UConn@COP Fellows | Office of Sustainability (2024)

Defne Alpdogan

UConn@COP Fellows | Office of Sustainability (1)Defne Alpdogan is a senior from Cherry Hill, New Jersey pursuing a dual degree in Molecular and Cell Biology and Urban and Community studies on the pre-law track. This past summer, she worked with United States Senator Cory Booker in regard to constituent and policy work. Currently, she works for Nutmeg Publishing and works on writing pieces for the yearbook and the student magazine. During her time at UConn, Defne has been involved in SUBOG, Empowering Women in Law and Spoon University. She has worked on the creation of the Environmental Justice Mapping Tool for Connecticut through the joint partnership with DEEP and CIRCA. Defne hopes to become a lawyer someday and represent those who have been disenfranchised by the justice system. She hopes to work with communities in Philadelphia and give back to the community that has been impacted the most under justice policies. Attending the COP28 conference, she hopes to see the discussion of environmental justice and what nations are doing to address environmental issues that are impacting minority communities. During her free time, Defne likes to take long walks and listen to music.

Thomas Bonitz

UConn@COP Fellows | Office of Sustainability (2)Thomas Bonitz is a senior from Cheshire, CT majoring in Geographic Information Science (GIS) and Economics. On campus, he advocates for UConn to decarbonize and divest from fossil fuels as a member of Fossil Fuel Free UConn and engages in community service as a co-director of Honors Across State Borders and a team leader of Kids & UConn Bridging Education. He’s also a violist in the UConn Symphony Orchestra. In his past roles as a Sustainable CT Fellow, Sustainability Intern for Mansfield, CT, and co-creator of a sustainability camp curriculum for Manchester, CT, Thomas has sought to promote sustainability throughout the state. He is interested in researching the clean energy transition and environmental justice. He worked with a team headed by Dr. Xiang (Peter) Chen to study food insecurity in Greater Hartford and is now working with Dr. Carol Atkinson-Palombo to analyze the impact of commercial-scale solar installations on property prices. After graduating, Thomas hopes to pursue a career as a Professor, tackling climate change through research, teaching, and advocacy. He is thrilled and grateful to have the opportunity at COP to learn more about the global dynamics of climate change policy. He hopes to develop a stronger understanding of the stakeholders involved and the common ground we must find to address the climate crisis.

Janice Cheng

UConn@COP Fellows | Office of Sustainability (3)Janice Cheng is a senior from Barrington, Rhode Island pursuing a dual degree in Applied and Resource Economics and Global Studies. She aspires to unite her passion for sustainability with a visceral curiosity about international relations, which stems from her own dual-cultural background as a Chinese-Taiwanese American. Her exchange semester at the National University of Singapore last spring solidified her aspirations to continue gaining international experience in her professional endeavors, and COP will be an essential part of that journey. During this time, her travels throughout southeast Asia broadened her perspective on the social and environmental issues affecting different developing communities in contrast to those in the US, specifically, the mass consumption of single-use plastics and the growing economic disparities associated with rampant tourism. As such, she recognizes the importance of integrating global perspectives to solve issues as widespread as climate change and looks forward to connecting with representatives from other countries to learn how other nations approach their climate goals and what the US should take from these lessons. Janice's involvement on campus ranges from promoting cultural awareness to environmental stewardship: she is a mentor with AsACC's Asian/Asian American Mentoring Program, Vice President of Ecoposium, and research assistant at the Zwick Center and under the supervision of Professor Charles Towe in the Applied and Resource Economics department. Her current research projects include survey work on coastal resilience in the state of Connecticut and the impact of climate change on Lyme disease and human health. For this year's Ecoposium, she commits to incorporating an international component into each featured topic session based on new insights she brings from COP. Her interests lie within the energy industry, and she hopes to work at the intersection of the public and private sectors to implement decarbonization strategies by focusing on carbon markets, renewable developments, electrifying the grid, etc. In her spare time, Janice is most likely solving Sudoku or jigsaw puzzles, thrifting, testing new vegan recipes, and getting her zen on by moving through different yoga flows.

