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!

Tampa River View

Fuel for Both Students and Educators: Finding Your Intellectual Passion and Community

This semester in my UNIV 1820, UConn Reads First Year Experience course two interrelated themes have emerged as driving forces — finding your passion and finding your community. These are themes to which I feel especially connected today as write from the American College Personnel Association national conference in sunny Tampa, Florida (#ACPA15). After a day-long pre-convention colloquium on assessment and today’s powerful opening reception focusing on social justice and diversity competencies I’m already beginning to feel my usual “conference high.” In this moment I find myself acutely aware of the holistic benefits I take from this time working in an intellectual community with people who share many of my passions, are excited to hear about my work, and whose own ideas stretch me to see new opportunities and perspectives. Not only do I know I will return to campus with new ideas, and potentially a little bit of a tan, but I also know I will return excited about the goals my office has set and putting in the extra effort that goes it takes to realize them.

This returns my thoughts to the classroom. I have the luxury of living with my best feminist pedagogy sounding board, academic peer reviewer, and intellectual partner — who happens to also be my husband, Alex. Last week he and I were sitting in front of a fire in our snowy Connecticut home brainstorming how to best articulate this need for intellectual community and the undergraduates in our spring courses. Saying engagement in class and beyond is a course requirement, something that will help you succeed in school, or a way to build transferable skills just wasn’t enough. And we needed to tailor the discussion to our unique courses and students.

Teaching International Relations, Alex wanted to express the long-term power of engaging political debates in community through political theory. So with no prior explanation he opened the next class with a story of Abu Nasr al-Farabi (a very abridged version of his full name), a colossal figure in classical Islamic thought. who lived in the 9th century. He was born in Damascus, spent most of his life living and writing in Baghdad. And he was arguably the most profound Muslim Aristotelian thinker. Specifically, al-Farabi famously recast Aristotle’s argument that “man is a political animal” as “man is a social animal.” (He made the language gender neutral for al-Farabi, since this isn’t a direct quote. Aristotle’s is, though, so he quoted it as is.)

Aristotle believed that it was only in a political collective that humanity could reach its telos; or, in simpler terms, it’s ultimate end (he believed everything developed towards some ultimate end specific to itself). Without this community, claimed Aristotle, humans were little better than animals. Alex explained to them that al-Farabi largely agreed, but added important nuances, including a discussion about individual needs and desires. For al-Farabi, everyone is intrinsically self-insufficient. We all have wants, needs, and desires that we cannot fulfill on our own. It is only in community then, that humans can help one another realize the wants, needs, and desires of others, and have their fulfilled in kind. Thus, it is only through a community that humans, individually and collectively, attain their full felicity – a concept analogous to virtue for Aristotle.

If nothing else, his approach was a lot more compelling and elegant than “if you don’t read you’ll fail the quizzes,” or “if you don’t engage on campus you’re statistically less likely to have a satisfying, successful college experience.”  But I think this narrative gives us a lot more that can be tailored to any class or group of students. To me it argues that beyond college, in any field, actively contributing to a community is part of realizing your full potential as an individual and as a member of the world. And it’s not something the is lightly put aside. As such, by opting out of intellectual engagement in college, just to earn passing grades and a piece of paper, a student is robbing themselves of a powerful opportunity to embrace the human experience and to learn how to do so long after they graduate.

Taking our conversation as inspiration, last week in FYE I kicked off with a weekly reflection and a discussion circle focused on the values and challenges of learning in community. Because my class is a First Year Experience course I was able to organically address this issue of why students choose to disengage or remain anonymous directly. Students candidly talked through their fears of group work with a dead weight partner, their competing home/work/school obligations, and even concerns about not truly belonging. Those ideas out in the open, we recommitted ourselves to working as a mutually supportive class community before jumping into two days of student-driven intellectual collaboration and peer-to-peer learning.

Day 1: The Omnivore’s Research Notes

After our discussion we pulled out annotated books and reading notes to dig into the meat of the lesson.

  1. Before class each student was assigned one chapter from our course text on which to become an expert. They were tasked with posting notes on this chapter before coming to class. Each post included:
    1. A short summary of main argument/point (2-3 sentences)
    2. The most important ideas/support (2-3)
    3. Pivotal quotes (2)
    4. Why is this important / valuable? (3-5 sentences)
    5. One counter argument (3-5 sentences) You may have to do a little digging and cite a source.
  2. In class the students were broken up into chapter groups based on the three sections of the text. Each group was responsible for synthesizing the information to create one unified section note (30 minutes) and presenting their work to the class (10 minutes for each group).

