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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


The Hunger Games, May The Odds Be Ever In Your Income: Student Guest Blog

Wednesday, February 18th the College of Agriculture, Health, and Natural Resources College Ambassadors invited the University of Connecticut community to an Oxfam Hunger Banquet. According to their event website, “A Hunger Banquet is an event that focuses on worldwide hunger and poverty. It is an interactive dinner where the place that you sit and the meal that you eat are determined by the luck of the draw – just as in real life some of us are born into relative prosperity and others into poverty.” 

Because the UConn Reads book for this year, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, focuses on food, this was one of the first related events students were excited to attend on campus to continue learning beyond the classroom. For a first-head telling of one UNIV 1820, UConn Reads student’s experience enjoy the second (and final) Student Guest Blog for the week.

Author: Samantha Crystal

Shared with permission

The Oxfam American Hunger Banquet is an event that is hosted every year here at UConn. It was a truly eye-opening experience, one that I will never forget.

I showed up to the event with two of my friends, not knowing what to really expect nor having much insight into the amount of poverty that plagues this world. When we got to the sign in table, we had to grab a name tag that was color coded (either yellow, green or purple), which indicated what class we would be considered in for the banquet. The name tag also had the life story of someone who would typically be considered middle class throughout the world. This gave me a better understanding of what each class of people truly entailed, but I still had a lot to learn.

The large had room had three sections, and the first one that caught my eye was to the far left, where round tables with white tablecloths were set up. These tables had real silverware and glasses and flower arrangements adorning the middle of the area. This would indicate the upper class

To the far right, there were simply chairs set up as though we would be watching a show. No tables, no silverware, just chairs. This indicated the middle class.

Finally, between each of these arrangements, there was a large group of people sitting on the floor. This was where those assigned as lower class sat.

I picked up a green nametag, so I sat as the middle class, which I originally thought would not be much different from what I experience in my day-to-day life (I was wrong). The host of the program made a speech about how hunger is a problem prevalent in today’s society, and then she started calling people up based on the name on their name tags. They read the short description that was on the back of their tag out loud, and then because of certain circumstances — either good or bad — they switched classes. Some upper-class workers were told to move to the middle class, and some lower class workers were told to move to the middle-class. This was eye-opening in that even though one may be born into a certain class, they have the ability to change if they so choose.

When dinner was finally served, the upper class was served eggplant rollatini with rolls and lemon water, the middle class was served rice, beans and corn with lemon water, and the lower class was served the rice that was leftover from the middle class and “dirty” water.

There were two significant things that happened throughout the dinner that made the night more impactful for me. The first was when I noticed the people posing as the upper class giving some of their food to the lower class. This was eye opening in that it showed people’s willingness to help one another, despite being in different economic classes. In the upper class section of the room there were military personnel on guard, as if to signify the protection the upper class has in terms of healthcare, food, and education that none of the other classes have.

This event definitely had an impact on the way I think about different classes. When the host was describing made up each of the classes, she said the upper class was classified by making more than 6,500 dollars a year. This came as a shock to me, and made me think about the United States and how fortunate we are to be considered an “upper class” country. The disparity between classes is definitely more well-known in my eyes.


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.

“What should we have for dinner?” and Other Deceptively Simple Questions

“What should we have for dinner?” (Pollan 1)

“What should I eat?” … “What am I eating? And where did it come from? (Pollan 17)

In the opening chapters of The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A History of Four Meals (2006) Michael Pollan poses these deceptively simple questions. By the end of Pollan’s, and the reader’s, journey through food chains of the United States most of these questions are exposed as much more complicated than they first appear. I say most because by the end of the first chapter it becomes clear that the answer to “What am I eating?” is probably corn.

For a short introduction to the book and its impact on readers you can watch the video below. It walks you through the three sections — “Industrial: Corn,” “Pastoral: Grass,” and “Personal: The Forest” — and introduces you to the author.

“America’s Food Crisis: THE OMNIVORE’S DILEMMA” – THNKR

Published on YouTube July 1, 2012

This second video takes you on a trip through the grocery store that’s reminiscent of Chapter 1’s “A Naturalist in the Supermarket” (Pollan 15-19).

“Navigating the Supermarket Aisles with Michael Pollen and Michael Moss” – New York Times

Published on YouTube May 1, 2013

Pollan characterizes his book as a story “about the pleasures if eating, the kinds of pleasure that are only deepened by knowledge” (11). Today in UNIV 1820, UConn Reads we officially began the pursuit of knowledge about the origins of our food while sharing two giant bags of popcorn. (I just couldn’t resist.) In addition to reading the book and presenting on chapters in class each student will explore their connection to food in a way that’s meaningful and of value to them.

This individualized semester project is the core of the course. It consists of three components to be completed throughout the semester: 1) a preliminary interpretive project, 2) a mock grant proposal, 3) a public coffee house presentation event. Proposed topics include the origins of Hershey’s chocolate, steak around the word, and monoculture. Follow my blog to hear more about these and other Omnivore’s inspired intellectual adventures.

If you haven’t already picked up a copy of the book to join in the nation-wide UConn Reads initiative I hope this post will encourage you to give it a try.

“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!