Author: mar13050

Connecticut Innovation Nights at the Ballard

By Mackenzie Rafferty

Monday, April 10th, was the first new product showcase for Connecticut Innovation Nights. This event was Connecticut Innovation Nights first event in a projected series of events dedicated to highlighting innovation for local start-ups and entrepreneurs. This event was very promising for Angelina Capalbo, who was inspired by the success of Mass Innovation Nights, out of Massachusetts. Capalbo modeled the structure of the night off of the wildly successful formula of her predecessors in Massachusetts. Ultimately, this event aims to feature and emphasize local businesses and entrepreneurs to boost exposure for these noteworthy locals.

This event, was co-collaborated with our office, the office of Public Engagement and hosted at the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry. The doors opened at 6:00 pm, and lasted well after 8:00 pm that evening. The Ballard was adorned with its beautiful puppetry displays that highlighted the creative and innovative in the room. In addition, refreshments were offered from Love Art Sushi, Subway, Insomnia Cookies, Gansett Wraps, and Wing Stop.

The event involved ten entrepreneurs, all of whom lined the Ballard with tables, prototypes, and posters to help display their products. The products varied and all found their special niche in the entrepreneurial market. Out of the ten entrepreneurs, four were able to pitch their products on stage in front of an audience. These four were voted on prior to the event, and had the wonderful opportunity to describe their product and tell their unique story in three minutes or less for the event goers.

The first of these products to be pitched was B2 Products. They pitched one of their various products called the Mobility Assistance Sling (MAS). Their slogan, “innovation you can count on,” is highly representative of the nature of their products. They design products that aim to solve problems encountered by Public Safety and Healthcare professionals. Their slings help both patients and providers as acting as lifting aids for patients who are unable to get up and need assistance. Their brochure noted that this sling aims to “reduce back injury through improved lifting ergonomics…safer and more dignified for the patient than improvised lifting aids.” These products are geared mostly towards fire-rescue and EMS agencies, nursing and medical personnel, rehabilitation services. The slings work best for elderly, disabled, and obese patient care where lifting may be problematic for both the patient and provider.The second product to be pitched was the Badger Medical collar by CEO and inventor Timothy Andrew Kussow. The Badger Medical Collar is a bariatric immobilization/extrication collar. Disposable, easy to use, and lightweight, this collar is designed for patients who anatomically cannot fit in the traditional cervical collar. This product is a tear-to-fit product that allows for quick mobilization. As outlined on their brochure, the product “is intended to support cervical spine in a neutral position during transportation, in combination with other cervical and full body immobilization devices.”

Third, Mark Keeley from OBVIA pitched his “superior wind turbine rotor blades & semi-shroud.” Their patented blades are “lightweight, energy efficient, cost effective, environmentally friendly, visually appealing and scalable.” Their team consist of the two Keely brothers who combined have over sixty years of wind energy experience as well as design engineering and finance experience. Their product was the winner and judge’s favorite of the CT Next Entrepreneur Innovation award from last May. Additionally, they were featured in the Hartford Courant’s startup story July 6th, 2016.

Last to present was the company RecordMe, who’s business model is focused around a hassle-free recording which allows for artists to make more of a profit while making and playing their music. Their motto is, “record anything, record anywhere.” Their recording device allows for artists to reserve a box that is built and shipped to them. After the event, the box is shipped back to the company where they mix, master, and distribute the recording to everyone who placed on order—the artists only pay for the recordings they sell. They offer various boxes and ways to purchase, or lease them. They offer home boxes, studio boxes, and professional boxes. Based in Torrington, CT, RecordMe has found a unique niche to the local music scene that also transcends far beyond the CT boarders.

These four products and businesses were simply a fraction of the innovators and products featured at the event. The turnout was promising for the future of Connecticut Innovation Nights. Ultimately, this evening spotlighted the immense potential this event has for Connecticut and local entrepreneurs. These events tap into the power of social media and networking to foster a community of inspired local innovators to connect, pitch their ideas, and bolster a greater following for their businesses and products.


