July 2014

UConn Mentor Connection Attracts Talented High Schoolers

Jennifer Doak-Mathewson
Jennifer Doak-Mathewson

3 min read

Mentor Connection students and professors, 2014
Patrick Dragon, visiting assistant professor of mathematics works with area high school students on problem solving at the Math-Science Building on July 21, 2014. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

For some high school students, summer means a choice between working at a local farm stand or burger joint, or choosing to sleep late and then maybe hitting the beach. But for academically talented students, UConn offers a more challenging option.

The Neag School of Education’s Mentor Connection program attracts some of the nation’s best and brightest high school students to the Storrs campus each July. Once they arrive, they plunge into such diverse topics as nanoparticle-based drug delivery, making memories in the mammalian brain, and the mathematical field of topology—described by Patrick Dragon, assistant professor-in-residence in the Department of Mathematics, as being “like geometry, but squishier.”

Asked why he chose to spend precious summer weeks studying one specialized aspects of mathematics, Nicholas Serrambana from East Hartford, Connecticut and a student at the Classical Magnet High School in Hartford said, “I didn’t see a course offered [in any other program] that would be as obscure yet as important as this one. It’s unique for a high school student to be able to study topology. I can’t tell you exactly what my expectations were, but this program has a college environment, and I feel it has given me the skills to problem solve – to work collaboratively when I need to and also to work on my own.”

Mentor Connection was established in 1996 with the goal of bringing gifted high school students to UConn for a summer program where they would work side by side with faculty, graduate students, and research assistants on current research initiatives. Housed in the Neag School of Education’s Neag Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development, the program has so far reached more than 1,000 students, who have traveled from around the country and even overseas to attend.

The program is offered to high school students who will be entering their junior or senior years, who are ranked in the top 25 per cent of their class, and who have a GPA of 3.0 or higher on an unweighted 4.0 scale. But first and foremost, applicants must demonstrate their commitment to academic excellence in order to be considered.

Some of the students who have attended Mentor Connection have elected to attend UConn after graduating from high school, while others have gone on to such institutions as MIT, Yale, Stanford, and Johns Hopkins, among others.

The center’s director, Joseph S. Renzulli, Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor of Educational Psychology, says Mentor Connection is different from many other summer programs. “Our students don’t take regular college courses. Rather, they go directly into labs, studios, and other places where research is being conducted so that they can experience a ‘brand’ of learning that is different from traditional classes.

“Hands-on experiences help them understand the investigative and creative processes being used by UConn professors who are leading researchers, writers, and contributors to various fields of knowledge,” he adds.

Mira Varma is a rising junior at Greenwich High School in Greenwich, Conn. For her, enrollment was a tossup between a course on the theory of relativity at Brown University, or Dragon’s course on topology at UConn.

“I really wanted to do a summer course,” she says, “and I felt Mentor Connection had fewer kids in class and it offered the opportunity to work closely with professors. I want to become a cosmologist and that involves math and that’s why I came here. I’m really glad I did.”

But it’s not just students who benefit. Dragon, who was voted Honors Faculty Member of the Year for 2013-14, says this is the third year he has participated in Mentor Connection, and every year is both different and rewarding. “The goal of the program is to give these students a research experience similar to what they would get on an undergraduate level in college but while they’re still in high school. The students I have this summer are great, they’re all talented and they all know the [math] terminology fluently, to a degree I would expect from an ‘A’ student. They’re fun to teach.”

As she was wrapping up her three-week experience, Ilana Freeman who attends Dougherty Valley High School in San Ramon, Calif., said, “I took AP calculus [in high school] which is supposed to be college level, but they don’t teach it like Dr. Dragon teaches. He really makes it interesting and challenging at the same time. This has been a great experience.”

Freeman will be making college visits on her way home from UConn. Chances are, this future math major will be using the lessons learned in Mentor Connection when she makes her final selection.

By: Sheila Foran, UConn
Note: The Mentor Connection program receives strong philanthropic support from a variety of donors including David and Linda Glickstein, Judith and Gerard Selzer and the Amy Selzer Memorial Foundation, Fairfield County Community Organization, and the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation.

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Grant Links Students with Caterpillars, Moths & UConn Scientist

Jennifer Doak-Mathewson
Jennifer Doak-Mathewson

3 min read

A scientific research grant that includes funding for Greater Hartford schoolchildren to study the legendary White Witch moth has been awarded to UConn’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology by the Richard P. Garmany Fund at the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving.

