Allied Health Major Lets Students Make a Difference Close to Home

Emelis Santos '24 is among a growing number of students choose allied health sciences at UConn Waterbury to give back to their communities

Smiling female student

Third-year allied health sciences student and Waterbury native Emelis Santos poses for a photo outside the main academic building on the UConn Waterbury campus on Aug. 2, 2022. (Sydney Herdle/UConn Photo)

According to Emelis Santos ’24, UConn Waterbury is the place to be. The allied health sciences major has nothing against the main campus in Storrs or any of UConn’s other regional campuses. But the Waterbury native majoring in allied health sciences says the close-knit atmosphere and opportunity to stay close to her community gives Waterbury the edge.

Santos isn’t alone. She joins a growing number of students choosing to attend all four years at the Waterbury campus to pursue allied health sciences since the program’s inception in the fall of 2020. Enrollment in the major has ballooned from 44 students in spring 2021 to 72 in spring 2022. There will be 37 incoming first-year students for the fall 2022 semester as well.

The allied health major is definitely preparing me to be successful in the future. I’m glad to be a part of this. — Emelis Santos

Santos says she appreciates the manageable size of the Waterbury campus and the allied health program, as it has allowed her to form close relationships with her peers and faculty.

“Since UConn Waterbury is a small place, you get to know your peers more and form a community with them,” Santos says.

Santos says the faculty and staff in the program have supported her at every turn, even helping her decide to pursue the major when she was applying to UConn.

“As a first-generation student, having the support of the allied health [program] is amazing,” Santos says. “I’m glad I’m a part of this.”

Establishing the major at Waterbury was largely inspired by the community, which underscored an unmet need for health care professionals in the area. In 2022, the Health Resources and Services Administration identified low-income Waterbury communities as health professional shortage areas for both primary care and mental health.

“It’s our mission as a land-grant university to address the educational, economic, cultural, and health care needs of our state, and the Allied Health Sciences major at the Waterbury campus is a perfect example of that mission in action,” says Interim Provost Anne D’Alleva. “I’m so pleased to see the partnerships with regional health providers and the growth of the Waterbury campus’s research profile in this area. I’m looking forward to seeing the impact of outstanding students like Emelis Santos in the  community.”

Overwhelmingly, the allied health sciences program at UConn Waterbury attracts students dedicated to contributing to a community in need, says Tamara Kaliszewski, AHS Waterbury faculty lead.

“An overarching goal of bringing the major here was to address the health care provider shortage in the area in the long term,” says Kaliszewski. “Ideally, students [will] return to the community they’re familiar with and will have cultural competence in providing care in this region.”

Next semester, Santos will have the opportunity to put her knowledge into practice through a paid internship with the Waterbury Public Health Department. She will be gathering input from the community about how they feel about the access to and quality of health care in the area.

Starting this fall, students like Santos may also choose to earn course credits for their community internships with partner organizations like the Charlotte Hungerford Hospital and Access Rehab.

“These students have a lot on their plates,” Kaliszewski says. “So, any way we can make it easier for them, by offering credit or compensation, then that is a benefit.”

The program has also hired a new faculty member, Pablo Valente, who will establish a research program in AHS at Waterbury. Valente’s research focuses on the connections between socioeconomic status, stigma, and health disparities in access to HIV treatment and preventions among vulnerable populations. The program at UConn will benefit honors students who will be able to conduct thesis research on campus as opposed to having to go to the Storrs campus or conduct virtual research.

“We’re committed to working with stakeholders in the community to ensure our programs respond to their needs, whether it be through culturally competent health care or  economic development,” says Dean Indrajeet Chaubey from UConn’s College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources. “We’re thrilled that UConn’s collective efforts to reach students are having such success in the Allied Health Sciences, with many more to come in the future.”

After UConn, Santos says she wants to attend graduate school to become a physician’s assistant. Through the flexible program at Waterbury, she is even able to take prerequisites for these programs as an undergraduate.

“The allied health major is definitely preparing me to be successful in the future,” Santos says.


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