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Advisor Heather Parker Feels Privileged to Help Students, Starts History Award

UConn Foundation
UConn Foundation

3 min read

It’s a good thing Heather Parker talks a mile a minute. She packs a lot of advice into her half-hour visits with students.

During a recent session, for example, she advised sophomore Alexandra Burke to take a geography course, sign up for an internship, what requirements she needs to double major in economics, and how to improve her GPA.

Parker is the academic advisor for the history department, supporting and guiding UConn’s 250 history majors through to graduation. Parker, who has previously worked in business, finance, and publishing, says this is by far the best job of her life.

“It is such a privilege to get to talk to students every day—and I tell them that. I’m not trying to make them feel better. They look at me suspiciously like ‘you’re just being nice.’ I’m like ‘no, no, no, really, even when you guys come in and you’re a hot mess. It’s a privilege.’”

Heather Parker (right), an academic advisor for the UConn History Department, meets with freshman Gregory Clark in her office Tuesday, March 26, 2019 in Storrs. (G.J. McCarthy / UConn Foundation)Parker, an energetic redhead who wears a starburst nose ring, knows she has a rare opportunity to gently help them grow.

“I have friends who have teenagers and have seen that “I don’t need you, Mom and Dad’ attitude. So, to have students come to me who are just slightly older with their palms up needing help and being vulnerable, I have a sense of what a precious moment it is that they’re asking me for help. And I could totally blow it or I could establish a relationship and see them get a little bit stronger.”

Parker, who was a history major herself at the College of New Rochelle in New Rochelle, NY, works in a small office in a Gothic brick building that used to be a men’s dorm. A map of post-WWII Germany covers one wall while a raven figurine leftover from Halloween perches on a bookcase. Messy stacks of papers cover her desk while rap music plays softly in the background. The clutter actually is organized and, she believes, makes her a little more approachable.

On a recent day, sophomore Michael Francomano stopped in for advice on choosing a science course to fulfill his requirements. Parker suggested a nutrition course, which seemed to intrigue him. An honors student, he has relied on her guidance to help position himself to go to law school.

Heather Parker (left), an academic advisor for the UConn History Department, meets with freshman Gregory Clark in her office Tuesday, March 26, 2019 in Storrs. (G.J. McCarthy / UConn Foundation)“She’s so helpful,” he said. “I’ve been to see her five times already.”

In 2017, Parker was honored with the College of Liberal Arts and Science’s Staff Excellence Award for her exceptional service.

Ever the advocate for her students, Parker recently gave $10,000 to UConn to create a new history writing prize at UConn. Starting this May, the Heather A. Parker Excellence in Historical Writing Award will be awarded at the department’s annual History Prize Day on the last day of classes. Typically, professors nominate students for prizes, such as best history thesis or best GPA. Parker wanted to establish an award that any history student could nominate themselves for.

“I just wanted to do it as a sign that I really believe in our students and I really believe in this department and I really believe in history,” she said. “I want there to be some excitement about the major and wanted to do something that was a little higher profile.”

Support the Heather A. Parker Excellence in Historical Writing Award

 

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Sculpting with Wind and Fog

UConn Foundation
UConn Foundation

3 min read

4 minutes to read

You really have to see a video of a Ned Kahn sculpture to understand its mystical genius. A photo just won’t work.

Then, you appreciate how a building facade magically ripples in ever-changing patterns to reveal the hidden force of the blowing wind. Or you feel meditative as you watch a large steel ring mysteriously breathe out fog. Or feel soothed by the way the wind ripples through field of thin aluminum panels, making them bend and sway like long grasses on the plains.

Kahn ’82 (CLAS) is an environmental artist from northern California. While most sculptors work with hard substances like bronze or marble, he uses ephemeral elements like fog, mist, and wind that condense, move, and disappear and re-appear to define and animate his sculptures.

“Even though I’ve built the structure, it’s actually nature—the wind or the light or some other natural force or flow pattern—that does the sculpting of it.”

His most spectacular piece so far is a huge, water vortex skylight in a Singapore shopping mall. Jets of water kick up a powerful whirlpool in a huge acrylic bowl. Then the water hurdles through a hole at the bottom of the bowl and drops down two floors into another pool.

Kahn, who grew up in Stamford, Conn., has made more than 100 pieces around the world, though none in Connecticut yet. The closest example is a kinetic skin that resembles shark skin that wraps about the New York Aquarium’s new building on Coney Island.

He first became interested in building kinetic artwork out of bearings and springs at age 10, encouraged by his mother, Renee, a painter who taught at UConn’s Stamford branch.

