(Via UConn Today) Documenting the American Dream: In First-of-its-Kind Project, UConn Professor Directs Film for U.S. Congressional Committee

January 5, 2023 |

|‘Creating media that unites, that’s something that I really want to do with my films’|

Guerra, with Connecticut Congressman Jim Himes, and the production team for Grit & Grace
Guerra, with Connecticut Congressman Jim Himes, and the production team for Grit & Grace (Contributed Photo)

Today, you can order Alicia Villanueva’s handmade tamales from William Sonoma.

If you’re in the San Francisco area, you can get them delivered locally through her website, and you’ll find her at all the major food festivals and events in the area, with more than a dozen different varieties of her signature dish, all prepared in her 6,000-square-foot kitchen, where she employs 22 people through her family business, Alicia’s Tamales Los Mayas.

Soon, you’ll even be able to enjoy her tamales on Alaska Airlines flights, and possibly even American Airlines flights as well – that deal is still in the works.

But while her business is booming now, that hasn’t always been the case for Villanueva, who immigrated to the United States from Mexico and started making 100 tamales in her home kitchen every night – after cleaning houses during the day and taking care of her three children – and then selling her tamales on the street, sometimes making as little as $20 for an evening of culinary effort.

“As an immigrant myself, I felt very drawn into the story of Alicia – she’s a wonderful and charming person,” says Oscar Guerra, an Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker and an Associate Professor of Film and Video in the Digital Media and Design (DMD) Department at UConn Stamford. “I think that was very remarkable, to be able to meet people who are really hopeful about what it means to become American.”

Guerra met Villanueva while producing and directing his latest documentary-style film, Grit & Grace, a unique project that premiered on December 13 at the National Archives in Washington D.C., with a mission almost as compelling as the three stories of the American dream – including Villanueva’s – that it shares.

Coffee with the Congressman

Grit & Grace tells the three very different stories of Villanueva; Joseph Graham, Jr. of North Carolina; and Jeremy and Wendy Cook of West Virginia. The film – narrated by the actress Sarah Jessica Parker – is a first-of-its-kind production on behalf of the U.S. House Select Committee on Economic Disparity and Fairness in Growth, chaired by Connecticut Congressman Jim Himes.

Guerra with the actress Sarah Jessica Parker, who narrated his docu-style film, Grit & Grace
Guerra with the actress Sarah Jessica Parker, who narrated his docu-style film, Grit & Grace. (Contributed Photo)

Guerra first met Himes at an event for Stamford Hospital in the late summer of 2021. They met again for coffee a month later.

“He started telling me about this idea,” Guerra recalls. “He wanted, for the first time, for a U.S. Congressional committee to produce a film, not just a report. Because that’s normally what all committees do at the end of their term, they produce a report. But he thought it would be more impactful if we were able to come up with something, that it could be more compelling than just writing a report. And I thought that was really interesting.”

The Select Committee on Economic Disparity and Fairness in Growth was convened by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to develop solutions to what it calls “the key economic issue of our time: the yawning prosperity gap between wealthy Americans and everyone else.”

The committee was tasked with developing recommendations for addressing economic disparity in the country, but also intended to “Show America to Itself,” working in a nonpartisan manner to document the hopes, concerns, and aspirations of Americans regardless of differences or the issues that divide them.

“He told me that he wanted to tell stories about the American people, what it means to be American, what it means to achieve your American dream,” says Guerra, “and I said, ‘I think that’s wonderful.’”

After a lengthy process of interviewing people to potentially feature in the film, the committee staff settled on the three stories, and Guerra went to work bringing his signature style of personal connection with real stories to this new venture of docu-style filmmaking.

“Creating media that unites, that’s something that I really want to do with my films,” Guerra says. “I think that media can entertain. Media sometimes educates. Media informs. And lately we’ve seen a lot of media that divides. I think that we’re very polarized. So, I’m trying to get into this wagon of media that unites, and I’m trying to find stories where we can find commonalities among people and reclaim the humanity in each one of us, because that’s how we can actually connect at the end of the day.”

Stories of Resilience and Determination

Guerra and his team traveled the country, conducting three-to-five-day shoots with each of the participants at their homes, businesses, and neighborhoods.

In California, they toured Villanueva’s commercial kitchens, saw the nonprofit organizations that helped her turn her home-based tamale operation into a viable business plan, and saw the home that her family purchased as the business began to succeed.

Guerra interviews New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in Washington D.C. for his docu-style film, Grit & Grace
Guerra interviews New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in Washington D.C. for his docu-style film, Grit & Grace. (Contributed Photo)

In North Carolina, they learned from Graham about how the single father of four struggled with the impact of systemic racism in his early education, how family financial struggles initially derailed his dream of completing his college education, and how he eventually went back to school, ultimately earning his master’s degree and starting his own business focused on equity.

In West Virginia, they met the Cooks, who take care of two sons with special needs while running a home-based antique shop. When pandemic restrictions forced them to close their physical location, they were forced to pivot their business to an online model – made all the more challenging by an unreliable internet connection in rural West Virginia.

While it’s impossible, Guerra explains, to boil all Americans down into just three archetypes, the stories chosen for Grit & Grace embody the resilience and determination of the American people.

“When you see the stories of Alicia, Joseph, and Jeremy and Wendy, they come from very different walks of life,” Guerra says. “But the only thing that they all want from our government is for people work together and be there for us. So, at the end of the day, we’re actually not that different. We all go through the same struggles, and if we try to increase our compassion, if we try to raise our level of empathy, we can find that we all go through a lot and that there’s dignity in the struggle.”

Both Director and Professor – and on a Deadline

Guerra – who won an Emmy award in 2021 for a PBS Frontline documentary that followed an immigrant family from Guatemala living in Stamford, the mother’s life-and-death battle against COVID-19 while pregnant with her second child, and the teacher who agreed to care for the newborn infant while the local community rallied to support the family – often spends months or years documenting the stories he features in his films.

For Grit & Grace, he had only about six months.

“It was not until the summer of 2022 that we actually kickstarted this project, so it took a while to get going,” he says. “I wasn’t even sure if it was going to happen or not. It’s unusual to produce something valuable in this short amount of time, but we were working nonstop.”

He was also working on the film at the same time as his newest Frontline documentary, After Zero Tolerance, which also premiered in December.

“Having the right people on your team, it becomes crucial,” Guerra says. “It’s working with the right people at the right time and having the passion to make it happen.”

As with previous projects, Guerra worked as both a director and a professor, looking to UConn students and colleagues to help form that crucial team.

Samantha Olschan, an assistant professor in the DMD program at UConn Stamford, designed the logo for the film and worked with Michael Roca ’25 (SFA), a DMD sophomore studying Motion Design & Animation at UConn Stamford, who joined the project in the fall as a title designer in the post-production phase of the film.

It was Roca’s first time joining a project like this, and he says he learned a lot about working on a team through the process.

“In terms of the team itself, there was a lot of communication going on the whole time,” says Roca, “and that’s pretty major. Every second counts in a project, especially when the deadline is near. Oscar did let me know that the deadline was near, I was like, ok, I’m going to need to commit to this a lot, if I’m going to get this done.”

Alicia Villanueva and Oscar Guerra (seated), with Jonathan Iturriaga-Dasilva ’21 (SFA) and Christopher Orrico '23 (SFA), while filming in Villanueva's commercial kitchen in California
Alicia Villanueva and Oscar Guerra (seated), with Jonathan Iturriaga-Dasilva ’21 (SFA) and Christopher Orrico ’23 (SFA), while filming in Villanueva’s commercial kitchen in California. (Contributed Photo)

While DMD senior Christopher Orrico ’23 (SFA), who is studying Film and Video Production at UConn Stamford, had worked on film productions before, he’d never operated at the scale he says was required of him for Grit & Grace. But he didn’t hesitate when Guerra asked him to join the project.

“I jumped at it – I think I texted as soon as he asked me,” Orrico says. “I texted back not 30 seconds later, ‘Yes, I’m down, let’s go. Don’t even care what it takes. What do we gotta do? What am I doing?’”

Orrico worked as a camera operator for the project – invaluable experience, he says, that has jumpstarted his goals to eventually work as a director of photography and cinematographer on films, particularly documentary-style productions.

But it also pushed him outside his comfort zone – and literally out of the Connecticut – as he traveled with Guerra to California, North Carolina, West Virginia, and Washington D.C., accompanying Guerra on his shoots with the film’s participants.

And as he ate tamales with Villanueva – “She did nothing but feed us,” he shares with gratitude – spent time with Graham and his oldest son, and experienced the day-to-day joys and struggles of the Cook family, Orrico’s personal commitment to the project grew.

“At some point during this entire project, I wanted to be even more invested into it, not just from a career standpoint, but from an empathetic standpoint,” he says. “I wanted to do what I could, because this project is important, and I wanted to give everything that I had and more.

“I learned so much throughout this entire thing, and obviously still being a student, I still made mistakes, and with each mistake that I made, I made it a point to make sure I didn’t make it the next time. That is something that I’m forever grateful for, for both Oscar and his projects.”


Grit & Grace will be screened at UConn Stamford in an upcoming event this spring, sponsored by UConn DMD and Dodd Human Rights Impact. Additional screenings and events at Harvard University and New York University in Spring 2023 are currently in planning stages. To learn more about the project and the U.S. House Select Committee on Economic Disparity and Fairness in Growth, follow @GritandGrace on Twitter or visit fairgrowth.house.gov.

