University of Connecticut University of UC Title Fallback Connecticut

August, 2017

UConn Names VP for Research

Published by Hartford Business Journal on August 18, 2017

Radenka Maric has been appointed vice president for research at UConn and UConn Health, where she intends to grow the university’s research enterprise by increasing strategic connections within and beyond the university. Maric will focus on linking researchers across schools, departments and campuses to enable cross-disciplinary research that aligns with federal science and health initiatives, such as those for manufacturing technologies, microbiome research, and the National Institutes of Health’s recent BRAIN Initiative.

Prior to her new role, Maric served as executive director of UConn’s Innovation Partnership Building at the UConn Tech Park and leveraged more than $80 million in industry and federal agency projects. As vice president of research, the IPB will remain within the scope of Maric’s responsibilities and extends her ability to connect UConn with startups and industry leaders.

Maric is also the founder of a biotech startup based on her research.

New Program Pairs Undergraduates with UConn Health Researchers

Published by UConn Today on August 17, 2017

Chris DeFrancesco

Seeking a summer research opportunity to follow his freshman year, honors student Rohit Makol ’20 (ENG) had choices.

He applied for summer positions with – and heard back from – several UConn Health faculty. He chose the lab of David Martinelli, assistant professor of neuroscience, with whose work, as it turns out, Makol has a very personal connection.

Martinelli is studying the auditory system, specifically the outer hair cells in the inner ear.

“I have always wanted to learn more about this because it applies to me directly,” says Makol, a biomedical engineering major. “I have bilateral sensorineural hearing loss, which means that many of my cochlear hair cells are damaged.”

He has been working in the Martinelli lab since early June, spending much of his time working with mouse models as part of a larger effort to create a genetic tool to selectively manipulate outer hair cell afferent synapses, which carry a neuron’s message toward the central nervous system.

The research opportunity with Martinelli is part of the University’s Health Research Program, which debuted this year with the vision of providing health-related research opportunities to UConn undergraduates by pairing them with scientists in Farmington.

“My experience this summer has been a real-life application of Murphy’s Law: Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong,” Makol says. “I’ve seen this happen on numerous occasions this summer with some of the minor setbacks we have encountered in our experiments. I have learned the importance of being persistent, because it pays off in the long run. If it wasn’t for my stubbornness, dedication, and hard work this summer, I don’t think that this experience would have been as rewarding.”

One of those rewards was obtaining publishable results in the space of about 10 weeks.

“Rohit has been the best imaginable student to have in my lab,” Martinelli says. “He did not have the typical undergraduate lab experience, in which the student serves as an assistant to a project already in motion. As a new professor, I am starting projects from the ground up. Rohit literally developed the assays and techniques that my lab will be using for years to come.”

Makol is one of 40 undergraduate students who spent this summer as research assistants to UConn Health faculty. Like most of the others, he will continue that work as part of his fall course load.

“The Health Research Program is a great opportunity to explore different fields of medical research working alongside leading experts,” he says. “Dr. Martinelli’s interactive teaching approach has allowed me to learn a variety of things and skills in such a short amount of time.”

The Health Research Program started as a pilot in January, with 17 students matched with UConn Health faculty and spending six to nine hours a week in the lab in Farmington. When the semester ended, 16 stayed on to work full-time during the summer break (the 17th had another opportunity for the summer and is rejoining the program this fall). Students in the program over the summer receive a $4,000 stipend to cover living and travel expenses.

“We’re looking to create a structure that allows students to work with faculty mentors over an extended period of time, intensively in the summer and extending that into the academic year,” says Caroline McGuire, director of the Office of Undergraduate Research in Storrs, which oversees the program. “This complements other University initiatives and is part of UConn’s research excellence.”

The Health Research Program is jointly funded by the Office of the Provost, the Office of the Vice President for Research, and the UConn Schools of Medicine and Dental Medicine.

“One of the things we’ve been really pleased with is the strong interest we’ve seen from UConn Health faculty across the schools and departments,” McGuire says. “We have a little niche in the overall territory of research programs that are happening up at UConn Health, and it’s been really great to see the collaboration between campuses.”

Students also have shown strong interest, indicated by the hundreds who’ve applied already. McGuire says the program also should serve as a recruitment tool for UConn Health by drawing prospective medical, dental, and graduate school students.

Another undergraduate who had been looking to spend the summer doing research is honors student Alexandra Grimaldi ’18 (CAHNR, CLAS), a dual-degree senior studying English and allied health sciences with a concentration in public health and health promotion. She is passionate about universal access to health care, and driven to improve the infrastructure of the American health care system.

This past spring, she learned of an opportunity in the UConn Health lab of Julie Robison in the UConn Center on Aging. She would assist with studying Money Follows the Person, a Medicaid program designed to help those in a long-term care facility return to the community. It was a full-time commitment with a stipend.

“I knew that this would be a perfect fit for me,” says Grimaldi, who plans to pursue a master’s degree in public health. “I am very interested in research related to health policy implementation and efficacy, which is exactly the kind of research that Dr. Robison is doing in the Center on Aging. I was really excited to do actual quantitative and qualitative research on exactly how effective this program is.”