Instead of lecturing to pull out the important debates I let the students take the lead. It was a lot more fun for both me and the class. And I was pleased that as usual, when they helped me set a high bar for their work they rose to the challenge.

Giant papers with student notes.

Students collaborated in section groups to present on major themes of the book.

Day 2: Interpretive Project Peer Review Workshop (Today!)

Today my stellar FYE Peer Mentor (TA), and McNair Scholar, led a peer review workshop in my absence. Even if I had been on campus I would have sat out of this experience because I believe that this second step of collaborating as scholars without me hovering was an important piece to the growth I’m trying to foster. For this workshop each student was required to bring a rough draft of their individualized project, a student-driven inquiry project that requires them to explore something from the text that connects with an intellectual passion of their own choosing.

Armed with the assignment expectations, basic peer review tips, and a strong sense of the class community, students were supported by the Mentor to collaborate to make sure everyone is ready to feel proud submitting their assignment to me next week. The directions are below:

  1. Break into groups of 3. Take turns reading out loud or showing (in the case of photos or videos) what you brought for a draft then getting feedback from your peers. (Yes, actually reading it out loud is an important strategy to practice. Don’t cheat yourself of the experience, even if it’s scary.) Each person will have about 10 minutes.
  2. Share your weekly reflection thoughts. What is the most important revision you need to make before next week.

I’m happy to say that although I had multiple instructors standing by to take the reins if called upon there was no need. With the leadership of their Peer Mentor they successfully discussed their unique exploration of exciting intellectual journeys relevant to the class and are set to revise over the next week. Of course, a reflection on this experience will be how I kick off the next lesson. It’s my hope that it gave them some confidence in their ability to contribute to and gain from similar experiences, even as first-year students, and that they’ll use that momentum to follow their actively passions in the coming years.

As I told my class, finding a passion and fostering it in community is not only something that you can do as a student. It’s a beautiful, challenging, inspiring part of the human experience. And I’m grateful to be in Florida tonight, as a professional, doing the same kind of work they have been doing in class.


The Joy of Laughter: Student Guest Blog

From its inception, the First Year Experience (FYE) has been rooted in the understanding that undergraduate excellence and retention is built on the grounds of both academic success and connection to community. As a result, FYE instructors face the challenge (and joy) of balancing content and relationship-development in every lesson and assignment. For example, today we celebrated a community member’s birthday with a card and singing before jumping into a guest lecture by the wonderful Dr. John Volin, UConn Professor and Head of the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment. While these moments may seem just for fun, they are actually vital to building a sense of belonging and trust that facilitates deeper engagement with difficult debates and reflection on their learning and growth, both in and out of the classroom. 

For our first Student Guest Blog for the semester, I am glad to share with you a student’s thoughts on this balance as they experienced it last week and how it fosters academic engagement in our classroom and positively contributes to their educational journey.

Author: Corbinian Wanner

Shared with permission

                 It’s hard to find an example of where you are sitting in a college-setting classroom and you experience the genuine urge of laughing. Yes of course there are a multitude of cases where perhaps the professor has difficulty with technology or says something quirky, which generates a general consensus that a forced laugh is the only thing that will continue the classroom flow; we all have had these moments. However, can you generally say that you have had a visceral, natural laughing experience in a college classroom?

                Charlie Chaplin once said that “a day without laughter is a day wasted.” So why don’t we laugh more? Truthfully there might be a lot of reasons out there, however, the biggest reason is the lack of a comfortable setting. I don’t know anyone who would feel comfortable in a large lecture hall with rigid chairs, no leg room, and hearing one voice talk the entire time, this environment is exactly what hinders our ability to laugh naturally.

                Well, I’m going to share a little secret, I have indeed found natural laughter; specifically I found it on Thursday February 12, 2015. The UCONN-Reads UNIV 1820 course truly tapped into that reservoir where so much built up laughter could be found. This course creates a comfortable environment both physically (I’m referring to the every-so-comfortable chairs that litter ROWE 134) and mentally because of the discussion nature of the class.

                On this Thursday we began the class with a beautiful discussion about our favorite food stories. The discussion struck almost every emotion; the humorous stories of burnt hams and bread baking experiments, the impressive stories of eating contests, and the personal stories of missing holiday meals with family members and first experiences with food. There was laughter, there were silent moments of respect, and there were humorous side-bar comments that filled the room with the recipe for a perfect discussion.

