December 2016

A Message from Mo

Montique Cotton Kelly
Montique Cotton Kelly

< 1 min read

Dear friends:

The holiday season—a season of giving—is drawing to a close, and there’s no group more giving than UConn Nation.

You answered the call so many times in 2016: from our fantastic alumni presence at numerous events across the country (including 500 of you at Citi Field in July!) to those who gave generously to help us raise the second largest total in UConn Foundation history to support students, faculty, and programs. I can’t thank you enough for supporting our work. We simply couldn’t do it without you.

We’ve got big things in store for 2017. One of those is the return of our Alumni College in Boca Raton, Florida, and McLean, Virginia, which features a day of lifelong learning with exclusive access to renowned faculty. We’ll have more game watches as our men’s and women’s basketball teams continue their push to the Final Four. And, stay tuned for more information about April’s month of service – called UConn Cares – for ways you can get involved and give back.

As always, from our family to yours, I hope you enjoy a very happy, healthy New Year.

In UConn spirit,

Mo
Mo Cotton Kelly, Associate Vice President for Alumni Relations

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UConn Women Uniting

UConn Foundation
UConn Foundation

2 min read

Did you know that women are more likely to give to their favorite charities than men? Did you know they support education more than any other cause? Or that they are surpassing men in earning higher degrees and will hold more of the wealth in this country than ever before?

To harness that financial power, the UConn Foundation has started a new philanthropic group for women to fundraise, mentor, and advocate for UConn women.

The new UConn Women and Philanthropy group joins the women’s philanthropy movement that has been sweeping college campuses across the country. The group supports female UConn students and faculty and others through fundraising, community service, and mentoring.

The group’s first project is the Women Transforming Women scholarship drive. The group is looking for 100 women to donate $500 each to create a permanent scholarship at UConn. The fundraiser is proving popular with 35 women donating a total of $32,125 so far. The first 100 donors will be considered the group’s founding members.

The group, which is open to men too, just completed its first community service project aimed at helping women, partnering with two UConn sororities to collect personal items and bedding for a holiday drive for My Sister’s Place, a women’s homeless shelter in Hartford.

Next, the group will hold a pre-game reception Feb. 22 before the women’s basketball game against Temple at Salute Restaurant at 100 Trumbull St. in Hartford. The reception will run from 5 p.m. to 6:45 p.m. before the tip off at 7 p.m. in the XL Center. To register for the reception, call (860) 486-6441 or email rsvp@foundation.uconn.edu. To purchase tickets for the game contact 1-877-at-uconn or email athtickets@uconn.edu.

Then on March 23, Women and Philanthropy will host a discussion at an opening reception at 5 p.m. at the William Benton Museum of Art on the Storrs campus for an exhibit on Connecticut painter and illustrator Ellen Emmet Rand. Rand was one of the first women illustrators at Vogue and painted more than 800 portraits, including the presidential portrait of FDR.

Learn how you can get involved in the Women and Philanthropy group.

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Grounded in the Quiet Corner

Jennifer Doak-Mathewson
Jennifer Doak-Mathewson

3 min read

What makes Grounded Coffee Co., in Willimantic, different from your ubiquitous coffee chain?

It starts with how they get the beans.

“We work with roasters all over the East Coast who make exceptional coffee and who are also 100% invested in making sure the process of getting those coffee beans is ethical and the farmers are paid well,” said Tony Bachiochi ’15 (CAHNR), one of the shop’s co-founders.

The roasters they select specialize in a lighter, brighter coffee, so don’t walk into Grounded expecting a bitter dark roast. “It’s like beer or wine tasting,” he said. “For each coffee on our menu, we tell people what we taste—so they all taste like coffee, but maybe with hints of pear or berry or what have you.”

But when you first walk into the clean, cozy shop, you won’t notice the coffee’s origins right away—although you’ll be greeted by its heavenly scent. You’ll be offered a sample or two of the day’s featured roasts, where the barista will invite you to taste the nuances of each bean. They’ll listen to your preferences and make recommendations. And they’ll invite you to have a seat at one of their tables and stay a while.

“It’s more than buying a cup of coffee,” said Tony. “It’s an experience. That’s one of the things in a coffee shop like ours that differentiates us from the chains. It’s more than just buying a product. It’s a meeting place.”

How Grounded was founded

Like many new graduates, Tony was still figuring out what to do after earning his degree in resource economics when his brother, Steve, and his wife Victoria returned from a few years in Australia. Steve and Victoria wanted to recreate the homey coffee shops common in Australia right here in the Quiet Corner of the state—and promote local partnerships and ethical business practices, too. They found Nick Bentley, a coffee consultant in Mansfield, to help with purchasing. Nick later joined the group as the full-time bean expert.

“We’re all young and excited to start our own business,” says Tony, who graduated from UConn with a degree in resource economics from CAHNR. “And we saw a huge need for a good coffee shop in northeast Connecticut,” he said. “We saw that Willimantic is an historical town with a lot of potential. There’s a very close-knit community here.”

The former site of the Willimantic Victorian Society—a mid-nineteenth century building on Main Street complete with a three-sided fireplace and a brick patio perfect for bistro seating—became available for lease, and Grounded had a new home.