When Grimaldi wasn’t interviewing people in the Money Follows the Person program to collect data for the research, she was helping implement and distribute surveys and coding the results.

“This program gave me the opportunity to work with incredible mentors in my field, increased my confidence in my potential for a career in health care research, and allowed me to see what that career would look like,” Grimaldi says. “It allowed me to really know that I’m on the right path to doing what I want to do for the rest of my life.”

Like Makol, Grimaldi is returning to the lab in a part-time role this fall to continue her work. She says she hopes to apply what she’s learned to her senior thesis in the spring.

UConn Sports Safety Advocates Urge States to Adopt Lifesaving Measures

Published by UConn Today on August 8, 2017

Colin Poitras

Many states across the country are not fully implementing important safety guidelines intended to protect student-athletes from heat stroke, sudden cardiac arrest, and other potentially life-threatening conditions, researchers with the UConn’s Korey Stringer Institute announced today.

With more than 7.8 million high school students participating in sanctioned sports each year, it is vital that individual states begin taking proper steps to ensure their high school athletes are protected, said Professor Douglas Casa, executive director of the Korey Stringer Institute, a national sports safety research and advocacy organization based at UConn.

The call for action came as UConn researchers announced the results of what is believed to be the first comprehensive state-by-state assessment of high school sports health and safety polices today at NFL Headquarters. The NFL is a sponsor of the Korey Stringer Institute.

Each state received a percentage score based on the extent to which it met a series of evidence-based best practice guidelines addressing the four leading causes of sudden death among secondary school athletes. Those causes are: sudden cardiac arrest, traumatic head injuries, exertional heat stroke, and exertional sickling, a potentially deadly medical emergency occurring in athletes carrying the sickle cell trait.

The guidelines – endorsed by leading sports medicine organizations in the United States – recommend, at bare minimum, that all states implement the following health and safety policies for secondary school athletics:

1. Automatic external defibrillators and certified athletic trainers on site at all athletic events.

2. Phasing in summer practices and taking other steps to protect athletes from heat stroke.

3. Training coaches on concussion symptoms.

4. Detailed emergency action plans for all life-threatening emergencies.

5. Mandated screening of athletes for sickle cell trait.

KEY FINDINGS: North Carolina has the most comprehensive health and safety policies, with a top score of 79 percent. Colorado has the fewest policies, with a score of 23 percent. The median state score was 47 percent. States ranked in the top 10 percent with a score of 60 percent or higher were North Carolina (79%), Kentucky (71%), Massachusetts (67%), New Jersey (67%), and South Dakota (61%). States representing the bottom 10 percent, with a score of 34 percent or lower, were Minnesota (33%), Montana (33%), Iowa (33%), California (26%), and Colorado (23%).

“We know the implementation of these important health and safety policies has dramatically reduced sport-related fatalities at both the collegiate and national level,” Casa said. “We hope these findings will motivate states to take appropriate action to protect the tens of thousands of young athletes in their care.”

Between 1982 and 2015, there were 735 fatalities and 626 catastrophic injuries among high school athletes. Research has shown that nearly 90 percent of all sudden death in sports is caused by four conditions: sudden cardiac arrest, traumatic head injury, exertional heat stroke, and exertional sickling. Adopting evidence-based safety measures significantly reduces these risks. States that have mandatory heat acclimatization guidelines, for example, have completely eliminated exertional heat stroke deaths since the policies were implemented.

ADDRESSING THE PROBLEM: Unlike national organizations such as the NCAA and NFL, the National Federation of State High School Associations has no governing authority over an individual state’s health and safety policies for secondary schools. Each state has the autonomy to develop and implement its own health and safety policies, which are voted upon by a state’s high school athletic association, based on recommendations from a sports medicine advisory committee or via state legislation.

Many state high school athletic associations responsible for adopting health and safety policies lack members with appropriate medical expertise, a situation researchers at the Korey Stringer Institute say needs to change.

“The policies and procedures for minimizing the risk of sudden death in sports need to be managed by the sports medicine advisory committee in each state and not the state high school athletic associations,” says William Adams, the lead researcher on the study and a former vice president of sport safety for the Korey Stringer Institute. Adams is currently an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. “Placing oversight responsibility with a medical advisory committee ensures that those with the most knowledge of serious sport injuries are the ones making the final decisions on these potentially life-saving practices.”

Adams points out that the National Federation of State High School Associations oversees rules pertaining to sportsmanship, fair play, equipment requirements, and other areas for 16 different high school sports across the country. While those rules are meant to protect athletes from direct traumatic injuries to the face, skull, neck, and brain, they do not address indirect causes of death such as sudden cardiac arrest and exertional heat stroke.

“It is our hope, indeed our plea, for the state high school athletic associations to adopt these life-saving best practices to protect the health and well-being of the seven million high school athletes participating in sports across the country every year,” said Casa.

The full study and more details regarding each state’s assessment can be found here. The study will appear in the September issue of The Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine.