The $56,520 grant will support three years of research, fieldwork and educational programming under the direction of David Wagner, a UConn professor who has written four books and more than 70 scientific papers on Lepidoptera, the study of butterflies and moths, and their caterpillars.

“Lepidoptera comprise one of the largest branches of the tree of life,” said Professor Wagner. “There are more than 15,000 species of moths and butterflies in North America. In Connecticut, more than 2,400 are recorded. They are barometers for the health of many of the planet’s ecosystems. Plus caterpillar hunting and photography is a great way for families and students to be introduced to scientific study and gain an appreciation of the vast and fascinating diversity of life forms in our backyards.”

A key component of the grant will be a four-day Biodiversity Camp held for 18 children in grades 6 to 8 from the Environmental Sciences Magnet School (ESM) at Mary Hooker, Two Rivers Magnet Middle School in East Hartford, and other Greater Hartford middle schools. The camp will be directed by teachers Dave Cappaert of ESM and Edmund Smith of Two Rivers.

The camp will focus on the flora and fauna of the area. Participants will collect, raise and photograph caterpillars while learning about the scientific method, biodiversity, DNA and climate change. They will attend classes on scientific illustration and the role of art in science led by internationally renowned artist and naturalist James Prosek. There will be nighttime discovery walks and light trapping for moths and other nocturnal species.

The camp will culminate in a 24-hour BioQuest where scientists, instructors and students will record as many species in a given plot of land as possible over the course of a day. Professor Wagner deems it “a biological race – part contest, part scientific discovery, part education, part fun.”

During the school year, students at the Environmental Sciences Magnet School will rear and study the life cycles of the White Witch and Black Witch moths. Meanwhile a team of scientists including Wagner and Prosek will travel to South America to collect samples.

“The White Witch is poorly studied, largely due to its secretive and exclusively nocturnal habits,” said Professor Wagner. “It is of special interest in that its life history (and thus its caterpillar) remains unknown to science. Because of the moth’s great size, with a wingspan sometimes reaching 12 inches, it has become the subject of many stories and myths in South America.”

The grant will also fund research by Dr. Wagner to update his award-winning book, Caterpillars of Eastern North America, which won a 2006 National Outdoor Book Award and is regarded as one of the most authoritative field guides on caterpillars. The 512-page book, with 1,200 color photos, identifies the caterpillars of 700 butterflies and months found east of the Mississippi River.

The grant will support development of a new book, Caterpillars of Western North America. Professor Wagner has already made about 750 larval collections in Arizona, California, Colorado and Texas and established collaborations with scientists from the United States Department of Agricultural and forest entomologists throughout the West. Research for the new book has also gained financial support from Earthwatch, an international environmental organization.

The Richard P. Garmany Fund is named in honor of a former Aetna executive who died in 2008 after creating a donor-advised fund at the Hartford Foundation through his will. A close friend serves as advisor to the fund. Since its inception, more than 125 grants totaling more than $2.8 million have been awarded to regional nonprofits in a variety of fields including culture, healthcare and the environment.

The Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, established in 1925, is the community foundation for 29 communities in the Hartford region. It is dedicated to putting philanthropy into action to create lasting solutions that result in vibrant communities within the Greater Hartford region. It receives gifts from generous individuals, families and organization, and in 2013 awarded grants of more than $29 million to a broad range of area nonprofits.

By: The Hartford Foundation for Public Giving

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Fundraising Campaign for New Athletics Facilities Builds

Liz Gagnier
Liz Gagnier

3 min read

Fundraising Boost for New UConn Basketball Champions Center Campaign Begins for Upgrades to Soccer, Baseball and Softball Facilities

From the UConn Foundation’s e-newsletter, Our Moment (February-March, 2012)

The sign in front of Memorial Stadium tells the tale. The aging stands and field will give way to a new training and practice facility for UConn Basketball.

With private commitments in hand for $17 million of the project’s estimated $30 million cost, the UConn Basketball Champions Center will soon be a reality, giving the University’s stellar basketball programs the dedicated home their supporters say is long overdue.

Momentum for the project was boosted in December by a $4.5 million gift from Peter and Pamela Werth, the largest single contribution to the Division of Athletics. That gift was soon followed by several anonymous donations totaling more than $2 million. The basketball facility is the first major construction project at UConn to be funded entirely through private donations.