Service Learning’s Global Impact: Guiding Light Orphans

By Mackenzie Rafferty

Last semester, I had the pleasure of conducting a phone interview with Jolly Lux, the founder and executive director of the non-profit organization, Guiding Light Orphans (GLO). GLO was founded in 2014 by Lux and her husband, Kurt. Through charitable donations, GLO aims to provide support to HIV/AIDS orphans and their caretakers in rural Uganda. By providing basic health care and health care training, they hope to implement skills for self-sustainability throughout these villages to break the cycle of hunger and poverty in this region.

Last year, the Office of Public Engagement held a Service Learning Expo that gave Lux and other community partners a platform to speak about their charitable efforts. The Expo was the first step in implementing a community partnership between GLO and UConn. Here, Lux connected with Dr. John Redden from the Department of Neurobiology and Physiology. Upon their meeting, Redden expressed interest in partnering GLO with his science-based writing course, where he planned to create science-based infographics for non-scientists.

Lux recalled her excitement towards this idea, “the education component is key to brining awareness and breaking stigmas.” She discussed how the infographics could help educate villagers to take care of their patients in a useful, beneficial, and safe manner.

Dr. John Redden, in an interview, further explained his relationship with GLO. In regards to his course, he wanted to implement a writing component that focused on “communicating with non-scientists about science… it’s more likely that people have conversations in elevators, and with their friends and families.” Redden hoped for his students to master this type of communication, focusing less on jargon and more on the basic communication of ideas.

Redden realized that as a scientist, it would be difficult to evaluate non-science writing by himself. At this point, he understood his need for a community partner. Roughly two years ago, with interest in Service Learning pedagogy, Redden applied for a Service Learning Faculty Fellowship and was accepted.

Upon his acceptance, Redden noted, “I was able to develop a whole course around service learning. The fellowship gave me the vocabulary to describe the things I wanted to do.” Redden was embarking on a very unique path, as life sciences and service learning are rarely combined at UConn. “It was interesting to pilot a new way of teaching to physiology students,” Redden noted.

Redden also discussed his meeting with Lux at the Expo last year. The idea of a community partner was extremely interesting to him. Additionally, the mission of GLO was “really compelling to me and I knew that it would be for the students also.” Redden noted how the various facets of GLO and their Clinic inspired and pushed their partnership.

According to GLO’s website, they tackle health care in a two-part approach, the first part being their semi-annual medical camps. Held twice a year, these camps offer direct and urgently needed aid to patients. Health screenings, immunizations, and education on disease prevention are just a few examples of the care offered at these camps. These camps serve approximately 4,000 patients in two days with a team of about 100 volunteers.

Due to GLO’s partnership with other health care providers, they’ve acquired medication for a decent cost. For roughly $3,000, they can screen and provide treatment for approximately 4,000 patients. When worked out, that means that care for one patient is roughly $0.75.

The second tier of their two-part approach is their resident Village Health Teams (VHTs). These teams are community-owned and consist of roughly one man or woman per every two villages. These VHTs deliver their health care services year-round and are trained, monitored, and evaluated. They’ve enhanced health care structure of local communities and increased trained leaders and community members. GLO has trained 10 individuals to deliver basic health care services to 26 villages. In addition to this training, GLO has given VHTs bicycles and solar powered lanterns for their traveling.

Redden found this mission extremely compelling, leading him to form his relationship with GLO for his service learning course. “Our specific project,” Redden explained, “was to try to help them [GLO] train their community healthcare workers to better educate community members.” During the interview, Redden displayed materials similar to those that GLO had used to teach their VHTs prior to their partnership. The materials, he pointed out, had factual inaccuracies and stereotypes that he believed could hinder the education process.

“We thought we could basically take this information and put it in a way that is a lot more visually attractive and really to rely on visuals, knowing that most of the people were not English speakers.” His students worked on infographics in various areas. One group worked on creating pamphlets for what to do when someone is having a seizure.