Original Article via UConn Today: https://today.uconn.edu/2023/01/documenting-the-american-dream-in-first-of-its-kind-project-uconn-professor-directs-film-for-u-s-congressional-committee/

Creative Partnership Gives a Win to Both DMD and Athletics

January 3, 2023 | Kimberly Phillips

‘Connecticut is the sports entertainment capital of the world’

Jared Beltz '23 (SFA) shows photographs he took to UConn women's basketball junior forward Aubrey Griffin during a recent media day event he organized as an intern in a creative partnership between the Digital & Media Design and Athletics departments.
Jared Beltz ’23 (SFA) shows photographs he took to UConn women’s basketball junior forward Aubrey Griffin during a recent media day event he organized as an intern in a creative partnership between the Digital & Media Design and Athletics departments. (Contributed Photo)

While fans of UConn Athletics fill stadiums to watch tackles, dunks, and dangles, they may not realize part of creating a fevered experience relies on those sidelined with a camera in hand to post instantly on social media and record sensational moments.

It’s a job several dozen Digital Media & Design students have enjoyed over the last 18 months through a partnership with Athletics that aims to give students real-world experience in the sports entertainment industry.

“Being able to have an internship like this is so important, especially as a DMD major, because we’re presented with so much knowledge and training on how to be creative. This is just one way to use those skills,” says Jared Beltz ’23 (SFA). “In my classes, I’ve learned about social media analytics for my concentration, as well as graphic design and motion animation through other classes, and in this job, I’ve been able to implement everything I learned.”

This photo of UConn women's basketball junior guard Nika Mühl, taken by Jared Beltz '23 (SFA) during a media day event, is Beltz's favorite from the shoot.
This photo of UConn women’s basketball junior guard Nika Mühl, taken by Jared Beltz ’23 (SFA) during a media day event, is Beltz’s favorite from the shoot. (Photo courtesy of Jared Beltz)

The partnership started in fall 2021 when a DMD Agency class took on Athletics as a client to create the motion graphics for the Wall of Champions in the Werth Family UConn Basketball Champions Center and revive the UConn Students social media channel that had gone quiet during the pandemic, says Heather Elliott-Famularo, head of DMD.

Then, in spring 2022, DMD offered a special topics course to develop projects like motion graphics for the video boards in the athletics facilities, she says. This fall, students created a new design for the UConn Traditions webpage and a fight song video, as Athletics employed more DMD students.

“There are more sports-related jobs out there than you can imagine,” Elliott-Famularo says of the professional industry. “Connecticut is the sports entertainment capital of the world, with WWE, ESPN, and NBC Sports all in the state. We have alumni running the cameras for replays, creating live graphics, and putting together sponsorship packages. Some of them work for individual sports teams and some even develop stadium halftime shows.

“Motion graphics and video content have become a ubiquitous part of the stadium experience,” she adds. “You might not realize it, but if it were missing, you’d notice.”

Experiential Learning Opportunities

About 18 months ago as UConn Vice President for Communications Tysen Kendig started formulating plans for UConn+, a University-centric yet athletics-heavy streaming service set to launch early next year, a recurring question kept coming up: how to create content.

Kendig says he connected with DMD through UConn Provost Anne D’Alleva, who at the time was dean of the School of Fine Arts, and thought there would be much to gain for both Athletics and students, who’d have the experience of documentary film production and motion graphic design.

“Whenever you get a chance to provide education and experiential learning opportunities for students you need to seize that,” he says. “Having faculty expertise to guide them as part of their curriculum is invaluable for us. We can talk with DMD about what our needs are, outline a project scope, and the work comes back in a turn-key fashion. That’s exactly what Athletics needed.”

Beltz, who’s been working in Athletics since before the formalized partnership, says he’s particularly proud of his 2022 men’s and women’s basketball media day photos, starting with the design and fashioning of a paper backdrop against which he placed players to take their picture. It’s a gallery used on social media to portray UConn’s grit, spirit, and dominance.

UConn men's basketball senior guard Nahiem Alleyne poses for a photo during a media day event organized by Jared Beltz '23 (SFA) through a partnership between the Digital Media & Design and Athletics departments.
UConn men’s basketball senior guard Nahiem Alleyne poses for a photo during a media day event organized by Jared Beltz ’23 (SFA) through a partnership between the Digital Media & Design and Athletics departments. (Photo courtesy of Jared Beltz)

“One of the most important things I’ve learned is how to take this kind of content and make a story out of it,” he says. “In DMD, we learn how to tell a story through our work. That’s an important part of what we learn in DMD. Using that skill in a job like this is great because it’s using it for real-world applications.”

While UConn+ has been in development, Kendig says DMD students like Beltz have geared their work mostly toward social media, graphics, photography, and some video. Once the streaming service goes live, though, their projects will include more film production.

Jared Beltz '23 (SFA) poses for a photograph during a media day event he organized recently for the UConn men's and women's basketball teams through a partnership between the Digital Media & Design and Athletics departments.
Jared Beltz ’23 (SFA) poses for a photograph during a media day event he organized recently for the UConn men’s and women’s basketball teams through a partnership between the Digital Media & Design and Athletics departments. (Contributed Photo)

Jason Reider ’15 (CLAS), Athletics director of creative content, has worked with many of the DMD students over the last three semesters, pairing them with projects that accentuate their strengths or gain them experience in areas of interest.

“Jared came in as a freshman working on graphic design, and one day he was talking to me about some ideas he had for social media and we realized he’s interested in more than just graphic design,” Reider says of Beltz. “He blossomed into more of a social media and content intern for us. So now, he’s doing graphic design, he’s doing photography, he’s running our student social media account, and he helps on game day on some of our team accounts as well. He’s a true testament to the benefits of DMD and Athletics working together.”

For the last decade, Reider says, social media has grown more important, especially for individual teams who use the digital world as a recruiting tool. Having interns to manage those accounts means they can get the same attention as basketball, football, and hockey.

“It’s great to have students learn their way around Athletics because getting a job in this industry is all about connections and getting experience. Being able to say they helped run some of our Athletics social media accounts on game day is going to give them a leg up when they graduate and look for a full-time job in the sports industry or even outside that field,” he says.

‘Big responsibility moment’

The students’ ability to tell players’ stories on and off the field gives Athletics something it was missing before the partnership, Reider notes.

Emerson Ricciardone '26 (SFA) is part of a creative partnership between the Digital Media & Design and Athletics departments. The collaboration allows DMD students to build their skills in social media design, video production, and motion graphics.
Emerson Ricciardone ’26 (SFA) is part of a creative partnership between the Digital Media & Design and Athletics departments. The collaboration allows DMD students to build their skills in social media design, video production, and motion graphics. (Contributed Photo)

“The talent level of the freshmen is amazing,” he says. “One of our new interns, Emerson Ricciardone, is an extremely talented videographer, photographer, and he also knows graphic design. Even just a few years ago finding students who had these talents was a difficult task and now they come to UConn with portfolios already built up. They’re just tremendously talented.”

Elliott-Famularo says that’s in part because the DMD/Athletics creative partnership has now become a recruiting tool.

Ricciardone ’26 (SFA) says he always wanted to attend UConn and when he learned about the opportunity to work in Athletics, his decision was cinched. In his first 15 weeks, he’s done video, social media, and graphic design work. He’s created content for the jumbotron at men’s hockey games and has contributed content to their accounts during games.

“One of the things we focus on in DMD is how to make your designs effective in solving a problem or presenting a solution through your creative skills. Being able to apply that concept to the sports world is something I’ve always dreamed of doing and now I’m finally learning how to take a professional approach to something I love doing,” he says.

One of the projects he’s most proud of – and was a “big responsibility moment,” he says – was when he was charged with covering the men’s hockey game against Providence. He alone was videoing the game and shouldered the weight of collecting footage of the shootout after the game went into overtime.

The video board in Gampel Pavilion displays graphics designed by DMD students working in Athletics.
The video board in Gampel Pavilion displays graphics designed by DMD students working in Athletics. (Contributed Photo)

“I’m happy I was able to capture the team’s reaction to winning that game and record the actual live game moments, along with getting the fan experience as well. That was a test for me to see how well I could handle a high-stress environment and be trusted to do good work,” he says, adding, “It all goes back to storytelling. You want to make sure, especially when you’re documenting certain events, that you capture all the emotional moments.”

The effort benefits UConn, but there’s an eye to the long term.

“While we already have an incredible number of alumni in the industry, as word gets out that we are intentionally building a sports entertainment path within UConn Digital Media & Design, it will be exciting to see the positive impact the program will have both on the student experience and the industry as a whole,” Elliott-Famularo says. “By providing an experienced talent pipeline, we will support the business demand and Connecticut’s economy.”


Original Article via UConn Today: https://today.uconn.edu/2023/01/creative-partnership-gives-a-win-to-both-dmd-and-athletics/

Documenting the American Dream

December 6, 2022 |

Oscar Guerra’s first Frontline documentary was judged the Best News Story in a Newsmagazine at the 2021 Emmy awards

Guerra on location in Kentucky for his PBS Frontline documentary, After Zero Tolerance.
Guerra on location in Kentucky for his PBS Frontline documentary, After Zero Tolerance. (Contributed photo)


In 2018, searing stories and images captured at the southern border of the U.S. burned into the conscience of an instantly outraged American public, a result of the zero-tolerance immigration enforcement policy imposed through the Department of Homeland Security under former President Donald Trump.

Images of small children in tears as their parents were detained by law enforcement at the border.

Stories of family members torn away from each other as they sought asylum in the U.S. from the fear of violence in their home countries.

Photos of children being held, without their parents or guardians, in metal chain-link cages, huddled together under mylar blankets inside of detention centers.

“After the Trump Administration enacted the zero-tolerance policy, there were thousands of kids that were separated at the border,” says Oscar Guerra, an Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker and an Associate Professor of Film and Video in the Digital Media and Design Department at UConn Stamford. “Most of the families that were here in the states were eventually reunited. The problem was for some of the families that were deported. It was not until the Biden administration took office that they changed the way in which this group of people were being treated and the options that they were given.”