The University’s Board of Trustees has approved (link) demolition of Memorial Stadium this spring to allow site preparation work to begin.

Active in the process is an Athletics Campaign Steering Committee, chaired by alumnus Robert Skinner ’93, who is also a member of the UConn Foundation Board of Directors. The committee recently held an event in Westport at the clothing store of Bill Mitchell, longtime Westport retailer and avid UConn basketball fan, to highlight the need for the facility on the UConn campus (RELATED LINK: Making the Case for the UConn Basketball Champions Center).

Mitchell was joined by UConn Coach Jim Calhoun, President Susan Herbst, then-interim Athletic Director Paul Pendergast, Skinner, and Bill Raftery, college basketball game analyst for ESPN and CBS, who acted as master of ceremonies. The event was devoted to making the case for the basketball facility, a 70,000 square foot building with practice gyms for the men’s and women’s programs, locker rooms, coaches’ offices, and areas for academic support, video analysis, sports medicine, and strength training.

Another historic contribution to University athletics — $3 million for soccer — provides strong support for the Division of Athletics’ new fundraising campaign to upgrade facilities for baseball, soft ball, and soccer. The gift from a former student-athlete, who wishes to remain anonymous, provides $1 million as an outright gift, with the remaining $2 million spread over the next five years for the Morrone Stadium Enhancement Fund.

“Athletics is the front porch of the University,” says President Herbst. “It grabs the attention of the American people, then you can open the door and show them the great teaching, learning, and research inside.” The new facility will help maintain high levels of academic success for basketball student-athletes and advance the entire university and the community, she adds.

As fundraising for the basketball facility goes forward, additional funds will be raised to upgrade the baseball, softball and soccer facilities. “All of these programs have enjoyed national success over the years, but our playing venues have fallen behind those of our peer institutions,” says Pendergast.

Like the basketball facility, each sport-specific project will be funded entirely through private donations

The most recent athletics facility built on the Storrs campus was the Burton Family Football Complex and Mark R. Shenkman Training Center, which opened in 2006, three years after the completion of the football stadium at Rentschler Field in East Hartford.

The last new playing facility to open in Storrs was The Mark Edward Freitas Ice Forum, which opened for the 1998-99 season, replacing the 1960s-era open UConn Ice Rink.

  • The George J. Sherman Family Sport Complex–the home for track and field, lacrosse, and field hockey–opened during the 1995-96 academic year.
  • Harry a. Gampel Pavilion, home of Huskies men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball, opened in 1990 and was last renovated in 2002.
  • Joseph J. Morrone Stadium, home field for the men’s and women’s soccer teams, opened in 1969 and was last renovated for additional seating in 2009.
  • The Burrill Family Field at the Connecticut Softball Stadium opened in 1987.
  • J.O. Christian Field, home of the baseball team, was last expanded in 1993, and an Indoor Batting and Pitching Facility was opened in 1997.

To support the Division of Athletics, please contact the UConn Foundation’s development department.

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UConn Basketball: The Tradition Continues

Liz Gagnier
Liz Gagnier

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Securing the future of UConn Basketball is one of the top priorities of the University of Connecticut and Division of Athletics. The UConn Basketball Champions Center project is just one example of UConn’s commitment to an even better future.

Be sure to check out UConnBasketballCenter.com for renderings, news, and more.

 

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Webster Bank Makes Financial Commitment to UConn Basketball Champions Center

Liz Gagnier
Liz Gagnier

2 min read

Published: August 29, 2012

Storrs and Waterbury, Conn.—Webster Bank, which recently announced a multi-year marketing relationship with the University of Connecticut, has made a significant financial investment to support construction of the new UConn Basketball Champions Center on the UConn Storrs campus. Financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

“We believe this investment in the Basketball Development Center is an important part of our overall commitment to the University and shows our confidence in UConn’s exciting future” said Jerry Plush, president and chief operating officer of Webster Bank. “We believe Webster’s history, values and commitment to the community represent a natural fit with UConn and what the University stands for, and we are delighted to be partners.”

The agreement between Webster and UConn was described as a “unique partnership” that for the first time will bring together all aspects of the University’s marketing activities, including its high-profile athletic program and efforts to reach out to the more than 200,000 alumni and 28,000 UConn students. It will be managed by IMG College, the nation’s leading collegiate multimedia marketing and licensing/brand management company, and will integrate media, hospitality, venue signage as well as use of intellectual property for branding, promotions and affinity marketing.

