In and of Hartford

Opportunities for students abound

By Andrew J. Concatelli

“A strong Trinity benefits Hartford, just as a strong Hartford benefits Trinity.”
So says Sonia Cardenas, acting dean of the faculty and vice president for academic affairs. With the new downtown campus at Constitution Plaza, a high-profile partnership with global tech giant Infosys, and a commitment to the Digital Health CT medtech accelerator program along with Hartford HealthCare and the UConn School of Business, Trinity recently has become a more visible presence in the city of Hartford.

Trinity Assistant Professor of Biology Susan Bush; Hartford residents Isabella Dresser ’22, Claudia Gonzalez (Isabella’s mother), and Amy Sobel; and Research Associate Professor David Ruskin gather recently in the Trinity College Community Garden at Trinfo.Café.
Photo by Arianna Basche

Yet Trinity’s engagement with Hartford certainly is not new. Cardenas says that the college can trace its Engineering Department, graduate studies programs, and a long history of community learning in large part to its location in Hartford. “Today, we’re actively embracing this distinctive feature of our institutional history and identity, which sets us apart from most of our peers,” says Cardenas.

Trinity and Hartford are so intertwined that it’s hard to quantify the numerous programs, internships, courses, service opportunities, institutional partners, open-to-the-public events, and more. “Indeed, our mission of preparing students to be bold, independent thinkers who lead transformative lives is itself inspired by our urban location,” she says.

Jason Rojas M’12, associate vice president for external affairs and chief of staff to Trinity President Joanne Berger-Sweeney, notes that being in the capital city benefits students in academic and co-curricular settings, giving them easy access to resources and opportunities. “You can learn about something in a class and then directly experience it out there in the community,” says Rojas, who also serves as a state representative in the Connecticut General Assembly. “Our location makes it possible to provide our students with a variety of experiences in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. These include internships at Fortune 500 companies, world-class performing arts at The Bushnell, legislative internships at the State Capitol, and research and community partnerships throughout the region.”

Tommy Peduto ’21 helps a Hartford resident at the 2019 VITA tax clinic at Trinfo.Café.
Tommy Peduto ’21 helps a Hartford resident at the 2019 VITA tax clinic at Trinfo.Café. Photo by Nick Caito.

One way to explore these partnerships is through Community Learning at Trinity, which this year marks its 25th anniversary of offering courses in which students enrich their knowledge and skills through partnership with Hartford-area organizations. Courses including “Immigration Policy” and “Diversity in the City,” taught by Abigail Fisher Williamson, Charles A. Dana Research Associate Professor of Political Science and Public Policy and Law, connect students with real-life examples of the issues discussed in class while advancing community partners’ goals.

Beginning in fall 2020, Williamson will serve as director of Trinity’s Center for Hartford Engagement and Research (CHER), created in 2018 to bring together five of the college’s community engagement programs—Community Learning, Community Service and Civic Engagement, the Liberal Arts Action Lab, Trinfo.Café, and the Hartford Magnet Trinity College Academy Partnership—yielding greater efficiencies and stronger connections. She plans to implement systems to evaluate CHER’s progress and to ensure its institutional stability for the long term. “With CHER, there are a lot of avenues through which students can be self-starters in community-engagement work and develop a range of skills while also making sure that, at root, what we’re doing is supporting our Hartford community partners,” Williamson says.

Professor of Educational Studies Jack Dougherty, CHER’s inaugural director, notes, “Our mission is to help young people think about the world from different points of view. Community engagement in Hartford does that well when it’s a two-way relationship; it really gets enriched when everyone—students, community partners, faculty, staff—is learning from these relationships we’re building.”

Liberal Arts Action Lab Absentee Landlord team check data
Members of the Liberal Arts Action Lab’s Absentee Landlord Team—Michael Serrano and Lena Wright of Capital Community College, Trinity Postdoctoral Fellow in Urban Studies Emily Yen, and Action Lab Director Megan Brown—observe houses in Hartford’s South End in fall 2019 to check data. Photo by Erica Crowley.