One of those families – a deported Honduran mother, and the little girl taken from her – is the focus of Guerra’s latest film, called After Zero Tolerance, which premieres on PBS’s acclaimed investigatory documentary series, Frontline, tonight.

Guerra (right) with Genesis, a young girl from Honduras who was separated from her mother under the Trump administration's zero tolerance immigration policy.
Guerra (right) with Genesis, a young girl from Honduras who was separated from her mother under the Trump administration’s zero tolerance immigration policy. (Contributed photo)

A Years-Long Quest to Reunite

After Zero Tolerance tells the story of Anavelis, who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border with her then-six-year-old daughter, Genesis, in 2018. They were forcibly separated by law enforcement at the border, and Anavelis was deported back to Honduras without Genesis – kicking off a years-long quest to reunite with her daughter.

The documentary also offers insight into the work of the Biden administration’s Family Reunification Task Force, a division of the same Department of Homeland Security that was previously charged with separating these families, now empowered to try to bring them back together.

“It was really an unprecedented effort, what they started doing, reaching for these unreachable families,” says Guerra. “It was with the help of a lot of people. Everything started with the ACLU’s lawsuit, activist lawyers, and people searching in Central America – just scouring Central America, trying to find these parents. Because there were no records of these families.”

The separation from her mother took a toll on Genesis, who Guerra met in Kentucky, where she had been placed with extended family, communicating with her mother only through phone calls over the ensuing years and not understanding why they couldn’t be together.

“She’s a wonderful, wonderful kid – so smart, so bright, so kind, and so resilient, and I think that it really tells you a lot about the grit that the Latino migrant community has when you see a story like hers,” Guerra says. “She starts telling the story of how she was separated and that she didn’t know what was going on. That’s what I really try to do with my documentaries. I try to go straight to the source and let them tell their own story, unfiltered, to try to find that human element that we can all connect with. I have a daughter. I cannot imagine being apart from her for a few days, let alone that amount of time.”

After Zero Tolerance – which Guerra embarked on in early 2021 – marks his second collaboration with PBS’s Frontline.

His first short documentary for Frontline, Love, Life & the Virus, aired in August 2020 and followed an immigrant family from Guatemala living in Stamford, the mother’s life-and-death battle against COVID-19 while pregnant with her second child, and the teacher who agreed to care for the newborn infant while the local community rallied to support the family.

Love, Life & the Virus earned Guerra two News & Documentary Emmy Award nominations and an Emmy win for Best Story in a Newsmagazine in 2021.

The film also marks a unique, first-time collaboration between UConn’s Human Rights Institute, Department of Digital Media and Design, and Office of Global Affairs, and Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.

Collaboration and Exploration

“Bilingual storytelling has been my jam, really – it’s the type of storytelling I enjoy doing the most,” says Adriana Rozas Rivera, who was born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico. While studying for her master’s degree at Syracuse’s Newhouse School, Rozas Rivera was asked if she’d be interested in interviewing for a job working on a collaborative documentary project with UConn’s Guerra.

Guerra (right) with Genesis and members of his production team, including Syracuse University students Adriana Rozas Rivera and Maranie Staab and UConn alum Jonathan Iturriaga-Dasilva '21 (SFA).
Guerra (right) with Genesis and members of his production team, including Syracuse University students Adriana Rozas Rivera and Maranie Staab and UConn alum Jonathan Iturriaga-Dasilva ’21 (SFA). (Contributed photo)

Connected by Guerra and producers at Frontline, both UConn and Syracuse teamed up to provide support for the project, and students from both schools were recruited to help work on the film.

“As both a professor and a producer, I was trying to have academia and the professional industry combine, having our students working, having collaborations between great universities – it’s always a great opportunity,” says Guerra. “This was a collaboration between Syracuse and UConn. We selected students from their program and students from our program, and they all helped out with the production duties.”

The opportunity to work on a project like this is an experience that students can’t really get in a classroom, says Cheryl Brody Franklin, the director of strategic initiatives at the Newhouse School who assisted on the project, but that can help take classroom learning and make it real.

“I think it’s important for students to learn the nuts-and-bolts of how to report and how to film in the classroom,” Brody Franklin says. “But then, when you’re actually doing it, it’s pretty exciting to see, ‘oh my gosh, I learned this in these four walls, but now I’m out in the “real world,” and I’m putting it to use’ and seeing that what you learned in that classroom actually is really going to help you create this really important work. It’s just impactful to see that what you’re learning from your professors translate after you leave here.”

And the unique opportunity for the two universities to work together was “incredible” for a program as young as UConn’s, says Heather Elliott-Famularo, an award-winning filmmaker, head of UConn’s DMD program, and herself a graduate of Syracuse University.

“The Digital Media and Design program was only established in 2013, and the film program, we started just three years ago,” she explains. “Oscar has been working with Frontline, and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications, which is one of the country’s most prestigious schools of communications – has been wanting to work with Frontline and found this relationship through us, with our really young program, to be able to work with it. It’s a huge kudos for us to be able to collaborate with such a prestigious program, and it says a lot about the caliber and potential future of DMD at UConn.”

Partnerships like this collaboration with Syracuse, as well as the growing Human Rights Film and Digital Media initiative – a collaboration between DMD and the Human Rights Institute – offer space for a growing number of student and faculty filmmakers to explore human rights through the powerful medium of film.

“It really is this remarkable marriage between HRI and DMD that’s enabled us to attract these incredible filmmakers who are working in human rights,” says Elliott-Famularo, “because they are drawn to the way we embrace and understand impact in more significant means than social media followers or how many festivals a film is juried into.”

“Heather has built an extraordinary program with several filmmakers who have social justice and human rights at the center of their work,” says Kathryn Libal, director of the Human Rights Institute at UConn. “Oscar exemplifies someone who prioritizes student involvement in the creative process and wants to connect with community around his work.

She says that Digital Media and Design has “transformed in recent years, welcoming collaborative cross-university work.”

“I’m delighted that the Office of Global Affairs, Fine Arts and DMD, and the Human Rights Institute were able to provide some seed funding to make this happen,” Libal says, “and to create a space to work with Newhouse and Frontline. Such relationships are critical to student success and to the sense of flourishing that our faculty members have.”

Honoring the Story

For Rozas Rivera, the chance to work on the project was what she called a “no-brainer.”

“It’s rare to find fully bilingual stories out there in U.S. media, let alone stories that prioritize the voice in Spanish,” she says. “A lot of times we have projects that are interviews that are in Spanish, but they dub them in English. And I remember looking up Oscar’s Love, Life and the Virus project and noticing that he had no dubbing over it. He was leaving it up to the English-speaking audience to read the captions and do the work of understanding the Spanish-language dialogue. That really hit home for me.”

Those duties included the trip to meet Genesis, where several students – including Rozas Rivera – joined Guerra to assist

Guerra (right) with Genesis (center) and from left to right, Maranie Staab, Jonathan Iturriaga-Dasilva '21 (SFA), and Adriana Rozas Rivera, in Kentucky.
Guerra (right) with Genesis (center) and from left to right, Maranie Staab, Jonathan Iturriaga-Dasilva ’21 (SFA), and Adriana Rozas Rivera, in Kentucky. (Contributed photo)

on both the technical side of the production, as well as interacting with the family. That particular experience and the personal connection made with the family, says Rozas Rivera, has left a lasting impression.

“I got to meet and spend a weekend with this family – a weekend sounds little, but when you’re waking up with a family, and going through their day with them, and listening to the conversations about how difficult the separation was, and interviewing them about this, it’s such a vulnerable place for them to be in and it’s such a personal story that, by the end of it, we cried when we said goodbye to them,” she says. “Because we weren’t sure when we were going to see them next, we weren’t sure when they were going to be reunited with their parents. I think that was the biggest challenge, setting aside your emotions so that you can do the reporting and do the documentary work that you came there to do, but also holding onto those emotions in a way that you’re not being inhumane – keeping that humanity, keeping that compassion there, and knowing that you’re working with people who are going through a really difficult time.”

Finding that personal connection is a hallmark of Guerra’s work, but it’s not an easy road for a filmmaker, says Elliott-Famularo – it involves building relationships that last far longer than a project’s production schedule.

“It’s one thing to make a film about an issue; it’s another thing to make a film about a family, an individual, a person,” Elliott-Famularo says. “The kind of care and respect and trust that’s involved – it takes a very special kind of person to be able to build that space. It’s an incredible honor, as filmmakers, to be given the privilege of sharing these individual stories. They’re trusting us to do the right thing, to be ethical, but also to be respectful to their own individual beings, which is significant.”

Working with Guerra offered the students on the project both the opportunity to hone their technical skills as reporters and producers, but also to learn from someone who “both honored the students and honored the story,” Brody Franklin says.

“I’m just so happy the students got to work with Oscar,” she says, “because even though I wasn’t his student, I was so impressed by his actions and his dedication to the story, and also his dedication to the students, because he wanted to give them a good experience. Obviously, it’s important to learn how to physically make the film and edit and report, but there’s so much that comes from mentoring from someone like him, and I think that that’s probably the part that makes me most excited, the relationship that they got to have with him.”

After Zero Tolerance premieres on Frontline on Tuesday, December 6, at 10:00 p.m. Eastern on local PBS stations and will be available for streaming on pbs.org/frontline and in the PBS Video App beginning at 7:00 p.m. Eastern on December 6.

