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  March 17, 2003

UConn Runs In The Family For Professors Mazzocca

In the Mazzocca family, creativity, ingenuity, and a strong work ethic seem to be dominant genes. The Mazzoccas do many things very well - draw, etch, teach, cook, coach, and even perform orthopedic surgery.

Today, two generations of Mazzoccas are on the UConn faculty. Augustus N. "Gus" Mazzocca is a professor in the department of art and art history at the Storrs campus. His son, Augustus D. Mazzocca, is an assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at the Health Center.

Image: Gus Mazzacca and son Augustus Mazzacca

Augustus Mazzocca, left, a professor of art at the Storrs campus, and his son Augustus Mazzocca, an orthopedic surgeon at the UConn Health Center, in the Print Shop that Mazzocca the elder helped build.

Photo by Dollie Harvey

For both father and son, UConn is at the heart of their education, their professions, and their lives.

A Crucial Decision
The story began on a spring day in 1958, when Gus Mazzocca the elder, then a high school football star from Arlington, Mass., visited the University in Storrs. At the time, he was being courted by several other colleges and universities. But when he saw the UConn campus, his decision was clear.

"I was absolutely taken by the beauty of the campus and all the plantings - my mind was made up," Mazzocca recalls.

Mazzocca's years as an undergraduate were fruitful. He earned a bachelor of arts in political science in 1964 and a bachelor of fine arts in 1965. During that time, he also met the love of his life, D'Ann Dillon. They were married on campus, at St. Thomas Aquinas Chapel.

After Mazzocca graduated from UConn, he taught school for three years before earning a masters of fine arts from the Rhode Island School of Design. He came back as a junior faculty member in 1970, when he accepted a position to help start up a print shop on the south side of campus where all work for printmaking, lithography, and woodcuts would be done.

Mazzocca and a former colleague spent the summer of 1970 converting space that was previously a store into a studio. Many of the tables and printing stations they built are still in use today in what is now a thriving print shop.

Along the way, Mazzocca fell in love again - this time, with printmaking and color woodcuts. Until then, his medium of choice was painting and some sculpture. But discovering printmaking put him "over the edge," he says, "because of its expressive qualities and inherent restrictions."

Mazzocca's woodcuts have been shown around the country as well as in Slovakia, Poland, the Czech Republic, Germany, and many other countries. Since the mid-1980s, Gus has created several international exchanges between printmakers from UConn and artists in Poland, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom.

Through these contacts, Mazzocca played a role in the founding of Interprint, a project that brings together students and faculty from five institutions - UConn; the Academy of Krakow, Poland; Maastricht Academy of Fine Arts, in the Netherlands; the London College of Printing; and the School of Art in Dublin.

The first Interprint project, involving five art academies, was hosted in the Netherlands in 1998. This October, the School of Fine Arts and the Department of Art and Art History will host the third Interprint international conference at the Storrs campus. Mazzocca said they are expecting students and faculty from about 15 art academies and universities from around the world to participate in workshops and create a boxed edition of 100 prints.

Sculpting a Family
As Mazzocca's artistic and academic career blossomed at UConn, so did his family. When they returned to Storrs in 1970, D'Ann began graduate work in philosophy. She received her master's degree in 1972 and her Ph.D. in 1978. For the past several years, she has served as executive director of the Joint Committee on Legislative Management at the state capitol in Hartford.

Growing up, their son Augustus and daughter Ann spent many hours on the Storrs campus and in the print shop. Augustus always enjoyed drawing and, as a 10-year-old, while his father was teaching a summer course, he went into a sculpture class and carved two life-sized marble heads that Gus and D'Ann still have on display in their home.

"I tried to turn him into a stone cutter," Mazzocca says. But his son had other ideas. Although he enjoyed art, his strongest interests were science and sports. As Augustus went through school, he looked for ways to combine these interests.

After college, the younger Mazzocca earned a master's degree in physiology and took a job as an exercise physiologist in the medical operations section of NASA at Johnson Space Center in Houston, working with astronauts in the muscle testing labs. He later began to pursue a Ph.D. in physiology, but soon realized he was more interested in medicine and in helping people through a more hands-on approach than a strictly research-focused career.

Branching Out
In 1992, Mazzocca embarked on a new chapter in his life as a medical student at the UConn School of Medicine. He completed a residency program in orthopedic surgery at the UConn Health Center, and was named Resident of the Year in 2001. He then held a fellowship in sports medicine at Rush Medical College in Chicago, before being recruited back to Connecticut last summer to join the Health Center faculty.

Sports medicine was a natural choice for Mazzocca: he was an all-conference lacrosse player during his undergraduate years at Denison University, Ohio, and has served as a coach and team physician for teams of all sizes and levels, from high school and college teams to the U.S. Boxing Team. He is currently assisting Dr. Carl Nissen, also of the Health Center's department of orthopedics, provide medical coverage for the ice hockey team at Trinity College and the baseball and lacrosse teams at the University of Hartford.

Dr. Bruce Browner, chairman of the department of orthopedics, says Mazzocca impressed the department during his residency. "As a resident, Augustus distinguished himself as someone who was incredibly enthusiastic about teaching and had a real penchant for research," Browner says. "That's why we recruited him to come back to the Health Center.

Mazzocca sees patients in Farmington and the East Hartford office of UConn Health Partners; is coordinating the work of orthopedic residents at John Dempsey Hospital; and, says Browner, "has brought new energy to research initiatives within the department."

D'Ann Mazzocca says working hard is a family trait. "My husband has always been very enthusiastic about his work," she says. "He loves working with students, and my son is very much the same way."

The younger Mazzocca has expertise in all facets of sports medicine and has taught national courses on new techniques for shoulder and elbow arthroscopic surgeries presented by the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine and the Arthroscopic Association of North America. His research on shoulder arthroscopy was nominated for a prestigious Caspari Award. He will present his findings during an international orthopedic conference in New Zealand later this month.

Intertwined Careers
As Mazzocca's medical career has progressed, his father's artwork has become more focused on the human body. "My current work deals with issues of the body relative to reconstruction - organ transplants, joint prosthesis, cosmetics, and decoration," says Mazzocca the artist, noting the influence of his son's career on his work.

With a family of his own now, the younger Mazzocca is continuing the family tradition: his wife, Jennifer, earned a master's degree in economics from UConn, and they have three young children, Jillian, Nicolo and, yes, another Augustus.