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Honors students enjoy variety of academic, extra-curricular challenges
(April 19, 1999)

Photos by Peter Morenus
Whitlatch makes discoveries through research

Being an honors student "opened the door to smaller and more challenging courses, especially in my first two years," recalls molecular and cell biology major Hilary Whitlatch, who is also a Nutmeg Scholar. "It also helped me to meet and interact with people who share my interests, people who could help me advance. That's often difficult at a big university."

The other thing it did was quickly get her into a laboratory setting, where she has excelled. Following an internship at the Connecticut State Museum of Natural History at UConn the summer after her freshman year, Whitlatch began working in Professor Carol Teschke's laboratory, where, by the end of her sophomore year, she had defined the research that would occupy her for the next two years and lead to her honors thesis "The Search for Temperature-Sensitive and Cold-Sensitive P22 Coat Protein Mutants."

The research explores the mechanism through which a primary amino acid directs the three-dimension folding of a polypeptide chain. Using two mutant classes of a virus called P22, Whitlatch has made discoveries that help to clarify the roles of specific amino acids in protein folding and assembly. The research has implications for better understanding human diseases that involved unfolded proteins, such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and cystic fibrosis.

Whitlatch has been accepted at two medical schools and is currently weighing her options.

Fleischer values small classes, faculty interaction

"Being an honors student has been a fantastic experience for me," says Amy Fleischer, a senior majoring in English and sociology. "It has meant smaller classes and greater opportunities to meet with professors and form a connection with them."

Fleischer's undergraduate experience has also afforded her room to explore a growing interest in community service. Having volunteered with UConnPIRG and Habitat for Humanity, she says that no matter what career she ends up pursuing, she expects to continue finding opportunities to make a contribution to the community.

As part of the University Scholar program, Fleischer has spent the past two years working closely with the National Coalition Against Censorship on a project exploring the reasons why materials are censored in public high schools. Her honors thesis, based on visits to high schools in both Connecticut and Massachusetts, reaches the conclusion that censorship is often insidious. "A deselection process often happens, in which teachers decide against using certain materials based on non-academic criteria," she says. "Teachers may avoid using materials that would be academically appropriate, because they are unwilling to risk the repercussions."

Day of Pride scholar tackles triple major

Maria Sanabria packs a lot into her day, but that's the way she likes it. She has a triple major -- chemistry, chemical engineering and metallurgy/materials engineering -- does catalysis research in the chemistry department and is a tutor in the Engineering Diversity Office.

"I like living a busy life," Sanabria says. She also likes a challenge. "I didn't like chemistry in high school," she says. "But it was a challenge and I worked hard at it and became good at it."

Now Sanabria, who has held a four-year Day of Pride Scholarship at UConn, one of fifteen awarded annually to outstanding Connecticut high school seniors, plans to continue her studies in graduate school. She is considering working in industry after that. "Everything we use is somehow touched by chemistry or chemical engineering applications," she says.

A University Scholar, Sanabria says her UConn education compares favorably with that at any other top school. She appreciates the accessibility of faculty, noting in particular chemistry professor Steven Suib, who is also her adviser. "He has been a great influence on me, supportive and encouraging," she notes. When, for instance, Sanabria was concerned about adding metallurgy and materials engineering to a dual major, she says Suib's response was, "Oh, you can do it."

Sanabria had the opportunity to apply what she's learned through a co-op at Chesebrough Ponds and a summer job at Uniroyal Chemical.

"The more I have to do, the better grades I get"

When Vincent Southerland graduates in May, he will take with him lifelong friendships, a well- rounded education and a sense of accomplishment. Southerland, who came to UConn as a Day of Pride Scholar, is majoring in political science and sociology. Planning a career in law, he is interested in issues that challenge peoples' civil liberties. He will attend law school in the fall.

Meanwhile, he continues to write commentaries on social issues for his column in the Daily Campus newspaper, where he is also on the editorial board. His work in a community service fraternity has taken him to Willimantic to tutor first- and second-graders in reading and math, and to Stowe Village public housing complex in Hartford to play football with underprivileged youngsters. He has also volunteered for Habitat for Humanity and for the Windham Aids Program. "I find the more I have to do, the better grades I get," he says.

An honors scholar, Southerland has enjoyed the variety of people he has met at the University. "Its interesting to see different attitudes, different ideas, and different types of people," he says. He has also "had a lot of good professors to help me along the way," he says, citing Kenneth Neubeck, an associate professor in sociology, Daryl Harris, an assistant professor of political science, and Howard Reiter, a professor of political science. "Their classes were stimulating, I liked their teaching styles and their outlook on the world," he says. A member of the Student Coalition for Undergraduate Diversity, Southerland also plays intramural sports.