It’s Voting Time for the 2015 Summer Reading Challenge

A Novel Group of Huskies

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro  The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins  Dead Wake by Erik Larson

To kick-off our Summer Reading Challenge we are opening the polls for a reader vote. The book choices for June are:

  • The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro (A Novel Group of Huskies reader recommendation!)
  • The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
  • Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson
We have some fantastic options to choose from for this first book selection, so be sure to cast your vote today!
Happy Reading (or voting)!

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Slow Food to Slow Reading

I added in some (non-academic/professional) slow reading this year, and it has been a great choice. It’s a bit of constructive “human time” in what can be very busy daily life. I would definitely suggest it, especially if you don’t really have the time to add it into your schedule.

A Novel Group of Huskies

There’s a new movement afoot in the world of book enthusiasts called slow reading.

Last fall the Wall Street Journal published an article about slow reading and the benefits of setting aside time each day to slip away into a good book. Of course, here at A Novel Group of Huskies Headquarters (aka my office in Storrs, CT) we heartily endorse this important notion that you should take a break from technology overload and ease into the pages of a great story. For many of us, it might not be a completely clean break from electronics since we’re using e-readers, but it still represents a chance to step back from the hustle and bustle of the day and sink into a great story.

Like the slow food movement, it seems like the emphasis of slow reading is a bit of a throwback. “Slow readers list numerous benefits to a regular reading habit, saying…

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Event Flier

EVENT TODAY @12:30PM: UNIV 1820 UConn Reads: First-Year Students’ Reflections on Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma

Today is the last day of UConn Reads for 2015! To go out with a bang we’re hosting our own UConn Reads event in the Storrs Center Co-op  to celebrate our experiences with the book. It has been a long, exciting intellectual journey supported by some stellar faculty and staff.

Course Highlights Include:

  • We visited the Benton Museum’s UConn Read’s exhibit for an exclusive tour.
  • Dr. John Volin taught us about sustainability.
  • Dr. Hedley Freake taught us about nutrition.
  • The Office of Undergraduate Research gave us tips and resources to succeed in developing undergraduate research grants.
  • Dr. Steve Zinn took us on a tour of the farms to teach us about UConn Agriculture.
  • And along the way we developed practical research and professional skills:
    • writing,
    • peer review,
    • community learning, and
    • presentation.

For our final student guest blog, we’re happy to welcome back Quinton with a reflection on one of our final project workshop days of the semester. Please enjoy the blog and consider stopping by the Co-op to hear UConn’s first mini-Pecha Kucha and some compelling artistic interpretations of  student-identified topics of relevance. We’re in for everything from backyard gardening to global politics, and even a few cartoon cows for good measure. We hope to see you there!

By Quinton Carmichall

Published with permission

Mock Grant Proposals

As usual, we were pleasantly treated to a variety of snacks from which to choose when we walked into the classroom, but on the condition that we also took these mysterious animal-themed capsules with us. It was then revealed that each animal represented a question the holder would answer regarding the recent project, charging valuable conversation on our shortcomings but also our potential. Regardless of how applicable a grant proposal is to each of us, in the process of making it and reflecting on it, everybody learned a lesson about their work ethic simply by asking their selves the right question.

Nevertheless, class arguably could not just call itself complete ten minutes in. So, we separated into groups – mostly of two – to discuss our individual approaches to our mock grant proposals. Some of us are doing objective projects while others are tackling more subjective issues, so the degree of relevance to the grant proposal varied, yet the degree of preparedness among classmates seemed unrivaled, when I in turn had a partner who could recite her project by the tip of her tongue. In speaking of the differences between those taking objective measures and those developing artistic responses, it was revealed there would be differences between the two in practice.

Those reporting a study with measurements and results will be following the “Pecha Kucha” presentation style in where each slide has a set amount of time before it transitions to the next, forcing the speaker to be concise. Reasonably, there can only be so much time allotted to any given speaker at the Coffee House discussion, so some restraints ought to be made to give those who need more time just that, while limiting those who do not. So, those conducting an artistic presentation would be granted the extra minutes so as not to limit the dynamism of their creativity.

For those of us presenting an artistic project, even where the mock grant proposal represents an objective analysis of our work, it still reliably portrays our more debilitating deficits on which we can improve over the coming weeks. The end slowly encroaches upon our UConn Reads course. When our finite time as a class has become more apparent, it marks the time to shift gears to keep up with the flow of traffic like which our work steadily will begin to appear.

Panelists with stuffed chickens in front of an image of cereal and tin foil towers

The end of the world needs chickens and cold cereal! : Student Guest Blogs

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.”

Man in blue body suit


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

Chicago’s Frontier

A Novel Group of Huskies

TGIF, readers!