“There’s a huge stigma, people think that they’re possessed by evil spirits. It really fit in with the theme of the course, to try to address a lot of misconceptions that non-scientists have.” This group tried to explain what a seizure was in very simple language. They described causes, what you’re likely to see while someone is having a seizure, and also debunked a lot of misconceptions.

Redden and his class hope to print and send their graphics to GLO so that they can be distributed to community healthcare workers and aid them in their training. Redden is currently looking for a translator to translate the information into Swahili so they can be useful to the villagers as well.

When it comes to the students, Redden hopes that his course “helps them connect and apply the things they’re learning in their coursework better.” This course gives his students an opportunity to practice and implement skills that are developed in the classroom almost immediately afterwards. They don’t have to “wait for this delayed gratification that comes from graduate school or medical school,” Redden added.

Lux, while excited and grateful for the partnership with Dr. Redden, is always looking to connect with other departments within the UConn community. She’s recently spoken with both the School of Pharmacy and School of Nursing. One of her other main needs deals with their clean water initiative, which aims at implementing irrigation to help the villages gain access to clean water. The Office of Public Engagement is working on connecting Lux with the School of Engineering in hopes of fostering a new partnership for this important initiative

While extremely impactful, GLO is a small nonprofit organization, meaning that they are constantly in search of volunteers and fundraising. Lux detailed their need for help, “fundraising for us as a nonprofit has always been a challenge. How do you keep your promises to the people and be able to move forward without funds you need?” Lux noted that they always could use fundraising help, especially from younger voices.

Lux noted that the key to their success was “listening to the people and giving them a voice.” She stressed the importance she placed on asking the community members what their needs were. Lux thought they needed education, but the community members asked for help in health care. Listening to the community members was the key to success for GLO. Humbled by her experiences, Lux is thrilled about her partnership with UConn. “To me,” Lux noted at the end of the interview, “it looks like a win-win scenario for everyone.”

When asked what her advice would be to anyone hoping to dedicate their life to social work, Lux gave a humbled and simple response: “Look around, look around yourself and see the things that are out there and need to be addressed. Go in with an open mind, ask questions and be willing to listen. It’s imperative to listen to what is around you and to the people you’re looking to help.”

For those interested, GLO is always accepting volunteers for events. Lux expressed that even the simple act of talking about GLO with your friends helps them in the long-run, “the more voices, the better, the more people we can reach.” All information regarding volunteering and aid for GLO can be found on their website,

UConn Students Bridge Community Reading Programs

By Laurie Wolfley

Taken from Abstract:

“UConnReads Meets “One Book, One Region”: Integrating The New Jim Crow and Just Mercy Spring 2016 saw several UConn Avery Point professors collaborating to integrate two annual book programs— UConnReads and Southeastern Connecticut’s One Book, One Region—across the campus. Both programs took a months-long look at their chosen text, offering book talks and other programming aimed at creating a discourse community around the books’ topics. Avery Point offered film viewings and discussions on campus, as well as panel presentations open to the campus and greater community. Many courses directly integrated the books into their curriculum, and several students and faculty members attended related community events at libraries and campuses around the state. Even UConn Early College Experience classes (offering UConn courses in the high schools) got in on the act. ”

Click graphic to see the full-size PDF:


Laurie Wolfley is the Senior Faculty Development Specialist at the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, an Avery Point Service Learning Facilitator, part of the English Faculty, as well as the ECE Coordinator for American Studies and Maritime Studies at the University of Connecticut, Avery Point.


Service Learning Student Perspective: Constitution Day

By Mackenzie Rafferty

On Friday, September 16, the UConn Office of Public Engagement (OPE), in collaboration with Dr. Kimberly Bergendahl, held a student-run Constitution Day discussion in the Dodd Research Center. As a student of Dr. Bergendahl and the communications assistant for the OPE, I was able to explore service learning not only in relation to my job, but also as a participating political science student.

