August 21, 2017
Focus: Continuing and Graduate Education for Professionals and Executives

Grad school programs increasingly call Hartford home

PHOTO | Steve Laschever
PHOTO | Steve Laschever
Second-year grad student Olivia Cormier, who is studying social work, will be among the graduate students relocating to UConn's downtown Hartford campus this fall. She said the new campus is more active and convenient.
PHOTO | Contributed
University of St. Joseph School of Pharmacy Dean Joseph Ofosu said the school may add a masterís pharmacy program downtown.
PHOTO | Contributed
Kent Holsinger, graduate school dean, UConn
PHOTO | Contributed
Mark Robbins, head of Department of Public Policy, UConn
PHOTO | Contributed
Leonard Borriello, UConn MBA student

When classes begin in late August, hundreds of UConn graduate students in social work, public policy and education will be coming to downtown Hartford.

They will join nearly 1,400 graduate students at UConn's center-city business school along with the 250 or so grad students enrolled in the University of St. Joseph's School of Pharmacy, located in the XL Center.

While much of the fanfare has been focused on the influx of undergraduate pupils Hartford is about to experience with the opening of UConn's new downtown campus, more than 2,000 graduate students will also be based in the center city, a number that is expected to grow in the years ahead, officials said.

Whether it's an opportunity to study and/or work at the city's hospitals and other healthcare companies, or get an internship or simply network with business, nonprofit and government leaders and recruiters, schools say having a downtown presence, particularly for graduate students currently working or looking for a job, is becoming more attractive.

The added allure is joining a central business district community that is slowly becoming a more vibrant "college town," officials said.

Kent Holsinger, dean of UConn's graduate school, says social work and public policy graduate students either through internships or regular classwork will find being near state agencies and nonprofits advantageous.

"Simply by relocating into downtown Hartford, they may be able to work with different agencies than they have in the past because they'll be close to everybody," said Holsinger.

As these benefits evolve, the University of St. Joseph (USJ) is planning to add a master's degree in pharmacy — in addition to its current doctorate degree offering — in Jan. 2019, according to President Rhona Free. And Trinity College plans to offer graduate studies and certificate programs in its One Constitution Plaza space starting in late 2018, about a year after the site opens this December, said Trinity spokeswoman Kathy Andrews.

Positive reactions

UConn grad student Cassandra Marrero, 24, who is from Hartford originally and speaks Spanish as well as English, is pursuing her master's degree in social work. With one internship under her belt in Hartford's public schools last year, this fall she will be counseling students in social skills at InterCommunity, a community nonprofit in East Hartford.

Being based downtown is an advantage, she said, particularly as she networks while looking for a job in Hartford after she graduates.

"There are a lot of agencies and new programs that people aren't aware of," she said.

Holsinger and Andrews said the groundwork also is being laid for possible future collaboration among students studying to be pharmacists, doctors, social workers, and the like — since they now have the opportunity to study and even work close to one another.

An urban population with more acute healthcare and mental health needs, for instance, combined with students developing professional expertise in these areas, could provide more opportunities for training, Holsinger said.

The urban environment is one Marrero is accustomed to, but she hopes her peers are also receptive to it.

"There's a stigma toward not wanting to come to Hartford, but having grad students here makes people see the good things in Hartford," she said. "Things are changing slowly, and by bringing grad students in, it gives new life to Hartford."

Free said she agrees.

"For a long time Hartford [was] viewed as a place you commute into then commute out of at the end of the day, not a place you spend time afterward," said Free. "But our students increasingly like the urban feel."

When 22-year-old Olivia Cormier begins her second year of study for her graduate degree in social work this fall, she'll be in downtown Hartford instead of at the former West Hartford UConn campus. But her internship will take her to a division of the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS) in Middletown and one of the agency's outpatient mental health programs in Norwich, she said.

Cormier also works at the UConn School of Social Work downtown and she said she is looking forward to studying at the new campus while completing that internship.

"I really like being downtown," Cormier said. "It feels a lot more like a campus than West Hartford, more active and more convenient."

Evidence of success

The advantages of being downtown have already been demonstrated by the experiences of USJ's pharmacy school and the UConn School of Business, officials said.

While USJ's pharmacy graduate students can work at drug companies here and around the state, many train in labs or offices at Hartford and St. Francis hospitals and at the St. Francis Behavioral Health Group, says Dean Joseph Ofosu. Many live downtown and all must do 60 hours of community service, further entrenching them in the region, he said.

"We are quite embedded in the city in terms of our students and our faculty," Ofosu says. "The way the program is designed, every student is supposed to have internships or experiential training. These are held through these hospitals or health institutions because that is where you have a variety of patients and clinics."

The hospital jobs that students typically get locally after graduating include staff or clinical pharmacist positions or post-graduate pharmacy residencies, he said.

For new incoming UConn public policy grad students, comparable opportunities in state or local government might become available, says Mark Robbins, head of UConn's Department of Public Policy.

UConn has more than 100 organizations that participate in internships and professional practice programs. The mix of those organizations will continue to shift toward Hartford-based entities, Robbins said.

Second-year UConn MBA grad student Leonard Borriello, 32, lives in Hartford and said he is eager to finish his studies there. Chances to network are plentiful, he said.

"Aside from being where the business hub of Connecticut is, state government has a lot of initiatives for pushing business development and growth," he said. "[With] alumni, [there's] a lot of opportunity not only to network, but [to] run into people already established in these companies. There's just a lot of criss-crossing between industries."

UConn's School of Social Work has partnerships with the state's departments of Social Services, Mental Health and Addiction Services and Children and Families, adds UConn Spokesman Tom Breen.

"These are agencies a lot of our students are going to be working for when they graduate, and some of them are working with nonprofits now," Breen said. "One of our expectations is that more graduate students will be working for these government agencies and nonprofits while earning their degrees."

Besides the 1,392 graduate business students, UConn will have 175 grad students studying public policy, 34 in the Education Department of Curriculum and Instruction and 379 studying social work, Breen said.

Cormier, who is aiming to become a licensed clinical social worker, said it will take her two years of clinical practice and being supervised in a clinical setting, plus passing a state test to get there.

Eventually, she hopes to work in the Hartford area, she said, possibly at Hartford nonprofits like Catholic Charities or the Village for Families and Children, or at city hospitals.

"It's something I'll look into when I graduate," she said.

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