UConn Study: Fast-Food Restaurants Not Promoting Healthy Kids’ Meal Options

Published by UConn Today on August 10, 2017

Daniel P. Jones, UConn Rudd Center, and Bret Eckhardt & Elizabeth Caron, University Communications

A new study evaluating major U.S. fast-food restaurant chains’ pledges to offer healthier kids’ meal drinks and sides shows inconsistent implementation at the chains’ individual restaurant locations. In addition, promotion of healthier items varied widely between the chains examined, according to a new report from the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut.

“Since 2013, the fast-food restaurants we examined have made changes to offer and promote healthier drink and side options for kids’ meals,” says Jennifer Harris, associate professor of allied health sciences, director of marketing initiatives for the UConn Rudd Center, and lead author of the report. “Still, about one-third of menu boards inside the restaurants we examined continued to list sugary soda and other soft drinks as an option for kids’ meals. And perhaps more importantly, there was wide variation in whether customers were offered the healthier options when they ordered a kids’ meal.”

“Some personnel at all the chains examined continued to give customers a cup for a soft drink and/or french fries with kids’ meal orders without offering any healthier options – despite the pledges,” she adds.

The new study evaluated implementation of pledges made since 2013 by McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway, Wendy’s, KFC, and Dairy Queen to remove sugar-sweetened fountain drinks from their menu boards and/or offer healthier drinks and sides with kids’ meals.

Researchers analyzed kids’ meal drink and side items listed on the chains’ websites; kids’ meal drink and side items listed and pictured on menu boards and on signs at a sample of individual restaurants; and drinks and sides offered by individual restaurant personnel when mystery shoppers ordered kids’ meals. To assess changes over time, results were compared to data collected in 2010 and 2013.

Healthier drinks and sides included 100 percent juice, low-fat milk, and water, non-fried fruits and vegetables, and other options. Unhealthy options included sugar-sweetened soda and other fountain drinks, fried potatoes, and desserts.

Key results of the study include:

  • In 2016, none of the restaurant chains examined listed sugary soda and other soft drinks on the kids’ meal menus posted on their websites, a notable improvement from 2013, when all restaurants except Subway listed them. In addition, all chains listed at least one healthier kids’ meal drink, such as low-fat plain milk, 100 percent juice, and/or water.
  • All chains also listed at least one healthier side item on their websites’ kids’ meal menus, including fresh fruit, applesauce, and/or yogurt. However, all restaurants except Subway continued to list unhealthy kids’ meal side items too, such as french fries or desserts, on their websites’ kids’ meal menus.
  • Individual restaurants at all chains consistently listed healthier drink and side options on their kids’ meal menu boards inside restaurants in 2016. However, despite pledges to remove sugary soda and other soft drinks from kids’ meal menus, approximately one-third or more of restaurants visited at each chain also continued to list these drinks for kids’ meals on menu boards.
  • Some personnel at all restaurant chains continued to only offer sugary soda and other soft drink options with kids’ meal orders, ranging from 16 percent to 18 percent of orders at McDonald’s, Burger King, and Subway, to 44 percent of orders at KFC and Wendy’s, and 67 percent of Dairy Queen orders.
  • Just 8 percent of restaurant personnel at Burger King and 22 percent at Wendy’s offered the restaurants’ healthier kids’ meal side options, compared with 100 percent of orders at McDonald’s.  However, at all three restaurants, the majority of kids’ meal orders automatically received french fries – ranging from 68 percent at McDonald’s (the chain’s kids’ meals come with two side items) to 90 percent at Burger King.

The evaluation found that restaurants have increased the number of healthier side and drink options available with kids’ meals, but customers often received sugary soda and other soft drinks and/or french fries automatically when they ordered a kids’ meal. When restaurant personnel suggested the healthier options, they typically offered them as one of several choices, often together with unhealthy options.

“Restaurant chains should do more to actively encourage customers to purchase their healthier kids’ meal drinks and sides at the point of sale,” Harris says. “Offering healthy drinks and sides as the default with kids’ meals would make them the easiest choice for parents, and help improve the nutrition quality of fast food consumed by children.”

Support for this research was provided by Healthy Eating Research, a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foundation.

Report co-authors include Maia Hyary, Nicole Seymour, and Yoon-Young Choi of the UConn Rudd Center.

UConn CIRCA Grant to City of Hartford Launches Sustainability Office and City’s First Climate Action Plan

Published by UConn CIRCA on August 9, 2017

Taylor Mayes

“The hundreds of people who have provided input into this Plan should have our sincere thanks. In particular, I wanted to recognize and thank the volunteer members of the Climate Stewardship Council and the staff of Hartford’s Office of Sustainability, created in my office in 2017 thanks to generous funding from the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, Partners for Places and UConn’s Connecticut Institute for Climate Resilience and Adaptation.” – Mayor Bronin (Hartford’s Climate Action Plan)

Mayor Bronin made that statement when the City of Hartford released their very first Climate Action Plan on July 25, 2017. This is a big achievement for the City as the plan highlights six action areas essential to its sustainable growth: energy, food, landscape, transportation, waste and water. The goal of the plan is to make “incremental but consistent progress in each of the areas” utilizing the resources that they have, and making decisions that are consistent with their three shared values: public health, economic development, and social equity.