Local ties

The longer you stay in the shop, the more you’ll notice all the ties to the local community. The shelves are made of reclaimed wood from Camp Horizons, a few miles away. The countertops are made from planks salvaged from a local farm’s horse fence, and the builder added wood from his own roof. Milk comes from Mountain Dairy in Storrs. Bagels come from Bagel One in Windham, and scones come from Not Only Juice, across the street.

With the mission of creating a meeting place in mind, the group began forming relationships with the local community at the Willimantic Farmer’s Market. “That was the first thing we did, and we really connected with customers,” said Tony. “That’s where it matters most. You start a good following in a place where people care about each other, and then you branch out.”

The group learned a lot about starting a small business in Connecticut—and as any entrepreneur can attest, there were more than a few challenges along the way. “But they’re just bumps in the road,” said Tony. “If you’re passionate about something and want to get it done, it’s worth doing.”

“At UConn, I learned a lot about agriculture, sustainability, marketing, and generally how agricultural companies do their business,” he said. But perhaps more importantly, he learned how to relate to new people. “I learned the Xs and Os of business, which was important, but UConn was great for those interpersonal connections—there are people from California, from India, from all over the world with different opinions and different cultural backgrounds, and that’s huge in terms of running even the smallest businesses. UConn is a melting pot of different people, and when I was there I learned from them—that’s what I’ve brought to the real world.”

Visit Grounded the next time you’re visiting campus or passing through the area. You’ll not only have some of the best coffee, tea, and espresso beverages around—you’ll be supporting one of our own Huskies and a whole community of Connecticut small businesses.

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UConn Donors Break Record on Giving Tuesday

Grace Merritt
Grace Merritt

< 1 min read

UConn Nation stepped up to the plate on Giving Tuesday, Nov. 29, leading to an increase in dollars and donors. With UConn’s schools and colleges—along with athletics—helping tell UConn’s story through email and social media, the special day that has become a nationwide call for generosity was a success.

There’s an important story behind those numbers. While the amount raised increased (always cause for celebration!), so did the number of donors who gave…and that’s key. Alumni giving rates count for about 5 percent of popular national ranking formulas, so the number of alumni who give, regardless of the amount of the gift, boosts UConn’s national rankings. And that can help keep UConn in the top 25 public universities.

Giving to UConn also helps our state’s economy. UConn generates $202 million in state and local taxes and supports 24,235 jobs statewide.

We know there are so many other places you can give, so we appreciate your support in 2016.

To cap off an amazing year, we’ve selected 16 of our “Greatest Hits” of UConn Nation for 2016. Reminisce with us as we revisit some classic moments of the year in review, from Commencement to Huskies Forever Weekend.

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UConn’s Alumni College Tackles the Reality of Fake News

Tiffany Ventura Thiele
Tiffany Ventura Thiele

3 min read

Do you get your news from Facebook?

If so, you’re not alone. Statistics from the Pew Research Center show that 62 percent of U.S. adults get their news on social media.

But sometimes, the news we see doesn’t accurately portray the story, and there’s been national discussion on what’s known as “fake news.”

Anne Oeldorf-Hirsch, Assistant Professor, Department of Communication, will speak to how we engage with and learn from the news on social media at UConn’s second annual Alumni College on Saturday, January 28 in Boca Raton, Florida. As a sneak preview, we had the opportunity to ask Professor Oeldorf-Hirsch three questions about this current topic:

Q. “Fake news” has dominated the headlines, particularly with Facebook. What is this phenomenon and is it a common concern?

A. Fake news can take a variety of forms, and is nothing new: It can be satire intended to parody current events, or it can be false information intended to mislead the public. Lately, false information has been the focus. Unfortunately, there is an industry for selling fake news: Clicks through search engines and social media can make those writers or organizations money.

It’s difficult to quantify how common fake news is. Mark Zuckerberg recently stated that 99 percent of what people see on Facebook is “authentic,” and I haven’t seen any numbers posted for Google or Twitter.

Aside from fake news, credible news organizations have been facing changes in how we find and consume their content. In the flood of information we receive each day, it becomes increasingly necessary to attract readers’ attention and to get them to share content with their networks. This leads to catchier headlines, more sensational reporting, and “clickbait” articles, or those which use provocative wording to get users to click the headline for more information, even if that information isn’t presented. (Think, “…you’ll never believe what happened next.”) These types of headlines may also make it harder to distinguish real news from fake news.

Q. Will the “fake news” phenomenon continue? How much responsibility falls on the social media network versus the user?
A. Yes, it is likely to continue, but awareness has been brought to the issue. Technology companies that have a hand in media distribution, such as Facebook and Google, have acknowledged the problem, and have made varying statements on efforts to do their part to stop fake news from spreading. The problem is larger than just fake news though; it includes how we get any of our information online now.

