UConn Students Testify at the State Capitol

A hearing before the Appropriations Committee of the Connecticut General Assembly. (Ariel Dowski for UConn)
Members of the Appropriations Committee of the Connecticut General Assembly heard moving and passionate testimony from UConn students advocating for the University's budget on Thursday at the State Capitol. (Ariel Dowski for UConn)

Members of the Appropriations Committee of the Connecticut General Assembly heard moving and passionate testimony from UConn students advocating for the University’s budget on Thursday at the State Capitol. The General Assembly is currently formulating the state’s budget for the next fiscal year.

UConn’s leadership, including President Susan Herbst, appeared before the committee in the afternoon.

The comments and stories of students from all campuses, including UConn Health, spoke later in the day to how the University affects the state in a positive way.

“I owe all that I am now to UConn,” said Jon-Marc McGregor, an engineering major from Bridgeport, Connecticut, who emigrated to the United Sates from Jamaica. “I am seen as a first-generation college student, McNair and Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation Scholar, peer mentor for the School of Engineering, student leader of multiple organizations, academic tutor, and even an undergraduate researcher.

I owe all that I am now to UConn. — Jon-Marc McGregor

“But, above all, I am simply a believer, striving to defy the odds that have constrained my family, by earning a college degree. Like many, I am one step closer to achieving my dream of becoming a professional engineer due to the resources available at this university.”

Patrick Hocking, a sophomore honors student in biomedical engineering from Middletown, Connecticut, is a member of a group of students and faculty that work together to foster entrepreneurship through the Peter J. Werth Institute for Entrepreneurship & Innovation.

“Entrepreneurship education is something I’ve found great passion for,” Hocking testified to the committee. “Entrepreneurship would be absolutely terrifying if it hadn’t been for the mentors and teachers I’ve had the opportunity to learn from. It’s programs like these that have empowered and inspired me to pursue the challenges of entrepreneurship in the state of Connecticut after graduation.”

Senior Akshayaa Chittibabu came to UConn from Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, and is pursuing an individualized major in health, policy, and social medicine, with a minor in sociology. She has been named both a Truman Scholar and a Marshall Scholar during her college career – the first UConn student to win both honors.

“When I interviewed for the Marshall award in Boston, I was the only scholar from a public institution – with the rest coming from institutions like Princeton, Harvard, and MIT,” she said. “This was unsurprising to me, because this is the caliber of UConn and of the students it produces. From the minute I first stepped foot on this campus, I have not only been taken seriously as a student, but I’ve also been challenged to be the best version of myself, as a scholar and leader.

“In my first semester, I walked straight into the sociology department head’s office, impassioned by the huge problem of cervical cancer screening practice in rural south India and wanting to do something about it. Professor Bandana Purkayastha not only heard me out, but took a chance on me – holding me to the research standard of an advanced undergraduate, so I could eventually conduct the field work in India in the summer of 2016. Experiences like this have been common for me at UConn because of how incredible our faculty are, and how willing UConn is to support student research and curiosity.”

Rimsha Asif, from Windsor, Connecticut, is a sophomore accounting major at UConn Hartford and is a member of the Student Support Services (SSS) program, which aids first generation college students.

“I felt nervous with the college experience, but the SSS program helped create confidence for me in my new community,” said Asif. “The program has been my stepping stone to grow my passion to graduate with a degree in accounting. I’ve been able to get involved in the UConn Hartford Undergraduate Student Government and founded a human rights club. All this has been possible through funding from the state, and allowed me to be part of UConn Nation.”

UConn Health was represented by a number of students, including Roshni Patel, a fourth-year medical student from Milford, Connecticut, who also earned her undergraduate degree from the University.

“I am thankful to have had the opportunity to train as a medical student at UConn Health,” said Patel. “As a student, I have been able to interact with some truly talented faculty members, who have taught us how to be both competent and kind physicians for the future.

“Another unique opportunity I have had as a UConn student is participation in our school’s Urban Service Track,” she continued. “This is an interprofessional educational track designed to support students who are interested in working in urban and underserved settings. I have been fortunate enough to receive targeted education on how to take care of vulnerable populations such as the elderly, homeless, veterans, and refugees.”

One of the final students to appear was junior Crystal Dangerfield, a junior communications major from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and a student-athlete on the women’s basketball team.

“Since I have come to Connecticut, I have grown in more ways than I ever imagined,” she said. “I have experienced a standard of excellence both on and off the court, and I am a better version of a person both as a basketball player and a young woman. Following my basketball career, I will be competitive in the workplace because of what I have learned here.”