Last week, to celebrate the end of the work week and our UConn Reads book selection of Omnivore’s Dilemma, alumni in Chicago gathered at The Frontier Chicago for a meal that was inspired by Pollan’s Wild Boar hunt.

Guests enjoyed appetizers, side dishes (I hear mac ‘n cheese was the overwhelming favorite) and of course, the main course – a roasted, wild boar. Following dinner discussion about some of the themes from the book took place, complimented by some celebratory cupcakes honoring an alumna birthday and the recent UConn women’s basketball championship. Enjoy some snapshots of the fun, courtesy of one of the event organizers, Pam ’85 (CAHNR).

Mac n cheese at Frontier

Guest mingle before dinner

Wild Boar Meal

Guests enjoy drinks before dinner in Chicago, IL

Alumni at dinner in Chicago

Celebratory Cupcakes

Happy Reading!


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Toy Farm Animals

College Eating and an Omnivore’s Nutrition: Student Guest Blog

On the first day of class when I asked my students to tell me what about studying The Omnivore’s Dilemma most sparked their interest, nutrition immediately came to the forefront. As someone who takes wellness very seriously and often sees students struggle when they first begin making their own nutritional choices at college, I was excited to facilitate this learning experience.

Despite my personal interest, nutrition is definitely not among my areas of academic expertise. So I knew I didn’t want to attempt teach this important lesson. However, I immediately knew on whom I could rely to deliver a great talk founded in research, but accessible and practical for first-year students — Dr. Hedley Freake. He is a strong supporter and instructor of First Year Experience at UConn who currently serves as the Department of Nutritional Science’s Undergraduate Program Coordinator, Global House Living Learning Community’s  Faculty Director, Chair of the University Interdisciplinary Courses Committee, and he continues to be a dynamic Professor and researcher on top of all these commitments.

When he joined us last week, my class and I “quickly became immersed in the discussion” that he led informally, perfectly integrating with our classroom culture (Diler Haji, quoted with permission). As the topics seamlessly flowed from personal nutritional choices, to Pollan’s text, then around to scientific research, I knew without a doubt that I had chosen the right scholar to visit. Of the experience Samantha Crystal said, “It was great to be able to talk to someone in person who knows so much about the food industry, especially concerning health aspects of our food” (quoted with permission, emphasis added).

On behalf of my FYE class, I thank Dr. Freake for a great, productive day. And I wish you all happy reading!

By Dana Kringel

Published with permission

Our UNIV class welcomed an expert guest speaker in week 10: Dr. Hedley Freake, Professor in the UConn Department of Nutritional Sciences.

After receiving a firsthand account of what it means to be gluten-free from Shawna, who claimed to be very grateful for the gluten-free obsession that opened up her dietary choices, Freake began the show by asking what sorts of things about nutrition we needed to address.

The students were quick to supply answers, including: cost of food, unequal distribution, sugar intake, obesity, undernutrition, and education about food. In this exercise, we found that we have many questions about one of the most common facets of our life. We sit down and eat three times a day (sometimes more if we’re feeling ambitious) and yet, there are so many gaps in our understanding of food and nutrition.

Freake referred back to “The Ominvore’s Dilemma,” and Pollan’s four-way division of food: Industrial, Organic, Hunger/Gatherer, and Pastoral. He zeroed in particularly on the industrial section, which creates energy-rich but nutrient-poor food, and the hunter/gatherer section, which creates nutrient-rich, but energy-poor food. That is to say, industrial food production brings us all those delicious empty calories – pasta, chips, more pasta – that miraculously keep us running throughout the day but give us no nutritional value at all. Hunter/Gatherer food systems bring back nutrient rich foods – roots, berries, nuts, and other things that most people are only slightly fond of – that do not contain the caloric density to give unlimited energy.

This brought up a lengthy discussion of athletes eating pasta and other “empty calorie” foods before their games. Freake acknowledged that the calories do provide energy, and that’s every coach’s plan when they casually encourage students to gorge themselves at pasta parties the night before their games. (I always knew Penne alla Vodka had some practical use beyond being delicious.) There is more nutritional density in natural foods, but they do not always carry the weighty calories that we burn for energy.

Next, the class took a detour into the difference between eating supermarket meat (industrial-fed cow) and eating natural meat (grass-fed cow). Grass-fed cows do contain less fatty acids and saturated fat, and industrial cows are given antibiotics, but do these things really make a difference in the scheme of things? Freake replied that the question was unanswered, as we don’t know if we eat enough meat for it to really make a difference. What he did answer with a resounding “yes,” however, was the question, “Can you taste the difference?” He asserted that the taste is subjective; however, and preferences vary from person to person.

