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  February 4, 2002

UConn a 100-Year Member
of Tropical Studies Group
By Elizabeth Omara-Otunnu

UConn has become the first "lifetime" member of an international consortium for the study of the tropics.

The 100-year membership in the Organization for Tropical Studies gives the institution part-ownership of the Organization's field research facilities in Costa Rica and enables faculty and students to participate in the educational activities of the consortium for the next century.

During an event late last semester officially announcing the lifetime membership, Chancellor John D. Petersen described the step as "a pretty significant statement.

"We are saying, 'this is the type of research and these are the type of educational programs we're going to commit our institution to for the next 100 years,'" he said.

"Although we may not be around to celebrate the centennial," said Gary Hartshorn, president and CEO of OTS, "we do look forward to a long and productive partnership in tropical biology with your university."

Hartshorn said the Organization, a consortium with 64 member institutions in seven countries on four continents, has trained about 5,500 participants through its signature courses, including more than 1,000 from Latin America, since it was founded in 1963.

Unparalleled Opportunities
Gregory Anderson, professor and head of the ecology and evolutionary biology department, described OTS as a model of inter-university and international collaboration.

"OTS is the best in the world in what it does - developing unparalleled education and research strategies in the tropics," said Anderson, who has served terms on the executive committee of the Organization. "Lifetime membership cements the relationship between OTS and UConn."

The University has been associated with OTS virtually from its inception more than 25 years ago, renewing its membership on an annual basis. With the annual membership fee currently running at $10,000 a year, lifetime membership is expected to protect UConn's participation from inflation and the potential vagaries of annual budgets, in addition to constituting a savings of around 90 percent.

The $96,700 lifetime membership fee was funded with seed money from indirect funds from a former training grant, together with contributions from the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Faculty and students in ecology and evolutionary biology, natural resources management and engineering, plant science, animal science, geology and geography will benefit.

Membership Benefits
The membership fee covers facilities in the field, supports the Organization's infrastructure, and gives students an entrŽe to the field of tropical biology, said Anderson, who first participated in OTS as a graduate student.

Intensive eight-week courses for graduate students, with up to a dozen instructors, are offered at three OTS field stations in Costa Rica. The courses offer invaluable first-hand experience in tropical habitats. Students pursue open-ended mini-research projects that often become the topics of doctoral dissertations or other major research studies.

Participation in the courses is highly competitive, said Anderson, but "once you're in, you're with the cream of the crop. You learn not only from the instructors but from the other graduate students, competitively selected from the top universities around the world." Once accepted to an OTS program, many graduate students are able to attract grant funding for their projects.

The Organization also offers Study Abroad opportunities for undergraduate students.

UConn, which has more than 50 OTS alumni, has been one of the most active member institutions in sending graduate students to OTS programs in recent years. In addition, about a third of the University's ecology and evolutionary biology professors have participated, either as students or as faculty.

Carl Rettenmeyer, former director of the Connecticut State Museum of Natural History and emeritus professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, has been active in the Organization activities since the early 1960s. When OTS was founded, he said, tropical ecology was a new field.

"Today pretty much everyone knows about the importance of preserving tropical forests," Rettenmeyer said. "But back in the early 1960s, you didn't hear any of that. Specialists like myself knew it and were concerned, but the rest of the world didn't care. Now you see posters about forest fires and pictures of orchids in buses throughout Costa Rica."

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