Original Article via UConn Today: https://today.uconn.edu/2022/12/emmy-award-winning-uconn-professor-takes-on-zero-tolerance-family-separation-with-second-pbs-frontline-documentary/

Let’s Get Digital: Benton Exhibition Showcase

December 5, 2022 |

From documentary film to motion design boards, exhibition shows off diversity of faculty expertise

Catherine Masud, Laurel Pehmoeller, Heejoo Kim, Sam Olschan, James Coltrain, Heather Elliott-Famularo, Kerry Smith, Michael Toomey, and Tanju Özdemir pose for a photo during the 2022 Digital Media and Design Faculty Exhibition opening reception at the William Benton Museum of Art
From left, Catherine Masud, Laurel Pehmoeller, Heejoo Kim, Sam Olschan, James Coltrain, Heather Elliott-Famularo, Kerry Smith, Michael Toomey, and Tanju Özdemir pose for a photo during the 2022 Digital Media and Design Faculty Exhibition opening reception at the William Benton Museum of Art on Oct. 27, 2022. (Heather Elliott-Famularo/Contributed photo)


Abassist appearing to play in a landfill and a breakfast conversation between three Turkish couples are just two of the sights and sounds on display at the 2022 Digital Media & Design (DMD) Faculty Exhibition, where art speaks and moves on screens, and virtual reality headsets allow viewers to participate directly.Running through Dec. 18, the exhibition in the East Gallery at the William Benton Museum of Art spotlights the work of professors from UConn’s DMD department in the School of Fine Arts. The featured pieces align with the various concentrations that the department offers students, such as motion design and animation, web/interactive media design, digital film/video production, and game design.Department head Heather Elliott-Famularo emphasizes the long journey to the current faculty exhibition since DMD’s 2013 founding at UConn. While DMD and Art and Art History faculty had a shared exhibition in fall 2020, the 2022 exhibition marks the first exclusively for DMD faculty.

UConn digital media & design faculty member Laurel Pehmoeller poses for a photo next to her piece in the 2022 Digital Media and Design Faculty Exhibition during the exhibition’s opening reception at the William Benton Museum of Art
UConn digital media & design faculty member Laurel Pehmoeller poses for a photo next to her piece in the 2022 Digital Media and Design Faculty Exhibition during the exhibition’s opening reception at the William Benton Museum of Art on Oct. 27, 2022. (Heather Elliott-Famularo/Contributed photo)

“Our faculty are doing really interesting and engaging work, but the UConn community has never had the opportunity to see their work professionally installed, so it’s been really exciting to have a place where the faculty can share their work with the community,” Elliott-Famularo says.

Amanda Douberley, the Benton’s assistant curator and academic liaison as well as coordinator of the 2022 DMD faculty exhibition, says the museum takes pride in showcasing faculty work not just for the wider public, but for students and the creators themselves in particular.

“It’s nice to share the creative work that comes out of the School of Fine Arts, and for students to see faculty work, and faculty to see their own work in the museum space, which is very different from a commercial gallery and certainly different from a studio setting,” explains Douberley. “So I think that’s a great contribution that the [Benton] museum can make to the life of the School of Fine Arts.”

The exhibition showcases not just the breadth of disciplines in the department, but also highlights pieces that have won national and global recognition. Heejoo Kim’s short animated documentary “Behind the Loom,” for example, tells the story of women during World War II, and has won awards all over the world, including “Best Experimental” at the Toronto International Women Film Festival. Steve Harper’s “Motion Design Boards” include promotional campaigns for “90 Day Fiancé: Before the 90 Days” and NFL team designs for Peacock/NBC Sports.

Samantha Olschan’s “$n@cK/t!m£” fits in both the fine arts and design categories, Douberley notes. The piece consists of four digital prints on acrylic that mirrors a phone screen. In this series, classical sculptures like the Venus de Milo from ancient Greece mix with glitch overlays and direct messages (DMs) from social media and dating apps.

“I’m using crowdsourced speech bubbles from DMs,” Olschan says. “These are things that actually happened to someone. Who has experienced this? Who is putting this woman in this position? Why is this narrative acceptable? The project is about consent, the gaze of the viewer, and how we appropriate the subject. The classical sculptures reference centuries of visual gender stereotypes and objectification, realistic but idealized, which we see still happening today with social media. How is this any different than photo filtering?”

In addition to these works, Elliott-Famularo contributed “American River,” her 2007 piece with Murray McKay, in memory of McKay’s passing earlier this year. The video installation explores ecological issues specifically at the Hudson River, as an LED sign below the screen scrolls through facts about the history of pollution in the river valley from 1850-2007. A speaker emits natural sounds while McKay’s voice repeats the phrase “artist as.” This “mantra,” Elliott-Famularo explains, underscores artists’ impact in speaking to issues like climate change.

“If the artists aren’t there to communicate those stories on behalf of the researchers, then that research can just sit there and never be shared with the world,” Elliott-Famularo says.

Heather Cassano’s “Madness” relays stories of mental health across three screens or channels that display material from her documentary film in progress, “The Fate of Human Beings.” The leftmost screen presents archival video from 1951 and 1952 of a doctor who describes different “mental symptoms.” On the middle screen, viewers can see footage Cassano filmed from several northeastern mental institution cemeteries, while the right screen projects the number of graves at each.

“This wasn’t even that long ago that we just wrote everyone who had any kind of mental symptom off as a non-productive member of society,” emphasizes Cassano. “So after I watched those [archival] videos, I thought about what they mean in juxtaposition with the understanding that there are hundreds of thousands of people buried with no names in mental institution cemeteries. I don’t think these things are divorced from each other. It’s this stigma of not seeing people as human that leads to these atrocities, and I think that stigma originates in this diagnosis language.”

Given the wide range of work in the exhibition, Elliott-Famularo says that, overall, it celebrates “the diversity of voices within our faculty,” from backgrounds to experience to mediums used.

“[The exhibition] really shows the power of digital media, and how you can use a high-tech type of technology to tell a powerful story,” Elliott-Famularo says.


Original Article via UConn Today: https://today.uconn.edu/2022/12/lets-get-digital-benton-exhibition-showcases-digital-media-design-facultys-artistry/https://today.uconn.edu/2023/01/documenting-the-american-dream-in-first-of-its-kind-project-uconn-professor-directs-film-for-u-s-congressional-committee/

UConn Students Ready for Election

November 8, 2022 | Kimberly Phillips

Eyes on a critical slate of state, national contests

A Vote Here Today sign stands outside of a polling place.
(Adobe Stock)


Jonathan Portanova ’23 (CLAS) voted for the first time in 2014, in the primary race between Connecticut’s Tom Foley and John McKinney for the Republican gubernatorial nomination. Seven years later, he put his own name on the ballot as a candidate for Board of Representatives in Stamford’s 13th District.

But as he watched results come in on election night 2021, Portanova’s chance for elected office slipped away by 112 votes.

“Every vote counts and that’s why it’s important to come out and vote,” he says. “You may not have something in common with the candidates running. You may agree with them only 80% of the time and not 100%, but 80% is still something.

“You’re given the right to vote,” he adds, “and a lot of people in our history have had to fight for that right.”

As Election Day approached, students throughout the University and in a host of disciplines spent the better part of the semester studying and readying for the midterm elections, which, in Connecticut, also feature gubernatorial, constitutional officer, and some local races.

“There are a lot of young people who chose not to follow politics and I think they miss their chance to share their opinions with their fellow students and make themselves heard in any electoral choices,” Nicholas Marin ’23 (SFA) says. “It’s important that every student understands it’s less about politics and more about participation.”

Marin and Portanova don’t share the same major – digital media and design and political science, respectively – but together they and others on the UConn Stamford campus organized and promoted Voter Education Day to rally students on the issues, introduce them to community voices, and even meet some candidates.

Portanova and the other students in assistant professor-in-residence Beth Ginsberg’s political science Electoral Behavior class did the work of putting together Voter Education Day, which was held Oct. 25, while Marin and three others in assistant professor Steve Harper’s DMD Agency class created promotional materials.

Across the state in Storrs, students in professor Paul Herrnson’s political science class, The Art, Science, and Business of Political Campaigns, have studied the minutest of details in competitive congressional House races around the country – down to where the candidates grew up.

“For all of us, the best way we can be involved in our democracy is to vote,” Elly Stephen ’25 (CLAS) says. “Voting is the best way we have, especially as young people who don’t necessarily have a place in the workforce yet, to be involved in government and have our say in it.”

Studying Country’s Most Competitive Races

Stephen’s classmate, Elena Bielesz ’26 (ACES), who at 18 years old will be voting in her first election this year, is studying Ohio’s 13th House race between Democrat Emilia Sykes and Republican Madison Gesiotto Gilbert.

Bielesz says that when Herrnson gave the class a list of competitive races from which to choose, she chose three at random and settled on this one because it was most interesting to her: Both candidates are women, neither is an incumbent, Gilbert has former President Donald Trump’s endorsement, Sykes has more political experience, and the district itself has just gone through a messy redistricting process.

“The most difficult thing for me is having to contact the candidates,” Bielesz says. “We have to contact their campaign team and contact political professors in universities near the district. That’s a bit stressful to reach out to these people and interview them. They’re professional people who are intimidating.”

Herrnson says he pushes the students to send their final paper that recaps the race, predicts a victor, and analyzes the ultimate outcome to everyone they spoke to and everyone who might be pundits about the race, including journalists who covered it.

“On one occasion a student got a return call from a campaign, and she was terrified – a member of Congress she wrote about wanted to talk with her,” he says. “She thought she did something wrong and she went in and met with the member. They talked a little bit about the paper, asked her some questions about it, and a few other questions. Then they said, ‘We know you’re a senior, we know you have one semester left, can we hire you now and you can go to school part time or take independent studies.’”

That student, with the agreement of her parents, ended up taking the job that came about because of a single class.

“I’ve had students do amazing things in politics,” Herrnson says.

