Skyler (Fall ’17)

“Living in Downtown Hartford throughout my urban semester was not only exciting, but also critical to my experience as a whole. Being able to take in-depth classes about the city and to intern at an organization that was deeply involved in that city, all while living my day-to-day life there, truly immersed me in Hartford and all it had to offer. Living in the city allowed me to see firsthand the practical applications and consequences of concepts we discussed in class each week, and also provided me with insights I would not have otherwise been able to bring to my internship. Beyond enriching my educational experience, living in Hartford with my urban semester classmates also introduced me to new friends that, to this day, I remain extremely close with. Hartford is constantly buzzing with things to do, places to explore, food to eat – and sharing in those new experiences with friends makes it all the more unforgettable.

Overall, urban semester was an extremely rewarding experience for me. At first I worried that I may not be able to take much from the semester, considering I was a psychology major and this program was largely outside my areas of concentration. However, urban semester afforded me a perspective I never could have gotten in a traditional classroom setting. I gained a deeper understanding of how environmental factors such as societal structure, socioeconomic status, housing, job security (I could go on) have a very real, strong impact on human behavior. There is a significant difference between reading about these concepts in a textbook and interacting with them in the field, as I had the opportunity to do in Hartford. I would recommend urban semester to anyone looking for both professional and personal growth.”

Samuel (Fall ’17)

“Living in downtown Hartford during the urban semester was a great experience. It was the first experience I had living off campus, and being downtown put us right in the middle of everything happening in the city. In addition to the convenience of proximity to class, spending roughly 4 months in Hartford gave me a greater understanding of the challenges the city faces moving forward. On the flip side, the experience also revealed the many great strengths of Hartford, and gave me an appreciation of what the city has to offer. Prior to the Urban Semester, I didn’t have many positive thoughts about Hartford, nor did I know what it was really like. I went to a few events and concerts in Hartford, but mostly I just passed through it every time I went up to Storrs. While the semester is short, it is ample time to get a sense of the community and spirit of Hartford that I can appreciate to this day.

While the price of living in downtown Hartford is similar to dorm rates, the apartments are much better than most dorms. More importantly, living downtown while you work an internship and go to class provides for a rewarding, convenient, and exciting experience. The small cohort you live with is a unique experience you can’t find in many programs. Our group consisted of 9 people that got along very well. We all helped each other through the program, finding the right internship, and discussing important and interesting topics in class. Years later, many of us still stay in touch and remain friends.

The Urban Semester as a whole was a life changing experience. My internship with the Social Security Administration (SSA) is still the most rewarding and beneficial internship I’ve had. It is always a semester that I reference because it helped mold my path as a student and a professional. I recommend the program to anyone looking for real work experience and a unique opportunity to get outside the traditional classroom setting.”

Samantha (Fall ’17)

Participating in Urban Semester was one of the greatest aspects of my undergraduate career. The experience taught me so much more than I could have ever learned in a classroom. As a UCS major, I had spent many semesters studying about urban communities, the challenges they must overcome, and what work is currently being done to mitigate these challenges. Once I began Urban Semester, my basis of knowledge was substantially expanded. I was given the chance to be an active member of the Hartford community. The courses that Urban Semester offers coincided with my internship experience. We had in depth discussions about many urban studies related topics. I was able to directly tie my internship work into my coursework.

At my internship, I was working with the young adults of the community, serving as a witness to the many aspects of their lives that are strained due to the deep-rooted structural oppression in our society. This challenged me to reflect on my own level of privilege. This was a life-changing experience of self-growth and discovery that I am certain I would not have been exposed to if I hadn’t had the opportunity to partake in Urban Semester. Urban Semester single-handedly sparked my passion and desire to pursue a career in public service. Further, my Urban Semester experience followed me back into my undergraduate studies upon its conclusion. I completed my honors thesis, a qualitative analysis of community support systems for reentering young adults in Hartford. I conducted my research with the youth enrolled in programs at my Urban Semester internships site.

Living in Downtown Hartford was one of the many highlights of my Urban Semester experience. Hartford is a city with so much to do. I was able try out new foods, attend cultural events, and go to school – all in walking distance from our townhouse. Living in the city where I was interning and taking courses in truly made me feel as though I was a Hartford community member. Our cohort grew a long-lasting friendship that still remains today. Each member of our cohort supported each other from day to day. To this day we continue to support one another through friendship and networking opportunities. In fact, one of my roommates from Urban Semester is now my roommate for graduate school!

