For Andrew Blacker of Mystic, Connecticut, “the world is your oyster” is more than just a saying. While studying resource economics at UConn, Andrew has been able to take courses that directly apply to his career goals. After he graduates in December, he hopes to put all that he has learned into action. Here is what he said in an interview.
What attracted you to UConn? I attended Roger Williams University, finished my associate’s degree in finance at Three Rivers Community College and took classes at UConn’s Avery Point campus. Now, I am at Storrs.
I chose UConn because my dad studied forestry here. Through him, I knew that CAHNR offered great programs that helped me meet my goals.
Why did you choose your particular major? I decided to major in resource economics at UConn because it perfectly fit my career interests.
One factor that influenced these pursuits is three years of experience in running Carson’s Store, my family’s breakfast restaurant for forty years before it closed. I plan to reopen it as an oyster bar, which I think would be ideal because it is near Markow’s thriving oyster farm.
I work part-time at the farm as Director of Sales and Marketing. In my job, I started selling oysters directly to restaurants instead of just wholesale, and I implemented a delivery system. Sales increased, and we now sell to restaurants in seven states.
Before choosing this major, I did not know a lot about economics, especially the aquaculture industry. Through my studies, I have learned about the oyster market, and I am now able to direct the sales of the oyster farm in a more efficient way.
Which one of your UConn activities, internships or jobs was the most memorable? Why? Last fall, I did an independent study at the Avery Point campus with Professor Stephen Jones, who taught me a lot. We created a documentary for Telemark Films about Connecticut River ferry boats. Professor Jones has been a faculty member for nearly thirty years, is a member of the shellfish commission in Mystic and has an incredible amount of knowledge about local aquaculture. It was amazing to be able to work with someone so experienced.
Name some other experiences that have enriched your studies. In one of my UConn writing courses, I researched and wrote about the regulation of the shellfish industry in Connecticut. My paper argued that permitting live wells, or holding tanks for oysters, would be beneficial to the aquaculture industry. I am going to use my paper to try to get permits for live wells for my own business.
The FDA and USDA have mandatory Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) programs to ensure food safety for those involved in the handling of meat or seafood. Through UConn, I completed two courses in food safety and got all necessary certification to prepare for opening the oyster bar.
Another useful experience at UConn was a strategic brand marketing class in the school of business. I love my experiences and classes at UConn are directly applicable to my life and career.
What was the biggest challenge in your UConn career? My biggest challenge is time management. I commute from Mystic, take twenty credits this semester, work part time and have a sixteen-month-old son. My professors make sure that I receive all assignments that I may miss due to my busy schedule. These accommodations get me through my studies. Once I graduate, I will be able to dedicate more time to my career and to opening the oyster bar. Although I am extremely busy right now, I know that it will all be worth it.
When do you expect to graduate? What then? I expect to graduate in December 2014. After that, I am going to work full time in three different areas. First, I am going to continue to work for Markow’s oyster farm and be responsible for all sales of the company, which total about 600,000 oysters per year. I plan to manage all existing accounts and expand even more.
Currently, I oversee the Noank Aquaculture Co-op, which includes seven or eight local shellfish growers. To help the members sell more oysters, I am creating the Mystic Oyster Company. Rather than having each farm sell its own product, I envision the new company to be a wholesaler for all the growers in the co-op, so that their products can be sold as a uniform brand of oysters. Using the knowledge I gained in my resource economics classes, I plan to develop a new pricing strategy, so that the co-op is as successful as possible. I also trademarked “the world is your oyster” as the slogan for my company.
Then, in May, I plan to open the new oyster bar. I am extremely excited for this opportunity, and I think that, with the local oysters and grass-fed beef raised by my brother, it will be a success.
Is there anything else you would like us to know about you? A few years ago, I won $25,000 on a lottery ticket. It led to many opportunities, including my job with Markow’s.
About two years ago, I was looking for a way to get free publicity for Carson’s Store. I asked the History Channel show, American Pickers, to visit. The show receives about 40,000 letters a month, but it chose mine. Last Halloween, they showed up and spent an entire day filming an episode. It has not aired yet.
In addition, I am proud that the Noank Aquaculture Co-op and my role as Director of Sales and Marketing of Markow’s company were featured in a February 2014 article in the New York Times.