Stephen says her middle and high schools were art-focused, and she always thought she might do something artistically, until she took a mock trial class and learned about criminal law. Studying politics and how it intersects with that interest is a nice marriage.

Today, she’s researching Pennsylvania’s 8th House race between Democratic incumbent Matt Cartwright and Republican challenger Jim Bognet – featuring a reshaped district in 2018 after a legal challenge and again in 2020 after the census, a Trump-endorsed candidate, and a repeat match-up between the two candidates.

“So many Republicans who are running this year are election deniers,” Stephen says. “I think that will be an overarching theme and deciding whether we want to be a democracy or not. We may have gotten through 2020 and, obviously, Joe Biden is our president, but I don’t think that by any means is over with. I do expect, even in local elections, that to be a big influencer.”

Stressing the Importance of Civic Engagement

“I always wondered when I was a kid why my parents are so into politics, and then I realized it was DACA, that was the reason,” Emily Cervantes ’24 (CLAS) says. “It’s important to be aware of what’s going on in your community because it impacts you. Gas prices going up, inflation, all of it impacts even an 18-year-old who’s paying for gas, paying for college, paying for health care.”

Cervantes and Portanova, who worked with Ginsberg’s entire class on Voter Education Day, sought representatives from the camps of gubernatorial candidates Democrat Ned Lamont and Republican Bob Stefanowski.

“Voter Education Day is stressing the importance of civic engagement and also letting people know why it’s so important to vote regardless of what political party you believe in,” Cervantes says. “Just getting more involved in your environment, because in your daily life laws impact you, that’s why it’s important to vote.”

Ginsberg started the event in 2016 as a serving learning project, continuing it in 2018 and again in 2020, to expose students to such organizations as the NAACP, Stamford Business Council, and Moms Demand Action, in addition to politics. Groups set up tables with literature in the campus’s concourse and students wend their way through during the day.

“For the longest time, the 18- to 25-year-old demographic did not vote and had some of the lowest turnout numbers,” Ginsberg says. “Fortunately, the last six to 10 years, the trend has been swinging upward and more of them have been voting. I think part of that has to do with school shootings, unfortunately.”

She continues, “Today’s freshmen and sophomores have grown up in an environment of school violence, the March for Our Lives after Parkland, Greta Thunberg and advocacy on climate change. Our students are realizing that decisions are being made by those who show up, so they’re starting to show up. I think that post-Dobbs, women are incredibly concerned, especially college-age women, about their sexual health.”

Agustina Aranda ’23 (SFA) agrees that issues are the driver – not just as a reason to vote but a way to attract others to vote.

In Harper’s Agency class, Aranda, Marin, Misael De La Rosa ’23 (SFA), and Sabrina Alcin ’23 (SFA) created social media posts and flyers advertising Voter Education Day and the importance of registering to vote.

To that end, Aranda says that at first the group kept emphasizing the word “vote.”

“But people care more about their own problems before they care about your solutions,” she says. “Our professor suggested putting problems and issues and things people care about before using the word ‘vote’ because they care about their own problems. That makes sense.”

Another hurdle De La Rosa says was catering to the masses.

“It’s really hard to try to promote voting if you don’t have the right wording or the right approach for many different kinds of students, a diverse community,” he says. “We have to cater to everybody when we’re making something.”

But connecting students to the act of voting can be hard, Alcin adds.

“Especially on social media, people care about issues, but they really don’t partake in the change,” she says. “I feel like that’s an obstacle, actually getting students to go out and vote.”

UConn Stamford will host an election night party on campus in the multipurpose room and a post-election panel discussion with Ginsberg, assistant professor Robert Lupton, and Susan Herbst, professor and president emeritus.


Original Article via UConn Today: https://today.uconn.edu/2022/11/uconn-students-ready-for-election-the-best-way-we-can-be-involved-in-our-democracy-is-to-vote/

University to Launch UConn+ Streaming Digital Network

November 1, 2022 | UConn Athletics

A first-of-its-kind in college athletics to combine live and original content, UConn+ will provide fans 24/7 access to featured content, live events and institutional content in collaboration with LEARFIELD Studios and SIDEARM Sports

A crowd view of Gampel with the UConn+ logo laid over it
The new service, which will be a first-of-its-kind in college athletics to combine live and original content, is expected to launch in late November.

UConn is fully entering the cord-cutting era of live and on-demand digital video.

Coming later this month, fans and followers of UConn Athletics will have a new avenue for absorbing all things Huskies and the University of Connecticut: UConn+. The university’s own sports-centric streaming platform will surface original and exclusive content to fans such as features, live events, profiles, coaches’ shows, highlights and other on-demand content.

UConn+ will be widely available on streaming services such as Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV and Roku, and accessible via the UConn mobile app and uconnhuskies.com.

The new service, which will be a first-of-its-kind in college athletics to combine live and original content, is expected to launch in late November with additional features being rolled out after its release. Until that time, streaming content will continue to be available on uconnhuskies.com.

“UConn+ has the potential to elevate the visibility of UConn Athletics, and I’m grateful for our overarching relationship with LEARFIELD, in which its LEARFIELD Studios and SIDEARM Sports businesses can help us further expand our reach and promote the excellence of our student-athletes, coaches, and the University of Connecticut,” said David Benedict, Director of Athletics. “UConn already boasts championship programs and provides top-quality experiences in state-of-the-art venues for fans and student-athletes alike. With UConn+, we’re adding the capability to engage UConn Nation with exclusive feature content and live sports like never before. This platform will only strengthen our global brand and create more opportunities for success.”

A New Approach to Video Content Delivery at UConn

Benedict’s ambitious vision for a comprehensive streaming digital presence has been in the works for more than a year. While UConn will develop much of the programming internally – including coaches’ shows, press conferences and other mini-features – LEARFIELD Studios has placed production staff on the ground in Storrs supported by a central production team.

“We’re proud of our longtime relationship with UConn and recognize the tremendous added value that UConn+ will bring to Husky fans and to our corporate partners,” said Tom Murphy, general manager for LEARFIELD’s UConn Sports Properties, the university’s athletics multimedia rightsholder. “The sponsors who look to align their brand with the UConn Huskies’ brand soon will have a new platform to creatively connect with fans 24/7/365.”

This dedicated crew will produce more in-depth feature programs, including content geared toward showcasing the various aspects of life as a student-athlete on campus like THE BREAKDOWN  a five-part mini-series about 2022 UConn Football training camp, and THE STANDARD – a new mini-series that offers an inside look at UConn women’s basketball. A 24/7 real-time programming stream of content is also planned for possible development.

UConn+ App Logo“UConn+ can be a game changer for the university,” said Tysen Kendig, UConn’s Vice President for Communications who began exploration of a digital sports network for UConn Athletics in 2021. “Content is unquestionably king, and our audiences increasingly have a thirst for more video, more features, and more multimodal, on-demand ways to consume it. UConn+ is changing the way we produce content in-house, and the model we’ve developed in partnership with LEARFIELD and SIDEARM leverages their considerable assets and expertise to give UConn Nation unprecedented content and access to Husky athletics and the greater university.”

“Few other major universities in the country competing at the highest level of Division I athletics own the rights and have the wherewithal to produce and deliver a majority of its own live sports content,” he added. “While this landscape is constantly shifting, we are now better positioned to meet the demands of our audiences and have the means to make most of our home Olympic sports and related content across all of our 20 programs directly available to more people than ever before.”

Growth Potential Across the University

UConn students will directly benefit from this endeavor through increased experiential learning opportunities. UConn Athletics and the university’s Digital Media and Design (DMD) program in the School of Fine Arts partnered last fall to create an athletics creative agency. The agency, developed with UConn+ in mind, will give students a chance to earn academic credit under faculty supervision in documentary film production, motion graphic design, and other areas that geared toward enhancing program options.

“We were thrilled to help provide a solution for UConn athletics when they approached us about this endeavor,” said Anne D’Alleva, UConn’s interim provost and dean of the School of Fine Arts. “Our DMD students have been highly sought for years by the likes of NBC Sports, ESPN, and other mainstream media outlets because of the exceptionally high quality of our digital media academic program. UConn+ and this new creative agency will provide additional real-world experience right here on campus, and has generated great excitement among our students and faculty – all of whom enthusiastically bleed blue.”

UConn+ primary logo

Beyond athletics, UConn+ also will feature non-sports programs. Initial programming concepts include a research magazine, a talk-show podcast about UConn people and programs, and health promotion spots. An interview series hosted by President Radenka Maric, “Worth Repeating,” is already in production, and includes head football coach Jim Mora as the first guest. The multimedia production team in University Communications, with staff in Storrs and Farmington, is fully integrated as part of UConn+, and will be responsible for providing this additional menu of content.

“Athletics is not just a tremendous point of pride for our community, it’s a front porch that helps bring people into the front door of this amazing university,” said Kendig. “UConn+ gives us another vehicle for shining a light on the academic and research champions here that positively impact Connecticut and the human condition. The ideas are limitless, and we believe this endeavor has great potential to grow over time.”

Stay tuned to uconnhuskies.com and UConn’s social media platforms for more information and content pertaining to UConn+ in the weeks ahead.

Original Article via UConn Today: https://today.uconn.edu/2022/11/university-to-launch-uconn-streaming-digital-network/

CT High Schoolers to Become ‘Eco-Digital’ Storytellers

August 10, 2022 | Anna Zarra Aldrich ’20 (CLAS), Office of the Vice President for Research

An interdisciplinary group of UConn researchers is leading an effort to empower high school students to become “Eco-Digital” storytellers in their communities.