Victoria Duffy

UConn@COP Fellows | Office of Sustainability (4)Victoria Duffy is a senior from New Hartford, Connecticut pursuing a degree in Environmental Science and a double minor in Sustainable Food Crop Production and Math. As a child she gardened, camped, and spent hours playing in the woods with her brothers, establishing an early fondness of nature. After joining the FFA in high school, she realized farming and sustainability are topics she is passionate about. She fostered this passion by volunteering with a nearby land trust in high school, working at a local, family run farm each summer, and eventually volunteering at Spring Valley Student Farm once in college. Victoria fell in love with the community at Spring Valley and applied to live there during the summer before her junior year. At this time, she also began working for the UConn Adventure Center (UAC). Through UAC trips, she further confirmed the joy she feels when in the outdoors and her desire to protect such a sacred space. After a summer (‘23) living and working as a naturalist educator in the Adirondack mountains, she returned to Spring Valley with the passion to teach people about connecting to the natural world and utilizing organic farming practices to sustain healthy soils. When not working at the UAC or the farm, Victoria can be found analyzing soil samples for UConn’s Technical Assistance for Brownfields program. The plan is to determine contaminants for the purpose of implementing community gardens. At COP28, she wishes to gain a global perspective on climate issues and how individuals can make a larger impact through social or political movements, while also asking about sustainable agriculture and how to divest from fossil fuels in the green energy sector. After graduation Victoria will be joining Kira Goldman in Sri Lanka, 2024, WWOOFing (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms), and attending an Earthship Building Class in Taos, New Mexico. Perhaps one day she will dedicate herself to environmental law, engineering, or a PhD, but until then, she will continue summiting mountains, reading her favorite fantasy series, and prioritizing the gym over schoolwork.

Valentine Falsetta

UConn@COP Fellows | Office of Sustainability (5)Valentine Falsetta is a senior from Southbury, Connecticut pursuing a degree in Environmental Engineering. Growing up with a land trust right down the street, Val spent much of their childhood exploring the trails, ponds, and cliffs of Connecticut. Involvement with their scouting organization and volunteering for the land trust taught them the importance of environmental stewardship. Val continued this commitment at UConn as a part of EcoHouse Learning community by volunteering for Spring Valley Student Farm, gaining hands-on involvement with sustainable agriculture practices and green energy. This summer as an intern with Fuss and O’Neill, Val traveled across the state, investigating properties for soil and groundwater contamination. This semester, Val is excited to be supporting the Town of Redding, Connecticut in writing a Brownfield Cleanup Grant, which if awarded would support Redding in the environmental remediation and redevelopment of their community. They are also excited to be embarking on a year-long Senior Design project where they will explore technologies that will help to remediate PFAS, so-called “forever-chemicals,” contaminated soil and groundwater. On campus, Val TAs for the College of Civil and Environmental Engineering and is a trip leader for UConn Recreation’s Outdoor Adventure Center, supporting participants on trips ranging from day hikes to ice climbing. In their free time, Val can be found biking, thrifting, hiking local trails, and climbing with friends. After graduation, Val hopes to contribute to the mission of the CT DEEP and the EPA in combating climate change and environmental injustice as caused by its disproportionate effects on marginalized populations. As a COP28 Fellow, Val is looking forward to learning from scientists, engineers, and survivors regarding issues of environmental emergency response and relief and the shortfallings and injustices that result from our current systems.