Looking at the economic perspective, grass-fed cows do yield more expensive meat. We find ourselves in a common predicament once again. It’s like standing outside a plaza that contains a Whole Foods and a Big Y. Big Y probably has cheaper food, but it might not be as good for you. Whole Foods is wholly more expensive, though. Is it really worth the extra money? Once again, it’s up to personal preference.

Freake ended the visit with some of Michael Pollan’s sage advice: “Be the kind of person who takes supplements.”  If you’re taking vitamin supplements, you’re probably the kind of person who actually thinks about their nutrition, and you won’t even need them. Basically, think about what you’re putting in your body and take good care of it. Cows may have no choice if they are corn or grass-fed, but we sure do.

hi Shawna. I need a recommendation for a program. Its due in 3 days. Thanks! -Student

Recommendation Requests 101

We’ve all received them — hastily drafted, vague, requests for recommendations sent at the eleventh hour.

It only makes sense that this would be the case. First-year college students come from a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences, most of which would not make writing a professional request intuitive and easily achievable. It’s more likely that this experience would prove to be some combination of befuddling, intimidating, exasperating, and unexpected.

Knowing this, how can we best support our students in successfully requesting references from us and other faculty/staff in the future? First, we can be clear about what we need to write a strong letter of recommendation, regardless of the situation. Second, in spaces like First Year Experience we can preemptively provide students with some basic “dos” and “don’ts” to go along with this list before they ever need to think about that first request.

Request Checklist:

When requesting a letter of recommendation remember to include as much information as possible so that your faculty/staff member can write you the best letter possible. This makes it easier for them to say something meaningful that will help your application stand out. It also takes stress off of the person who is supporting you, which shows respect for them and their time. Whenever possible, share the following items as soon as possible:

  1.  A full description of the organization/experience you’re applying for, including the specific role or opportunity you’re seeking and what you think you’ll gain
  2. A full description of the application you’re completing, focusing on how the recommendation should be submitted, to whom, and by when
  3. An updated version of your resume
  4. A short explanation of why you think they would be a good person to recommend you that highlights some relevant successes or characteristics you believe they have seen you demonstrate

Basic Dos and Don’ts:

Recommendation Request Dos Recommendation Request Don’ts
Try to meet with the recommender in person to talk about the opportunity and why you’re applying. Assume that they will write you a letter of recommendation or serve as a reference.
Use professional salutations and closings in all emails. Write in informal language, including texting spellings of words.
If the person holds a doctorate, address and emails to “Dr. –“ Wait to the last minute to choose and speak with your recommenders.
Copyedit all written communications. Request recommendations from people who can’t really speak to your skills and/or character.
Give as much advanced notice as possible, at least two weeks.
Write a thank you letter to each recommender.
Let them know the outcome of your application.
Send friendly reminders as the deadline approaches.
Build relationships early in your college career so that you have faculty/staff who would be confident in referring you for opportunities as they arise.

Worst Case Scenarios:

No consideration of recommendation requests would be complete without addressing the rare, but challenging, instances in which you truly shouldn’t recommend a student. In my experience, these fall into two categories: A) The student needs to find someone who can more explicitly speak to their strengths in a particular field. B) You don’t really have anything positive to say about the student. What’s the best course of action here? Respectful honesty. Again, this is a challenging task for students. So they may not always make the right choices.

Case A is a bit easier. For example, you start hearing/reading about the opportunity, and you realize that they are looking for a specific type of reference you can’t offer. They may need a professor in their field from whom they’ve taken a relevant class, or a person who can speak to their leadership skills from experience. At this point show the student how you came to this conclusion so they can realize this independently in the future. Then help them brainstorm other faculty/staff who would be more appropriate for this particular application. Unless the student truly doesn’t have anyone who is a better fit it would be a disservice to this student to do otherwise.

Case B can be harder. For example, for faculty this might be a student who missed many classes, failed to turn in assignments, and earned poor marks as a result, then coming to you for a reference. For staff this might be a student who you had to reprimand for poor conduct in a residence hall, or who signed up for a student group you advise but never contributed. After my first experience with this type of situation I began requiring #4 on the checklist above from all of my students. If the student needs to offer a short explanation of why they think you would be a good person to recommend them they will have to tell you about all of the things they’ve done that qualify them for the position. If they have example you then have a list of other potential people who would be better choices that you can suggest earnestly and with kindness. However, if they can’t come up with examples you can shift the conversation to other opportunities where they might build these credentials. It probably won’t be what the student wants to hear. But it can be a productive, positive teachable moment that helps the student still build towards their goals.

With these simple tools, it’s my hope that we can be more effective at supporting our students, and our students can be more successful in reaching for their aspirations.

Question for Readers: Do you have anything to add to the lists? If so, why is this important for you and your students? Thanks for your thoughts!