I’m a third year Political Science and Communications dual major at The University of Connecticut. My passions are writing, reading, and understanding human history in hopes of better understanding our future; politics and communications are a perfect match for me, which makes my job at the Office of Public Engagement very rewarding. This semester, whether by fate or sheer luck, I enrolled in Constitutional Rights and Liberties course with Dr. Bergendahl. Seemingly by chance, the Office of Public Engagement reached out to Dr. Bergendahl and her constitutional rights and liberties course to help organize and lead their Constitution Day celebration.

This rare opportunity completely altered the teaching style of my class. For the first time in my academic career at UConn, I was able to participate in a service learning course, which happens to be one of the main values of UConn’s OPE and more importantly, one of the five main goals of the University. This experience gave me an entirely unique opportunity to be a part of the service learning pedagogy.

Taken directly from our mission statement, the Office of Public Engagement at UConn is driven to “assist in the development of engaged citizens through coordination, advocacy and capacity building for engagement activities.” One of the main ways the office fosters this civic engagement is through service learning, as well as engaged scholarships, university assisted community schools, partnerships, and collaborations with community and partner programs.

The office provides resources for students, faculty members, and professional staff to further UConn’s impact on local communities in hopes of nurturing long-term relationships with communities and partners. Constitution Day gave our class the opportunity to take part in a service learning course, which really highlighted the importance of community and civic engagement.

Service learning, as described by the OPE’s website, “is a pedagogy that promotes the formation of collaborative, sustainable partnerships between the university and the community.” Through student and faculty collaboration, the university is able to bring attention to pressing societal issues. One of the main goals of service learning is to allow for students to develop as active learners and members of the community, who also strive to take their education into their own hands.

What service learning offers is an entirely unique teaching and learning strategy that actively works to integrate meaningful community contributions with instruction and individual reflection. This strategy works to enrich both the teaching and learning experience, while also introducing concepts of civic and community responsibility to students.

My constitutional rights and liberties class had first-hand experience in engaging community engagement thanks to the service learning pedagogy. Our responsibility was to organize and hold a student-run discussion and presentation on the Second Amendment. In preparation for the day, our class met with Julia Yakovich, the director of service learning initiatives for the OPE, to discuss what our objectives should be for the presentation. Collectively, we decided that it was important to give a brief overview of the history of amendment, while also discussing modern application, and the future of the amendment.

These in-class discussions really changed the dynamic of the classroom—for the first time, students were really engaging in conversation where their ideas carried responsibility and weight. We were allowed to openly express opinions and cultivate a larger understanding of the amendment that represented classroom sentiments. We also knew that our conversations would have power outside the classroom; our ideas were to become a presentation that directly represented us in our community.

This style of conversation helped the class arrive at goals for the presentation. We knew we wanted to keep the presentation very neutral and informational. As political science students, we understood the controversy attached to the discussion of the second amendment; we wanted to ensure that any debate would factual and educational.

Three days after our initial in-class meeting, Constitution Day arrived. The presentation went smoothly, and we were joined by fellow students and faculty members. By the end of the presentation, the floor opened for questions and discussion. Many questions were raised in regards to the future of the second amendment a variety of viewpoints and opinions were heard. The discussion was extremely civil and showed the growing interest students had in regards to the Second Amendment.

We were also joined by CT State Representative Gregg Haddad of the 54th Assembly District. Haddad ended the presentation with a few personal comments. Embracing his opinion on the future of the second amendment, he discussed how the amendment has personally affected his political experiences. Representative Haddad’s commentary was important in fully embracing service learning. Haddad’s commentary allowed for the students to see how the research and presentation related directly to the community.

Dr. Bergendahl, in collaboration with her Constitutional Rights and Liberties course, the OPE staff, and Representative Haddad worked together seamlessly to create an experience that transcended the classroom—students worked together with faculty to a create meaningful product that emphasized civil responsibility and touched members of the greater community. The presentation was a great representation of the mission of The Office of Public Engagement with thanks to the service learning pedagogy