Kira Goldman

UConn@COP Fellows | Office of Sustainability (6)Kira Goldman is a senior honors student from Mansfield, Massachusetts majoring in Allied Health Science with a minor in Environmental Studies. After finishing freshman year online, she drove across the United States and was both struck by the beauty of the earth and disappointed by its underappreciation. She traveled with Volunteers Around the World to Peru in 2023 and was moved by the centrality of nature in Latin American culture. She noticed that worshiping nature is pivotal to leading movements to protect both the environment and women and minority rights, and in creating communities with people with balanced and happy lives. She came back to UConn with a desire to fire the same passion in her peers and founded a chapter of an international organization called Plan My Gap Year. Her goal is to take her peers to places with cultures that respect the earth, while simultaneously furthering their professional development in a hospital, conservation, or teaching setting through volunteer work. She took a cohort of students to Tanzania, Africa in 2023 and is currently planning the next trip to Sri Lanka in 2024. Kira is most passionate about the effect of anthropogenic developments on human health and biodiversity, specifically in regard to agriculture. She explores this intersection in her research alongside Dr. Kelsey Fisher at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station. This project focuses on facilitating conservation of monarch butterflies, a flagship organism for pollinators that have seen massive declines over the past two decades. While at COP28, she is excited to investigate global initiatives on sustainable agricultural practices that work to protect human health and nutrition, biodiversity, and nature. On campus, Kira is a supplemental instructor for anatomy and physiology and is an academic mentor for STEM students. In her free time, she enjoys running, photography, playing outside with friends and being on Cape Cod.

Brett Hurley

UConn@COP Fellows | Office of Sustainability (7)Brett Hurley is a senior from Coventry, Connecticut studying Environmental Science and Political Science. His interest in the environment began in his high school’s environmental science class and continued throughout college with a particular focus on clean water and energy. On-campus, Brett is a member of the Clean Energy Society, Law Society, Fossil Fuel Free UConn, and the Special Program in Law He works for the Center of Environmental Science and Engineering as a Student Research Specialist in the Nutrients Laboratory, analyzing water quality and conducting his own research about the nutrient uptake ability of an on-campus wetland. In addition to scientific research, Brett is also passionate about environmental policy and regulation. Brett interned with State Representative Christine Palm during the 2023 Connecticut legislative session learning about the state legislative process and working to advance progressive environmental legislation. He is currently researching and writing his senior honors thesis on what differentiates decarbonization plans across New England states. At COP28 he hopes to learn more about countries' plans to decarbonize their electricity sectors and apply this knowledge to his research. After graduation Brett plans on attending law school with a particular interest in using the law to advocate for sweeping environmental action.

Sofia Karalekas

UConn@COP Fellows | Office of Sustainability (8)Sofia Karalekas is a senior at the University of Connecticut majoring in Political Science and Human Rights with minors in English and Global Studies. Through her studies, she has a concentration in Middle Eastern international affairs, so she is excited to be traveling to the United Arab Emirates for the 28th UN Conference of the Parties. Her previous internships in foreign and domestic policy have propelled her interest in public service, especially in relation to worldwide environmental justice. As an intern for the Franklin Lakes Borough Hall Environmental Commission, Sofia worked on passing Sustainable Jersey acts to rid her town of plastic bag usage and encourage consumers to buy locally. Her subsequent internship for the Democratic Party of Virginia allowed her to explore environmental policy on the federal level, and she focused on mobilizing constituents to elect politicians who would endorse effective sustainability actions. Likewise, as a Political Affairs Intern for the Borgen Project, Sofia lobbied for legislation that targeted global food insecurity, clean water, and pollution reduction as essential priorities of US foreign policy. Outside of her political endeavors, Sofia is an active member on campus at the University of Connecticut, where she works at the Writing Center, is a member of the CLAS Student Leadership Board, helps with propagation for the Horticulture Club, and completes academic research on armed conflict in Syria. After graduation, Sofia hopes to attend graduate school for international affairs and international policy, and she would like to eventually work for the Foreign Service once she tackles learning more languages. She is immensely grateful for the opportunity to attend COP28, and she is excited to witness the negotiations between world leaders at the conference. In her free time, Sofia enjoys hanging out with her friends, traveling, running, and cooking plant-based recipes.

