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Class of ’08 Outstanding Students

- April 28, 2008

The Advance is publishing short profiles of some of this year’s graduating students. Those featured were selected from among those recommended by each school and college.

Related articles:
Class of '08 Oustanding Students (May 19 issue)
Two graduates attribute success to Student Support Services (May 19 issue)
Class of '08 Outstanding Students (May 5 issue)
Class of '08 Outstanding Students (April 21 issue)
University Scholars create projects beyond typical plan of study (April 7 issue)

May Babcock

by Sherry Fisher

Her first drawing class at UConn clinched May Babcock’s decision to major in art.

“It was my first studio class, and I really loved it,” says Babcock, who will graduate in May with a bachelor of fine arts degree in painting and printmaking.

May Babcock
May Babcock, painting and printmaking
Photo by Frank Dahlmeyer

“The professor was exciting; the students were excited. We were all into it, and doing well.”

So she put her plans aside to major in art history, opting instead to take that as a minor.

“Right now, I’m taking 18th-century European art, and I’m really enjoying it,” she says.

Babcock says that landscapes and figures are the subjects of her paintings and prints. “I work a lot from observation,” she says. She is currently creating monotypes and lithographs.

Her studio classes are time-consuming, but that hasn’t prevented her from earning a 3.9 grade point average, she says: “I try to do my best in each class I take.”

She says the studio classes take a lot of extra energy, “but I love the end product.”

Babcock has enjoyed, and been inspired by, students and professors in the art department’s print shop. “Everybody there works really hard and makes great work,” she says.

She notes that the art program offers opportunities to explore different areas in the field: “There is a lot of intermingling among the concentrations, like design, illustration, and photography. You don’t have to stick strictly to one. You also get to know other students and see each other’s work.”

Babcock says her professors were “very encouraging, but sometimes very hard on you. A month later, you realize that their criticism made you work even harder to do the best you can do.”

Babcock, who plans to attend graduate school at Louisiana State University, says her focus in both painting and printmaking gave her an edge when applying to grad schools. “They saw me as well rounded,” she says.

Her future plans include teaching at the college level and continuing to exhibit her work.


Zachary Penwell

by Sherry Fisher

Zachary “Zak” Penwell investigated more than 200 colleges until UConn “blew me out of the water,” he says.

Penwell, who will graduate in May with a bachelor’s degree in exercise science, had been searching for a program that would prepare him for a career as a strength and conditioning coach.

Zachary Penwell
Zachary Penwell, exercise science
Photo by Peter Morenus

“UConn had it all,” he says.

Penwell, who is married and has two children, came to UConn after serving more than six years in the Air Force, including deployments to Kuwait, Korea, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Before that, he studied for two years at Western Washington University.

“I knew that at some point I wanted to finish and get my degree,” he says. “When I started looking at schools, three criteria had to be met: I wanted to work with high caliber athletes, become involved in research, and work with professors who are well known in the field. Nowhere else came close to what I found here at UConn.”

Penwell says he is learning from “the best in the field,” specifically mentioning William Kramer, professor of kinesiology, and Gerard Martin, the head strength and conditioning coach in the Division of Athletics.

“The resources are incredible, on both the research side and the applied side,” says Penwell, who has worked on research projects including one about resistance training and its effect on bone mineral density. He also currently works with the UConn strength and conditioning staff training the baseball team, and assists with men’s and women’s track and field, ice hockey, and swimming and diving.

“I’ve had great hands-on experience,” he says.

Penwell has decided to pursue a master’s degree in kinesiology at UConn, where he has a graduate assistantship. “I’ll have a couple of teams that I’m directly responsible for,” he says.

His future goal is to work overseas. “I’d like to get a job with a Third World country’s Olympic team,” he says.

“My wife is a midwife, and we’ve both done medical missions overseas. We want to go someplace where there’s a real need. I would have my job, and we would also set up a free maternity health care clinic.”

Michael Dessalines

by Sherry Fisher

Michael Dessalines says getting an education and helping others has always been his dream.

“And thanks to UConn, my dream came true,” says Dessalines, who is graduating in May with a master’s degree in nutritional sciences. Dessalines grew up in Haiti.

Michael Dessalines
Michael Dessalines, nutritional sciences
Photo by Frank Dahlmeyer

“At UConn, I’ve had the opportunity to work in a department that is doing cutting-edge research,” he says. “I’m lucky to have Professor Rafael Perez-Escamilla as my major advisor and mentor. A student couldn’t ask for anyone better to work with.”

Dessalines’ research focus is on vitamin A, found in sweet potatoes, which make up an important part of the daily diet of poor Haitian families.

“Vitamin A deficiency is a real problem in Haiti,” he says.

He hopes that the International Potato Center will introduce new varieties of sweet potatoes, developed in Peru, to Haiti.

“These sweet potatoes, called orange fleshed, have much more vitamin A than the white fleshed sweet potatoes that are grown locally,” Dessalines says.

“If they were grown in Haiti, they could help enormously in alleviating vitamin A deficiency and also help farmers develop sustainable agriculture, where they won’t have to worry about vitamin A supplements.”

He is working through a project funded by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture.

Dessalines went to Haiti and conducted four studies assessing the importance of sweet potatoes in the diet and nutrition of the community and the severity of food insecurity.

The surveys included information on demographics and social and economic status.

“My partial report to the international potato center in Peru revealed that there is definitely a need for these orange fleshed sweet potatoes,” he says. They will soon be grown and propagated there.

Dessalines says he values his experiences at UConn and would recommend the institution to others “in a heartbeat.”

His future plans include pursuing a Ph.D. in public health and continuing to help alleviate food insecurity in his native country.


Colleen Deasy

by Curran Kennedy, CLAS ’08

The debate on how to improve education for the nation’s poor has been going on for decades, but Colleen Deasy is forging ahead with a new campaign, determined to produce results.

Colleen Deasy
Colleen Deasy, family studies and English
Photo by Daniel Buttrey

Deasy, a human development and family studies and English double major in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, brought Jumpstart, a national organization that pairs college students with preschool children, to the University of Connecticut.

She organized 45 other student volunteers to work with pre-school youngsters from low-income families in Connecticut, helping to prepare the children for elementary school.

“Preschoolers are at a really interesting age and there’s a lot of potential to do something beneficial,” Deasy says.

“Studies have shown the importance of early intervention, so we work on language, literacy, problem solving, and social skills. We work with children whose families are living below the poverty line, because studies have shown that these children typically start school behind their more affluent peers in all of those areas.”

After graduating in May, Deasy will continue her education at Boston College Law School, where she plans to get a JD and a joint master’s degree in education.

“I’ve always liked children and what I’m doing is trying to instill my love of reading and writing in these young kids,” she says.

“I’d like to represent families with special needs and make changes to the school system so it’s more family-friendly and serves children with special needs better.”

Deasy says UConn’s Office of Community Outreach has been very supportive: “Service is very important to me and I owe a lot of my personal and professional growth to Community Outreach. The staff there inspired me to bring Jumpstart to campus, and through that I’ve learned a lot of valuable skills that have taught me the value of service.”

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