CIRCA’s grant made it possible for the City of Hartford to create the Office of Sustainability, which released the Plan. CIRCA awarded the City of Hartford funds through our Municipal Resilience Grant Program to create a one-year Green Infrastructure Specialist position with the City. The Green Infrastructure Specialist will help Hartford not only respond to threats of flooding, but also strategize proactively for the future by evaluating and advancing green infrastructure projects. The Green Infrastructure Specialist position together with a Sustainability Coordinator makes up the Office of Sustainability, which is entirely funded by external grants.

Upon awarding the CIRCA Municipal Resilience Grant to Hartford, CIRCA Executive Director, Jim O’Donnell said, “There really is no better way to enhance the resilience of a city’s stormwater management system to the effects of climate change than to invest in green infrastructure and reduce the amount of water going into the system in the first place. This approach also improves the environment in the City for its citizens and visitors. I look forward to seeing the results of the Mayor’s initiative replicated in other parts of the state.”

The Climate Stewardship Initiative was already making great success through the Climate Stewardship Council, however, the City realized that what they needed to improve the execution of some of their goals was more specific expertise. The City identified the creation of the Green Infrastructure Specialist and Sustainability Coordinator positions to fulfill this need. These positions would strategize ways to deal with infrastructure risks such as flooding and wastewater management, as well as building on existing grants and partnerships – all the while taking full advantage of the political and institutional interest in sustainable cities. The positions could not be filled within the existing City budget, therefore CIRCA’s funding made it possible for them to move from initiative to implementation. The Climate Action Plan is one of the first steps in that process. The Plan demonstrates how investing in municipal projects and policies can generate even more co-benefits and benchmarking moments for a municipality in the long-term.

The Climate Stewardship Initiative exemplifies the importance of supporting our state’s urban communities as they adapt to climate change and lower their environmental footprint, while also helping make them better places to live. We agree with UConn Law Professor and Chair of the Hartford Climate Stewardship Council Sara Bronin that, “Having a clean environment isn’t just for the New York Cities and San Franciscos of the world. Citizens in smaller, more challenged cities like Hartford also deserve a healthy, clean environment — and the improved quality of life that goes with it.” (Hartford Courant, 2017)

Congratulations to Hartford on their new Climate Action Plan!

Municipal Resilience Grant Program Accepting Applications

Do you want to help your community become more resilient to the impacts of climate change? CIRCA is currently accepting applications for our next round of funding through the Municipal Resilience Grant Program. Applications are due by September 1, 2017.

CIRCA runs several research projects that provide actionable science and engineering for decision-making and solutions in Connecticut. You can find all of our projects here: http://circa.uconn.edu/projects-products/.

UConn Sports Safety Advocates Urge States to Adopt Lifesaving Measures

Published by UConn Today on August 8, 2017

Colin Poitras

Many states across the country are not fully implementing important safety guidelines intended to protect student-athletes from heat stroke, sudden cardiac arrest, and other potentially life-threatening conditions, researchers with the UConn’s Korey Stringer Institute announced today.

With more than 7.8 million high school students participating in sanctioned sports each year, it is vital that individual states begin taking proper steps to ensure their high school athletes are protected, said Professor Douglas Casa, executive director of the Korey Stringer Institute, a national sports safety research and advocacy organization based at UConn.

The call for action came as UConn researchers announced the results of what is believed to be the first comprehensive state-by-state assessment of high school sports health and safety polices today at NFL Headquarters. The NFL is a sponsor of the Korey Stringer Institute.

Each state received a percentage score based on the extent to which it met a series of evidence-based best practice guidelines addressing the four leading causes of sudden death among secondary school athletes. Those causes are: sudden cardiac arrest, traumatic head injuries, exertional heat stroke, and exertional sickling, a potentially deadly medical emergency occurring in athletes carrying the sickle cell trait.

The guidelines – endorsed by leading sports medicine organizations in the United States – recommend, at bare minimum, that all states implement the following health and safety policies for secondary school athletics:

1. Automatic external defibrillators and certified athletic trainers on site at all athletic events.

2. Phasing in summer practices and taking other steps to protect athletes from heat stroke.

3. Training coaches on concussion symptoms.

4. Detailed emergency action plans for all life-threatening emergencies.

5. Mandated screening of athletes for sickle cell trait.

KEY FINDINGS: North Carolina has the most comprehensive health and safety policies, with a top score of 79 percent. Colorado has the fewest policies, with a score of 23 percent. The median state score was 47 percent. States ranked in the top 10 percent with a score of 60 percent or higher were North Carolina (79%), Kentucky (71%), Massachusetts (67%), New Jersey (67%), and South Dakota (61%). States representing the bottom 10 percent, with a score of 34 percent or lower, were Minnesota (33%), Montana (33%), Iowa (33%), California (26%), and Colorado (23%).

“We know the implementation of these important health and safety policies has dramatically reduced sport-related fatalities at both the collegiate and national level,” Casa said. “We hope these findings will motivate states to take appropriate action to protect the tens of thousands of young athletes in their care.”

