Introducing Graduate Mentor: Christopher Cane

November 29, 2022

Hello! My name is Christopher Cane, and I am a graduate student mentor and research assistant with the NRCA Conservation Ambassador Program and NRCA Difference Mentor Maker Program. I’m currently a master’s student studying Human Dimensions of Natural Resources and the Environment at the University of Connecticut. As an undergraduate student, I double majored in environmental anthropology and studio art at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. 

While at Umass, I had the privilege of collaboratively planning a service learning trip to Plenitud ecological farm in Las Marias, Puerto Rico, where I traveled with other students to volunteer by harvesting and making anti-inflammatory turmeric salves to bring to local elders to relieve arthritis, among other things. I worked at the university Visual Resources Archive to digitize and archive the ethno-botany photo collections of the late Dr. Lawrence and Lucy Kaplan from Chiapas and Oaxaca, Mexico, and I was fortunate to meet Dr. Kaplan before he passed away in 2018. I still quote botany facts that I learned from him in my environmental education lessons. Participating in a year-long honors capstone course in International Epidemiology was also integral to the formation of my worldview. The course included a winter semester case study in Cape Town, South Africa, where we met with local community leaders to witness the impacts of apartheid, as well as the resistance movements that we had been learning about.  


After completing my bachelors degrees, I served as a FoodCorps service member with Green Village Initiative in Bridgeport, Connecticut for two years. While with Green Village Initiative, I coordinated a school garden advisory committee of public school teachers, public health researchers, a local chef, non-profit leaders, and district subject area leads. During the first year, I worked with 125 6th grade students, the Cesar Batalla School community, Green Village Initiative, and Home Depot to redesign and rebuild their school garden. During my second year, I committed much of my time with several key teachers to build capacity and investment in caring for the garden and utilizing it as an outdoor learning space. For the last three years I have had the pleasure of working as an environmental educator for Common Ground High School and New Haven Ecology Project. It was distinctly special opportunity to learn outdoors in West Rock State Park with students aged six to eighteen.


In my free time, I have an endless list of hobbies to keep me busy. I’m currently building a bookshelf from the salvaged wood of an Eastern black walnut tree that was felled in my home-town of Westbrook, CT. I enjoy gardening, fermenting kombucha and cider, and cultivating edible mushrooms. I like to cook for my five housemates, sit around a fire with friends and family, and go on hikes and adventures with my partner. 

As a research assistant with the NRCA, I am interested in social and ecological relationships, with concern in particular for collective decision-making about the environment and natural resources. I’m curious what factors lead to sustained community environmental stewardship. I believe that we’ll be able to learn more about this by better understanding the ways people collaborate to carry out environmental action projects with the NRCA Conservation Ambassador Program.


NRCA’s Conservation Ambassador Program (CAP) and NRCA’s Difference Maker Mentors (DMM) program are currently supported by a generous 5-year donation from the original private family foundation and from a grant (WAMS-2021-38503-34817) from the USDA Women & Minorities in STEM Fields.

Introducing Difference Maker Mentor: Leah Gichuru

September 20, 2022

Hello, my name is Leah Gichuru, and one of the Difference Maker Mentors for the year 2022-2023. I am currently studying molecular and cell biology, and minoring in Spanish at the University of Connecticut.

As a first-generation American student, I am the first in my family to be attending a four-year college and focus much of my free time mentoring other students who are also part of the underrepresented community. When I’m indoors, I like to spend my free time baking and cooking for my friends and family. All I need to do is watch an episode of Master Chef Junior, and a few other cooking competitions on Food Network, then I have all the motivation I need to get started.


I am a member of the diabetes network, travel model united nations, and leading women of tomorrow clubs on campus.


It was commonly asked how I came to be interested in being a Difference Maker Mentor, but I believe that my interest peaked very organically. Although this job doesn’t keep me in a lab, it is very immersive and allows me to mentor students and give them an opportunity that I was never provided while I was in high school. In my own experience, I didn’t realize the passion I had for biological sciences until I joined a program that provided me the opportunity to explore career choices in my interested area of study. Without it, I don’t know whether I would have chosen to still take the same route.


The environmental motto that I like to adhere to, is “leave the world a better place for the ones coming after us”.


I believe that we as humans were provided with certain resources to sustain ourselves and raise the next generation. So it is our obligation to do the same and cultivate a world we want to live in and preserve the resources that are limited. Wangari Maathai, a famous environmental and political activist once said, “It’s the little things citizens do. That’s what will make the difference. My little thing is planting trees.” Truly we must all work to create sustainability.


NRCA’s Difference Maker Mentors (DMM) program are currently supported by a generous 5-year donation from the original private family foundation and from a grant (WAMS-2021-38503-34817) from the USDA Women & Minorities in STEM Fields.