Norwalk High School student Elise A and teacher Louis S explore an arcGIS Storymap. This grant will expand on previous work providing students with tools to carryout innovative local environmental projects. (Kara Bonsack/UConn Photo)

The science behind protecting the environment is only one piece of addressing the climate crisis; people need to communicate this information and the stories of those impacted by climate change to the public to inspire necessary action.

With this understanding, a group of interdisciplinary UConn researchers are working on a grant that will support high school students in designing multimedia projects that focus on local environmental issues in their communities. This work is supported by a $1.35 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

This project will merge environmental science, geospatial technology, digital media and education through an ambitious collaboration between faculty across disciplines. Laura Cisneros, assistant extension professor of natural resources and the environment (NRE) and director of the UConn Natural Resources Conservation Academy (NRCA), is the PI on this project. Other researchers involved in the project are Todd Campbell, department head and professor of curriculum and instruction in the Neag School of Education; Cary Chadwick, extension educator with the UConn Center for Land Use Education and Research (CLEAR); Heather Elliott-Famularo, department head and professor of digital media and design; Anna Lindemann assistant professor of digital media and design; David Dickson, extension educator and interim director of CLEAR; and Nicole Freidenfelds, extension educator and NRCA program coordinator.

The College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources and the Neag School have been collaborating for a decade, working to bring learning opportunities to youth and adults so they can carry out local environmental projects through the NRCA. However, Cisneros says these efforts have missed a critical component: communication.

“The missing piece here is how these individuals can reconnect projects back to their community in a creative and innovative way, and really, that science communication piece,” Cisneros says.

This led the extension team to connect with the Department of Digital Media and Design over their shared interests in improving scientific communication skills and diversifying the voices of people telling environmental stories. Both STEM and digital media and design fields have historically been dominated by a white male perspective.

Josh F., a student at Marvelwood School, takes photographs of local fauna to create a field guide. (Contributed photo)

“We thought that if we could bring people doing the scientific research together with the people telling the stories about that scientific research and do that by encouraging new perspectives and new voices, especially within the state, well, that was what got us all really excited,” Elliott-Famularo says. “This is how we came up with the notion of developing ‘Eco-Digital Storytellers.’”

With this grant, the team will work with high schools in New Haven, Hartford, and Willimantic, which serve diverse student bodies.

Over the course of three years, the program aims to serve 270 high school students across 54 school pods. Each “pod” will include a small group of high school students and their teacher.

The team will teach the pods how to engage in educational storytelling, using geospatial technology and digital media tools as vessels to convey their messages. Participants will be taught how to use a mapping application, called ArcGIS Storymaps, to create interactive online narratives using maps and digital media. They will also learn basic digital media and design skills, such as video and animation, to share engaging stories about their environmental projects.

“We’re really thinking about narrative structures as a way for people to express their identities and their thoughts and actions about environmental issues and then using technology to support those narratives,” Lindemann says.

“I believe it’s going to open up an avenue to connect to and communicate with young audiences, on their level,” Chadwick says. “I’m really excited about the storytelling aspect of this. I think it has a real potential to reach and engage with new audiences.”

The pods will apply these skills to a project addressing a local environmental concern. These may include issues like endangered species, protecting coastal towns from the impacts of climate change, water quality, wildlife monitoring, or environmental justice based on the unique needs of each community.

“It’s really community driven and community informed,” Cisneros says.

Film still from “Designing for Intergenerational Community Conservation,” the Public Choice Winner in the “2020 STEM for All Video Showcase,” edited by DMD student, David Cai. This piece helped inspire this new collaboration. (Contributed photo)

In working with these underrepresented communities the researchers say they aim to not merely teach them a set of skills, but to learn from and with these communities.

“As we engage, we want to go beyond just thinking about how we provide access for programming,” Campbell says. “But instead, we want to let community members – students and teachers – shape the programming and let us try to stretch ourselves to recognize more expansive versions of what it could mean to do such consequential work in the communities and how we can provide support while also engaging in learning beside communities.”

“It’s going to be based on them identifying the issues they want to address in their communities,” Dickson says. “We try not to presuppose what those issues are because something we may think is an issue they may not be as impacted or motivated by, so we try to let students determine what they see as an environmental issue in their community. It’s finding that balance between helping lead them to the types of projects they could do and them charting their own adventure.”

UConn students will also play an important role in the project. In Fall 2023, a group of undergraduate UConn students will take a course to learn how to serve as “Near-Peer Mentors” for the high school pods. The students, who will come from environmental sciences, biological sciences, or digital media and design programs, will learn how to serve as culturally sustaining and trauma-informed mentors. They will also learn how to use the relevant technologies and about Connecticut-specific environmental problems. In total, the program will support the training of 36 mentors.


Empowering college students to be mentors who will then inspire high school students is one of the really exciting and novel parts of this project. — Anna Lindemann


In the late fall through spring, the mentors will work with their pods to help teach technical skills and support them in developing their projects.

“Empowering college students to be mentors who will then inspire high school students is one of the really exciting and novel parts of this project,” Lindemann says.

Campbell will lead the research portion of this project focused on cultural learning pathways. The research will focus on how those involved in the project learn as individuals and groups, with a focus on the role of identity. Campbell will collect qualitative and quantitative data from participants about if and how they feel their work is recognized, by themselves and others, as meaningful.

To support this all-important recognition, this program will include an end-of-year showcase for students to present their projects.

These findings will provide insight into how to ensure the contributions of underrepresented individuals are valued and recognized in the E-STEAM (Environmental Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) field.

Campbell will also collect information about how students’ interest in E-STEAM careers changes over the course of their engagement in the project as they interact with professionals working in these fields.

“Our research focus is really grounded in identity and so we’re looking at ways we can support that identity development that might connect them to the [E]STEAM fields,” Campbell says.


Follow UConn Research on Twitter & LinkedIn.

Original Article via UConn Today: https://today.uconn.edu/2022/08/e-steam-ahead-ct-high-schoolers-to-become-eco-digital-storytellers-through-interdisciplinary-grant/

UConn Hosts Inaugural Frontiers in Playful Learning Conference

June 22, 2022 | Shawn Kornegay – Neag School of Education

|‘After a year of careful planning, the Neag School of Education’s Two Summers Educational Technology program and the UConn School of Fine Art’s Digital Media and Design (DMD) program co-hosted the inaugural Frontiers in Playful Learning conference from June 1 – 3, 2022.’|

Two individuals looking at a game board.
Two individuals observe a game board during the Frontiers in Playful Learning conference. (Photo courtesy of Stephen Slota)

After a year of careful planning, the Neag School of Education’s Two Summers Educational Technology program and the UConn School of Fine Art’s Digital Media and Design (DMD) program co-hosted the inaugural Frontiers in Playful Learning conference from June 1 – 3, 2022.

The three-day conference attracted roughly 55 in-person attendees from around the U.S. (Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, Florida, Ohio, Virginia, and more) with additional national and international participation through live-streamed sessions. Most attendees were scholars and graduate students from research universities, but some very dedicated K-12 teachers and industry professionals also took the time to attend.

How it All Started

Organized by Stephen Slota, who has dual faculty appointments in both the UConn Learning Sciences (formerly known as the Cognition, Instruction, & Learning Technology program) and DMD programs, the idea to host Frontiers came about after a series of conversations between playful learning scholars who felt they had fallen out of touch through the pandemic. “Although there are several other events centered on game-based education, we wanted to target game-and play-based teaching and research in higher education, specifically,” said Slota.

“Bringing together a small, tightly-knit group of interdisciplinary experts seemed like a good first step,” remarked Slota.

The UConn Two Summers Educational Technology program (among the Top 15 in the U.S. according to SuccessfulStudent.org) has become a nationally-recognized hub for playful teaching and learning research due in large part to their frequently-cited (2012) Review of Educational Research meta-analysis Our Princess is in Another Castle: A Review of Trends in Serious Gaming for Education and (2017) edited volume Exploding the Castle: Rethinking How Video Games & Game Mechanics Can Shape the Future of Education.

“What’s great about the community is its interdisciplinary nature, which creates points of contact that can’t be achieved with a narrow focus on just one discipline or role.”
— Assistant Professor-in-Residence Stephen Slota

“We recognized that our unique status positioned us to revitalize and organize the field around a set of shared goals by welcoming teachers, researchers, and designers to UConn’s campus as part of our community of practice,” Slota noted.

In addition to reengaging game- and play-based instructors and scholars, Slota and other Frontiers attendees sought to explore means of enhancing their individual and collaborative efforts. For some, that meant finding co-researchers and co-authors; for others, it meant finding complementary skillsets that could facilitate design work.

“What’s great about the community is its interdisciplinary nature, which creates points of contact that can’t be achieved with a narrow focus on just one discipline or role,”  Slota.

Individual with short hair gives a presentation.

What the Presenters and Attendees Thought

Anecdotal feedback indicated that attendees felt Frontiers was a “huge success,” and they seemed “impressed with how smoothly it went, especially since it was the first time hosting the event.”

Slota quickly recognized and credited Juliet Kapsis, the representative contact through UConn’s University Events and Conference Services, for her help. “She went above and beyond to work with various departments, programs, and people during the year it took to bring Frontiers together.”

According to one presenter, Trent Hergenrader, an assistant professor of English at the Rochester Institute of Technology, “What I appreciated about Frontiers is that everyone was interested in the process of teaching through the use of different kinds of games; to leverage deeper learning for our students.”

“In other words, it centered on games as teaching tools for higher education and, specifically, which games offer particular teaching and learning affordances (rather than a narrower focus just on how to use or make learning games),” he added.

Another presenter, Evan Torner, an associate professor of German Studies and Film/Media Studies from the University of Cincinnati, felt the three days he spent at Frontiers in Playful Learning were “some of the most productive [he’s] experienced in [his] career.”