In one mutually beneficial relationship, Connecticut Fair Housing Center Director of Operations Fionnuala Darby-Hudgens IDP’13 says that students working on a project at the Liberal Arts Action Lab—a joint effort between Trinity and Capital Community College at Constitution Plaza—conducted interviews with individuals being evicted to help identify root causes of eviction. “Fieldwork lets students apply lessons from the classroom,” she says. “The primary-source research the students did for that project was extraordinarily valuable for our organization.”

Additional Community Learning opportunities for students include the Community Action Gateway, Community Learning research fellowships, and Public Humanities Collaborative summer research. Community Learning Research Fellow Josselyn Alejandra Zaldívar ’20 spent a year working with Hartford City Councilwoman Wildaliz Bermudez ’04 researching bilingual education programs in Hartford to help the council understand the history and current status of the programs to help guide their future. Says Zaldívar, “I honed skills I learned in other classes and previous projects: interviewing, analyzing data, time management, and public speaking, but most importantly, empathy. We gain experiences with the real problems the city faces. Trinity College and we, as students, can become agents of change in our society through research that can teach others about the issues around them.”

HMTCA sophomores take part in the Summer Science Program
HMTCA sophomores take part in the Summer Science Program. Photo by Robert Cotto Jr.

Connecting with the city in a different way, Trinity’s Center for Urban and Global Studies (CUGS) collaborates with Hartford partners to study the workings of American cities and their engagement globally. Paul E. Raether Distinguished Professor of Urban International Studies Garth A. Myers, CUGS director, says, “Having an urban studies program that has an affinity for affiliation with Hartford in the curriculum is the bedrock of Trinity’s relationship with Hartford.”

In the Cities Program core course, “From Hartford to World Cities,” says Myers, “we start with studying Hartford and move beyond that.” In “Intro to Urban Studies,” students are required to attend a public meeting, ride a bus, walk a number of Hartford streets, and eat at ethnic restaurants. “Our students need to learn about and be a part of Hartford, which is extraordinarily diverse and interesting,” Myers says. “I’ve found it opens students’ eyes.”

Students may opt to complete internships in Hartford that leave a lasting impact. “Alex Perez ’17, an urban studies and sociology major, did an internship with the city; the ‘Share the Road’ bicycle lane signs on Fairfield Avenue in Hartford are there because of the work he did,” Myers says. “Trinity is small, and we have a lot of talented students who can make a difference.”
Myers adds that the college will launch a graduate certificate program in urban planning in fall 2020, the first of its kind in the state. He notes that the program is aimed primarily at serving the metro area. (For more, please see page 5).

Men of Color Alliance (MOCA) barbecue attendees play four square during the 2019 event at Trinfo.Café.
Men of Color Alliance (MOCA) barbecue attendees play four square during the 2019 event at Trinfo.Café. Photo by Ailani Cruceta ’22

Large annual events including the Trinity International Hip Hop Festival and Trinity Film Festival at Cinestudio connect the academic work of the college with the local community through engagement with the arts. Samba Fest, which Associate Professor of Music Eric Galm started as an academic course about music and migration, developed into a free public music festival that attracts performers from around the world. “I like to see Trinity playing a participatory role in the artistic life of Hartford, encouraging positive cultural engagement in the city,” Galm says.

Cardenas adds, “Our faculty, staff, and students in the arts also illustrate vividly the power of being in a city, whether students are participating in global music festivals or learning in museums and cultural institutions, just as our close ties with Hartford Hospital provide students in the sciences with exceptional research experiences.”

Trinity students load donations for the 2018 Thanksgiving Drive
Trinity students load donations for the 2018 Thanksgiving Drive. Photo by Helder Mira.

Now that Trinity has a presence in downtown Hartford, with close ties to Infosys and innovative start-ups, Cardenas says, students will have even more opportunities and reasons to stay in Connecticut after they graduate. “We live in a diverse world, and it is essential that our students are exposed to this diversity and learn to navigate it productively,” she says. “Students who have the agility to live and thrive in cities will have a clear advantage when they graduate from college.”