Introducing Difference Maker Mentor: Sydney Seldon

September 14, 2022

Hello everyone! 


My name is Sydney Seldon, and I’m a sophomore at UConn. I am pursuing a degree in Environmental Science and plan to double major in Environmental Policy as an individualized major. Avenues prioritizing collective action and community engagement have guided the opportunities I seek, and my role as a Difference Maker Mentor for the NRCA is no exception! 


As the name suggests, being a DMM has provided me invaluable experience working with students as we aim to make a genuine difference in their communities. I’ve learned so much and am thrilled to continue with the NRCA and this nature of work for the rest of my life.


If I were to have a “Mission Statement,” it would be that we all have the opportunity to make a difference in the environments we occupy regardless of the many worldly injustices present or our own individual weaknesses. That’s the beauty of collective action! Despite how weak or inadequate each of us may feel individually or how oppressed we may be, when we create spaces for engaging conversations, nurture those relationships, and collaborate to advance towards a shared goal, genuine change (for the better) is possible and inevitable! Regardless of the corruption that exists in the world, I plan to utilize every ounce of the privilege I have to make the world a better place for my current and future co-inhabitants.


This internal compass has guided me to become involved in various opportunities with different clubs and organizations that UConn provides, including (but not limited to) going on a mission trip to install water filters in Costa Rica, studying abroad in Italy, and most recently becoming an intern at the Office of Sustainability. 


When I’m not in class or the office, you’ll often find me relaxing or hiking outside, working out in the Recreation Center, or reading spiritual text. I enjoy volunteering, thrift shopping, and playing the ukulele in my free time. I also have a minor obsession with kombucha, sweet potato fries, and Ben & Jerry’s strawberry cheesecake ice cream.


I’ll end this post with my favorite quote. I hope these words not only inspire you, as they have me but prompt you to truly become the change you want to see. 


We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him.” -Gandhi.


NRCA’s Difference Maker Mentors (DMM) program are currently supported by a generous 5-year donation from the original private family foundation and from a grant (WAMS-2021-38503-34817) from the USDA Women & Minorities in STEM Fields.

Introducing Difference Maker Mentor: Erin McKeehan

September 2, 2022

Picture of Erin McKeehan from the waist up. Erin is smiling while wearing a solid black short sleeve sundress and tan tassel earrings. In the background, you can see part of a wall of a red barn sitting on top of a stone foundation.

Hey y’all! I’m Erin McKeehan and I will be serving as one of the NRCA Difference Maker Mentors for the 2022-2023 program. I am currently a senior at UConn studying Economics and Environmental Studies. While I plan on pursuing multiple pathways, I am particularly interested in circular economies and economic justice. I am radically optimistic in the belief that we as people already have the resources we need to achieve more suitable systems for human life (and by extension - our environment). The true obstacles then lie in education and connecting groups of people together to create and sustain such systems. Through the NRCA, I hope to contribute to and learn more about the community relationships required to achieve these goals. 


Picture of Erin McKeehan and Jonathan XIV, the husky canine mascot for UConn. Erin is sitting in the back of a gator utility car with the dog and smiling while the dog has his eyes closed happily with the wind in his fur.Also at UConn I am the president of the service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega. We’re best known for being in charge of the care of the Jonathans since 1970, which has been an incredible way to experience and serve the larger university population. While lesser known, the bigger part of what APO does is create as well as engage in service projects in the greater Tolland/Hartford County areas. When not at UConn, you can likely find me trying out new beverage concoctions at various local coffee shops, eating Lizzie’s Curbside at the Coventry Farmers’ Market, hanging out with my cat Chester, or making my way through the entire NCIS cinematic universe.


All Picture of Erin McKeehan's cat, Chester. The picture shows the back of an orange cat sitting on a sofa cushion looking out the window into a front yard.this to say, the common thread underlying each of my interests is certainly grounded in building and participating in my communities. Sharing knowledge to co-create a better world with what we know now is a mission we can all take part in, and I am very excited to be a part of that this year with the Natural Resources Conservation Academy!


NRCA’s Difference Maker Mentors (DMM) program are currently supported by a generous 5-year donation from the original private family foundation and from a grant (WAMS-2021-38503-34817) from the USDA Women & Minorities in STEM Fields.

Introducing Difference Maker Mentor: Leilani Duarte

August 24, 2022

Hello, my name is Leilani Rose Duarte, and I am a 2022-23 NRCA Difference Maker Mentor (DMM).


I’m a senior at UConn majoring in Natural Resources (NRE) with a concentration in Fisheries and Wildlife Conservation and minor in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB). I intend on entering graduate school after I graduate to further expand my knowledge and skill set related to wildlife conservation and management, which is also the field I hope to enter when I start my career. I am especially interested in conservation biology and working directly with animals, particularly felids. I’ve also always wanted to get involved in wildlife rehabilitation and rescue, and further on in my career I hope to be able to work with conservation organizations like the Wildlife Conservation Society.

