Undergraduate Highlights

UConn Junior Wins Prestigious Truman Scholarship

Akshayaa Chittibabu ’19 (CLAS), a biological sciences and sociology major, has been named a 2018 Truman Scholar by The Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation. The competitive national award, given to 59 students across the U.S., selects and supports the next generation of public service leaders.

Akshayaa Chittibabu ’19 (CLAS), a biological sciences and sociology major and 2018 Truman Scholarship recipient, poses outside of the Wilbur Cross Building on April 12, 2018. (Bri Diaz/UConn Photo)

Chittibabu, a junior, is a STEM scholar who has worked on implementing better health education for rural women in South India as a Holster Scholar; assessed barriers in American healthcare as a 2017 Newman Civic Fellow; and studied Korean in Gwangju, South Korea through the U.S. Department of State.

Currently, Akshayaa serves as the vice chair of the Academic Affairs Committee and Senator for Multiculturalism and Diversity in UConn’s Undergraduate Student Government.  She is an editorial assistant at the peer-reviewed journal Social Science & Medicine and is conducting her thesis research with Professor Audrey Chapman at the UConn School of Medicine’s Department of Community Medicine and Healthcare.

In Storrs, she serves on the UConn Hindu Students Council and volunteers as a community health educator through the Collegiate Health Service Corps. Her investment in global health has led her to chairing Connecticut’s first student-run global health conference, serving on medical development trips to Panama and Ecuador, and advocating for global malaria and polio programs as a UN Foundation Global Health Fellow.

“All my life I’ve wanted to enter public service, and this feels like an incredible affirmation of that goal,” Chittibabu says of the award. “It feels like there are endless possibilities, and that I’m really working toward making America a better place.”

For her graduate work, Chittibabu would like to pursue an MD/MPP degree, and in the future, she aims to build and promote innovative health policies as a physician.

“As Dean of the College, it is enormously gratifying to watch our students achieve the national recognition they deserve,” said Davita Silfen Glasberg, interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “And as a sociologist, I am especially proud of Akshayaa’s work in global health, which will undoubtedly produce innovative health policies for future generations.”

“Akshayaa is one of the most delightful and talented young scholars I have had the pleasure of knowing,” said Vincent Moscardelli, director of the UConn Office of National Scholarships and Fellowships. “She’s not only a double major, but a published poet, an accomplished artist, a speaker of five languages, and an aspiring physician. I simply cannot wait to see what she does next.”

“Akshayaa’s selection as UConn’s sixth Truman Scholar is evidence of her academic potential, her demonstrated record of leadership, and her extraordinary commitment to public service at every level,” added Provost Craig Kennedy. “She represents everything we at the University of Connecticut challenge our students to be.”

The Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation was created by Congress in 1975 to be the nation’s living memorial to President Harry S. Truman. Recipients of the Truman Scholarship receive a $30,000 scholarship toward graduate school and the opportunity to participate in professional development programming to help prepare them for careers in public service leadership. They will receive their awards in a ceremony at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum on Sunday, May 27, 2018.

By: Christine Buckley, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Joseline awarded the 2018 “Undergraduate Social Action Award”

Joseline Tlacomulco (middle), from Ruth Hernandez’s class (right) on “Introduction to Latin America and the Caribbean,” was awarded the 2018 “Undergraduate Social Action Award” by Sociologists for Women in Society (SWS), a national nonprofit professional organization dedicated to efforts related to feminist action, including promoting social justice through local, national, and international activism. This recognition is awarded to a student making a substantial contribution to improving the lives of women in society through their activism. At the award reception held in Atlanta, Georgia, Joseline gave a moving speech that was met with a standing ovation and her recognition was referred to as the “highlight of the event.”

Joseline’s personal experience as a baby carried across borders and deserts inspired her to become involved in immigration issues which affect her livelihood as an undocumented woman of color. In her personal essay Joseline wrote, “many times I felt I was the only undocumented student on campus. I didn’t know anyone at UConn who was undocumented, making it hard for me to trust those in my social environment. It was through this difficult experience that my own identity as an undocumented student pushed me to realize the lack of resources for undocumented students. Then, there were no scholarships offered by the university for undocumented students, the schools website did not include any information about matriculating as an undocumented student, and finally, there were no steps or an action plan to fix these institutional issues. I asked myself, how could a leading institution and New England’s ‘flagship university’ have zero resources to help their undocumented students?”

To address these and other issues Joseline became a community organizer for Connecticut Students for a Dream (C4D) and her work has significantly improved the lives of undocumented students at UConn. To enact social change Joseline leads workshops for faculty and staff concerning undocumented student populations, works with administration on various protocols, and facilitates legal aid services for undocumented students. Her efforts have amounted to protocols and transparent resources for undocumented students such as a web page on the financial aid website. The testimonial from Eleanor JB Daugherty, Associate Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students stated, “Joseline’s work for CT Students for A Dream is deeply compelling and has motivated University leaders such as myself to come forward and seek changes that would enable undocumented students to have a safe, accessible, and affordable college experience.”

Following the presidential inauguration of 2016, Joseline spearheaded efforts that facilitated open and much needed discussions about how immigration reform and other laws would affect UConn students. Following a campus-wide march, Joseline attended meetings to ensure that undocumented students would be safe at UConn. These efforts resulted in UConn examining its policies and protocols for the protection of undocumented students.

In addition to her grassroots work, Joseline is committed to student growth and is a frequent guest lecturer for many departments. Joseline’s lectures are complex and critical, and she offers students the opportunity to think through issues of diversity, as well as access to resources. Through her work, Joseline has become a mentor to many undergraduate students, such as Malachi Bridges who wrote the following testimony: “Joseline is an activist that is always willing to learn, work, help and teach. Among all these roles, she allocates the same 110% effort.” Another student, Laura Bedoya stated, “I admire Joseline’s fearlessness and ability to advocate for herself and many others. She inspires me stand firm in my beliefs.” It is clear that Joseline is a gifted speaker and is able to use her lived experiences to communicate issues often left out of curriculum about the diverse problems students of color at our university face today.

UConn student received the 2018 “Best Undergraduate Poster Award”

UConn Sociology students, Savannah-Nicole Villalba (left) and Caroline Brooks (right) presented their research at the 2018 Eastern Sociological Society’s Annual Conference in Baltimore.  Savannah-Nicole Villalba’s research, titled “A Healthy Food Inventory of Waterbury, CT” received the Best Undergraduate Poster Award.  This distinction was given to seven out of 170 posters.  Savannah-Nicole’s project was funded by the UConn IDEA Grant and the UConn Co-op Legacy Fellowship Program.  The title of Caroline Brooks’ project is “A Cross Sectional Time Series Analysis on the Impacts of Race on Homeownership.”