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Archive for the ‘Faculty’ Category

NRE faculty member and students researching effects of salinization on wetlands

Connecticut now has a fraction of the forested wetlands that used to cover the state. Until the middle of the twentieth century, clearing land, constructing roads, building infrastructure and introducing irrigation and drainage systems did not require an assessment or mitigation of potential environmental impacts. Amidst growing concern for wetlands, the US Fish and Wildlife Service conducted a nationwide wetlands inventory in 1954. In the decades that followed, further scientific studies helped raise awareness of the benefits of wetlands for habitat, improving water quality and providing flood protection. The change of public opinion from approving of wetlands use for residential and industrial improvements and landfills towards conservation led to the adoption of legislation throughout the 1960s and ‘70s to safeguard wetlands. The volume of forested wetlands in Connecticut has since remained relatively consistent, with small losses due to natural conversion, typically becoming ponds, and from development projects. The embrace of wetlands research helped ensure the passage of federal and state laws and regulatory controls that stabilized the loss of these important ecosystems.

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Beth Lawrence

Forested wetlands are now facing new threats. The application of road salt is salinizing freshwater areas, affecting the ecosystem services these swamps provide. Beth Lawrence, an assistant professor in the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment (NRE) with a joint appointment in UConn’s Center for Environmental Sciences and Engineering, is taking a closer look at the impact of salinization on forested wetlands. Forested wetlands represent over two-thirds of all wetlands in the state.

“The application of road salt and its effects on these swamps are an emerging issue of concern,” says Lawrence.

“The aim of my research is to better understand and quantify the numerous ecosystem services forested wetlands provide. My focus is on how plant community composition, carbon storage and carbon dynamics are affected by salinization. I’m also looking at the effects of experimental road salt applications. We know that wetlands benefit people in a variety of ways, but we do not have a good understanding of the capacity of these ecosystem services and how their functioning may be impacted across environmental gradients,” says Lawrence. (more…)

Course demystifies chemical processes in the study of soil science

Cristian Schulthess

Cristian Schulthess

Every other fall, Cristian Schulthess, associate professor in the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture, offers a class called Soil Chemistry Processes. The course description may sound intimidating, but Schulthess says that studying chemistry with an environmental twist fits with many majors from plant science to environmental engineering.

“Most students are quite afraid of chemistry,” Schulthess says. “I’m taking them through the components of soil chemistry and teaching them chemistry principles through the environment. Studying the environment involves three components—physics, biology and chemistry—and they are all intertwined.”

There are three major sections to the course. The first covers oxidation-reduction reactions through environmental examples such as the degradation of organic material. Climate, moisture, soil composition, and soil contaminants all affect oxidation. Students observe the differences in soil color and how they relate to reactions at a cellular level. For instance, if an environment is highly oxidizing, the soil becomes redder; if the opposite occurs, the soil turns gray. Students learn the biology of photosynthesis and the environmental consequences to these reactions.

The second section of the course focuses on measuring pH (hydrogen concentration) in the environment. “There is a lot of nuance to pH and salt concentrations and how particles interact with each other,” Schulthess points out. This section covers measuring techniques, pH properties and particle interaction.

During the third part of the course, students study soil fertility and soil contamination control, including reactions between contaminants in liquid and solid forms, contaminant movement within the environment and retention reactions. Students learn the process of extracting materials from soil.

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Awards and accolades

Dean Kirklyn Kerr inducted into WV Agriculture and Forestry Hall of Fame

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Kirklyn Kerr receives his West Virginia Agriculture and Forestry Hall of Fame plaque.

Kirklyn M. Kerr, professor in the Department of Pathobiology and Veterinary Science and dean of the College from 1993 to 2008, was inducted into the West Virginia Agriculture and Forestry Hall of Fame on July 15. This honor recognizes natives of West Virginia who have made outstanding contributions to the establishment, development, advancement and improvement of the agriculture, forestry and family life of West Virginia.

Over the course of his 60-year career, Kerr has made significant contributions to agriculture as researcher, private-practice veterinarian, academic leader, community volunteer and now as professor and pathologist at the Connecticut Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory, where he provides pathology diagnostic service and trains veterinary pathology residents. He cites the principles and values he learned in 4-H as the foundation for his success and remains a strong supporter of 4-H.

After earning his BS in animal science from West Virginia University, Kerr received his doctorate in veterinary medicine from The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine. After practicing large animal veterinary medicine in Carlisle, PA, for a year, he returned to WVU and earned a master of science in medical microbiology. He then earned a PhD in veterinary pathology from Texas A&M. As a faculty member, Kerr authored or advised on more than 125 research papers and, in 1968, was certified as a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Pathologist. In 1978, he was appointed to the joint position of dean of the Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine; chair of the Department of Veterinary Science; and assistant dean for research in veterinary medicine. In 1987, he was appointed director of the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC); associate dean of the College of Agriculture; and professor of experimental pathology, food and animal health research and veterinary medicine. (more…)

New associate dean sees a bigger picture

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Kumar Venkitanarayanan Credit: Peter Morenus

For CAHNR’s newest associate dean, this position is about increasing the scale of his life’s work. Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Studies Kumar Venkitanarayanan has demonstrated success in obtaining research grants, supervising graduate students through to completion and supporting CAHNR as a team leader and player. “Now, I can use all my skills and experience and do it on a bigger canvas for the College,” he said about the new role he started in May.

Faculty is part of the picture

The portrait that he wants to paint as associate dean will include two main subjects, reflecting the “research” and “graduate studies” in his title. For example, Venkitanarayanan hopes to provide CAHNR’s research faculty members with increased funding opportunities to help them reach their goals in spite of the current economy. “I want to make it easy for them,“ he said.

One of his solutions for budgetary constraints is to “spread our wings wider.” This means he wants to identify previously overlooked programs, to apply for grants offered by different federal agencies and to cooperate with other universities in seeking funds. He thinks that the College has enjoyed much success with USDA grants, but it needs to diversify to improve the probability of receiving funding. (more…)

Professor Sandra Bushmich appointed as associate dean for academic programs

Sandra Bushmich with one of the College's foals born in the spring of 2017.

Sandra Bushmich with one of the College’s foals born in the spring of 2017.

Sandra Bushmich has been appointed associate dean for academic programs and director of the Ratcliffe Hicks School of Agriculture. Bushmich started her new position March 17, replacing Cameron Faustman, currently interim dean of the College.

“Sandy is known to students and her colleagues as a committed teacher and advisor,” Faustman says. “Our College’s Office of Academic Programs will benefit tremendously from her commitment to the student experience, both curricular and co-curricular, and her energy and enthusiasm.”

“My vision as associate dean for academic programs directly relates to how this office can best serve the College and the University to achieve the optimal potential of our diverse students by providing them with the knowledge and skills to improve their world, from their daily personal interactions to global impacts,” Bushmich says.

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