UConn Avery Point celebrates 50 years amid shutdown threats

Members of the Figueroa family of Ledyard and their relatives, the Saladin family of Groton, walk past the Avery Point Lighthouse on their way to the Marine Sciences docks while attending the UConn Avery Point 50th anniversary festival in Groton on Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017.  (Dana Jensen/The Day)
Members of the Figueroa family of Ledyard and their relatives, the Saladin family of Groton, walk past the Avery Point Lighthouse on their way to the Marine Sciences docks while attending the UConn Avery Point 50th anniversary festival in Groton on Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017. (Dana Jensen/The Day)

Groton — The University of Connecticut’s southernmost outpost, once the estate of a wealthy philanthropist, was bustling Sunday afternoon as visitors celebrated Avery Point’s 50th anniversary as a college campus.

Students and faculty were on hand on the piece of land sticking out into the Thames River, showing off the scientific research they do there only weeks after Gov. Dannel P. Malloy had been there to warn that proposed cuts to the UConn budget could put the Avery Point campus "on the chopping block."

But the atmosphere at Avery Point Sunday was upbeat.

Visitors sat through lectures by Avery Point professors, ate from food trucks, took boat rides guided by the Avery Point Sailing Club, danced to live music and met an impersonator of Morton Freeman Plant, the original owner of the Avery Point property and its Branford House mansion, which was added to the National Register of Historic places in 1984.

Steven Deignan-Schmidt, who will soon complete his Ph.D in physical oceanography, said he wouldn't have gone to school anywhere else for the degree, though he said he was looking forward to being finished with his thesis on the movement of water around the Norwalk Islands in Long Island Sound.

Deignan-Schmidt, who was introducing visitors to a meteorological tower at the southern tip of the Avery Point campus, said he appreciated the weekly soccer games between faculty and students and the camaraderie among researchers there.

"This is a great community," he said. "There's very much an open-door policy."

Avery Point, once a Coast Guard research and development center, became a UConn campus in 1967 and underwent a major refurbishment in 2001.

Deignan-Schmidt said he doesn't take the threats of funding cuts to Avery Point seriously, citing multiple improvements to the campus the state has made in recent years and revenue that weddings and events on the campus' Branford House generate. 

When a young boy — an aspiring meteorologist, his father said — approached the meteorological tower, Deignan-Schmidt launched into an explanation of what each of the instruments at the top of the tower is for. 

Across the campus, the most recent incarnation of Jonathan, UConn's canine mascot, investigated a shallow pool filled with scallops, crabs and starfish, standing on his hind legs to poke his nose into the water.

Charlie Woods was overseeing the tank, but in his day job manages the Rankin Laboratory, a seawater laboratory that can supply up to 250 gallons per minute of seawater for students and researchers in the school's marine science department.

"We have a bunch of amazing resources right here at our fingertips," Woods said. "It's taken for granted a lot of the time."

Craig Tobias, an associate professor at Avery Point, was in a greenhouse attached to the laboratory, showing off the research on the effects of nutrients flowing into the ocean on marine environments that he and his students do at Avery Point. Two adjacent tanks — one clear, and one full of algae — demonstrated the effects that oysters can have on the nutrients in water.

"We look at the legacy of hundreds of years of nutrient loading into the Long Island Sound," he said. "This is where the rubber meets the road."

m.shanahan@theday.com

Piper Woods, 3, left, of Ledyard and Noah Bennett, 3, right, of Groton take a look at the starfish, scallops, snail and crabs in the marine creatures touch tank at the Rankin Seawater Laboratory while attending the UConn Avery Point 50th anniversary festival in Groton on Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017.  (Dana Jensen/The Day)
Piper Woods, 3, left, of Ledyard and Noah Bennett, 3, right, of Groton take a look at the starfish, scallops, snail and crabs in the marine creatures touch tank at the Rankin Seawater Laboratory while attending the UConn Avery Point 50th anniversary festival in Groton on Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
Project Oceanology's R/V Enviro-Lab II, with passengers onboard for a tour while attending the UConn Avery Point 50th anniversary festival, passes by the campus in Groton on Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017.  (Dana Jensen/The Day)
Project Oceanology's R/V Enviro-Lab II, with passengers onboard for a tour while attending the UConn Avery Point 50th anniversary festival, passes by the campus in Groton on Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017. (Dana Jensen/The Day)

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