As a NRCA DMM, I’m hoping that the experience will further inspire my interest in environmental science as well as help me broaden my own skills and experiences in community outreach and implementing community-based environmental projects. I’ve always had a strong interest in wildlife conservation, but I’m more familiar with the research side of it. The skills I hope to gain as a DMM include intergenerational communication and organizational skills, teaching skills, and managing community outreach projects.

In addition to being a DMM, I’m also currently working as a lab assistant for EEB PhD candidate Grace Vaziri with her study on the thermal preferences of wood frogs from different populations around Connecticut. Previously, I’ve worked with Liz Clifton, an EEB doctoral student on her termite warfare study and with Eliza Grames, a Post-doctoral Scholar now at the University of Nevada, on the EntoGEM project.

In my free time, I like to sketch, play video games, and spend time with my lovely cat Calypso. I also love to travel. In the past, I’ve had the opportunity to travel to Vietnam, Canada, Mexico, China and Japan, and more recently I’ve traveled to South Africa as part of the UConn study abroad course African Field Ecology. During the CAP field experience I was super excited to share my experiences in South Africa in particular, since cheetah conservation would be something I’d love to get involved with career-wise.

As a part of NRCA, I’m looking forward to helping my mentees develop their environmental action projects as well as seeing what the final projects look like in 10 months time.


NRCA’s Difference Maker Mentors (DMM) program are currently supported by a generous 5-year donation from the original private family foundation and from a grant (WAMS-2021-38503-34817) from the USDA Women & Minorities in STEM Fields.

Summer Internship Reflection

August 17, 2022

This post was written by Abby Bar, Summer 2022 Environmental Education Intern.


students in forestMy internship at the Natural Resources Conservation Academy through UConn Extension has been incredibly beneficial in teaching me tools both in environmental education and in working in general. Through this experience, I gained new skill sets and techniques that I believe will be useful in my own education and career endeavors. For example, I learned how to set up and use camera traps to collect noninvasive data on wildlife. I also learned small mammal trapping techniques, water quality testing strategies, and certain mapping and GIS skills.


At the end of the summer I felt qualified to educate high school students in the UConn Pre-College Summer Environmental Conservation course co-taught by Laura and Nicole. It is a firm belief of mine that teaching others is the best way to guarantee I am truly understanding new information, so by assisting Laura and Nicole with running this course, I got to better comprehend the concepts and tools I was teaching.


A big struggle of mine as a students in outdoor classroomrising senior at UConn is figuring out my career and education path. Coming into this internship I hoped to get a better understanding of my goals. I believe that this program allowed me to better understand myself and the interests I’d like to pursue. My desire to work in an environmental field has solidified as a result of this internship. I also realized I thoroughly enjoy environmental education as a whole, and working with high school students to inspire them to pursue their passions is also very important to me.

Understanding how to communicate information to this age group involved finding a balance of making sure the content wasn’t too simple or difficult to grasp, as well as interesting and engaging.


Overall, this experience allowed me to grow in many ways. walking on forest trailParticularly, I think that my communication skills really flourished over the summer. Not only did I have to communicate with mentors and other NRCA interns to create and plan educational activities, I also had to be a better communicator with students. Being able to talk to students about their interests and goals taught me a lot about how to best ensure that they are engaged and reaching their full potential in the course and beyond.

In summary, I believe that the tools and skills I used during this experience will give me a better foundation on which to begin an environmental career or continue my environmental education.

Introducing Abby Bar, Environmental Education Intern!

June 15, 2022

person near oceanHi! I’m Abby Bar, and I am a rising senior here at UConn. I am currently pursuing a dual degree in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Applied Mathematics. I hope to apply both of these fields in my future career. This summer I am working as NRCA’s Environmental Education Intern, and I am looking forward to assisting in the Pre-College Summer program.


I plan on entering a career that deals with conservation biology, and eventually attend graduate school to further explore a specific direction in this field. My interests lie in topics such as Ornithology, population dynamics, and green infrastructure. In my senior year and beyond, I want to keep exploring topics related to environmental science and ecology and eventually find a career that allows me to use my mathematics background to supplement work that will have a positive impact on the environment. Through this internship I hope that the connections I make, the knowledge I gain, and the experiences I have will all help me in gaining clarity in my career goals.


I am excited about this internship as I believe it provides me with the perfect opportunity to share my passion for the environment with others. I hope that during this course I will inspire students to continue pursuing their own love for the environment. I believe that working towards a more sustainable society begins with environmental education, and I am eager to be a part of the teaching process. Through working with NRCA to help teach students, I especially look forward to gaining exposure to topics that I am perhaps less well versed in.