                Following the general group discussion, which really embodied a preschool-reminiscent, show-and-tell scene, the group split up and began analyzing the introduction and first chapter of Michael Pollan’s bestselling novel, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. It was at this time where the power of laughter was seen as it carried us into intense conversations were the meaning of certain quotes was discussed and what Pollan was trying to say in this unique introduction. These conversations brought us to the end of our allotted time break and following some brief reminders, the group of young adults dispersed across campus; hopefully getting through the day riding the laughter that they just experienced.

“Heavenly Doughnuts,” “Lollipops,” and Undergraduates Excited to Discuss Art

In The Omnivore’s Dilemma (2006) Michael Pollan characterizes United States residents as “a notably unhealthy people obsessed by the idea of living healthily” (3). The Sweet Sensation exhibition showing January 22 – March 29, 2015 at the University of Connecticut’s William Benton Museum of Art challenges patrons to recognize how this experience can be a product of their personal daily dietary choices. Upon entering the central gallery, contemporary regional artwork tempts guests to confront and interrogate their desires for the sweet, salty, fatty, processed, and often corn-derived treats that inspired the pieces.

“‘Lollipops’ by Margaret Morrison really pulled me in. It’s full of these hypnotizing swirls and enticing colors, and was accompanied by an excerpt about how everything we eat is made of corn. I think this piece speaks to both the fact that processing food really makes us have no idea what we’re eating and also that the packaging, the colorful “hypnotism” … makes us not really care that we don’t know.” FYE Student reproduced with permission

Other class favorites from this exhibit included Margaret Morrison’s “Chocolate Cheesecake,” that one student admired for “the attention to detail and technique,” which they thought were “extraordinary” (FYE Student reproduced with permission). Giant, partially eaten, boxes of chocolates and doughnuts, chicken with waffles (that some students are now excited to try), and rows of cereal boxes covered in glittering, sugary glass powder also drew a lot of interest, speculation, and debate.

As a teacher, the most exciting part of this museum tour for me was that first-year students from a wide variety of majors and backgrounds looked truly engaged by this opportunity to explore the artwork, ask questions, and talk about their interpretations with their peers. At one point our endlessly patient, knowledgeable guide, the museum’s Registrar and Assistant Curator, had to pause her description of a work until she could be heard over multiple excited exclamations of “ooh, look at this over here!”

Although the current exhibits, Sweet Sensation and In The Paint: Basketball In Contemporary Art, stirred the most undeniable enthusiasm, paintings from the Benton’s historical collections were frequently the topics of meaningful reflection and questions. For some students these works were the most inspiring part of the day.

“I really liked ‘Venus Admonishing Cupid” by Benjamin West. It caught my attention immediately because it was beautifully painted. The tears and her body looked extremely real. The mythological story behind it, Jupiter carrying Venus off as a beautiful white bull is quite fascinating” – FYE Student reproduced with permission

On a less academic note, others were incredibly excited for the free toothbrushes in the lobby. The front desk liaison explained that these were provided by Health and Dental Services to remind patrons that sugary sweets can also harm your teeth. But even if there hadn’t been a logical connection I think they would have been just as popular. College students do tend to love free stuff, after all. So leaving with a freebee was their icing on top of a wonderful day.

Thank you to the fabulous Benton Museum professional and student staff who were so kind to provide this personalized experience for our class. It was a great way to kick off our reading of the text and to connect with each other as intellectuals. I know that many of us will return to enjoy future exhibits and to read in your gorgeous, newly opened weekend study lounge. We appreciate your insights, kindness, and yes, the toothbrushes.

Giant Post-Its

Trust your students to make the right call: When students shape assignments

Meetings with faculty, favorite comfort food, field research, hot cocoa, potatoes, and blogging. We covered so much today in UNIV 1820 that it was almost as hard to decide what to write for this week as it was to leave after class was finished. But all-in-all my take-away from class is that first-year undergraduates are much more interesting and capable than, in my experience, many people recognize. My evidence? Today, probably without realizing, my mixed-major class set and advocated for the value of college-level writing expectations for one of their major assignments. My Teaching Assistant and I just let them loose, and they did the rest.

The Assignment: In this course students will receive writing guidance and feedback on a minimum of two Blackboard blog posts. The content will be wholly student-driven, consisting of each individual’s spin on coverage of one UConn Reads event on campus (attendance is required) and one weekly topic from class. An optional third blog post can be on any other UConn Reads event, class weekly topic, or approved alternative topic of relevance to the course. Only 1-3 students can cover any one topic, so that they can all have reasonable publication opportunities. Students are expected to read the blogs posted by their peers every week so that at the end of class they can nominate the blogs they want to be submitted for a publication opportunity, with the author’s permission. We will only pass on posts my TA and I approve that also receive confidential “yes” votes from more than 50% of the students.

