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Former journalist pursues quest for knowledge at UConn
Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Robert S. Capers has traded his experience in learning for a learning experience.
Capers, who shared the Pulitzer in explanatory journalism with Eric Lipton in 1992 for a series on a flawed mirror that crippled the Hubble Telescope, left The Hartford Courant in the fall of 1995 to become a graduate student in UConn's botany program. He's finishing research needed for a master's degree, while taking courses that will be applied toward an eventual Ph.D.
Capers spent 18 years at the Courant - a dozen of them as an editor, the remainder as a reporter and writer - after previously working at the Morning Record in Meriden.
"I'd been thinking about (going back to school) for some time," Capers said over lunch at Jonathan's. "Once my kids were out of college, I was in a positition to take off from work myself."
Although he was already planning to leave the Courant to enroll at UConn, Capers was able to take advantage of a Courant buyout program in 1995.
"I had always wanted to go back to school," he said. "I had thought about anthropology and had taken an anthropology course at UConn. But I chose botany because I want to do research in tropical forests in Latin America."
That goal may be closer to his experience as a journalist than might appear.
"Learning was always important to me," he said. "Being a reporter is great because you can learn about people and write about them in ways that also lets the reader learn about them. But I got to the point where I didn't think there was enough learning for me there to last for another 20 years."
He'd had a long-time interest in biology. In fact Capers, who graduated in 1971, began studying biology at Colby College before switching his major to English.
"There's a great need to know more about tropical forests - to make intelligent decisions about how to use them and to manage them," he said. "So I put myself in a position where I can continue learning."
And he wanted to leave journalism while it was still fun.
"I have a deep belief in the importance of journalism in informing people about what they need to know to live in a participatory democracy. I had a great job. I was well paid and I liked doing it."
Capers found he enjoys research just as much. As a master's degree candidate at UConn, he is finishing a research program funded by The Nature Conservancy - a study of submerged aquatic plants in Whalebone Cove in Hadlyme off the Connecticut River near the Gillette Castle.
"Every day for the past two summers, I got into my bathing suit and went to work," he said. "The aim of the research is to know what plants are there and see how the plant life changes over time. You need to be in the water to do it.
"I am very happy with the educational opportunities that have been provided to me," he added. "But I still have a lot to learn."
Kenneth Ross, a former journalist with The Hartford Courant and the Journal Inquirer, wrote this article while a graduate student in English at UConn.