On the one hand, selective exposure has existed since long before social media. That is, we have always preferred to pay attention to that with which we agree, and ignore that with which we don’t. On the other hand, social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter employ algorithms that function largely to show you content that will keep on you on the site, which generally means content that you want to see and agree with. This leads to filter bubbles (our feeds being increasingly personalized so we only see what we want to see) and echo chambers (the ideas we agree with being amplified and reinforced, while competing views are pushed out). This does certainly exacerbate the problem.

For now, users should be aware of how these sites operate and understand the potential effects. First, we need to fact-check the information we see, especially before sharing it. A recent study found that about 60 percent of news URLs that are shared on Twitter were never clicked on, meaning they were shared without being read.

As users, we can also make efforts to open up our filter bubbles by exposing ourselves to credible sources along the political spectrum. For reference, see Pew Research Center’s report on media polarization, which includes the most trusted sources by those along the liberal/conservative continuum. Engaging with people who have differing opinions, maybe better offline than online, can also help us broaden our perspectives.

Q. Overall, how is social media reshaping news?
A. We are exposed to more information than ever before, but we may be paying less attention. We are more likely to stumble upon news than seek it out. We are more likely to share content than read it. Ultimately, social media are providing new opportunities for news and media literacy.

Professor Oeldorf-Hirsch is just one of several expert speakers who will share information on current topics and UConn updates. If you consider yourself a lifelong learner, we hope you’ll join us at Alumni College.

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Five Questions with Gladis Kersaint

Grace Merritt
Grace Merritt

4 min read

Gladis Kersaint, the new dean of the Neag School of Education, arrived at UConn in June and is spending her first winter in the Northeast. She’s a mathematics education scholar and most recently worked at the University of South Florida, where she was associate dean of academic affairs and research for the College of Education.

We caught up with her recently to chat about her thoughts on education in America and less serious matters in our ongoing series, “Five Questions With.”

Q. What was your childhood like?
A. I was born in the Bahamas, and I am of Haitian heritage. My family moved to Miami, where I grew up since I was a year old. I’m the fourth of five children. I would say that my childhood was rather ordinary. I’m of that era where you stayed out all day until the streetlights came on. I spent a lot of time hanging out with friends, including going to the local community pool. Given the time period, we did not spend a lot of time staring at the computer.

People may be surprised to learn that I studied music early in life. In fact, I was in a special music program in middle school in which I spent four days in regular school and went to another school once a week to study music. It was a holistic music program that focused on developing a variety of skills, such as music theory, composition, and the like. Unfortunately, I didn’t stick with it.

I also was a candy striper volunteer at Miami’s Jackson Memorial Hospital. My sister worked there and my parents believed it was important engage me in structured activities. I ran errands, escorted patients out of the hospital, passed out magazines, and sometimes just talked to people who were there for many days.
My parents were not college-educated. My father was a skilled tradesman – a welder and mechanic. My mother worked in the service industry.

Q. What do you think is the single biggest issue in U.S. education today?
A. I don’t know if there is a single biggest issue. I think there are a number of issues. An important issue is ensuring that we give full support to public education. One of my concerns is the perception that we can address ineffective schools or low-performing schools by considering alternatives, such as school choice. That doesn’t address the core issue. It just provides options, which I don’t want to take away. But I think it’s more important to provide all students with access to high-quality public education.

I think, as a society, we need to look at the importance of education, not in terms of lip service, but it terms of really putting the resources behind the things we say we value. We want all students to be educated, we want all students to be taught by highly qualified, effective teachers. We want all schools to have the resources needed to support learning. All of those things are based on a commitment by the citizens and the government to provide the resources to do that. Yet when there’s a budget crisis, what sees the impact immediately? Education. We should commit to long-term approaches to systematically improve education and stick with it long enough to see the results. Education should not be at the mercy of political whims.

Q. How can UConn’s Neag School of Education help address the student achievement gap in Connecticut?
A. Part of the attraction for me to come to the Neag School is its long-term commitment to address social justice and equity issues. In a recent newsletter, we gave an update on the work of six faculty members hired in 2013 to bolster work at Neag focusing on equity issues and factors that affect student achievement. They are not just looking at the gap, but other factors that affect student experiences and engagement, such as school climate, positive behavior supports, and the influence of local and federal policies. For Connecticut, a key issue is preparing educators to meet the needs of shifting student demographics to ensure all students can be successful.

Q. What would someone be surprised to know about you?
A. I took swimming lessons when I was in my 40s and now I can float. After Hurricane Katrina, I figured it might be important to learn how to swim. I’m from the Caribbean and from Florida, so people say, ‘of course you know how to swim. You’re around water all the time.’ I am not afraid of water, but I never learned how to swim. It was hard to learn at that age. At this point, I don’t consider myself a swimmer, but I do have some survival skills.

Q. What do you like to do for fun?
A. Because I am new to Connecticut and this role, I’ve been investing most of my time learning about UConn, the Neag School, and the educational context in Connecticut, including getting to know key stakeholders in each of these areas. People might not consider it “fun,” but I’m finding it quite interesting and believe this is what I need to do now.

The one thing that I am doing for the first time in my life is learning to cook. Actually, I am using Blue Apron. They deliver a box of ingredients and a recipe to your home and you use it to make the meals. I am learning quite a bit.

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