Joseph Vazquez ’22 understands the importance of community. His research at UConn educates people about homelessness and other challenges in their communities in hopes of inspiring change.
When Vazquez first came to UConn he was interested in human geography and how populations move.
Vazquez saw much of his own experience as a first-generation student who grew up in an urban area in his classes.
“I saw a lot of things on the PowerPoint slides as my life,” Vazquez says.
Vazquez wanted to continue studying and help communities like his own, which led him to major in urban and community studies and human rights with a minor in public policy.
Vazquez gained his first hands-on research experience with history professor Fiona Vernal. Vazquez worked on a project about migration patterns for Puerto Rican, West Indian, and African American populations in the Hartford area and restrictions those populations face.
It’s really meaningful to see that the work we’re doing is reaching the community it’s meant for. — Joseph Vazquez
Vazquez took this information and helped construct an educational display for the Hartford Public Library and the Thomas J. Dodd Center at UConn.
“It’s really meaningful to see that the work we’re doing is reaching the community it’s meant for,” Vazquez says.
For Vazquez, it’s important that his research has a meaningful product that reaches the community and benefits it, whether that be through policy changes or education.
“I really like to see the deliverable have something that leads to change,” Vazquez says.
Vazquez is currently working on an IDEA grant titled “No Home Since: A Glimpse into Hartford’s Hidden Voices.” He is creating a video project that focuses on the Charter Oak Cultural Center in Hartford.
The arts Center has a “heart-centered” approach to addressing homelessness. This means they work to provide people with the tools and resources they need to get out of homelessness.
“This program seemed like a family,” Vazquez says. “They honestly care about each and every individual who walks through the doors.”
Vazquez is interviewing individuals experiencing homelessness and allowing them to share their stories in their own words.
“I’m a person who likes to talk to a community, rather than talk about them,” Vazquez says.
Vazquez says he hopes his project can change how people think about homelessness in their communities.
“In reality, they’re part of your community,” Vazquez says. “And you need to shift your mindset from ‘this is a problem’ to ‘how I can help solve it?”
Vazquez is also a student leader on campus, serving as the general manager for WHUS, the independent student-run radio station at UConn and an RA on campus. He also works with the Puerto Rican and Latin American Cultural Center (PRLACC).
After graduation, Vazquez intends to work in public administration, where he can put his UConn experiences to good use.
“Regardless of where I end up, I know I’ll use the skills and experience I’ve gained already,” Vazquez says.
Vazquez says other students interested in pursuing research should keep an open mind as their work may surprise them once they’re in it.
“Be open to change because road bumps are so common,” Vazquez says. “Come with a very open mindset because people are going to come with experiences of all types.”
Students interested in learning more about research and innovation opportunities at UConn can check out the series of events offered as part of the Month of Discovery. Come to the Experience Innovation Expo on Oct. 26, 2021, to discover the wide range of programs, resources, and activities facilitating entrepreneurship, innovation, and creativity at the University.