“It was a healthy combination of presentations, discussions, postmortems, ideation, and play,” said Torner.

Tori Wagner ’20 MA, an incoming UConn Learning Sciences doctoral student and former Staples (Connecticut) High School physics teacher, greatly benefited from her connections with established experts and fellow up-and-coming playful learning professionals.

“The conference was a fantastic combination of presentations on cutting-edge research and informal discussions across various disciplines.”
— Incoming Doctoral Student Tori Wagner

“The conference was a fantastic combination of presentations on cutting-edge research and informal discussions across various disciplines,” said Wagner. “It was enlightening to gather perspectives of those outside my standard STEM circle. I’m excited to continue to learn from and work with the talented scholars I met as we contribute to the growing body of games and education research.”

Roger Travis, a UConn associate professor of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages, was also complimentary about Frontiers. “We all know games teach, but conferences like Frontiers are helping us figure out how we can use that limitless power to engage and educate.”

Summing up a widely shared perspective, presenter Wendi Sierra, assistant professor of Game Studies at the Texas Christian University Honors College, observed, “With such a rich and diverse group of people, the conversations were amazing, and I walked away with so many new ideas. As a result, my list of books to read, games to play, and things to try in my classroom is (excitingly) overwhelming.”

Outcomes and Future Plans

Through the unanimously positive feedback, Slota concluded that “there was an agreement we should continue hosting Frontiers in Playful Learning on an annual basis,” and he felt “the most important outcome was networking.”

“That’s what’s wonderful about bringing together so many passionate, hard-working scholars—nerding out about topics we spend all our personal and professional time thinking about,” Slota articulated with a smile. “Not only did we meet face-to-face with folks we’d only ‘seen’ through video conferencing over the last three years, but we cultivated friendships that have already led to new scholarly discourse and publication efforts.”

Many presenters and attendees are already looking forward to another Frontiers, including Torner, who recommends “anyone interested in games and learning consider attending next year!”

Slota acknowledged that limiting attendance to fewer than 100 people allowed them to encourage one-on-one interactions during and between sessions, which proved to be “one of the best decisions we made.”

The organizers are planning for Frontiers in Playful Learning 2023 to run from May 31 – June 2, 2023. They’ll introduce minor changes to the session formats (including a peer-reviewed play track for demoing board, card, roleplaying, and video games). Still, the attendees were “so happy” with the first go-around that the organizers will focus on “simply expanding an already-solid infrastructure.”

Visit the conference website to learn more about Frontiers in Playful Learning, including an archive of photos and session recordings.


Original Article via UConn Today: https://today.uconn.edu/2022/06/uconn-hosts-inaugural-frontiers-in-playful-learning-conference/

Spring Art Shows Put Graduating Students’ Work on Display

April 27, 2022 | Kimberly Phillips


From the everyday to the celestial, students find inspiration for art in many sources

Kaelynne Hernandez '22 (SFA), left, and Ashante Kindle '22 MFA talk about Kindle's art installation at the William Benton Museum of Art recently. The 2022 Studio Art and Digital Media and Design Master of Fine Arts Thesis Exhibition will be on display through May 8. (Kimberly Phillips/UConn Today)
Kaelynne Hernandez ’22 (SFA), left, and Ashante Kindle ’22 MFA talk about Kindle’s art installation at the William Benton Museum of Art recently. The 2022 Studio Art and Digital Media and Design Master of Fine Arts Thesis Exhibition will be on display through May 8. (Kimberly Phillips/UConn Today)

When Ashante Kindle ’22 MFA was 10 years old she says she wanted to be either a teacher or fashion designer, maybe a dancer or singer.

One could argue though, her childhood spent in family-owned beauty salons and barbershops – where her aunt was a beautician and uncle a master barber, and where she has vivid memories of learning to braid hair from her cousin – set up Kindle for a career that focused on Black hair.

But instead of being the person with the scissors, she’s holding a paint brush – or a hairbrush or hair comb – to smear color on canvas, mimicking the waves and curls of a head of hair in acrylic as only an artist can.

“Hair is just a really heavy thing,” Kindle, who hails from Tennessee, says. “When you get your hair done it’s just a total mindset change. Think about how intimate that act is between a beautician and a client, even if they’re strangers there’s trust. Your back is to them, you’re lower than them, their hands are on one of the most precious parts of your body. I think about it as this exchange of energy and life source.”

Kaelynne Hernandez ’22 (SFA) has been equally as influenced by exchanges of energy and life source.

At 10 years old, the New Haven native says she wanted to be an astronomer, but as a shy child she turned to art to express herself, and today Hernandez has channeled an interest in the universe as a muse for her painted paper pulp sculptures.

“The imagery is stuff that anybody could understand,” she says of her work. “It can be the birth of planets or the birth of a star, or it could be something bodily. I feel like the imagery comes from an unconscious collective state of mind that we have in all of us. It’s recognizable because it’s ingrained in us as humans.”

Hairdresser and astronomer weren’t ever on the mind of Matthew Mullin ’22 MFA. He wanted to be a baseball player, like so many other 10-year-old boys whose childhood dream didn’t materialize.

But what binds together these three – and the dozens of other BFA and MFA graduates from the Art and Art History and Digital Media & Design departments – is two spring shows that put their best work on display at The William Benton Museum of Art and UConn’s Art Building in the Fine Arts Complex.

Pieces of art by Ashante Kindle '22 MFA are laid out for hanging recently at the William Benton Museum of Art. The 2022 Studio Art and Digital Media and Design Master of Fine Arts Thesis Exhibition will be on display through May 8. (Kimberly Phillips/UConn Today)
Pieces of art by Ashante Kindle ’22 MFA are laid out for hanging recently at the William Benton Museum of Art. The 2022 Studio Art and Digital Media and Design Master of Fine Arts Thesis Exhibition will be on display through May 8. (Kimberly Phillips/UConn Today)

Oh – and Mullin’s final DMD project focuses on alien encounters, so he, too, looked to the universe for inspiration.

“It’s just been a fun way to kind of wrap up what I’m doing. When you’re in the slog of different semesters and just trying to get through it all, being able to switch to a fun alien UFO program helps you get through,” he says, turning serious. “There are two major questions of humanity: What happens when we die and are we alone, are we the only ones out here? Those are the two questions that have puzzled people for the history of humankind. It’s been interesting to play in that space.”

His thesis project, “Encounter,” is an app that maps reported alien sightings like real estate listings, in which users can click through to videos and photos and see different articles about various encounters. On display at the Benton, it features a believability ranking system and relies on user-submitted content.

The Massachusetts native acknowledges the concept is “a little bit out there and a little bit unconventional” but that’s what excited him, along with the chance to create interactive technology that could have other applications.

“Yes, the project is about UFOs and aliens, and if you’re not into that kind of thing that’s fine,” he says. “Look at the structure, the blueprint of the app. I have this heat-map visual that I’m using to show hot zones of UFOs. Take out the UFO part, apply that to public transportation and you can see heat-map visuals of where buses or subway systems may be having difficulties or breakdowns. The same is true for power grids.”

He adds, “The thing that I always liked about my project is the basic structure, the basic concept of it. It could be applied to so many different things. I just wanted to have fun with it as my final project, so I applied it to aliens and UFOs.”

It’s also what draws him to DMD; it can be applied to anything.

After getting his undergraduate degree, Mullin was interested in helping young low-income families, so he worked for the early education nonprofit Jumpstart. Then, he transitioned to a job at The Trustees of Reservations in Massachusetts when his interest shifted to land and wildlife conservation. Two years ago, his attention turned again and he was drawn to higher education, bringing him to UConn.

But his love of baseball never wavered, and he uses his UX/UI skills as a volunteer with the Hyannis Harbor Hawks, a collegiate summer team on Cape Cod that has benefitted from his graphic design prowess.

And now, as the father of a toddler, he’s headed to UPPAbaby, a Massachusetts-based manufacturer of car seats and strollers.

“One of the reasons they hired me was my experience in UX/UI,” he says of user experience and user interface design, or the way a computer program is presented or works. “They don’t really have much of that on their team right now, and before I came to UConn, I didn’t have much of that either. Without UConn and without DMD, I wouldn’t have this job. I wouldn’t have this opportunity.”

Kindle’s work, “Emerald City Sequence,” which also is on display at the Benton, draws its inspiration from the 1978 film “The Wiz,” a movie she says she watches or a score she listens to at least weekly.

This piece from Kaelynne Hernandez '22 (SFA) is among 10 pieces in her collection on display at the Art Building as part of the BFA exhibit there through April 28. (Kimberly Phillips / UConn Today)
This piece from Kaelynne Hernandez ’22 (SFA) is among 10 pieces in her collection on display at the Art Building as part of the BFA exhibit there through April 28. (Kimberly Phillips / UConn Today)

“This is my take on the Emerald City sequence scene, where they go through the different colors,” she says of the 30-plus circular paintings hung randomly that comprise the 8-by-25.5-foot piece. “I work in abstraction, and I think about abstraction as these opportunities to recreate new realities for Black bodies to exist in. And ‘The Wiz’ was literally that, super Afro-futuristic, and the Emerald City sequence is luxury everywhere with furs, rubies, gold, fancy cars. Just seeing that as a child wasn’t an everyday occurrence for me. Within art and abstractions, I have the power to create those realities. That’s what I did with this piece.”

She says the individual pieces in the full work represent crowns of hair, with the bumps, twists, and texture of real-life hair, only depicted in jewel tones. Larger canvases painted in black were taken from her exhibit “A Dream Transformed” at the Jorgensen Gallery early this year.

At the start of the pandemic, Kindle says she cut her hair for the first time for artistic purposes, feeling like she was shedding what she describes as a direct witness to past trauma and experiences – a person’s hair.

