UConn Waterbury Plays Host to First-Ever W.I.S.H. Fest

The event was created through a partnership of UConn Waterbury and the City of Waterbury to introduce students to the campus and encourage emotional and physical health

Speakers on stage for WISH Fest 23 at UConn Waterbury

Sandra M. Chafouleas, Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor in the Department of Educational Psychology, talks with students and keynote speakers at UConn Waterbury's first-ever WISH Fest event (Steve Bustamante/UConn Photo).

The UConn Waterbury campus and the neighboring Palace Theater were alive with middle and high school students on Tuesday with W.I.S.H. Fest – or Waterbury Innovation, Sustainability and Health. The event was created through a partnership of UConn Waterbury and the City of Waterbury to help expose students to the campus and generally encourage emotional and physical health.

UConn Leadership, WISH Fest 23 Guest Speakers, and Waterbury delegation at UConn Waterbury's WISH Fest
From left, standing: UConn President Radenka Maric, Richard Davidson, Adam Gazzaley, Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary, Waterbury Public Schools Deputy Superintendent Darren Schwartz and, in foreground, UConn student Kaitlyn Train, UConn Waterbury Campus Director Fumiko Hoeft, and UConn Professor Sandra M. Chafouleas. (Steve Bustamante/UConn Photo)

“Health science is a major priority for the city of Waterbury, and we at UConn Waterbury believe in this city and believe in the importance of education,” said Campus Director Fumiko Hoeft. “We want to contribute to the innovation and business of this beloved community.”

The hope is that the event will become an annual tradition and that the theme will change each year with possible future topics being urbanization’s impact on climate change and health, sustainability, and innovative technology.

The event began in the Palace Theater with presentations to the students by Richie Davidson of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who talked about supporting emotional well-being as a training program in the same terms of physical exercise, and Dr. Adam Gazzaley of the University of California-San Francisco, who discussed how to achieve cognitive health through closed-loop video games he has designed.

Davidson has been named one of Time magazine’s “100 Most Influential People in the World” and is a friend and confidante of the Dalai Lama. Gazzaley has been dubbed as “America’s Greatest Disruptor” by Newsweek magazine.

UConn Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor Sandra Chafouleas of the Neag School of Education then got the crowd going with audience volunteers as she led a hands-on discussion of how students can feel their best.

The Palace Theater portion of the event concluded with a panel discussion from the speakers and also included UConn Waterbury student Kaitlyn Tran ’24 (CAHNR), a native of Watertown, who is an allied heath major.

“I like to talk about the connection between the human body and the mind and how mental health is part of your physical health,” said Tran. “The things you do to your body affect mental health. If you don’t have a good attitude about life, you are not going to be doing it right. You need to live life intentionally.

“When I was in high school, we didn’t talk about mental health that much, just physical health. We talked about making sure your exercise, but now I feel like there is a slight shift to the awareness of mental health and being aware. Once you that awareness, it’s a domino effect for other positive attributes of mental health.”

W.I.S.H. Fest then moved across the street to the UConn Waterbury campus for a career and health expo and festival, which included an appearance from the costumed Jonathan mascot, copies of the Daily Campus, and UConn Dairy Bar ice cream.

The Center for Career Development and the Northwest Regional Workforce Investment Board organized and planned the expo.

UConn Waterbury Students interviewing guest speakers at UConn Waterbury's WISH Fest
UConn student Kaitlyn Tran, Waterbury Health Academy student Sarah Fitzgerald, and UConn Professor Sandra Chafouleas onstage at WISH Fest (Steve Bustamante/UConn Photo).

“The commitment that the University of Connecticut has shown to the Waterbury campus is just amazing,” said Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary.  “It gives students opportunities and an event like today’s is important to engage our students in their aspirations and what they can do.

“Today gives them an opportunity to dream and show them the path to follow those dreams. Urban students sometimes don’t recognize that there are so many opportunities, especially because many of them are challenged financially and UConn has a campus right near them. UConn is engaged in this community as much as they ever have been and it is already showing us extremely successful dividends here in Waterbury.”

Beney Alvaatini ’25 (CAHNR) is also an allied health major at UConn Waterbury and went to high school in the city at Waterbury Career Academy after immigrating from Lebanon in 2015.

“I came today because everyone on campus was talking about it,” said Alvaatini. “UConn Waterbury feels very personal, which is why I like to be here. I actually knew more about UConn Storrs in high school, because I took a field trip there. I feel like if there was an event like this here at UConn Waterbury when I was in high school, I would have been even more inclined to come here.”