Between 1982 and 2015, there were 735 fatalities and 626 catastrophic injuries among high school athletes. Research has shown that nearly 90 percent of all sudden death in sports is caused by four conditions: sudden cardiac arrest, traumatic head injury, exertional heat stroke, and exertional sickling. Adopting evidence-based safety measures significantly reduces these risks. States that have mandatory heat acclimatization guidelines, for example, have completely eliminated exertional heat stroke deaths since the policies were implemented.

ADDRESSING THE PROBLEM: Unlike national organizations such as the NCAA and NFL, the National Federation of State High School Associations has no governing authority over an individual state’s health and safety policies for secondary schools. Each state has the autonomy to develop and implement its own health and safety policies, which are voted upon by a state’s high school athletic association, based on recommendations from a sports medicine advisory committee or via state legislation.

Many state high school athletic associations responsible for adopting health and safety policies lack members with appropriate medical expertise, a situation researchers at the Korey Stringer Institute say needs to change.

“The policies and procedures for minimizing the risk of sudden death in sports need to be managed by the sports medicine advisory committee in each state and not the state high school athletic associations,” says William Adams, the lead researcher on the study and a former vice president of sport safety for the Korey Stringer Institute. Adams is currently an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. “Placing oversight responsibility with a medical advisory committee ensures that those with the most knowledge of serious sport injuries are the ones making the final decisions on these potentially life-saving practices.”

Adams points out that the National Federation of State High School Associations oversees rules pertaining to sportsmanship, fair play, equipment requirements, and other areas for 16 different high school sports across the country. While those rules are meant to protect athletes from direct traumatic injuries to the face, skull, neck, and brain, they do not address indirect causes of death such as sudden cardiac arrest and exertional heat stroke.

“It is our hope, indeed our plea, for the state high school athletic associations to adopt these life-saving best practices to protect the health and well-being of the seven million high school athletes participating in sports across the country every year,” said Casa.

The full study and more details regarding each state’s assessment can be found here. The study will appear in the September issue of The Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine.

UConn Study Says Some Land Conservation Measures Are Unpopular Among Property Owners

Published by UConn Today on August 7, 2017

Judy Benson

While popular with conservation groups, coastal easements that prevent development in order to protect marshland from changes brought about by climate change are not favored by property owners, according to a new study by the University of Connecticut and Virginia Tech.

The findings, based on the results of surveys conducted in 2015 of 1,002 owners of Connecticut coastal properties, suggest that relying on education about rising sea levels and the ecosystem benefits of marshes alone will not protect land from future changes. Since private landowners are critical partners in efforts to save coastal marshes, identifying the best strategies will be essential to success.

The study, conducted by Christopher Field and Chris Elphick of UConn and Ashley Dayer of Virginia Tech, followed two major storms – Hurricane Irene in 2011 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012 – providing a valid measure of whether experience influences attitudes about taking action to lessen future risks.

Landowners in the study indicated skepticism about granting easements based on concerns as to whether they will be offered a fair price in exchange for keeping land as open space where marshes can migrate as seas rise. They also indicated worry that environmental organizations “might not act fairly or transparently in their efforts to encourage tidal marsh migration,” the researchers write in an article published in the Aug. 7  issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

In the study area alone – the Connecticut coast – there are an estimated 30,000 landowners in the zone projected to become tidal marsh by 2100, and millions of people globally live near tidal marshes. Whether they decide to leave room for marshes to move inland or instead build seawalls that harden shorelines means the difference between saving tidal wetlands and their many ecological, economic, and recreational benefits, or losing them altogether.

While surveyed landowners whose properties flooded during the hurricane were 1.4 times more likely to say they may be willing to sell their vulnerable land outright, the real world results call those stated intentions into question. Federal buyout programs after both hurricanes acquired fewer than 100 properties in the study area, although many more were eligible, the study states.

If land protection agreements with nonprofits and government agencies aren’t the answer, what offers greater promise for the future of marshes?

Surveyed landowners responded favorably to the idea of restrictive covenants, even though they typically do not include financial incentives. Under restrictive covenants, an entire neighborhood agrees to forgo building seawalls and other shoreline armoring structures. However, note the researchers, these strategies tend to be counterproductive in the long run, because they divert erosion and flooding to adjoining properties.

Coastal landowners also liked the notion of future interest agreements. Under these programs, private landowners agree to accept the fair market value of their property at the time of signing if future flooding reduces the value by more than half. That future flooding would mean dry upland has been allowed to turn into coastal marsh.

The study was funded by Connecticut Sea Grant, UConn, and the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. Field is a postdoctoral fellow in the UConn Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology; Elphick is an associate professor of conservation biology in the UConn ecology and evolutionary biology department and the Center of Biological Risk; and Dayer is assistant professor of human dimensions at Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment.

The article, “Landowner behavior can determine the success of conservation strategies for ecosystem migration under sea-level rise,” offers broad implications for how to best design programs to mitigate other climate change effects. But further analysis is needed, say the researchers.

UConn Program Gives College Students Real-World Experience

Published by the New Britain Herald on August 6, 2017

Charles Paullin

NEW BRITAIN – Two students from Central Connecticut are getting real-world experience while pursuing careers in their fields of interest.

Ethan Cope of Kensington and George Andrews of Terryville recently participated in the University of Connecticut Technology Incubation Program (TIP), a summer immersion fellowship program.

