2024 Reed Fellow

Arash Esmaili Zaghi, P.E., S.E.

Arash E. Zaghi is a Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Connecticut.  In 2009, he received his PhD in Civil Engineering from the University of Nevada, Reno. After he was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) at age 33, he began engineering education research aimed at highlighting the importance of neurodiversity for the creativity of our nation’s engineering workforce by promoting a fundamentally strength-based perspective toward diversity. He started his engineering education research endeavor through an NSF RIGEE grant in 2014. The promising findings of this research and the encouraging feedback of the student community motivated him to pursue this line of research in his NSF CAREER award in 2017. Since then, he has built a coalition within the university to expand this work through multiple NSF-funded research grants including IUSE/PFE: RED titled “Innovation Beyond Accommodation: Leveraging Neurodiversity for Engineering Innovation”. Because of the importance of neurodiversity at all levels of education, he expanded his work to graduate STEM education through an NSF IGE grant. In addition, he recently received his Mid-CAREER award through which, in a radically novel approach, he will take on ambitious, transdisciplinary research integrating artificial intelligence, neuroscience, and education research to advance a personalized tool to enhance the participation of middle-school students with dyslexia in STEM disciplines. His efforts on promoting neurodiversity in engineering has been twice recognized by Prism Magazine of the American Society of Engineering Education.


UConn Waterbury Honorary Fellow 2024

Topher White, B.A. Physics

Topher White is a Conservation Technologist and the Founder of enviro-tech startups Rainforest Connection and Squibbon. As an inventor, field engineer and social entrepreneur, he has been honored with such titles as World Economic Forum Young Global Leader, Rolex Laureate, National Geographic Explorer, Draper-Richards-Kaplan Fellow and an IEEE Engineering Hero.

Rainforest Connection (RFCx) is the world’s foremost creator and deployer of acoustic technology for environmental protection and high-definition biodiversity monitoring. Squibbon, founded in 2022, employs the sounds of sub-urban biodiversity for consumer-facing and enterprise-facing applications, re-defining the concept of Nature-as-a-Service.

Educated primarily in Physics, software development and science communication, his latter career has been defined by rugged field engineering, environmental advocacy and bio-acoustic design. He received a degree in Physics at Kenyon College before going on to work for years at SLAC National Accelerator Lab (High Energy Physics) and the ITER Organization (Nuclear Fusion Power) in France. Topher served as CEO of Rainforest Connection from its founding in 2013 until 2022, growing an idea into a far-flung company, operating in 26 countries. Today, he serves as Chair of Rainforest Connection and CEO of Squibbon.

Title: How Listening Leads to Change: What Can We See in Nature's Sounds?
Everywhere on Earth, night and day, our living planet overflows with exuberant natural noise. Life itself murmurs, chirps and roars, expressing and asserting itself boldy and richly with sound. In the tropical rainforest, a cacophony of animal voices reveals the private lives of creatures of all types and sizes, as well as their feelings and codependence. Unfortunately, this symphony also all too often uncovers environmental threats that, if unchecked, promise to disrupt and destroy these ecosystems before we've even begun to understand them.

At WISHfest, Topher White, Conservation Technologist, will tell the story of how sound may be the most exciting tool available today to connect each one of us to the surreal and powerful dramas underway in the furthest reaches of our planet, as well as in our own backyards.

This most familiar of human senses — now combined with new technology and alternative approaches — promises to extend our "hearing" well beyond what our ears can recognize, and to soon give us the first true glimpses of ideas, feelings and philosophies of animals.

Harvey_Hubbell headshot

2024 Guest Speaker

Harvey Hubbell

Harvey Hubbellis an award-winning documentary filmmaker and social entrepreneur whose lean-forward approach to creating educational and socially conscious media is defined by literally seeing the world through a different lens. Hubbell wasn’t officially diagnosed with the learning difference dyslexia until his 50s (during the making of his film Dislecksia: The Movie), but not much was known about the diagnosis when he was in school. He struggled tremendously while learning to read and write, a struggle he vowed to make his life’s work.