Amanda McCard

UConn@COP Fellows | Office of Sustainability (9)Amanda McCard is a junior from Burlington, Connecticut majoring in environmental studies and journalism. She is passionate about approaching environmentalism from as many perspectives as possible and loves to learn about different avenues of sustainability. She is currently in her second year as an intern at the UConn Office of Sustainability, where she writes the monthly newsletter, helps create social media content, and is involved in planning campus-wide sustainability events. She is a director of Ecoposium, UConn, the university’s first student-run environmental symposium, and is organizing the section of the event centered around global perspectives and collective action. She has written articles that have been published in the environmental publication Planet Forward, as well as the UConn Journalism Magazine. Amanda also writes for UConn’s chapter of Her Campus, a national magazine written for college-aged women. Amanda hopes to reflect on the media landscape at COP28 and examine how rhetoric and storytelling can inspire change. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, creative writing, and yoga.

Mayowa Oladele

UConn@COP Fellows | Office of Sustainability (10)Mayowa Oladele is a passionate advocate for climate change mitigation and environmental sustainability. With a background in Industrial Chemistry and a current pursuit of a PhD in Chemical Engineering, Mayowa is interested in tackling pressing environmental challenges. His PhD research focuses on the modeling of anaerobic digestion processes with the aim of improving our approach to organic waste management and biogas production. By developing advanced models, Mayowa aims to turn organic waste into a valuable resource for biogas production while significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions. As a Fellow in UConn’s Future Climate Venture Studio program, Mayowa contributed his expertise to climate-tech startups, aiding in product development, strategy formation and market research of their solutions for combatting climate change. Recognizing the importance of global cooperation, Mayowa is excited to attend COP28 with the aim of networking with leading experts and policymakers from across the globe. This experience will amplify his research impact. Outside of research, Mayowa enjoys singing, cooking, and reading.

Naiiya Patel

UConn@COP Fellows | Office of Sustainability (11)Naiiya Patel is a junior from East Haven, CT studying Accounting with a minor in Philosophy and Social Responsibility and Impact in Business. Naiiya's interest in sustainability began in her Business Law class where she learned about unsustainable and inhumane conditions of Amazon. This led to more research, which fed a core interest in overconsumption of consumer goods and corporate responsibility. In Spring 2022, Naiiya took a Climate Change philosophy course at UConn and found a deep fascination with the connection between overconsumption and climate change. The course gave a broad overview of climate change and discussed individual obligations in reducing carbon emissions, climate refugees, and eco-. Since then, Naiiya has joined the ClimateWerx entrepreneurship program with The Werth Institute in hopes of finding an idea to implement on UConn's campus related to overconsumption. Naiiya has worked at UConn Extension as a Financial Literacy for Youth and Young Adults Intern in Summer 2022. This internship led to Naiiya's Independent Study in Financial Literacy where she assisted in the creation of a financial literacy game for Connecticut high schoolers. On campus, Naiiya works as the Business Manager of the Daily Campus. Naiiya loves supporting journalism on campus and helping preserve UConn's history. Naiiya is proud to represent the School of Business at COP@28! She hopes her business background will be an asset during policy negotiations. She is grateful for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and hopes it will be the first of many. In her free time, you can find Naiiya getting boba at Whale Tea, reading a good book, crocheting, or with friends!