“It’s not your usual experience; there’s a lot more put onto you,” said Cope, who earned his master’s degree in microsystems analysis in June before beginning dental school at UConn.

“Because it was with a small startup, you were exposed to so many different fields” said Andrews, who is entering his junior year, majoring in biomedical engineering.

The 10-week program, consisting of 18 students sponsored by their respective academic departments and based at the Cell and Genome Sciences Building of the UConn health facility in Farmington, pairs Connecticut startup companies with UConn undergraduates, graduate and recent graduates.

“When you’re in kind of a startup environment and there’s less people in the company, you might be doing a lot more than what you initially expected,” said Cope. “You kind of open your mind and explore opportunities more openly.”

Cope worked with Oral Fluid Dynamics and tested how sterilization affected a membrane flux and salt rejection for a medical device that he wasn’t allowed to go into specifics on because the product is still in early stages of development.

This meant coordinating the effort to procure membranes from Yale University, testing them on the variable sterilization methods and then returning them to Yale for study on the findings.

“I never thought I might go into sales, but now I may,” said Andrews.

Andrews worked with Avitus Orthopedics in the sales department, coordinating its marketing effort and scheduling meetings with doctors to discuss the distribution of a unique bone harvesting device.

This involved taking a trip to Johns Hopkins University in Maryland to test the product and learning the technique of cold-calling doctors to sell the product.

Throughout the program, seminars were held.

The program culminated with a Research Day at the headquarters, where MaryJane Rafii, a leader in the biotech industry, gave a keynote speech.

TIP Companies Help UConn Students “Start Up” Their Careers

Published by UConn Innovation Portal

Jessica McBride

One day after national Start Up Day, 18 UConn students presented their experiences working with startup companies housed in UConn’s own Technology Incubation Program (TIP). The annual Summer Fellowship Research Day took place at the newly expanded TIP facility in Farmington at UConn Health.

For the past six years, academic departments at UConn and UConn Health have provided funding for UConn graduate and undergraduate students to gain research experience and be exposed to entrepreneurship with some of Connecticut’s high-potential technology startups. Students and startups engage in collaborations that offer students invaluable mentorships with experienced technology entrepreneurs and provide companies at UConn’s Technology Incubation Program with introductions to talented would-be employees.

Local entrepreneurs, faculty, university staff, an official from state government, family, and friends of the participants gathered at the Cell and Genome Sciences Building to hear what the students—and their mentors—learned over the course of the 10-week program.

All of the students, who come from both STEM and business fields, underscored the program’s uniqueness and the rare opportunity it provides young scientists and entrepreneurs.

“I had worked in scientific labs in the past, but this is my first experience with a startup,” said Joe Fetta, rising senior from the School of Nursing. “In a startup, you’re not only concerned with developing innovative science, you have to think about how to integrate your product into the market. It’s a whole new perspective.”

The contibutions the students made varied depending on their backgrounds and the companies’ needs. Some students told the crowd important about milestones they helped their companies meet.

“This summer I helped Avitus Orthopaedics gain entry into several new markets. Our technology is now being used by surgeons throughout New England and the mid-Atlantic” said Enuma Ezeife, an MBA candidate from UConn’s School of Business.

Ezeife spent her summer immersed in sales and marketing for Avitus Orthopaedics, a medical device company developing novel instruments for minimally invasive surgery. According to Avitus CEO, Neil Shah, the startups who participate in the program gain as much as the fellows.

“We have been blown away by the quality of the students in the UConn-TIP Summer Immersion Fellowship program. After only a few weeks, we felt comfortable having Enuma meet with potential clients on her own. She really learned to speak their language,” said Neil Shah, Avitus CEO. “We’re still in the process of refining our sales strategy, and it became clear quickly that Enuma and the other UConn students from the program could really add value.”

Since founding director and UConn Health associate professor, Dr. Caroline Dealy, began the program, it has grown from just a few aspiring student scientist/entrepreneurs to a robust class of 18 UConn students in 12 different TIP startup companies. A faculty entrepreneur herself, Dealy is thrilled that the program has been able to grow and provide hands-on career training for STEM and non-STEM students.

“This year we had over 200 applicants for less than two dozen spots. There is clearly an appetite for this type of experiential fellowship,” said Dealy. “Now these students understand that entrepreneurship is how new cures, technologies, and devices are made available as products and services that benefit society. We are thrilled that the collaboration between UConn’s Technology Incubation Program, the Connecticut Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation at the School of Business, and countless departments is allowing the program to continue to grow and expand.”

According to Dr. Radenka Maric, UConn’s Vice President for Research, the fellowship program is a win-win for both UConn students and UConn-TIP companies.

“Regardless of a chosen career path, entrepreneurial skills and abilities are highly valued and in-demand in today’s economy,” Maric said. “And we know that many of our UConn-TIP companies ultimately hire the student fellows they meet through the program as full-time employees, which helps Connecticut retain the talented young workforce educated in the state.”

State Representative Derek Slap, feels this is a critical part of growing the state’s economy. When speaking to the students, Slap encouraged them to put their new skills to use in Connecticut.

