale. Some other tasks are not as exhausting; for example, we sometimes hand walk some of the injured horses or groom the ones that we are going to breed.
Ever since my first day, I have gained so much knowledge that I never thought I would get as a student worker. I’ve made some new friends, gained the trust of my bosses, and was able to observe and assist the veterinarian and farrier. Because I am an animal science major, these opportunities at my job are extremely helpful because I would not have had the same experiences if I had simply chosen a typical student job, like working in the dining hall, just for money or involvement. Being here, I have gained some leadership skills by being one of the more experienced workers, as well as public speaking skills in having to talk to visitors. While some jobs may be stressful, working and being at the barn is actually my stress reliever because I can just go into a stall and pet a horse whenever I want. In working at the UConn horse barn, I am forever grateful for the opportunities that I have gotten and the ones to come. Being a part of something so meaningful to me in college is wonderful, and I suggest to any new students that you seek that place or job that you enjoy and can relieve the stress of academic life.
by Prina Deva (CAHNR: Allied Health Sciences ’21)
I knew that ever since I was little, the medical field would be my destiny. For the longest time, I have been fascinated with anatomy, how intricate body components come together to build a human, and what is done to help treat an individual with physical troubles. However, the question was always: what should I do? The medical field is filled with endless possibilities, but I am someone with endless interests. Applying to colleges was complicated by the fact that I did not know what to major in because I did not know what I wanted to do. One positive was that many health science majors have similar prerequisite courses, so I at least knew I could realistically major in anything for a year of two before deciding on a more distinct path. With that in mind, I decided to come into UConn as an exploratory exercise science major in UConn’s Academic Center for Exploratory Students department.
Out of my array of interests, being a sports fanatic is at or near the top of my list. I was never an athlete (my family does not have those genes), but I have always been competitive and glued to a TV during major sporting events. While I can never play or dream of playing professionally, I learned quickly that I wanted to be in the sports medical industry and be behind the scenes of teams that I grew up watching. So, I decided on a pre-medical path, with the intention of specializing in sports medicine, which means preparing myself to go to medical school.
My freshman year, I took your basic introductory biology and chemistry courses like the usual pre-health science student. Boy, that was tough. I knew it was going to be one of the many challenges heading my way as a health science major, and it was time to take prepping for my career choice more seriously. At the end of my very first semester as an undergraduate, I know I am capable of being in most high-pressure situations, but I had to think about myself realistically. I did not want to give up my dream job setting over my fears, so I began to reanalyze my options.
At the end of my freshmen year, I began an internship at a senior living community. One of my many roles there was to escort residents to their in-patient physical therapist for daily exercises. I would stay there for the majority of their appointment and watch the physical therapist walk them through their routine. I soon realized how this was turning into a shadowing opportunity. I found myself asking the physical therapist about their undergraduate and graduate experiences, research, and patient recovery and treatment plans. I asked them to take me through their routine with patients and how they determine what course of action to take with specific ailments. As my summer was ending, I switched into the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources (CAHNR) as an allied health sciences major and generated a new plan of study that follows a pre-physical therapy track.
I knew I always wanted to help people. As a potential physical therapist, I find the process of recovery gratifying. Being able to improve the life of an individual and observe the progressive strength and growth in them is very rewarding, as I get the chance to employ my health science principles and adapt physical activity interventions in order to help individuals achieve their goals in a one-on-one environment. This part of the field is what I have been told keeps physical therapists able to enjoy and be happy with their jobs.
I got my second shadowing experience at an out-patient setting, where I got an inside look at a busy environment. There was a larger range of individuals and ailments than there was at the live-in geriatric setting, from younger kids, athletes, to retirees. I particularly enjoyed being around the athletes, and always asked for shifts where they were the main clients. Injuries are unavoidable. I appreciate the motivation that athletes have to get back to their peak form, and I know they are anxious to get back to the game they love. Specializing in sports physical therapy has now become my perfect path. It allows me to combine two things I like, sports and physical therapy, into a job. I think it could let me feel like my job is not my job everyday, but my passion. Because of this, I have now been shadowing the athletic medical team here at UConn, and have gotten a direct behind-the-scenes look at what it is actually like being in my ideal environment. I am looking forward to enhancing people’s lives by helping them heal.