Symposium Highlights UConn’s Ties to Urban Connecticut

Courtney Beyers '13 (NUR) with her poster about UConn's partnerships with the health care system, which earned her an Award for Excellence in Public Engagement and Outreach. (Ariel Dowski '14 (CLAS)/UConn Photo)

Courtney Beyers ’13 (NUR) with her poster about UConn’s partnerships with the health care system, which earned her an Award for Excellence in Public Engagement and Outreach. (Ariel Dowski ’14 (CLAS)/UConn Photo)

For Honors student Courtney Beyers ’13 (NUR), taking her work outside the boundaries of the UConn campus was an easy decision: the graduating senior and UConn Health Center intern has been working with patients in the Hartford area who have sickle cell disease on a project she plans to continue after graduating.

“People with sickle cell disease tend to be from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds and face all kinds of challenges when it comes to their health,” she says. “It was hugely important to me to want to reach out locally and help this vulnerable and underserved patient population.”

That spirit will be showcased on Wednesday, April 3, during a symposium at the Rome Commons Ballroom convened by the Office of Public Engagement and the Connecticut Cooperative Extension System, at which faculty members, staff, and students from disciplines that run the gamut from agriculture to puppetry will present aspects of their work with urban communities throughout the state.

The multidisciplinary array of speakers and presentations on the schedule underscores the diversity of ways in which UConn serves the community, from work on health issues among Cambodian Americans to landscape architecture plans for cities to programs designed for children in military families.

“This is really a great demonstration of how we’re fulfilling our mission as a Land Grant university,” says Michael O’Neill, associate dean of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and associate director of the Connecticut Cooperative Extension System, who will deliver the keynote address at the symposium.

“The people here and the leadership here are really focused on serving Connecticut, and I think public engagement is the most obvious way we meet that responsibility,” he says.

O’Neill says the extension system is a good example of how University programs are working with urban communities in ways that people might not always realize. While many people think of cooperative extensions as solely rural, O’Neill lists off initiatives ranging from high-tech urban agriculture to the development of green spaces in cities as elements of the system’s mission.

Most notably, he says the extension system has an important role to play as Americans become increasingly aware of, and concerned about, what goes into making the food on their table.

“We are interested in having a food-secure nation, where everyone has access to affordable, healthy food, and that really begins at the local level,” he says. “In Connecticut urban areas, there are both food deserts (areas where families live far from grocery stores) and also food swamps (areas where food is available, but it’s not high quality food).”

Katie Martin, assistant research professor in the Department of Allied Health Sciences, has provided opportunities for students to become engaged in research focusing on the availability, price, and quality of healthy food in grocery stores in greater Hartford. “Understanding the food environment is really important if we want to help reduce health disparities,” she says.

For Beyers, the engagement she cultivated with the community beyond the campus borders has formed an integral part of her education. Working with patients for her research augmented the lessons she learned in the classroom, and better prepared her for a career as a clinician, she says.

“I learned that you really need to listen to people, that you need to sit down with them and have conversations about their needs,” she says. “There’s more to nursing than just what needs to be done during your shift.”

The symposium will run from 12:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Rome Commons Ballroom. The event is free and open to the public, but registration is encouraged by emailing rsvp@uconn.edu or calling 860-486-1038.