Rafaele Fierro ’92

Photo by Dave Archambault/Tunxis Community College

DEGREE: B.A. in history, religion, and philosophy (self-designed major); M.A., Ph.D. in history, University of Connecticut

JOB TITLE: Professor of history and government, Tunxis Community College, Farmington, Connecticut

FAVORITE TRINITY MEMORY: I don’t think I can choose just one. Generally, though, it was when I realized that I could succeed at Trinity both academically and socially. It took a while because I grew up a poor kid from Hartford and didn’t have many of the resources that my college classmates did. When I got to Trinity, I was like a deer in headlights. Over time, though, I adjusted and learned to embrace the differences among us and that despite socioeconomic differences, people are generally the same. Since then, I’ve tried to use my background as an asset—so that was a very important discovery.

What courses do you teach at Tunxis, and what do you enjoy most about being a professor? I teach a range of courses from “The U.S. Constitution in American Society,” to the “Vietnam War,” to “African American History,” to “U.S. Since 1945,” as well as lots of introductory courses. I also am excited to resurrect a course on immigration history, which I have not taught in nearly a decade. What I enjoy most about being a professor is the interaction with students. They have their own unique stories filled with small victories and fraught with some hardship—that’s the Tunxis student. I like learning what makes them tick and figuring out what inspires them, much like the role Trinity professors took on for me.

You founded Tunxis’s Civic Engagement Institute (CEI). What is it? Yes, I founded the campus organization in April 2017 as a way of challenging our students to become more engaged in fighting the problems facing local communities and educating themselves about those problems. There is a yearning on the part of young people to try to solve problems, but so much of these social and political issues get bogged down in the partisan culture in which we live. So, the institute demands of students that they approach these important issues with as much civility and appreciation for multiple perspectives as possible. Problem solving through consensus building is one of our main functions.

What are the goals of the institute? The goals of the CEI are many, but the most important is to build awareness of some of the deep-rooted problems many people face. Many of our students come from those very neighborhoods that are most in need, so they have a vested interest in helping. The CEI’s goal in this case is to provide a framework in which to do that.

How does it go about achieving those goals? In a variety of ways. We created a certificate program in civic engagement, which is one of the first of its kind. This will provide interested students with the intellectual and academic foundation for putting themselves in a position to help. The CEI also solicits funding both internally and through outside sources so that we can take on neighborhood projects, put on forums with guest speakers, and conduct research on issues such as poverty and drug abuse. Trinity Associate Professor of Legal and Policy Studies Renny Fulco spoke in December 2017. She gave a brilliant presentation on civility in politics. The CEI also has created a blog where we document all the students’ achievements on matters of public import, including articles they write on behalf of civic engagement. In this sense, we are a think tank. We also receive the support of student and faculty volunteers; we’re trying to build an army of citizen-soldiers.

Was there a professor at Trinity who was particularly influential? There were a few like Frank Kirkpatrick [Ellsworth Morton Tracy Lecturer and Professor of Religion, Emeritus], who were incredible. But [Professor of History, Emeritus] Jack Chatfield was my mentor and role model. Prior to taking a colonial history course with him, I was a rather aimless psychology major. But his course and his way of teaching inspired me so much that it led me on a completely different path. I don’t believe he ever knew the full extent of it—and I didn’t realize it then either—but he completely changed my life.

What was the most memorable course you took at Trinity? I think the most memorable course, which made me fall in love with history even more, was “U.S. Since 1945” with Professor Chatfield. His style of teaching really came through in that course because the subject matter was near and dear to his heart, especially the civil rights movement. We had some very powerful discussions; the material fascinated me from beginning to end. I soaked up that information like a sponge.