UConn Hartford Welcomes Transformative Project Serving Asian American Students

'The robust presence of Asian students on this campus has underscored the importance of comprehending and addressing the concerns of our diverse student body'

A view of the main building at UConn Hartford.

(Sean Flynn / UConn Photo)

UConn has secured a notable federal grant to address needs and provide additional academic, social, and mentorship supports to the steadily growing number of Asian American students at UConn Hartford.

A group of Hartford and Storrs faculty and staff teamed up to win the U.S. Department of Education grant this fall in its Minority Serving Institutions program, which will be used to launch the Transformation, Equity, Access, and Sense of Belonging (TEAS) project.

The $1.9 million grant provides funding for five years to address the needs of UConn Hartford’s Asian American students, a group that has steadily grown to 17% on campus. The growth mirrors the rising Asian American population in central Connecticut, which has more than doubled since 2000 and now totals more than 40,000 people from more than two dozen countries.

Andrea Ybanez ’23 (CLAS), who describes herself as a “proud Filipina woman,” began her undergraduate education at UConn Hartford and is currently a graduate student in the Higher Education and Student Affairs program at Storrs.

“The robust presence of Asian students on this campus has underscored the importance of comprehending and addressing the concerns of our diverse student body,” she says. “I express deep gratitude for the ongoing efforts dedicated to serving our AANAPI student population, and I am hopeful for the continued enhancement of support for these students at UConn Hartford.”

UConn Hartford’s grant will allow it to add a visiting assistant professor and a full-time clinical therapist as part of the work to improve Asian American students’ retention and graduation rates, as well as increase advancement to graduate and professional school.

The grant creates access to a culturally relevant curriculum, expands a mentorship program, doubles the capacity to address mental health issues, provides new sources of income for students, and helps to show students a pathway to a brighter future.

Contrary to the model minority stereotype of Asian Americans, these ethnically diverse communities show significant economic disadvantages, the program organizers say.

More than half of the Asian American students at UConn Hartford come from households earning less than $45,000 a year. Like other students, their persistence, performance, and retention at the university has been in steady decline since the pandemic, and leaders of the TEAS project have a plan to reverse these trends.

“Asian American students have long been overlooked as a population deserving of academic, career, and social services,” says UConn Associate Professor Jason Oliver Chang, who also serves as the director of the Asian and Asian American Studies Institute and is the primary investigator for the TEAS project.

Seeking the federal designation of an Asian American, Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institution (AANAPISI) for UConn Hartford was a dream that he and Angela Rola, the co-primary investigator on the grant, shared for years.

They and others want to bringing resources, programs, and new curriculum to the rapidly growing Asian American student body at UConn Hartford that is largely composed of Southeast Asian, South Asian, and Middle Eastern immigrant and refugee communities.

Rola, the founding director of UConn’s Asian American Cultural Center, has been planning for the opportunity since the AANAPISI program started in 2007.

Expanding the footprint of the Storrs-based Asian American Cultural Center and the Asian and Asian American Studies Institute to Hartford will increase the reach of programs with proven effectiveness, including the Asian American Mentoring Program (AAMP) and Life Transformative Education course work in Asian American Studies.

The new grant and others like it are designed to boost the region’s economic development by training the next generation of leaders from racially marginalized and economically disadvantaged communities.

To do this, the TEAS project must overcome a number of social and economic disparities as well as confronting stereotypes of the model minority, and combating Islamophobia. The TEAS project is a practical plan to address these overlapping factors, its organizers say.

Thanks to the grant, this plan is designed to fulfill two of the strategic priorities of the university: fostering broad-based inclusion, and investing in student success for the campus community with some of the largest obstacles.

Students like Sidratul Muntaha ’26 (CLAS), or Sid, who is a sophomore studying political science at UConn Hartford, understand the significance of such equity focused programs.

“I’m very passionate about creating a bond with the student body. I’ve also met amazing staff who are dedicated to the Asian American experience and how we can make our presence known at UConn,” she says.

“When it comes to South Asians in the US, we are often forgotten and not seen as ‘true’ Asians due to stereotypes and how the media portrays us,” she adds. “The groups I’m involved in, like the South Asian Student Association, encourages students to join the organization to better themselves in different ways throughout their college careers, like the programs that this grant will create. We deserve the support needed for us to succeed at UConn.”