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Author Archives: Jason M. Sheldon

Physical therapy program provides care to migrant farmers at health clinics

Students and faculty from the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) Program in the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources (CAHNR) have been volunteering since 2008 to help bring health care to Connecticut’s migrant and seasonal farm workers, a medically underserved population.

Photo credit: Yasmeen Alsaqri

Every year thousands of migrant agricultural laborers journey to Connecticut to work at the state’s farms, orchards, nurseries and greenhouses. These temporary farm workers help plant, grow, harvest and produce a wide range of the state’s labor-intensive agricultural commodities, including tobacco, ornamental flowers and plants, fruits and vegetables, and poultry and dairy goods, supporting the state’s $4 billion agricultural industry. Most seasonal workers arrive from Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean islands and other states with large agricultural operations, such as California, Florida and Texas. For the past twenty years, farmers in the Northeast have reported hiring more migrant employees as the ability to find local, native workers has declined. It is estimated that over 7,000 seasonal farm workers are employed in the state. They are predominately male, widely varying in age from teenagers to the elderly; some workers are in their sixties and seventies. Without this workforce, Connecticut agricultural producers face labor shortages that would put businesses at risk.

Migrant workers face a number of challenges. Most do not have health insurance or are underinsured and are largely ineligible for Medicaid or Social Security benefits for medical care even though they pay into these programs. They typically receive housing in barracks provided by farms or share small apartments with several of their co-workers. Transportation is often by carpool or buses that bring workers to and from the farm. These obstacles mean that migrant farm workers are unable to easily access or afford health care, medical assistance and medications.

To provide care to these workers, UConn and the Connecticut Area Health Education Center (AHEC) established the UConn Migrant Farm Worker Clinics (MFWC) in 1997. MFWC are a mobile service that partner with local farms to provide free health consultations and medical aid to this underserved population. The clinics are staffed entirely by student volunteers and medically licensed professionals who mostly hail from the UConn but also from a number of college programs and private practices, including members of the DPT Program. (more…)

Meet graduate student Phil Estrin

Phil Estrin

Phil Estrin

Phil Estrin is a PhD student in the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture. After earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees at UConn in molecular and cellular biology, he began studying the growth of hemp for medicinal uses with aspirations to start his own gene consultation company. Here is what he said in an interview.

Where did you study as an undergraduate?

I studied at UConn and graduated in 2014.

What was your major?

My major was Molecular and Cellular Biology (MCB).

Why did you decide to go to graduate school?

After I graduated, I was very afraid that I knew nothing and so, in an attempt to delay an introduction into the real world, I sought solace in academia. I started by earning my master’s degree in MCB at UConn as well. Then, I was still worried, so I decided to come back one more time.

I really decided my path when I was looking at internships as a master’s student. I saw the big pharma options, companies like Pfizer or Boehringer Ingelheim, and I wanted to go a different way. Since medical marijuana had recently been legalized, I sent my resume to the four producers in the state and got a job at one of them. Once I had the internship, I knew this was something I was interested in studying further.

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Renovation expands department with new program and research faculty

Koons Hall Renovation

Koons Hall during the renovation.

Students were not the only ones packing their bags and moving out at the end of the spring semester. The Department of Allied Health Sciences (AHS) temporarily relocated from their home in Benjamin Franklin Koons Hall to facilitate a renovation to the building over the summer. The project redesigned classroom spaces, expanded teaching and research labs, refurbished offices, centralized the advising center, remodeled the student lounge and replaced the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system in the building. The renovation also added space for new faculty hires, one of whom will lead a new graduate program in the department. AHS is now settling back into a space better equipped to support their commitment to health education and research.

“There were many improvements done during the renovation that will help us better serve our mission of undergraduate and graduate education, advising and research,” says Department Head and Professor Justin Nash. “The improved space allows us to be more productive and effective in everything that we do. It also expands our research enterprise. The renovation helped make it possible to welcome additional faculty and introduce a new degree program. It is a very exciting time as we continue to grow as a department.”

AHS plans to launch the Genetic and Genomic Counseling Master’s Degree Program in fall 2019. Maria Gyure was appointed as a lecturer and director of the program. An AHS alumna, Gyure received her bachelor’s degree in diagnostic genetic sciences in 2001 and received her master’s degree in genetic counseling from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2007. She has worked in a variety of instructional, research and counseling roles in cytogenetics and molecular genetics. Gyure and Associate Professor in Residence Judy Brown are currently working on the program’s accreditation. (more…)

Meet graduate student Abby Colburn

Abby Colburn

Abby Colburn

Abby Colburn decided to continue her studies at UConn after earning her bachelor’s degree in allied health sciences in May 2016. She plans to graduate with her master’s degree in exercise science from the Department of Kinesiology next year. Since the last time we spoke with her, Colburn has remained actively involved in organizations on campus and taking advantage of opportunities to travel and study abroad. She’s explored her passion for research and is looking at options to start medical school.

Where did you study as an undergraduate?

I studied at UConn.

What was your major?

My major was allied health sciences.

Why did you decide to go to graduate school?

I was planning to go to med school but I started doing exercise science research as an undergraduate and I really liked it. The faculty, especially Dr. Douglas Casa of kinesiology and my mentor, Dr. Jeffrey Anderson at Student Health Services, convinced me that research is also a good path for med school. I was always on this set path for med school and so I welcomed the opportunity to explore something different. (more…)

Meet graduate student Amanda Jones

Amanda Jones

Amanda Jones

Amanda Jones came to the Department of Animal Science to earn her master’s degree, intending to study equine science. After becoming involved in a collaborative research group interested in the study of maternal nutrition in sheep, she enrolled in the PhD program to continue her research training. She successfully defended her dissertation earlier this month and has plans to complete a postdoc in the Department of Pediatrics, Neonatology, at the University of Colorado Denver. Here is what she said in an interview.

Where did you study as an undergraduate?

I went to Cornell University in Ithaca, NY.

What was your major?

I majored in animal science. I also completed an honors research thesis in the vet school. We studied diseases of the upper respiratory system and were investigating diagnostic techniques that could evaluate larynx function. We used horses and dogs as biomedical models for humans because similar upper respiratory diseases affect all three species.

Why did you decide to go to graduate school?

I really enjoyed research as an undergraduate, and always thought I would end up in vet school. During my junior year, I enrolled in a coursed titled Tools for a Lifelong Career in Research. It really opened my eyes to careers in animal science and agriculture aside from just vet medicine. I also realized that I liked working with healthy animals and figuring why things were happening rather than curing sickness or disease. This realization is what that pushed me into grad school and research. (more…)