Colin Piteo

UConn@COP Fellows | Office of Sustainability (12)Colin Piteo is a senior from East Hampton, CT, pursuing a dual degree in History and Political Science with minors in Latin American Studies and Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. This past summer, he worked as a SURF undergraduate researcher, pursuing a personally designed project exploring an environmental protection law in Argentina, its implementation, and the public perception surrounding environmental actions, especially those taken in extractivist communities. He is now continuing this research through his honors thesis, looking into the relationship between resource nationalism, state capacity, and political parties in the Lithium Triangle. In addition, he has worked in education and curriculum development for the past three years with the MeshEd Collective, working to create climate justice curriculum for local communities in Connecticut and across the country. On campus, he is the News Editor at the Daily Campus and the News Director at WHUS Radio. He also enjoys propagating plants at UConn’s Horticulture Club, reading, spending time with friends, and walking in the woods. In the future, Colin is interested in working in Latin America and furthering his education. Attending COP28, he hopes to learn from diverse perspectives, including climate scientists and those from the global south, in order to incorporate these perspectives into new education curriculum and journalistic reporting. He also wishes to learn more about international cooperation in the field of climate action and sustainability, and what can be done on the international level to mitigate and prevent the impending climate crisis.

Colin Rosadino

UConn@COP Fellows | Office of Sustainability (13)Colin Rosadino is a second year law student at UConn. He grew up in Glastonbury, CT and attended George Washington University for undergrad where he majored in Political Science and minored in History. Throughout college and law school, he has been involved with climate activism. He was a member of the Sunrise Movement hub at GW, researched and organized around climate reform in CT as an intern with the Connecticut Citizen Action Group this past summer, and currently works with a coalition of student organizations called Fossil Fuel Free UConn, pushing to end the University's ties with the fossil fuel industry. He serves as community engagement director for both the Public Interest Law Group and the National Lawyers Guild at UConn Law. He is also working as an intern with the Connecticut Sentencing Commission, researching reforms on the topics of juvenile parole and competency.

Mariam Vargas

UConn@COP Fellows | Office of Sustainability (14)Mariam is a rising junior at the University of Connecticut from the class of 2025 and is working towards a degree in Political Science and Global Studies with a minor in Human Rights. She is interested in pursuing a career in International Security, International Relations and Policy. At UConn, Mariam is the co-president of the Dominican Student Association, she works as the Community Affairs Advocacy Coordinator for the Undergraduate Student Government. Mariam is currently working on research on human rights. Most recently she attended the Kosovo Summer Academy where she learned about conflict prevention and peacebuilding. And was selected as a 2023 Rangel Scholar for the Charles B. Rangel Summer Enrichment Program at Howard University. In her free time she enjoys reading thriller and murder mystery novels and traveling abroad. Growing up in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Mariam has witnessed the way climate change has disproportionately affected smaller nations in the Global South.

Faculty Fellows

Thelma Abu

UConn@COP Fellows | Office of Sustainability (15)Thelma Z. Abu is an Assistant Professor in Environment and Human Interactions in the Geography Department at the University of Connecticut. She has a background in Environmental Science and Health Geography. Dr. Abu is an interdisciplinary and collaborative researcher whose research interests include the social and ecological production of health and wellbeing at the intersection of global environmental change, environmental health inequalities, global health equity and gender. Three themes are at the heart of her current projects: the interplay of the unequal distribution of environmental resources and gender-based violence; the impact of development interventions in the global south related to water access; and how these major structural changes in access to environmental resources such as water affect health systems and outcomes. Before joining the University of Connecticut, she was a recipient of the University of Toronto, Mississauga Postdoctoral Fellowship. Her research focused on building resilient and healthy communities by exploring and learning from the COVID-19 experiences of the Black and immigrant communities in the Greater Toronto Area, Canada. She earned a Ph.D. from the University of Waterloo, Canada. Abu’s research focused on water insecurity, its gendered impacts on health facilities in rural communities and urban informal settlements as well as its role in emergency preparedness in Kisumu Kenya. She is currently an Early Career Board Member for Health and Place and Wellbeing, Space & Society Journals.

