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UConn Advance

First Nutmeg Scholars grateful for challenges
By Elizabeth Omara-Otunnu
May 23, 1997

While many of their peers are wondering how long it will take to pay off their college debts, a handful of graduating seniors don't have to worry: They're the first class of Nutmeg Scholars, seven of whom graduated Saturday.

The Nutmeg Scholarships, established in 1992 to recruit the state's top graduating high school students, cover the full costs of a UConn education. Nutmeg Scholars also receive a small stipend and are offered summer internship opportunities.

Although for most finances clinched their decision to take the scholarship and attend UConn, the Nutmeg Scholars say the primary benefit of the funding is the freedom it has given them to make choices based on their interests rather than on financial considerations.

Molecular and cell biology major Sarah Webster says the scholarship helped with her plans for graduate school. "The money my parents saved for my undergraduate degree will now be put toward my graduate degree," says Webster, who will embark on a Ph.D. in neurobiology at Harvard University next fall.

While students graduating from UConn carry an average debt of about $14,000, English major John Caine says the absence of debt has taken the pressure off as he looks for a job. "I don't feel like I have to start making tons of money right off the bat," says Caine, who was recently offered a job in California's Silicon Valley, working to make the World Wide Web interesting and accessible. He says not having a mountain of debt also will help him meet the expenses of moving to the West Coast.

Caine will start his new job soon after graduation but, earlier, the scholarship enabled him to switch his major from engineering without worrying too much about job prospects. "Education should be an opportunity to figure out what you like and to grow as an individual," he says.

And while many of their classmates worked up to 20 hours a week to meet their college bills, Nutmeg Scholars were able to choose whether they wanted to work. Although he didn't need to work for money, with earnings from a summer job at New England Computer Associates in Storrs, Caine was able to afford a multimedia system that he used for much of his studies. Webster worked four hours a week as a campus tour guide. She was paid for the work, but didn't do it for the money. "I wanted to give something back to the University," she says.

Summer internships
Several Nutmeg Scholars had summer internships, in many cases with their scholarship sponsors: Webster spent two summers with the pharmaceutical firm Bayer, and Leslie Wang, a chemical engineering major, interned with Northeast Utilities.

The internships have given the scholars valuable career experience. Peter Kidwell, a computer science major, worked on computer databases for Shawmut (now Fleet) Bank - experience that almost certainly helped him land the job he will start next month, working on financial databases for IBM in Southbury. Elizabeth Cresman, who will join a combined M.D./Ph.D. program at the UConn Health Center in the fall, spent her summers as a research intern at UConn. Without the research, she says she may not have been accepted into the combined degree program.

Among them, the Nutmeg Scholars have an impressive array of academic accomplishments. The group includes several New England Scholars, recognized for having a grade point average of at least 3.5 for two consecutive semesters, and a number of University Scholars selected to pursue advanced independent and often interdisciplinary studies. Several wrote honors theses on topics ranging from Webster's study of how connections between brain cells are formed to John Evanson's system to display 3-D graphics and Caine's thesis on electronic fiction. Peter Kidwell pursued an independent study project on computer programming design with computer science professor Steven Demurjian and Pratt & Whitney.

They also have turned their energies to a dizzying range of extracurricular activities and have channeled their enthusiasm for UConn into helping recruit top high school students.

Caine says gifted high school students are under a lot of peer pressure to go to an Ivy League school. "I tell them it's not so much the college you go to, it's what you do when you're in college," he says.

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