For Richard ’79 MA, ’81 Ph.D. and Kristin Schwab, UConn is home. The couple spent decades immersed in UConn life, with Rich serving as dean of the Neag School of Education and Kristin as a faculty member in the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources.
Rich’s love for UConn started when he was a third-year social studies teacher in Massachusetts. Concerned about the state of education, in particular the number of students not being served by traditional education, Rich decided to pursue his doctorate at UConn. This decision would influence the trajectory of his career.
Becoming part of the UConn community
After earning his Ph.D., Rich worked at the University of New Hampshire and then Drake University Des Moines before the UConn deanship opened up in 1997. He was dean in 1999, when the late Ray ’56 (CLAS), ’01 (HON) and Carole Neag made a life-changing gift of $21 million to the School of Education, which was later named in their honor. The Neag School is celebrating the 25th anniversary of the naming this spring.
“My former professors recruited me to come back, and I became dean to many who had been my mentors,” Rich says. “It was a fabulous place to be. I had opportunities to go to other universities, but it was family at UConn.”
Likewise, Kristin also found professional satisfaction and a sense of community at UConn. After a career that included private practice as well as teaching, Kristin joined Rich at UConn as a faculty member in the landscape architecture program.
“Our small but well-positioned program was the only one in the state of Connecticut and was getting ready to go for its first national accreditation process,” Kristin says. “The timing meshed beautifully with my coming on board and helping through the process.”
For 20 years, Kristin was part of a core group of four faculty members who developed and grew the program. Faculty and students in the landscape architecture program participate in community outreach work throughout the state of Connecticut on projects ranging from innovative urban streetscape and park design to green infrastructure and sustainable land use planning. Their work won them the University’s Award for Program Excellence in Public Engagement in 2011. Through some of her earliest service-learning efforts, Kristin helped launch and develop the town-gown Mansfield Downtown Partnership, which has produced a major new mixed-use town center and town green adjacent to UConn Storrs.
“It was a remarkable experience,” Kristin says of her tenure at UConn. Since retiring in 2018, she’s been thrilled to see the legacy built on with the hiring of a new generation of landscape architecture faculty, with an eye toward growing the program and its offerings. “To see the program going to the next level is a nice feeling.”
Supporting the Neag School of Education
In 2009, the Schwabs established the Richard L. and Kristin E. Schwab Fellowship Fund, which provides support for full-time graduate students enrolled in the Neag School of Education.
The inspiration for the fund came from Rich’s own experience as a UConn student. He says that graduate assistantships are crucial for student success, noting that own his Ph.D. advisor, former faculty member Edward Iwanicki, became a lifelong mentor.
“Having a graduate assistantship allowed me not only financially to get my Ph.D. but it also gave me the skills that made my career,” Rich says.
“If I didn’t have that assistantship at UConn, didn’t do the work with Ed, I wouldn’t have this wonderful career. This is how I pay it forward.”
Omar Romandia is among the many students who have benefited from the Schwabs’ generosity. Omar, a current doctoral student in the Neag School, says that their support goes beyond the financial award.
“The Schwabs really make time for me. We talk about the future and Dr. Schwab offers wholesome perspectives,” says Omar, a first-generation college student from Arizona. “It helps me immensely when the going gets rough. Their support is the extra wind on my back to help carry out my academic and professional goals.”
“The Neag School of Education would not be what it is today without the dedication and generosity of Rich Schwab,” says Jason G. Irizarry, dean of the Neag School of Education. “As the longest-serving dean in the Neag School’s history, Rich immeasurably impacted its trajectory and, through it all, put our students first. Now, he and Kristin are continuing to have the same incredible impact on individual students’ lives. They understand that the students are the reason why we do what we do, and that supporting them is our most important role as faculty members, even after retirement. The Neag School is extremely grateful for Rich and Kristin’s endless support.”
Giving back to Landscape Architecture
In 2023, the Schwabs established the Kristin and Richard Schwab Fund for Service Learning in the Landscape Architecture Program, supporting the program that means so much to Kristin.
The fund supports faculty-led University projects and student research that incorporates service learning and community engagement. Kristin says that these opportunities are a valuable part of students’ education, however, funding for these experiences can be a challenge.
“The landscape architecture program is a mix of art and science. National Science Foundation or other federal funding sources that are awarded to our plant science colleagues do not easily fit our model, so other sources of funding and support are critical,” she explains.
The Schwabs’ fund will help bridge the gap so that faculty can continue to offer this essential component of a landscape architecture education and service to communities which embodies UConn’s Land Grant Mission.
“Students often say that getting that hands-on experience and making a difference in the community is the most meaningful part of their experience at UConn,” she says. “My thought in developing this fund was to help the faculty be able to take on these projects.”
“We are thrilled and thankful for this support. Kristin is such an important part of the landscape architecture program at UConn. She continues to be a mentor and supporter and with this fund, we will be able to further continue her legacy of service-learning,” she says. “Service-learning is a real strength of the program—we engaged in twelve projects with communities across the state this past year, including building on Kristin’s work in Downtown Storrs. It is a beautiful thing where students get to work on a range of projects that both enhance their learning and contribute meaningfully to many issues facing the state, including land abandonment, sea level rise, conservation, equity, and the future of our cultural and agricultural landscapes.” – Jill Desimini, director and associate professor of landscape architecture.
Omar has no doubt that the Schwabs’ support in the landscape architecture program will be as impactful for future students as it has been for him.
“I’m so grateful for the Schwab family’s support. I appreciate that they’re investing in people, investing in me,” he says. “It makes me so happy to hear that they’re supporting another fund and ultimately the dreams of more students.”
The Schwabs’ connection to UConn is lifelong, and they have also arranged to leave a generous gift in their estate plan. The bequest will be split equally between both funds, ensuring a lasting impact for generations of education and landscape architecture students.
“It’s been such a wonderful part of our lives to be a part of this community, the town-gown relationship, raising our children in Mansfield,” Kristin says. “I always think of UConn as our university home. It tugs at our heartstrings.”
“Being dean was never a job or a chore for me. It was like a dream come true,” he says. “There are a lot of different ways to pay it forward. Some people do so through church or community. UConn is our community, our family. That’s where we start.”