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Former Torrington student values
experience at regional campus
May 11, 1998

When graduating senior John Pyrzenski is asked where his degree is from, he plans to say UConn-Torrington. "UConn-Torrington is my UConn," he says.

At the time Pyrzenski applied to college, he had too much going on in his life to want to be far from home. A resident of Harwinton in Litchfield County and former class president at Lewis Mills High School, he was an elected member of the Zoning Board of Appeals, a member of the Republican Town Committee, umpire-in-chief of the Harwinton Youth Sports Association and held a management position at a local restaurant. He also knew he could save money by living at home.

So he applied to Torrington as his first choice. The two years that followed were among the best of his life, he says.

"The professors focused right on the students, classes were small, everyone knew everyone and no one was a stranger," he says. "All the faculty and staff were willing to help you 100 percent."

Before long he was president of the Associated Student Government - and an active one at that. In addition to the social programs sponsored by the student government, Pyrzenski launched a collegiate discount book, a collection of one-year contracts with area businesses offering services and merchandise at a discount to anyone associated with the University.

He made sure the local press knew about student activities at the campus, and has clips from area newspapers in his portfolio to prove it.

As the Torrington ASG president, he served as the student liaison to other campuses and began traveling to Storrs every week. He also ran for a position as a student representative on the UConn Foundation board of directors, campaigning on behalf of the regional campuses. He lost to a candidate from Storrs by four votes.

"I didn't win the position but I won the battle," he says, "because it goes to show that anybody from a branch campus can have a voice if they want."

By the summer of 1996, he had earned 64 credits and was ready to transfer into the School of Business Administration as a marketing major. When the time came for the move to Storrs, his knowledge of the campus and the contacts he had developed helped smooth the transition.

Still the move was not easy. When he received the key to his room in Alumni Quad and his parents drove away, he realized that this time he was here to stay.

He says there were numerous adjustments to make, both social and academic.

One new experience was the large class-size in several of the electives he took. He says it was a contrast to what he was used to. "In a big lecture hall, you can't raise your hand and have the professors go over the material again." He also had to adjust to the size of the campus. "At UConn-Torrington, we had only one building," he says.

As a "branchfer," there were other things to get used to, too. "I was not used to having to eat at certain times, and I had never had a roommate in my entire life. I also was not used to the noise. Some people have very weird sleeping habits."

He says it was difficult to make friends half way through a college career, so he joined a fraternity, Delta Chi. "The fraternity is my home away from home. The brothers are some of my closest friends ever," he says. "It's a very strong emotional bond and you all look out for each other."

Pyrzenski has served as pledge class president and philanthropy chair for the fraternity but, after having a significant level of involvement in the northwest corner, he found it more difficult to find a voice at Storrs and move into the kinds of leadership positions he cherishes. "It takes a long time to get a reputation among the student body and work your way up to be a president or vice president," he says.

Pyrzenski says he would like to see a more extensive orientation for transfers. "I think the transition is as needed for juniors or any type of transfer as it is for freshmen."

But, he says, as a result of his experiences he has developed a sense of independence. "I've learned how to do things for myself, to make my own connections and start from scratch. Now I know what I must do to achieve my goals."

During his career at Storrs, Pyrzenski has also worked as an intern at SNET and most recently as calendar editor and student writer for the Advance. "I've learned to appreciate deadlines," he says. "That's given me more focus."

Pyrzenski is now looking for a job in sales or marketing. He hopes to stay in Connecticut. "No matter where I am in Connecticut," he says, "I will remain active with the University, with my efforts focused on UConn-Torrington."

He's a vocal supporter of the University's proposal to offer four-year degrees from the regional campuses, including Torrington. "I'm excited the school might turn into a four-year institution," he says. "I'm pushing for the program because it would benefit a lot of students."

Elizabeth Omara-Otunnu