Oksan Bayulgen

Oksan Bayulgen received her Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin in 2003. She teaches a range of comparative politics courses, including introduction to comparative politics, politics of Russia and the former Soviet Union, comparative democratization, foreign policy of Russia, politics of oil, introduction to non-western politics and sustainable energy. Her research focuses on the political economy of energy and democratization in the post-Soviet and the Middle East regions. She has conducted extensive field-work in Azerbaijan, Russia, Norway, Kazakhstan, and Turkey. She is currently working on a project analyzing the politics of renewable energy development in Turkey.

Robert Bird

UConn@COP Fellows | Office of Sustainability (16)

Robert Bird is a Professor of Business Law and the Eversource Energy Chair in Business Ethics at the University of Connecticut. A graduate of Boston University School of Law and School of Management, Robert taught at Seton Hall University before joining the University of Connecticut in 2004.

Robert’s scholarship focuses on compliance, legal strategy, sustainability in global supply chains, business ethics, and employment law. Robert is also the co-director of the Certificate in Corporate and Regulatory Compliance, a joint graduate compliance program between the law school and business school. Authoring over seventy publications, Robert has published in a number of outlets, including the Journal of Law and Economics, American Business Law Journal, the Journal of Business Ethics, and the MIT Sloan Management Review.

Robert is the recipient of the Academy of Legal Studies in Business (ALSB) best international paper award, distinguished proceedings award, the Holmes-Cardozo best overall conference paper award, and various other best paper awards. Robert was editor in chief of the American Business Law Journal in 2012-13. Robert has also won numerous teaching awards. Robert is the past president of the Academy of Legal Studies in Business, the international academic organization for professors of business law.

Desen Ozkan

UConn@COP Fellows | Office of Sustainability (17)Desen Özkan is an Assistant Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. Her research focuses on sociotechnical engineering education and education and workforce development for a just energy transition. She recently transitioned to UConn from Tufts University where she was a postdoctoral researcher focused on engineering education and offshore wind. She holds a Ph.D. in engineering education from Virginia Tech and a B.S. in chemical engineering from Tufts University.

Kimberly Rollins

UConn@COP Fellows | Office of Sustainability (18)Bio forthcoming.

Anji Seth

Dr. Anji Seth earned a Ph.D. in Atmospheric Sciences from the University of Michigan with an Advanced Study Fellowship at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). Her research centers on understanding regional processes within the context of global climate: from the role of vegetation, to precipitation extremes during El Nino events, to understanding how monsoon systems change in warmer climates. Much of this research employs numerical climate models to examine past, present and future climates. Professor Seth has recently led an assessment of climate change for the state of Connecticut, and we’re currently examining extreme heat events in past and future climates. She is the Chair of the UConn Atmospheric Sciences Group, and co-founder of UConn@COP.

Mark Urban

Mark C. Urban is an international award-winning scientist, associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, and global expert on climate change impacts on nature. He has authored over 45 scientific articles, appearing in top journals such as Science and Nature Climate Change. He has obtained funding from the National Science Foundation and the James S. McDonnell Foundation.

His work on climate change risks for species extinctions was highlighted as one of the top scientific discoveries of 2015 by Discover Magazine. He was recently awarded the Presidential award from the American Society of Naturalists. His research has been covered by news outlets around the world including The New York Times, NPR, CBS, CNN, BBC, Associated Press, Washington Post, The Guardian, and National Geographic. He has consulted on stories about climate change appearing in National Geographic and the television series, Years of Living Dangerously.

UConn@COP Fellows | Office of Sustainability (2024)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Jonah Leffler

Last Updated:

Views: 6251

Rating: 4.4 / 5 (45 voted)

Reviews: 92% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Jonah Leffler

Birthday: 1997-10-27

Address: 8987 Kieth Ports, Luettgenland, CT 54657-9808

Phone: +2611128251586

Job: Mining Supervisor

Hobby: Worldbuilding, Electronics, Amateur radio, Skiing, Cycling, Jogging, Taxidermy

Introduction: My name is Jonah Leffler, I am a determined, faithful, outstanding, inexpensive, cheerful, determined, smiling person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.