“You are doing amazing things. You represent the growth we need,” said Slap. “Instead of looking outside of Connecticut for your next opportunity, help strengthen our cities, help strengthen our state. We in the state legislature want to know what you need to make that possible.”

According to Dr. Mostafa Analoui, UConn’s executive director of venture development, the UConn-TIP Summer Immersion Fellowship is one of many methods utilized to support the mutual interests of the University, emerging companies like those housed at UConn-TIP, and the state of Connecticut.

“UConn’s Technology Incubation Program is the only university-based technology business incubator in the state and we have a proven record of success. UConn-TIP has helped over 90 companies that have raised $54 million in grants and $135 million in equity and debt since 2004,” Analoui said. “UConn-TIP helps new technology ventures accelerate business and scientific progress while leveraging UConn’s resources. We are committed to helping Connecticut companies grow and training the next generation of scientists and entrepreneurs for the state.”

2017 UConn-TIP Summer Immersion Fellowship Participants

  • Jayant Kanchinadham, M.B.A. candidate, School of Business
    TIP Mentor Company: Shoreline Biome
  • Kseniia Poiarkina, M.B.A. candidate, School of Business
    TIP Mentor Company: CaroGen Corporation
  • Enuma Ezeife, M.B.A. candidate, School of Business
    TIP Mentor Company:  Avitus Orthopedics
  • Ethan Cope, M.S., Professional Science Masters’ program, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences; matriculating D.M.D candidate, School of Dental Medicine
    TIP Mentor Company:  Oral Fluid Dynamics
  • Vijay Kodumudi, M.D. candidate, School of Medicine
    TIP Mentor Company: CaroGen Corporation
  •  Alex Gojmerac, M.S., Professional Science Masters’ program, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences
    TIP Mentor Company: Azitra
  • Ciera Hunter, B.S. candidate, Physiology/Neurobiology, College Liberal Art Sciences
    TIP Mentor Company: Connecticut Children’s Medical Center Innovation Center
  • Brendan Clark, PharmD candidate, School of Pharmacy
    TIP Mentor Company: Reinesse
  • Joe Fetta, B.S. candidate, School of Nursing
    TIP Mentor Company: Reinesse
  • George Andrews, B.S. candidate, Biomedical Engineering, School of Engineering
    TIP Mentor Company:  Avitus Orthopedics
  • Rosalie Bordett, B.S., Biomedical Engineering, School of Engineering
    TIP Mentor Company:  Connecticut Children’s Medical Center Innovation Center
  • Rachel Crossley, B.S. candidate: Pathobiology, College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources
    TIP Mentor Company: Torigen Pharmaceuticals
  • Meghan Farrell, B.S. candidate, Communications, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences
    TIP Mentor Company: Diameter Health
  • Stephanie Gomez, B.S. candidate, Medical Lab Sciences, College of Agriculture, Health & Natural Resources
    TIP Mentor Company: Medisynergics
  • Alyssa Matz, B.S. candidate, Molecular & Cell Biology, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences
    TIP Mentor Company: Torigen Pharmaceuticals
  • Orvy Polanco, B.S. candidate, Mechanical Engineering, School of Engineering
    TIP Mentor Company: Innovation Cooperative 3D (IC3D)
  • Taylore Westbrook, B.S. candidate, Computer Science & Engineering, School of Engineering
    TIP Mentor Company: Biorasis
  • Hao Xu, 2nd year Pharmacy candidate, School of Pharmacy
    TIP Mentor Company: Biorasis

UConn Research: Talking Baseball Assists Aging Adults with Dementia

Published by UConn Today on July 31, 2017

Kenneth Best

For many aging adults some of their strongest childhood memories may be linked to playing baseball, talking about games, or going to see their favorite Major League team with their father.

UConn researcher Michael Ego, professor of human development and family studies at the Stamford campus, is studying the effectiveness of using baseball as part of reminiscence therapy for aging adults now affected by dementia, the decline in age-related memory loss including Alzheimer’s Disease that also causes individuals to require assistance from a caregiver.

Earlier this year Ego, who has conducted a variety of research in gerontology and elder care, developed the Baseball Reminiscence Program with the staff of the River House Adult Care Center in Cos Cob, Connecticut. The program is based on similar activities he studied in Austin, Texas, and St. Louis, Missouri, as well as similar programs he observed during a visit to Scotland focused on soccer, golf, and cricket.

The thing that inspires me … is the smiles, laughter, and satisfaction these individuals get from sitting around talking about baseball with their peers.— Michael Ego

“We did have programs that were reminiscence, whether on art, current events, trips, or travel; anything that can jog some memories, get the brain going, and give people an emotional response,” says Donna Spellman, executive director of River House. “What we have found really interesting here is that sometimes there are more women in the room than there are men. They are equally as emotional and connected to baseball as a culture.”

The one-hour sessions earlier this year took place at River House every other week from April through July. A group of six men and six women participated in memory-linked traditions such as reciting the Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag and singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the midway point of the hour, designated as the “Seventh Inning Stretch.” In between, Ego and several peer volunteers led discussions about participants’ experiences with the game, answering questions about baseball trivia, notable players, and the history of the game.

