“Step, rock, heel, knee, stop – repeat”, Kevin Mastro (7th semester Biology and Psychology majors) claps his hands together in time to the verbal cues used by UConn’s 300+ member marching band to learn new moves.
Mastro has been through ‘band prep’ for four years and remembers well his first experience practicing how to march. “It was my first week of band camp and I was constantly making mistakes and wasn’t sure if I could do it”, recalls Mastro, “On the third day as we marched our first show and hit the final set, it was clear to me that it was all worth it.”
Members of the Band arrive to the Storrs campus two weeks before the start of fall semester to
prepare for the football season. (photo by Meg Malmborg)
For Mastro, pushing himself to do more than expected is the norm. An honors student from Webster, MA, Mastro graduated salutatorian of his class and received several merit scholarships to attend UConn. While the financial rewards were incentives to enroll at the University, the ability to engage in research and be a part of the marching band sealed the deal.
“My high school had a strong symphonic band but no marching. When I looked at colleges, I wanted a challenge and a school with a reputable band program. UConn’s Marching Band has been recognized as one of the best bands in the nation and has continually been in the running for the Suddler Trophy, national award for outstanding bandmenship” says Mastro.
“Additionally, Undergraduate research was one of the most attractive features of the UConn experience. Through the Honors Program, I attended seminars where professors and graduate students came to class and discussed their research. My academic advisors also encouraged me to seek our research opportunities as soon as my sophomore year.”
From the start Mastro took on leadership roles academically and with the Marching Band. He was section leader and a representative on the Band Council. He joined the Band fraternity, Kappa Kappa Psi and in his junior year was elected president of the service organization.
“The benefits of being part of the Band are endless and it all begins on the first day of your first season. You are embraced by 300 members who will be with you during your ups and downs and help you through the year. Older members help guide you through class selection and tell you about clubs and organizations to join” enthuses Mastro, “The connections are priceless and the experiences unforgettable.”
In his senior year Mastro was selected to serve as UConn Marching Band’s Drum Major, a responsibility he cherishes. “My goal has always been to give back all I can to an organization that has given me so much. Being Drum Major adds a whole other dimension to being a member of the Band. You conduct music and marching. Behind the scenes you are constantly making sure that the Band is running smoothly and you train other leaders to do their duties” says Mastro.
(7th semester music education) and Jessica Von Villas (8th semester music). (photo courtesy UConn Marching Band)
Taking on extra work comes naturally to an inquisitive student like Mastro who loves to learn. As he delved deeper into his interest in biology, he picked up an additional major (Psychology) and a minor (Neuroscience). “I entered the University with a love for biology; the love of animals and ecosystems and trying to understand how it all works together” explains Mastro, “My goal was to take courses throughout biology and find what I am truly passionate about. However, after taking an intro to psychology course, I made a crucial discovery: both behavioral neuroscience and animal behavior combined my love for biology with a complexity of psychology. There are 54 subdivisions of psychology ranging from clinical to biological!” Continues Mastro, “I remember sitting in my favorite all time class – Animal Behavior with Dr. David Miller – and realizing that by combining the majors I found my home, a place that intrigued me and challenged me and a place I could be proud to be a part of.”
Mastro applies the concepts he’s learned in the classroom to his Undergraduate research with psychology Professor Etan Markus. Mastro is part of a team of students who are running trials with lab rats to better understand how memories are formed and specifically how the brain structures associate learning and memory to address diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson.
“Getting involved in research is probably one of the best things an undergraduate can do” explains professor Markus, “It provides insight into the scientific process (much like getting to work “behind the scenes” in a TV studio gives a better understanding of how TV shows are made). Students interested in Graduate School get a chance for a “dry run” doing research, being able to make a more informed decision regarding their field of interest. It also provides undergraduates with an opportunity to develop a personal connection with faculty and graduate students. UConn is a relatively large research university and the spectrum of work being conducted here is breathtaking, lots of exciting research possibilities just waiting to be picked!
Undergraduate research connects theoretical learning with applications to real work problems like treating
degenerative brain diseases. (photo by Meg Malmborg)
Attracting bright students like Mastro to a research project is valued by professors as they bring energy and a novel perspective to the work. “Kevin has been in my lab for almost a year and has been involved in many different aspects of the research. We are interested in the brain basis of memory formation, and Kevin has been training rats on mazes, making technically complex electrode arrays, and recorded brain activity in behaving rats. Kevin has already been awarded a couple of small research grants and will be traveling to the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in Washington D.C. Kevin is smart, friendly and motivated, and a great addition to our research team.” says Markus.
“My research project focuses on the area of the brain – the hippocampus which is crucial to learning and memory. There has been minimal research regarding the interaction between the two sub-regions (ventral and dorsal) of the hippocampus. Working with Dr. Markus, we are revealing the physiological underpinning of the hippocampus so we can accurately look at treatments for these diseases” explains Mastro.
Building on his research opportunities, Mastro has his eyes on becoming a teacher who inspires others. “My ultimate career path is to become a tenured professor. The field of study is still up in the air but in the end I hope to do translational medicine in cognitive disorders.”
Whether conducting research or conducting the Band, Mastro stands out from his peers and relishes the spotlight. Kevin Mastro’s enthusiasm rallies the Band and UConn fans during a home game at Rentcheler Field.
The Drum Major’s role is a highly coveted position assigned to band members who have demonstrated
strong leadership within the organization. (photo courtesy UConn Marching Band)
“I have performed in front of an estimated one million people while in the UConn Marching and pep bands (basketball bands). I played in one of the largest venues, the Big House in Ann Arbor, Michigan (117,000+ seats). I have participated in one of the most talented bands in the nation and the largest student organization at UConn” says Mastro “My growth as a person and a leader helps me to work harder and find rewarding experiences at UConn.”
For Mastro life is to be enjoyed in a major way – on the field leading the Band and in his field of study leading the way to new discoveries. Mastro proves that taking on more results in more rewarding college career.