At UConn, I am also a math tutor at the Q Center and I am doing research for the Bagchi Lab involving tropical rainforest diversity as part of my Honors Thesis. In my free time I like to go to the gym, bike, cook, and paint. I also am a big music fan, and I love to go to concerts whenever I have the opportunity. Some of my favorite artists are Taylor Swift, Hippo Campus, and Cage the Elephant. Additionally, I am a big traveler. Some of my favorite destinations have been Lake Bled in Slovenia, Cambridge, England, and Zion National Park in Utah. I would love to visit more National Parks in the coming years, particularly Yellowstone and Banff National Park in Canada. I am so excited to be a part of NRCA so that I can share my love of the environment with students and inspire them to be a part in creating a more sustainable world.

Meet Chelcy Htoo, Student Community Facilitator!

June 1, 2022

Hi, there! person at sunsetMy name is Chelcy Htoo, and I am a UConn Human Development and Family Sciences undergraduate.


I am also a rising Junior and have worked with the Natural Resources Conservation Academy (NRCA) since March as a Hartford Community Facilitator.


I was born and raised in Thailand Refugee Camp and moved to the United States in 2013 with my family to Hartford, Connecticut. I’ve been living here since then. I love going out a lot and finding new places to explore because there are so many unexplored places here in Connecticut and it’s a beautiful state. 


I wanted to join the NRCA as a Student Community Facilitator because I wanted to give back to my community and I also love working with young people. In this position, I’ve been co-facilitating focus groups with Hartford high school students so that we can gain insight and feedback on how to best leverage NRCA resources to support local environmental initiatives.  


I believe that it is important to have these focus groups in the community because you get to hear people’s perspectives and thoughts, instead of assuming what they want without hearing from their side. Also, youth voices are important because they are the change to this world and when we allow them to have a platform to speak their ideas and opinions it will help us shape this world into a better place. I joined as a Student Community Facilitator so I can give back to my community and bring necessary change. 

students stand in front of sign


My experiences as a Student Community Facilitator have been great so far and it’s the best experience yet. My team and I have been to the Hartford Public Library and Bulkeley High School to conduct three focus group sessions. I’ve enjoyed talking with the youth from Bulkeley High School and learning from their experiences. I’ve been amazed by some of their thoughts and ideas that they shared with me. It makes me realize to never underestimate the power youth can hold. The best experiences from this was to hold these conversations with the youth and being able to have an honest conversation with them. As I do these focus groups, it makes me think about why I do what I do. I am grateful to have this opportunity to do this with the NRCA organization and getting to work with the best team ever. 


Thank you for taking the time to read my blog!

Take care

DMM Passion Projects: User Guide For Installing Wildlife Camera Traps

April 27, 2022

Continuing the saga of DMM Passion Projects, I chose to put together a user

guide document for installing wildlife camera traps.


My interest for this project began when one of my teams in the Conservation Training Partnership program chose to capture pictures of the wildlife species at Roaring Brook Falls park in Cheshire. The process of learning about camera traps and how they worked piqued my interest in it. There was the added bonus of there not already being an installation guide for the Natural Resources Conservation Academy (NRCA). That, coupled with my interest to tell almost everyone I knew about this technology, is what pushed me to pick this up as a side project.


My goal for creating this user guide is to provide future NRCA participants an easy-to-read resource on installing these cameras, to hopefully record incredible pictures and videos of local wildlife.


With inspiration from existing wildlife camera traps installation user guides and a lot of editing, the final user guide for installing wildlife camera traps is now ready and can be accessed here.

Celebrating our Final CTP Cohort

April 14, 2022

invitation to Community Conservation ConferenceThe NRCA’s Conservation Training Partnerships (CTP) program recently wrapped up it’s fifth and final year by showcasing the local environmental projects completed by teen and adult teams across Connecticut. On Saturday, March 26th, we celebrated their accomplishments at the Community Conservation Conference, which took place on the UConn Storrs campus. The conference was attended by approximately 50 people, including CTP participants, their guests, and NRCA faculty and affiliates.


The 2021-2022 CTP program began with two-day hybrid workshops (one day in person and one day online) in Mansfield and Hartford during the summer of 2021. Twenty-two intergenerational teams attended our two workshops – ten in Mansfield and twelve in Hartford.


This CTP cohort comprised 28 students from 22 high schools and 17 adult volunteers from 7 conservation organizations who, after the workshops, collaborated in teams to carry out 18 diverse local conservation projects, 13 of which were presented at the conference.


Project topics included stream water quality, wildlife surveys, sustainability, outreach and education, trail mapping, solar energy, and invasive plants.

Teen and adult CTP participants shared their projects as printed posters and digital StoryMaps:


Congratulations to these new Connecticut Conservation Ambassadors!

It is our hope that their experiences in the CTP program helps drive our participants toward future environmental pursuits.