This semester I’ve used my blog to share with readers my First Year Experience class’ journey of active intellectual engagement and enrichment on campus. Last week the UConn Reads initiative around which this class is framed culminated our University’s year-long exploration of Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma with a “life raft debate,” pitting faculty against one another to argue for the value of their disciplines and their very lives. In the process, I think that we judges and panelists enjoyed ourselves at least as much as the participants — if not more.
Please enjoy the final UNIV 1820 UConn Reads student guest blogs for the academic year. And for all of our colleagues at UConn and other universities around the world, happy #finalsgrind!
Published with permission
By Albert Miller
“A tin-foil hat, a man in a full body blue-polyester suit, and a panel of astronaut hopefuls. No, this is not an episode of the Simpsons, but the UConn Reads Life Raft Debate: “Building a Sustainable Food Supply.” On Thursday April 16th, University of Connecticut faculty from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the College of Agriculture, and even the School of Fine Arts put their stake in for the last seat aboard a star ship outbound from a desolate post-apocalyptic Earth.
In the interest of keeping the debate active and engaging, each contestant was allotted five minutes to pitch what they had to offer the galactic colonists on the interstellar journey as well as upon arrival to the alien world. Mediated by Professor John Volin, the panel member’s bios were read and the games began!
Despite the centrality of food to the debate, it was certainly not the only component of that was considered in selecting a candidate. For instance, artist John O’Donnell touted his unique proficiency in alien communication through the use of cereal (yes, the breakfast food), and if need be, his no-nonsense plan of dealing with them if they antagonize the travelers. Other important skills of panelists ranged from potentially being able to pilot a spacecraft (a real NASA trainee!) and being able to locate and purify any water found on the extra-terrestrial landscape.
Additionally, the ultimate victor, anthropologist Alexia Smith, noted her myriad skills that were highly applicable to the development of a new civilization such as understanding social hierarchies and the necessary components of developing a fruitful civilization. As such, these abilities were taken in heavier weight than simply searching for a food expert by the judges. While other candidates such as the College of Agriculture’s self-proclaimed “Chicken-man,” may have been better suited to the agricultural aspect of life and civilization, Dr. Smith’s offer of a “total package” traveler propelled her to victory.
Overall, the inventive and original forum structure was a truly entertaining and educational experience. Its contestants ensured the gamut of alien/food related arguments was covered, and many an interesting fact was shared. While at times the event moved slowly, the intermittent comedic relief provided by all those involved made the final UConn Reads event of the year a truly memorable one. It is anyone’s guess what next year’s UConn Reads events will hold in store, but we can hope that humans don’t ruin the planet and have to make intergalactic travel plans again.”
Published with permission
By Diler Haji
“The last UConn Reads event of the year took off on an amusing trajectory as a wide array of distinguished scholars in many fields took the stage to convince the audience to take them aboard their galactic vessel to a new Earth. In this post-apocalyptic future, humans have created a planet unfit to bear life. A new civilization must be built elsewhere in the universe to assure the survival of our species, and there is room for only a few people. The ultimate question is who? The contestants in this competition were given a limited amount of time to convince the audience to let them aboard this Noah’s arc, entrusting them with the future of humanity.
Dr. Alexia Smith of the department of Anthropology says she will bring Cheetos as she holds up a large unopened bag of the orange life-sustaining ingredient of our survival. Of course, this is not all. The battle to keep humanity thriving would not be complete without an arsenal of rubber toy animals and a toothbrush. You can’t save humanity with bad breath, she reasons. Yet, despite these comic suggestions, Smith says she would be the person most capable of finding suitable ground for civilization because she studies civilization. If the Cheetos and rubber toys weren’t compelling enough, her experience and research makes her a valuable asset to this mission.
Next up, Dr. Mike O’Neal takes the stage in a bright blue suit and hat. O’Neal is an expert in water and river systems and reasons that everything needs water, so a water expert would be an ideal candidate. The presentation was subsequently followed by an abundance of slides showing life without water. Unless you want skeletons for cows, Mike O’Neal is the person to get you the water you need for that succulent steak you’ve been thinking about all day.
Once we get food, Dr. Amy Mobly of the department of Nutritional Sciences will make sure obesity isn’t a problem in the new human population. The self-proclaimed “real food-babe” says that her career in nutritional science and obesity studies is multidisciplinary, giving her the skills to become a valuable asset in this human redemption on the new Earth. She can create diets to fend off diseases, ensure food is safe and secure, and develop methods to feed masses of people efficiently.
Dr. Mike Darre of the Animal Science department isn’t so much concerned with nutrition as he is with chickens. Being a professor of poultry science, Darre is an expert in chickens and domestication. What if animals were found on this new planet? Darre would be the man to domesticate them. Regardless of his skills, Darre makes a point that may skew the entire competition in his favor: chicken eggs can survive in space.
Navigating through space itself isn’t going to be an easy task. Dr. Mary Concklin would be the person to pilot the ship since she has aeronautical experience. Concklin isn’t keen on GMO’s and emphasizes a non-GMO diet of fruits and herbs, which she is experienced in cultivating and nurturing. Her teaching experience elevates her candidacy even higher as she will be the person to teach the second generation of humans to grow food.
Dr. John O’Donnell, Assistant Professor of print making, will teach the second generation of humans how to destroy and play with food. The artist emphasizes his skills in creating piñata furniture, milk carton shoes, cereal rocks, and pyramids made of fruit loops. O’Donnell is a realist and an artist who provides us with a bridge to communicate with alien species through food. After all, food and art are probably the most powerful forms of communication out there.
Still other contestants advocated for their ability to work with sheep and sheep breeding, using microorganisms to make food, and figuring out the economics that “drives the bus of society.” The palette of contestants was great, but at the end of the day I looked forward to satisfying my own palate at the dining hall.”
As you’ve read, this event proved to be a great way to launch us into the final weeks of the semester — informational, engaging, and mostly hilarious. But don’t take our words for it. Enjoy the experience for yourself! Life Raft Debate Video