When sophomore Jacob Griffith Gardner of Madison, Connecticut could not find a major that perfectly matched his interests, he decided to create his own. Jacob now has the individualized major of integrated crop management (ICM) through biotechnology, and he is involved in research and a fraternity on campus. Here is what he said in an interview.
What attracted you to UConn? At first, UConn was not my top choice. However, my mothers, aunt and uncle are all UConn alumni, and, financially, UConn made the most sense. When I chose UConn, I based my decision on logic. Once I arrived, however, I fell in love with the school.
Why did you choose your particular major? I started out as a psychology major and then quickly switched to economics. During the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences orientation, however, I learned that research is one of the best ways to have a positive impact in one’s area of study. I realized that I could not picture myself doing research with people. Rather, I loved being outside and working with food and plants, and so I began to consider studying food crops. In a weird way, my CLAS orientation inspired me to switch to CAHNR.
At first, I planned to get a dual degree in economics and horticulture. However, horticulture seemed to have an ornamental focus, and I knew that I preferred to study food crops. I decided to create an individualized major that would encompass all of my areas of interest, and so I chose ICM through biotechnology. This major gives me what I was looking for, a holistic view of agriculture.
Which one of your UConn activities, internships or jobs was the most memorable? Why? I recently joined Sigma Phi Epsilon, a national fraternity that started this year on campus. I never envisioned myself joining a fraternity, but I am so glad that I did. Earlier this year, I applied for the Balanced Man scholarship that Sigma Phi Epsilon offered to UConn students. When I sat down for the interview and learned about Sig Ep, I became intrigued. Sig Ep is unique from other fraternities because it focuses on the continuous development of members’ minds, bodies and all aspects of life. Member development and creating the “balanced man” is not something that we just talk about, but something we truly strive toward. In October, I was elected the Vice President of Member Development. I am excited to work with my committee, brothers and alumni to help this chapter reach its full potential.
Name two other experiences that have enriched your studies. For the past two years, I have been part of the Leadership Learning Community. I decided to join the learning community because I held many leadership roles in sports and clubs during high school. I also thought it would offer a sense of community and make this large university seem a little smaller. Through the learning community, I have improved my leadership abilities and have worked to become a leader that knows how to follow. Also, I have made many of my best friends here at UConn.
In addition, I work on a research project in the School of Engineering with Dr. Christine Kirchhoff. We study information usage of watershed managers and policy advisers around Lake Erie. This is part of a larger project that addresses the harmful algae and nutrient problems that currently plague Lake Erie. This past summer, I went to Ohio and Michigan for a week and helped with a series of three workshops for farmers and people that worked in watershed policy. It was interesting to see the similarities and difference in the ways that farmers and policy-makers use information.
What was the biggest challenge in your UConn career? I always strive to be the best that I can be academically, socially and in every area of my life. Sometimes, it can be difficult to balance all of the things I want to do with the amount of time I actually have. I have gotten better at finding this balance but would still like to improve.
In addition, adjusting to UConn was difficult. During high school, I did not have to spend a lot of time on schoolwork outside of class. Now, however, I have to put hard work into everything that I do. Also, I was no longer a member of the high school organizations that had been such a large part of my life. I had to find new organizations and ways to make a name for myself in a school as large as UConn.
When do you expect to graduate? What then? I expect to graduate in May 2017. After that, I want to go to graduate school for a master’s degree and PhD in sustainable agriculture or agriculture biotechnology. My dream is to attend Wageningen University in the Netherlands, as it is one of the best agriculture schools in the world. Eventually, I want to work at the International Potato Center in Peru. Potatoes inspired me to pursue ICM; they have great biodiversity, and I would like to research their environmental adaptations.
In addition, I want to study bio-agriculture and explore the possibilities of genetically modified organisms. There is a lot of disdain towards GMOs in today’s world, but I think that this is due to misunderstanding. GMOs allow us to support our growing population by bringing nutrients to people that would not otherwise have access to them.
Is there anything else you would like us to know about you? I am a runner. I am always active and busy, but running allows me to quiet my mind. Also, I am a self-proclaimed tea snob. I became interested in tea years ago because of a teashop in my town, and since then, I have developed a deep love for good teas.