California alumnus with environmental vision gives scholarship

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Grace Merritt

3 min read

Ben Curtis and family, at Rincon Beach, in Carpinteria, California with the Channel Islands behind them. 

When he’s not hiking in the Santa Ynez Mountains, Ben Curtis ’06 (CLAS) is surfing the waves of Rincon, near his home in Santa Barbara, California. As someone who spends so much time outdoors, he’s become increasingly passionate about saving the environment. He’s excited that UConn is too.

“UConn is doing an incredible job being a leader in environmental causes—like aquaculture, sea farming, and regenerative agricultural practices,” he says. “Those are all things that I care deeply about and that’s really exciting to me.”

Curtis, 38, a media entrepreneur, wants to help UConn become even more of a trailblazer in the field. As a first step, he is giving a scholarship to a student-athlete majoring in environmental studies.

“I hope it inspires some student-athletes to pursue studies in environmental issues,” he says. “I’m hoping to raise awareness among alumni about how important sustainability research is at UConn and to encourage them to donate as well.”

Professor Jason Vokoun, who is director of UConn’s interdisciplinary cross-college environmental sciences major, says the scholarship will be a great asset.

“Helping student-athletes focus on environmental issues just makes a lot of intuitive sense, as we are in a very real sense battling for a sustainable future for the planet. This is a competitive space with high stakes for our quality of life in coming decades,” Vokoun says. “I am excited to see scholarship support for student-athletes in the environmental science major and think their typically high internal motivation, discipline, and composure under pressure will be assets to careers in the environmental sector.”

Long term, Curtis hopes to see UConn develop even further into the premiere leader in the field.

“As we look to the future, I do think students will be picking universities based on environmental causes. I think we’re going to see a whole generation of kids who feel like it’s their duty to save the planet,” he says. “If UConn has the foundation for these programs, we’re ahead of the others, and we’ll get that top-tier talent.”

UConn is already a powerhouse in environmental sustainability, offering 930 courses in the field across 120 academic departments. In addition, 56% of the University’s faculty and staff are involved in sustainability research. The breadth of their work is stunning, from studying insects’ precipitous decline to protecting Long Island Sound waters to designing sustainable landscapes and helping local communities plan effective responses to environmental disasters.

Ben Curtis in a classroom
Rob Herting (left) and Ben Curtis (right)

Curtis, who was a hockey student-athlete at UConn, started his career as a talent manager. In 2018, he launched his own company, Daylight Media, managing talent ranging from Oscar-winning actor Rami Malek to social media influencers. In the last few years, he has transitioned into more of a media entrepreneur. He helped launch two start-ups—an apparel brand for gamers called Cloak and a scripted podcast company called QCode, which was founded by fellow UConn alumnus Rob Herting ’06 (BUS), the company’s CEO.

Curtis says his big break into the world of talent management came when he was a senior at UConn and landed an internship with the New York Yankees.

“My grandfather was roommates with George Steinbrenner at Culver Military Academy, where I went to [high] school,” he explains. “One day, my grandfather asked me what I wanted to do when I graduated. He said, ‘Do you want to work for the Yankees?’ He said he’d write Steinbrenner a letter. One day, when I was coming out of creative writing class, I got a call from the Yankees asking me to come to interview at the stadium the next day.”

The internship was in community relations, which meant assisting celebrity clients during baseball games.

“I helped them get comfortable at the game,” he said. “That was my first foray into working with celebrities.”

Curtis, who is married and has two children, ages 2 and 4, has also been giving back to UConn by sharing his entrepreneurial knowledge with students. He and Herting recently returned to campus to speak to students in the Werth Institute about their careers and share lessons students can deploy in their own career journeys.

Learn more about how you can support UConn’s environmental science programs and athletic scholarships.

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