The “Seventh Inning Stretch” at the River House Adult Care Center in Cos Cobb, Connecticut, is when participants in the Baseball Reminiscence Program sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the midway point during their session. (Kenneth Best/UConn Photo)
The ‘Seventh Inning Stretch’ at the River House Adult Care Center is when participants in the Baseball Reminiscence Program sing ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame’ during the midway point of their session. (Kenneth Best/UConn Photo)

“I wasn’t surprised how it evolved in Cos Cob because wherever I was previously, there is some trigger that opens people up about what they enjoy,” says Ego. “We just finished the second session. They love it; enjoy it. They’re engaged. With this disease, there is difficulty to get them to engage. The interaction is just very positive.”

During a session in a conference room at River House in late June, Ego conducted what he describes as a “values exercise,” asking everyone around the table for a response to words or phrases often used in baseball or other sports competition. If the person asked struggles for words, or does not answer the question, someone offers a hint or offers the answer.

Ego asked a woman who is a longtime fan of the New York Mets to respond to “Somebody has to win,” and she said, “That’s for sure. Must be the Mets!” and drawing laughter around the table.

Michael Ego, professor of human development and family studies at UConn’s Stamford campus, has developed the Baseball Reminiscence Program for clients with dementia at River House Adult Care Center in Cos Cobb, Connecticut. (Kenneth Best/UConn Photo)
Michael Ego, professor of human development and family studies at UConn’s Stamford campus, has developed the Baseball Reminiscence Program for clients with dementia at River House Adult Care Center in Cos Cobb, Connecticut. (Kenneth Best/UConn Photo)

Later, participants watched video highlights about the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, which operated during World War II and was depicted in the Penny Marshall film “A League of Their Own.” They also saw highlights of “Pitch,” the television show based on a real-life female pitcher in minor league baseball, that aired briefly earlier this year. One of the cast members in “Pitch” was UConn alum Dan Lauria ’91 MFA, best known for his role in “The Wonder Years.”

Business consultant Frank Schipani became a volunteer for the reminiscence group after auditing Ego’s “Baseball and Society” class in Stamford. He has a collection of baseball memorabilia, and Ego has designated him as the program’s “bench coach,” the in-game advisor and second-in-command to the team manager in professional baseball.

He says that after noticing two men in the group were hesitant to participate in some of the group conversations, he brought in some old photos of players from the New York Yankees.

“I brought out the photos. They leaped up, saying that’s Yogi Berra, he was No. 8, the guy who said, if you come to a fork in the road, take it,” Schipani recalls. “My heart filled up. I showed other pictures of Yankees. I knew there were Red Sox fans in Connecticut. I took out a big photo of Ted Williams. The same guy responded, saying that’s Ted Williams; he was the last guy to bat .400 in the Major Leagues.

“This works, what we’re doing here,” Schipani adds.On July 20, the most recent session of the program concluded when participants traveled to Citi Field in Queens, New York, to see the New York Mets play the St. Louis Cardinals during a day game, which the home team won in the bottom of the ninth inning. The group had prime seats in a private box, courtesy of the Steven A. and Alexandra M. Cohen Foundation, and enjoyed a ballpark lunch of hot dogs, chicken tenders, and Cracker Jacks.

Augusta Hoffman attended the game with her father, Burton, who participates in the Baseball Reminiscence Program. She says the former businessman looks forward to attending the sessions.

“Anything that gets neurons to connect is good,” she says. “He watches baseball every night at home. I tell him, every single thing they do has a purpose. Nothing is by accident. He’s well aware he’s not functioning at 100 percent. He loves the guys at their table. They look out for him.”

Anna Marie McDermott watched the game with her husband Mike, who is at River House four days a week. She says her husband has responded well to the activities in the program. The couple’s son played baseball in college, and briefly played in the minor leagues before embarking on a career in computer technology. Baseball was a common interest for father and son.

“He’s awakened a little bit more,” she says of the effect the program. “He reads the sports pages cover to cover. Any handout he reads in the session, he puts in an envelope and sends it to Dallas, where my son lives.”

Information about the Baseball Reminiscence Programs in Connecticut, Texas, and Missouri has already started to spread around the nation. In June, Ego traveled to Cooperstown, New York, to the Annual Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture at the Baseball Hall of Fame, where he delivered a presentation with Jim Kenton of the Austin program that included a video Ego produced about that program. Ego also spoke during the Sport, Dementia, and Mental Health symposium hosted by The Scottish Football Museum in partnership with the University of Endinburgh, a member of Universitas 21 an international network of leading research-intensive universities in 13 nations, including UConn.

Ego and Spellman also will detail the experience of the River House program during the national conference of the Adult Day Services Association of America in late September. An ESPN producer has attended several sessions, including the trip to Citi Field, conducting interviews with patients and caregivers and River House staff for a future broadcast.

Ego is preparing to conduct a formal quality of life study with River House and Austin program participants this fall to gather data from the beginning of the session to the end. The Texas program is part of the Rogers Hornsby Chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research.

“The thing that inspires me to do more to spread these programs all over the country,” Ego says, “is the smiles, laughter, and satisfaction these individuals get from sitting around talking about baseball with their peers.”