Overall, I would recommend the Urban Semester program to anyone. Regardless of your academic or personal interests, Urban Semester will truly help you develop your skill set and challenge/help grow your perspectives.

Laura D. (Hatch) Bellmay (’77)

I was one of seven Urban Semester (US), who lived on Enfield Street in Hartford’s North End in the fall of 1977. My placement was the Planning Department of Hartford City Hall. When US ended that December, I had a full and part-time job in Hartford, so I finished my degree requirements at the West Hartford Branch. I graduated in May 1978. Coincidentally, in 1988 I worked in the Finance Department of Hartford City Hall and collaborated with some of the employees I met when I was an US intern there under Margaret Johnson. I worked in Hartford for fifteen years after US and owned a home there until I moved to Canton, CT in 1992. US allowed me the opportunity to become immersed in the politics of Hartford during insurance redlining hearings, to conduct housing tests as a volunteer with Educacion Instruccion, to work with Sid Garnder and the Commission on Aging and to be hired as an Outreach Worker for the VISTA pilot program with Foster Grandparents. As an US intern, I had my first political campaign experience getting Maria Sanchez elected to the Board of Education. US enabled me to find a ‘road less traveled’ career as a fundraising consultant for NPO’s and afforded me a professional and personal vision that enriched my life from that semester forward. I am grateful for having been an Urban Sememster student.

Deborah (Freeman) Taylor, ( ’72)

My first internship assignment was with Hartford’s Salvation Army, where most of my time was spent planning local life skills programs all the way to coordinating special events for their membership, including jaunts to area towns (for apple-picking, etc.) all the way to trips to New York City to see a show. This provided just enough activity where members could enjoy themselves, forgetting their daily hardships, if only for a while.

The next assignment was with Hartford’s Elderly services, where, daily, I visited elderly ‘shut-ins,’ making sure they were receiving all the social services for which they qualified (energy assistance amongst others).

In both positions (these, in addition to Ms. Simmons’ informative classes), I made great strides with and contacts in the social work profession. Most importantly, though, I made a lasting difference in people’s lives- true social work. Not to be a broken record, but I matured under the Urban Semester. This semester changed my life, showing me ways in which to become a better adult and citizen- contributing to the greater good of the whole.

A thank you goes out to Ms. Simmons for her tireless work. She has changed countless lives through the Urban Semester program- she should be proud!

Peter Heymann (’69)

I was one of the UConn students who participated in the Urban Semester Program in 1969…I believe I was in the first or maybe second group that first year. It’s hard to believe it’s been 50 years and great to see the program has continued to this day.

 I can say it was just about the best thing I had done in my 4 years at UConn. Urban Semester was engaging and inspiring. The first-hand learning experience of living in Hartford, working in a local community youth program, learning from UConn professors who came to our apartment and spoke about how their disciplines related to the issues of the inner city in 1969 was amazing. The experience has had a lasting impact on my life.

 In fact, several times in my career and life since Urban Semester I have found myself coming back to the learning I experienced. In between a 30+ year career in sales and marketing, I have done community organizing and social justice work…always linking to my experiences in Hartford so long ago.

 In the last 15 years, I have been involved with an organization based in New Orleans called The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond (PISAB). For over 40 years PISAB has developed and led workshops called Undoing Racism Workshops. I have helped organize URWs, bringing them to the Hudson Valley area of NY. And in the last two years, I have been trained to be a URW trainer.

 The inspiration to do my organizing work to help Undo Racism in my lifetime was based on my Urban Semester experience. I can’t thank the leaders at UConn who created the concept so long ago…and the leaders since and today who have kept the program going.

Tim Strattner (’68)

I was one of the original seven UConn students participating in the first Urban Semester in Hartford in 1968. Immediately following my graduation from UConn in 1969, I became a VISTA volunteer, and was sent to Milwaukee, Wisconsin.. Almost fifty years later, I still live in Milwaukee.

My own Urban Semester experience was probably not extraordinary in either an academic or service sense, but it was a wonderfully broadening experience at a personal level. The very process of exploring what service we might render and how we might incorporate our experiences into an academic framework was educational in and of itself! I cannot say that we accomplished some great advancement for the community or even that we significantly improved any particular intellectual understanding of the issues presented to us, but I have never doubted that all seven of us were the better for the experience.