Pre-Class Homework: To give them some frame of reference for this lesson, students were required to review at least two (somehow relevant) blogs prior to coming to class today. Students knew that they would need to give specific examples of what they though worked well and what was ineffective, but that was all.

In-Class Activity: In class today I explained the way voting would work for publication. And I emphasized that everyone would be accountable to the whole community of learners in our class because everyone will need to read the blog posts their peers create. And any published blog would represent out community. Their most important task of the day was to use what they learned from reading other blogs to collaboratively determine what “accountability” would look like, first in small groups, then all together. In other words, how will we differentiate a strong submission from a weak submission? This is what they created once the four small groups came together:

Characteristics of Strong Blogs Characteristics of Weak Blogs
Creativity / Originality “Copy and Paste”
Personal Anecdotes / Pictures Offensive Language
Respectful Controversy Uncited Sources
Engaging Grammar Mistakes
Clear Organization and Design No Personality
Relevant Content Repetition
Thought Provoking Solely Focusing on Self
Relatable, Conversational Tone Unsupported Opinions
High-Quality Images No Variety
Off Topic

Although they didn’t use the same terms we might use as instructors, I was impressed that they identified core writing elements that would be valued in their academic writing as much as a blog. Specifically, said they wanted to see voice, academic honesty, engagement with ongoing discourse, critical and creative thinking, professionalism, and well-supported arguments. Students most passionately spoke against plagiarism (though, not using the term) because it was seen as disrespectful of other writers, lacking meaningful engagement with the topic, and otherwise reprehensible work. Other students shared equally vehement arguments for proofreading final products, for rooting ideas in larger debates, and against forwarding unsupported arguments.

Needless to say, if I had created and disseminated a grading rubric I would have hit on all of the same standards my students developed for their assignment. But this exercise was infinitely more enjoyable. And because they have not only selected their prompts, but also their grading guidelines, I expect to have greater buy-in. I’m looking forward to reading their posts!

Values Cards

Who will survive the first day of class?: UConn Reads Wk 1

Why are you here?

What do you value above all else?

Who will survive?

We kicked off the first class of the semester with a few not-so-easy questions. Every person, myself included, started by introducing themselves and sharing why they came to college. Answers ranged from long-time expectations rooted in family and social pressure, to deep passions to learn or serve the world, and even just practically to obtain a job. I settled on some combination of  excitement for learning and stubbornness.

The first students who came to class helped me randomly distribute ten decks of values cards, small one-word cards with common major values. After the brief introductions, each student was asked to choose the four that meant the most to them personally, leaving all others behind on the tables. Once students returned to their seats I asked them to narrow their selection down to only one card. Groans rose from all corners of the room. Setting down the other three was difficult. With one card in hand, it was their task to meet at least two other people and talk through why they each picked the card they carried and what it meant to them.

Now that we were all becoming a community of friends I gave them the terrible news. The world as we knew it was about to end. Only the people in our classroom and eight other people from outside would survive the day. It was their job to decide first individually, then as a group, who they would invite into their bomb shelter and save to rebuild humanity. Two groups made their selections in time and lived to start again. The other two perished because they just couldn’t decide to let anyone on the list go…

Okay, maybe the world wasn’t really going to end. So why did we start class with these values activities? This semester our class will spend time exploring major questions about the environment, health, our connection to nature, ethics, and how we live our daily lives. To set a productive tone and the expectation of respectful debate, I wanted to open the class by acknowledging and embracing the fact that we will disagree — hopefully regularly. But this class will be a safe space explore big questions and challenge our perspectives.

…. And what will I teach?

This all led us to the biggest question of the day. What do you want from this class? It was the students’ job to select four major class topics. Cell phones out, they rapidly battled to fill up our calendar for the semester. The students have spoken, and they chose to include:

  1. UConn Cows: They wanted to learn about campus agriculture from the people in charge more than any other topic.
  2. Food, Health, & Illness: They wanted to know how what we eat influences our life-long wellness.
  3. Nature v. Technology: They want to look at the tensions between technological advances and natural practices.
  4. Sustainability: And finally they wanted to seriously talk about sustainability and how we can play a positive role in the world.

It’s already looking like it will be a great semester!