mule deerindex

Mule deer are the subject of Rachel Smiley’s University Scholar research project. Photo by Rachel Smiley.

Recently, UConn announced the selection of 25 University Scholars for 2016. Five of them have connections with the College via a CAHNR major, faculty member on their project committee and/or participation in the South African field ecology study abroad program.

Becoming a University Scholar is a very prestigious designation and honor, according to CAHNR’s Academic Advisory Center Director Patricia Jepson. During their final three semesters at UConn, University Scholars work on an in-depth research project of their own choosing and complete an individualized plan of study that allows them to pursue their intellectual interests.

The project created by one of the Scholars, Rachel Smiley, allowed her to do fieldwork in Wyoming with her committee’s chair, Visiting Assistant Professor Chadwick Rittenhouse. They trapped mule deer and took ultrasounds to measure the amount of stored fat in the deer. Smiley said of the trip, “It was awesome to get the hands on experience with the mule deer that I’ve been studying for so long.”

Smiley’s project is titled “Beyond Capture: Application of a Visual Body Condition Index to Determine Effects of Nutritional Condition on Timing of Migration by Mule Deer (Odocoileus hemionus).” She is a natural resources and the environment (NRE) major, and her committee is comprised of all NRE faculty, including Rittenhouse, Assistant Professor Ashley Helton and Associate Professor Jason Vokoun. Another tie Smiley has to the College is through the 2015 South Africa trip.

An additional University Scholar with a major in the College is Christina Jiang. She has double majors in nutritional sciences and biology. Jiang said, “Receiving this award was extremely exciting because it gave me the opportunity to synthesize my biology and nutrition majors into a research project. The University Scholar Program will provide opportunities for me to pursue graduate school in the nutrition field and give me more research experience before applying to medical school. This project will help supplement my future career aspiration of being a physician, hopefully in the cardiology specialty.”

Jiang and has two nutritional sciences faculty members on her committee. They are Assistant Professor Christopher Blesso (chair) and Associate Professor Ji-Young Lee. Her project is entitled “Understanding the Role of SR-B1 in Adipocyte Lipid Metabolism and Inflammation.”

University Scholar Christina Cotte, a pathobiology student with double major in molecular and cell biology, has two CAHNR faculty members on her committee. They are Department of Pathobiology Assistant Professor Steven Szczepanek (chair) and Department of Animal Science Professor Xiuchun Tian. Cotte is working on B-1 Cell Generation in a Transgenic Mouse Model of Sickle Cell Disease.”

Although two other University Scholars do not have majors within CAHNR, they are linked with the College in other ways. One is Genevieve Nuttall, who went on the 2015 South Africa trip. Nuttall’s research focus is “Does Plumage Color in Birds Respond to Environmental Change?”

Department of Kinesiology’s Distinguished Professor Linda Pescatello is on Benjamin White’s committee. White’s project is “Exercise and Quality of Life: The Influence of Community Level Factors on Exercise Intervention Efficacy.”

According to the University Scholar Program website, “graduating as a University Scholar is considered the highest academic achievement the university bestows on undergraduate students.” A complete list of the 2016 University Scholars and their projects is available within the site.

By Patsy Evans