“There are many artists who make work about hair because it’s such a part of our identity,” she says. “Even outside of Blackness there are a lot of people of different identities who make work about hair. Hair, a single strand is weightless, but think about that strand. It tells everything about your body from health to stress.”

After graduation, Kindle is making a go of full-time artist life with a June show lined up in Nashville and one in California in November. She’s applied for some residencies and is considering a move to New York City. Between shows and continued work, she says she might break for a teaching opportunity, something she loved while doing her graduate work.

“It’s just about finding what you love,” she says. “I don’t feel like I’m working. I don’t feel like I’ve worked in years. I just love what I do so much. It allows me into so many new places that I would have never been able to be in had I just continued to live in fear – like working with students and showing at different universities. Working with the students here, especially the undergrad students, I just love it. Art allows me to flow freely and do my part.”

Hernandez was the beneficiary of Kindle’s teaching and has 17 pieces in the BFA show at the Art Building.

his is a close up of reported alien sightings in Connecticut as detailed in the app Encounter from Matthew Mullin '22 MFA. It's on display at the William Benton Museum of Art as part of the 2022 Studio Art and Digital Media and Design Master of Fine Arts Thesis Exhibition through May 8. (Kimberly Phillips / UConn Today).
A close up of reported alien sightings in Connecticut as detailed in the app Encounter from Matthew Mullin ’22 MFA. It’s on display at the William Benton Museum of Art as part of the 2022 Studio Art and Digital Media and Design Master of Fine Arts Thesis Exhibition through May 8. (Kimberly Phillips / UConn Today)

She starts with shredded newspaper that’s ground into a pulp. Additives make it into a clay and then begins the sculpting on a wooden panel. Once dry, a finished piece looks like concrete – until Hernandez adds color.

She leans toward shades of blue, red, purple, and white, which to her evokes the colors of the universe, and favors one piece that looks like a cupped tulip in red with a single yellow stamen: “I got the inspiration from a painting by another artist. He named his piece ‘The Flaming One’ and mine reminds me of ‘The Chosen One.’ I guess that’s what I would name it because it’s one object being the center point and it’s like a becoming, a big transformation,” she says.

Post-graduation, Hernandez says she’s still considering her options and is looking at post-baccalaureate programs to give her more experience and let her test the possibility of grad school. One thing is certain, she wants to find a way to make art work for her.

“It’s not going to happen right away,” she says. “But I know it will happen.”

The “2022 Studio Art + Digital Media and Design Master of Fine Arts Thesis Exhibition” is open at The William Benton Museum of Art through May 8. It features graduate students from both departments.

The 2022 BFA Exhibition for art and art history undergraduates is open at the Art Building, 830 Bolton Road, Storrs, until April 28. A website dedicated to the exhibit will go online in early May.

“Resilience: 2022 UConn Digital Media & Design BFA Senior Exhibition,” featuring more than two dozen undergraduate DMD students, is open at the Jorgensen Gallery until April 29. It also is available online.









Original Article via UConn Today: https://today.uconn.edu/2022/04/spring-art-shows-put-graduating-students-work-on-display/

(Via UConn Today) Coding, Creating, and Changing the World

UConn DMD Web/Interactive Media Student, Reaj Uddin at the Stamford campus. (Contributed photo)


Coding, Creating, and Changing the World

How the Stamford Startup Studio and the Werth Institute helped one student discover the innovator within


Reaj Uddin ‘23 (SFA) remembers studying for a school competition in the seventh grade to try to win $25.

“It was a social studies competition where whoever knows most of the countries in the world gets $25,” he says. “And I studied for like two days in a row, just to know all the countries in the world, just to get that $25 and impress my mom, to make her happy.”

Uddin came close to winning the competition, but ultimately fell just short.

He did not, however, fall short this past October when he brought his idea for a product to help streamline in-home recycling to a pitch night for Get Seeded, a program offered by UConn’s Connecticut Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, or CCEI.

He won $1,000 through the pitch night to start developing his company, called EnviGreen Recycling. His original idea was to create a system for sorting, scanning, and crushing recyclables in the home to not only encourage more recycling, but to make the process easier for families like his.

Uddin and his family immigrated to Stamford from Bangladesh in 2009. The youngest of four sons, he was about 10 years old when they arrived in the United States – he had little formal education and spoke no English. He attended remedial schools to learn English before entering public elementary school in Stamford.

In high school, Uddin took a course on web development and found that writing code and building programs appealed to him.

“I didn’t know what to do with my life in high school,” he says. “Then I took this web development course, and it actually made sense to me. I was getting it really quickly and my teachers said, ‘you know, you should try doing this in the future.’ With coding, you can create solutions in almost any field – health, financial services, education technology – and it’s black and white, it’s either coded correctly or incorrectly. You can’t change that, and I actually like that kind of concept.”

Initially, Uddin didn’t plan on attending UConn, or any other college or university, to pursue a career as a developer. He instead looked at trade schools and enrolled in a 24-month training boot camp program.

But he ultimately changed plans at his parents’ urging and dropped out of the boot camp. He applied, and was accepted, into the School of Fine Arts Digital Media and Design Department’s Web/Interactive Media Design program at UConn Stamford.

“My parents insisted – you’re the only child in our family that has one chance to go to college and make something of yourself,” he says. “My other brothers, they finished high school, but didn’t attend any college. My parents wanted me to be the first one, to change the family, in a way. And bringing them here, having them here, I just don’t want them to work as much they did before. I want to provide for them.”

As a sophomore at UConn, he took an advanced web development course where he learned about using APIs – application programming interfaces, a type of protocol for building and integrating app software – and started using them to build his own apps, a process he found he enjoyed.

One of his apps, still a work in progress, uses Spotify API to develop a playlist based on a listener’s emotions – tell the app if you’re feeling happy or angry, and it will build a playlist to compliment your mood.

“I’m trying to improve it by having the camera on, and it will detect your face and, using AI, know what kind of emotions you’re having,” he says, “and with that emotion, create playlists without you having to type it in. You know, sometimes you don’t know what you’re feeling.”

Uddin was part of a small group of students selected for an augmented reality class; the group worked together to create a virtual reality education platform to help student learn about human DNA – it was his first experience building a program in virtual reality.

He is also a member of the inaugural cohort of UConn’s Stamford Startup Studio, a one-year co-op style educational experience offered through the Peter J. Werth Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, where he’s worked with his teammates to build a prototype web application to help make planning weekend activities an easier and better experience for friends and family groups. This semester, he’s been training an AI model as part of the development of the app, called WKNDR.

Uddin and two fellow Startup Studio cohort members are also working to design a computer keyboard that creates electricity while a user types through use of piezoelectric crystals.

“When you press on the keys, the crystals crush and form mechanical energy or electric current,” he says, “which can be stored and then can be used to charge your phone, laptops, anything you want.”

A exterior panoramic view of the Stamford Campus on Oct. 9, 2020. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

It’s a huge shift for Uddin, who describes himself as an introvert and says he’s never thought of himself as an entrepreneur.

“It’s been such a great experience to watch Reaj grow and really transform throughout the past two semesters,” says Tara Watrous ‘18 (CLAS), the Werth Institute’s Head of Entrepreneurial Transformation and the co-founder and director of the Stamford Startup Studio. “What does life-transformative education look like at Werth? It looks like Reaj! His success story is the reason the Werth Institute works to create authentic life-transformative education experiences. It has been so rewarding to see him flourish.”

Uddin took his recycling startup concept through Traction, a CCEI program designed to help UConn-affiliates build their business model and engage in customer discovery, and he’s currently participating in Accelerate UConn. The concept has pivoted from an in-home product to a solution more broadly aimed at meeting the recycling needs of colleges and universities.

“Coming in, he was not as confident and secure in his abilities, and now he’s going to be interning at a startup in New York City, and he’s working on his own venture,” says Watrous. “He’s pushed himself out of his comfort zone, and I think he’s a great example of what students can achieve when they take the risk and push themselves out their comfort zone.”

For all of his growing success, Uddin hasn’t forgotten his roots – he interviewed for the Stamford Startup Studio while on a visit home to Bangladesh, and he says he hopes to use his entrepreneurial pursuits to contribute to a healthy and sustainable world, particularly for developing countries.

“I want to be a part of a company that contributes to greater change,” he says. “I want to be a part of making the world better than what it is right now.”

He credits the Stamford Startup Studio with helping him develop an entrepreneurial mindset, and for helping him build a network of supportive mentors, advisors, and friends as he sets out on his new ventures.

And though he doesn’t always tell his family members about the projects he’s working on – “they wouldn’t understand what I’m talking about,” he explains – he also credits his family, especially his eldest brother, who he says helped him to have a greater vision for his family and inspired him to think beyond what he thought he might be capable of.

“Back in my home, in Bangladesh, we weren’t as fortunate as we are now. We didn’t live in the most lavish home,” Uddin says. “Part of the American dream includes the opportunity for prosperity and success and making a better version of yourself. My brother managed to thrive towards greater social mobility for our family. He built a new house for us back home and truly motivated me to want to make great achievements. When we went back to Bangladesh to see the house for the first time last year, my parents were in tears. We never imagined that we would have a house like this.”

He continued, “It was very inspirational to see him go through all that. I feel he taught me how to connect with people in a good way and make them make them feel valued. I think that’s the most valuable thing that anyone can do – surround yourself with people you love and take care of them.”

To learn more about entrepreneurial education and opportunities offered through the Werth Institute, visit 

For more information about venture support opportunities like Get Seeded, Traction, and Accelerate UConn, visit CCEI.uconn.edu.


Original Article via UConn Today: https://today.uconn.edu/2022/03/coding-creating-and-changing-the-world/