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Honors option enabled Mapen
to pursue interests beyond class
April 20, 1998

Barry Mapen had just turned eight when his parents bought him his first set of screwdrivers. He put it to use on the family's VCR..

"The VCR was squeaking," he says, "so I took it completely apart and my parents were upset because they wanted to tape something that evening.".

Fortunately, he managed to put everything back together in time.

Mapen is still taking things apart and putting them back together, but now it's not getting him into trouble. In the Artificial Intelligence and Mobile Robotics Lab in the United Technologies Engineering Building, Mapen, a graduating senior, keeps what he describes as his favorite toy. It is the frame of a robot he is using for his undergraduate honors thesis. Since September, the engineering major has been developing short-range communication capabilities between two robots..

Mapen began working with robots when he joined UConn three years ago from Rochester Institute of Technology. He says he was looking for a more academically challenging environment. "I was looking for an opportunity to do some type of research," he says.

Before he left RIT, the dean of students tried to convince him to stay. Mapen didn't change his mind but he took to heart the dean's parting words. "Before you apply to another school, call all the companies you may be interested in working for in your home state and ask them where they get their employees from," he told Mapen.

The calls he made revealed that Connecticut engineering companies were hiring UConn graduates because they were well trained.

So Mapen enrolled at UConn in the spring of 1995. He joined the honors program and was able to do projects in conjunction with some of his courses, under an arrangement known as honors conversion.

"It's a wonderful motivational tool," says Mapen, who will receive recognition as a Babbidge Scholar during the Scholars' Day ceremony, for maintaining a perfect grade-point average of 4.0 for two consecutive semesters in a calendar year..

"The honors conversion pushed me to learn the material ahead of my classmates because it served as a foundation for the project," he says..

One semester, while taking an introductory logic design course where students were building simple circuits, Mapen decided he wanted to take the learning experience in the class even further. By applying honors conversion to the course, he built a message board with scrolling text.

Another project Mapen enjoyed was a math project to determine the speed of a ball as it hit the ground after being dropped off the fourth floor of the Math/Science Building. He says it was a challenge to be able to study across disciplines.

"I've known for a long time I was going to be doing some type of computer engineering," he says. "But it becomes really boring if you can only hold a conversation in your major."

Mapen will pursue graduate work at UConn, beginning in the fall.

Luis Mocete