“There was this great junkyard in Stamford where I grew up called Vulcan Surplus that has all kinds of interesting industrial leftovers,” he said. “I would just fill the back of the car with weird stuff.”

Kahn went on to major in environmental science at UConn and has fond memories of his days in Storrs.

 

“UConn was a perfect school experience for me. If I had gone anywhere else I would have been a different person. I have a lot of gratitude for the couple of amazing teachers who were profound influences on me. I also just loved the nature around there.”

He says he was exposed to Buddhism in one of his classes at UConn, and many of his pieces possess a Zen-like quality.

Upon graduating, he headed across the country to San Francisco, where he eventually became the artist in residence at the Exploratorium science museum. Ten years later, he opened his own studio and began to bid on large-scale, public art pieces and his business grew.

He now lives with his wife and their 4-year-old son and 13-year-old stepdaughter about an hour north of San Francisco in Sonoma County, on a mountain top looking down towards the ocean. He also has two adult children with his first wife.

Some might say he’s living the dream. And while he’s deeply appreciative of being able to live in such a beautiful place and make a living doing his art, he says it can be stressful dealing with the tight budgets, politics, and lengthy approval processes that come with it.

“It’s not the ideal image of the artist creating in his studio that most people imagine, although I do get to do that too, and I’m very appreciative of that time and space,” he said.

The Ecology and Evolutionary Biology endowment provides critical resources for UConn students and faculty as they work to discover, understand, and protect biodiversity around the world.

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From Homer’s Odyssey to Star Wars: New Reed Fellow to Teach Innovative Course at UConn Waterbury

Tiffany Ventura Thiele
Tiffany Ventura Thiele

3 min read

UConn Waterbury students will have the opportunity to study Greek tragedies – and popular superhero movies – thanks to the David and Joan Reed Faculty Fellowship established by donors David ’55 and Joan Reed.

Roger Travis, associate professor of classics in the Department of Literatures, Cultures & Languages and last year’s winner of the University’s Teaching Innovation Award, will be the second Reed fellow to teach in Waterbury. During a luncheon on May 20, he had the opportunity to meet with the Reeds and Waterbury campus administrators to discuss his classical mythology course, which will be offered in spring 2017.

“The course that I’m going to be teaching in Waterbury is one that I’m very proud of, and one that I think not only teaches students about a key area of the humanities and Western cultural heritage, but also provides a life lesson in how to approach and analyze their experiences with the kinds of stories that we find are so important today,” said Travis.

“Movies like Star Wars and Captain America: Civil War are very important to the way that we think about our culture,” added Travis. “This is a course not only in analyzing Greek tragedy and Homer’s Odyssey, but also in analyzing superhero and science fiction movies as a way of approaching how we’re going to live our lives as citizens of the 21st century.”

The fellowship will also give Travis the opportunity to update video lectures for the course and make all of the texts open source materials for students so that students won’t have to pay high prices for textbooks.

“Traveling to Waterbury means that I can create some unique opportunities for students to do what no students have gotten to do in this course before,” said Travis. “I’ll be designing a special activity for my face-to-face sessions with the Waterbury students, drawing on my research interests in game-based learning. The students will play in teams to portray characters in a story that takes them to ancient Greece, the fantasy of the world of the classical myths and a different version of their own world. Their task in each role-play session will be to display their skill in analyzing classical mythology in its various contexts.”

David and Joan Reed created the fellowship in 2014 to enable outstanding faculty from Storrs to be able to teach in Waterbury and interact both with students as well as with other faculty. David Reed attended UConn Waterbury for two years before transferring to Storrs.

“I attended the Waterbury branch first, so I have an interest in what’s going on there,” said David Reed, who graduated in 1955 from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “Then you add to this the fact that it’s not only about the University, but it’s also about the city of Waterbury. These were the important factors [in creating the fellowship].”

Over the past five years, UConn Waterbury’s enrollment has remained steady at approximately 900 – 1,000 students, according to William Pizzuto, Director of UConn Waterbury. Additionally, the campus continues to grow. Through a partnership with the city and the Waterbury Development Corp., the St. Patrick’s Hall building on East Main Street (known as the Rectory Building) was renovated to include six classrooms, meeting spaces and a large assembly hall. UConn is renting the building from the city and courses are already scheduled for the new classrooms. The city of Waterbury is also considering creating housing downtown with UConn students in mind.

“That would be helpful because you’ll have the students staying down [in Waterbury] at night,” said Joan Reed. “I think that would be a good thing for the city.”

Currently residing in Middlebury, David and Joan Reed were born in Naugatuck and graduated from Naugatuck High School. Their gift was the largest ever received by UConn Waterbury.

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