Carl Underwood of Woodstock, Connecticut, always wanted to be a physical therapist. However, after a number of eye-opening experiences and opportunities both at UConn and abroad, Carl realized that his passions had shifted, and he was more interested in the outdoors. Now, Carl plans to graduate in May with a double major in exercise science and ecology and evolutionary biology. Here is what he said about his experiences as a CAHNR student and a Difference Makers scholarship recipient.
What attracted you to UConn? I chose UConn because it was close to my hometown and was affordable. Also, I wanted to be a physical therapist and UConn has a nationally top-ranked kinesiology program.
Why did you choose your particular major? I chose exercise science because I wanted to be a physical therapist and work with people with injuries and disabilities. I was accepted into the kinesiology program and completed one year before realizing that I wanted to branch out into other areas. I want to be outside in nature, rather than in an office, as a naturalist and outdoor educator. This led me to add ecology and evolutionary biology as a second major last year.
Which one of your UConn activities, internships or jobs was the most memorable? Why? During the spring of 2013, I studied abroad in Cape Town, South Africa. This was the most influential experience of my life. My personal and world views changed, and I began to think seriously about the type of impact that I want to have on the world. While in Cape Town, I interned at Eros School, a school for children with cerebral palsy and other learning difficulties. At the primary and secondary school, the children attend classes and are given physiotherapy and occupational therapy. I worked in the physiotherapy department, and I learned from and assisted the physiotherapists. The school was located in the township of Athlone. While most of the students were local, some were from far away and had to stay in a dormitory during the school year.
Name two other experiences that have enriched your studies. While at UConn, I became interested in rock climbing and am now very involved in the climbing community. I am the president of UConn Climbing Club; I worked at the Climbing Center in the Student Recreation Facility; and I now work for UConn Outdoors. I lead students in outdoor activities such as kayaking and rock climbing. I started climbing my freshman year. While it began as just a hobby, it has grown into a passion.
Also, I have lived and worked at the UConn Spring Valley Student Farm since January. At the farm, I am part of a community of eleven students. We each complete ten hours of work per week on the farm. All of the produce that we grow is used in the dining halls and the on-campus restaurant, Chuck & Augie’s. I enjoy being able to turn my mind off of academics and focus on sustainable agriculture for a few hours each week.
What was the biggest challenge in your UConn career? The biggest challenge for me was deciding to add on my second major. I knew I would need to stay an extra year to complete it, and this was a hard financial decision. When I received the Difference Makers scholarship, I was very relieved. I am thankful to the donors and to my advisor, Dr. Lee, who nominated me.
When do you expect to graduate? What then? I plan to graduate in May 2016. After that, I will probably work seasonal jobs and do outdoor education work for a few years. In the future, I want to join the Peace Corps and help improve agriculture in developing countries.
Is there anything else you would like us to know about you? My friend, Gabe DeRosa, and I received a UConn IDEA grant to build an aquaponics system. Aquaponics is a combination of aquaculture and hydroponics. It is a self-contained, sustainable system that allows waste from fish to be filtered out and utilized by plants as a nutrient source. Our new greenhouse will be built in the next few weeks, then we will begin to construct the system and begin the cycling process.
Also, I worked for the Appalachian Mountain Club this past summer as a naturalist and guide. I did environmental education work, teaching people about all of the amazing plants, animals and relationships that occur in nature. I also educated families about basic camping skills and how they need to prepare when spending extended periods in the outdoors.