Webster Bank also committed to provide support for the UConn Basketball Champions Center.

“We are most grateful to Webster Bank for its very generous commitment to one of the University’s most important and visible priorities,” said John Martin, President of the UConn Foundation. “UConn basketball is a hallmark of the state and Webster Bank is one of the most respected companies in Connecticut. We welcome their support and look forward to a long and successful partnership in the years ahead.”

To date, more than $21.5 million has been raised for the UConn Basketball Champions Center to be constructed adjacent to Harry A. Gampel Pavilion on the former site of Memorial Stadium. It is the first building project at UConn that will be funded entirely through private donations, and is already at 60 percent toward the targeted goal. The 70,000-square foot facility, which features dedicated practice gyms for men’s and women’s basketball, along with locker rooms, coaches’ offices and areas for academic support, video analysis, sports medicine and strength training, is expected to break ground in the spring of 2013.

The University of Connecticut Foundation, Inc. of Storrs, Conn., was founded in 1964. The foundation is a tax-exempt corporation that operates exclusively to promote the educational, scientific, cultural, and recreational objectives of the University of Connecticut. As the primary fundraising vehicle for the university, the foundation’s mission is to solicit, receive, and administer gifts and financial resources from private sources to support UConn’s pursuit of excellence in teaching, research, and public service.

Webster Financial Corporation is the holding company for Webster Bank, National Association. With $19 billion in assets, Webster provides business and consumer banking, mortgage, financial planning, trust and investment services through 167 banking offices, 464 ATMs, 290 of which are owned by Webster and 174 of which are branded, telephone banking, mobile banking, and the Internet. Webster Bank owns the asset based lending firm Webster Business Credit Corporation; the equipment finance firm Webster Capital Finance Corporation; and provides health savings account trustee and administrative services through HSA Bank, a division of Webster Bank. Member FDIC and equal housing lender. For more information about Webster, including past press releases and the latest annual report, visit the Webster website at www.websterbank.com.

Contact

Sarah Barr, VP External Communications

Webster Bank

145 Bank Street

Waterbury, CT 06702

203-578-2287

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Donors Contribute $24 Million for New Basketball Center at UConn

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UConn Foundation to Secure Financing to Begin Construction Thanks to a Major Gift from Mark and Rosalind Shenkman.

Published: October 15, 2012

Donors to the University of Connecticut have made it possible to begin construction of a major new basketball facility on the campus, adjacent to Gampel Pavilion.

The University of Connecticut Foundation announced on Tuesday that it has donations and pledges in hand for 75 percent of the construction cost of the UConn Basketball Champions Center–$24 million of the $32 million needed–and will obtain financing for the project so construction can begin as soon as possible. Completion is expected to take about 24 months.

“UConn is fortunate to have many strong supporters across the nation, who have dedicated themselves to the academic advancement of the university, the research ambitions of our faculty and students, as well as athletics,” said UConn President Susan Herbst. “As we continue to build and renovate so many facilities on our multiple campuses, an outstanding new home is needed for our championship men’s and women’s basketball programs.”

Most recently, alumnus Mark Shenkman and his wife, Rosalind, committed $2 million to the facility. Mr. Shenkman is the chair of the UConn Foundation Board of Directors and previously made a $2.5 million gift to name the athletic training and student recreational facility that bears his name on the Storrs campus.

“Rosalind and I feel very blessed to be able to make this gift to the University of Connecticut. This gift represents an investment in the future of UConn basketball,” said Shenkman. “After recently visiting the practice facilities at other institutions, I realized the importance that a practice facility can have in conveying the strength of a program. The completion of this basketball practice facility will certainly perpetuate UConn’s preeminent position as one of America’s college basketball capitals.”

“The success of our men’s and women’s basketball student-athletes, in both the classroom and on the court, will be greatly enhanced by the UConn Basketball Champions Center,” said UConn Director of Athletics Warde Manuel. “I want to thank Mark and Rosalind Shenkman and all of our benefactors whose generosity are allowing us to begin construction of this project. We will continue to fund raise to obtain the entire cost of the project.”

For more information about the UConn Basketball Champions Center, visit the official website, uconnbasketballcenter.com.

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