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  • Civil Engineering Student James Moriarty Selected A University Scholar

Civil Engineering Student James Moriarty Selected A University Scholar

Civil Engineering junior James Moriarty, of East Longmeadow, MA, has been selected a University Scholar. He is among just 24 students across the entire university, from among 39 applicants, to gain acceptance to the elite enrichment program, which is designed specifically for highly motivated students who wish to take a more hands-on approach to their undergraduate studies. University Scholars develop individualized plans of study during their last three semesters and engage in an intensive, focused and original project culminating in a high-level piece of scholarship or creative accomplishment.

In conjunction with his University Scholar award, Mr. Moriarty expects to assess the design of the planned mixed-use residential/commercial Storrs Center – to be constructed near the UConn-Storrs campus – for its integration of environmentally sound engineering systems. He will also offer recommendations that will help the project architects foster ecologically healthy development. Mr. Moriarty’s project advisors are Drs. Ramesh Malla and Norman Garrick of Civil & Environmental Engineering, and Dr. Chris Elphick of the Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology.

“My independent research project involves an assessment of the Storrs Center design created by the Mansfield Downtown Partnership. I will review the existing ecological site conditions and how the design incorporates natural systems with the constructed infrastructure. In particular, I’m interested in energy and water usage – the two engineering factors that have the most profound effect on the environment. The review will also include the design’s impact on the region as a whole, including transportation energy use, the source for fresh water, and the wastewater treatment. I’ll provide recommendations for the design of these systems to better foster ecological health in the region as a whole,” he said. Read more about James and his University Scholar project here.

Mr. Moriarty, who previously passed the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Accredited Professional (AP) examination administered by the Green Building Certification Institute/U.S. Green Building Council, will apply this knowledge toward his project. He is among just 200 students worldwide to have attained LEED accreditation as a professional (LEED AP). His aim, he said, is to “create community designs that foster a healthy society, healthy inhabitants, and a healthy environment.”

Associate Vice Provost Lynne Goodstein, who directs both the University Scholars and Honors Programs, said the University Scholars program emerged in the 1950s and is a signature UConn program. “It is designed to provide very talented undergraduates – students who demonstrate a superb commitment to their academic success and who show a lot of initiative – the opportunity to design their own educational program.”

An intensive University Scholar project is the centerpiece of the experience. She said it is the culminating feature of the Scholar’s undergraduate academic career, reflecting the level of effort and expertise often found in master’s level thesis. In designing their plans of study, University Scholars enjoy various advantages, including the opportunity to take coursework outside of their degree-granting school or college, take graduate-level courses and to exceed the per-semester credit restriction set by the University. Another perk is guaranteed on-campus housing during their senior year.

Dr. Goodstein recommends that interested students start to think seriously about the University Scholar program during the second semester of their sophomore year, because considerable advance planning is required to ensure a successful application. Students submit a letter of intent in September and the full application during the first semester (November) of their junior year. Academic performance and a strong, demonstrated commitment to learning are among the criteria considered by the selection committee. Dr. Goodstein said that each summer, her office mails a letter to all rising juniors who hold a 3.6 CGPA or higher (3.5 GPA for Honors Program students, who engage in more rigorous academic programs), inviting them to apply to the University Scholars program. She added that other students with strong academic records and an interest in participating in the program are also encouraged to apply. An interdisciplinary faculty review panel assesses and discusses all submissions with great care. Each application is assigned to two lead reviewers, who summarize the proposed plan of study before the full panel.

The impact of the University Scholar program is enormous, according to Dr. Goodstein. “The publicity and level of recognition that University Scholars receive – for example, graduating Scholars are honored during a special Honors Medals ceremony – underscores, and communicates to the University community and beyond, our commitment to excellence in undergraduate education. Though we are a research institution and provide superb graduate programs, undergraduate education is also central to the University’s mission.”

In addition, she said, the University Scholars program supports faculty and their research efforts. “Many of our Scholars work in faculty laboratories, where they interact with other undergraduates, graduate students, post-docs and faculty. They are part of a team, and there’s a sort of ‘halo’ effect the students derive from their research experience. A third, very considerable, benefit is to the Scholar. University Scholars attain recognition and a certain ‘star power,’ but more importantly, they enjoy the opportunity for experiential learning. In the three-semester project, University Scholars are required to master not only their subject matter, but also task management, planning, organization and communication skills. We call University Scholar projects ‘über-theses’ because they engage students in original, challenging research.”

A participant in the University’s Honors Program, Mr. Moriarty has garnered numerous laurels during his time at UConn. His previous merit-based honors include the 2007 New England Scholar award, United Technologies Academic Merit Scholarship (2006-2008), E. Russell Johnston, Sr., Memorial Award and membership in Tau Beta Pi, the engineering honors society. He is a member of various professional societies, including the Connecticut Green Building Council, Northeast Sustainable Energy Association, UConn chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers, and the National Society of Collegiate Scholars.