Seasons Magazines

Seasons Magazines

Beyond the Classroom

Sights and scenes from UConn's HuskyTHON 2023 during the morale hour and miracle family walkthrough at the Hugh S. Greer Field House on the morning of March 4, 2023. (Sydney Herdle/UConn Photo)

By Melissa Nicefaro


Connecticut’s colleges and universities are well known for their academics, constantly ranking among the top institutions of higher education, but it’s what happens outside of the classroom that draws students to some of our schools.

“We often say at UConn that our athletics programs represent our university’s ‘front porch,’ or a welcoming entry for people to discover UConn and become interested in its many other attributes,” said Stephanie Reitz, University of Connecticut’s (UConn) media relations manager.

UConn, known around the world for its men’s and women’s basketball programs, has become an attractive educational option for many who are applying to colleges. With 21 teams in NCAA Division 1, UConn had 576 student athletes in the last full academic year who won a combined eight Big East championships and the national NCAA championship in men’s basketball.

“These student athletes are more than names on the backs of jerseys; every one of them is a student who is receiving a chance to continue beyond high school in the sport they love, and to represent UConn on the national stage,” Reitz stated.

UConn is about much more than athletics and has a strong philosophy that learning occurs on both sides of the classroom door and having a fulfilling college experience includes having a community of friends, mentors and others on campus. The university also has more than 700 student clubs and organizations with a range of academic and social interests that encourage meeting new friends and engaging in new activities.

“And if there isn’t already a club to meet their interests, students can launch their own,” Reitz said.

With 34 residential and non-residential living and learning communities with more than 2,800 participants with a variety of professional aspirations, personal affinities and identities, and other commonalities, UConn’s learning communities are among the top 25 in the nation, ranked by U.S. News.

One of UConn’s most impactful student initiatives is the annual HuskyThon dance marathon, where students dance for 18 hours to raise money for Connecticut Children’s, raising more than $1.4 million last year.

Through its Student Union, the university offers a central location for students to congregate outside of class time through a variety popular, safe and often free activities including a movie theater, game room, TV lounges and a food court—along with art, music, lectures and other events at venues throughout its campuses.

With such a large number of commuters, Southern Connecticut State University (SCSU) also relies on a central location for students. The school opened two new commuter lounges last year.

“Students have a place to relax with soft lighting, microwave and refrigerator, and supports. It’s a place where they feel warm, fuzzy and comfortable when they have idle time. We want to give our commuter students a sense of identity and connection at the university,” said Tracy Tyree, SCSU’s vice president for student affairs.

Tyree provides oversight for the student experience any time students are not in class, including athletics, clubs/organizations, residence halls, counseling center, health center, well-being areas and access programs.

She’s insistent on removing the stereotype associated with “commuter schools” that may come across as “unengaging.” With 2,000 students living on campus making up one-quarter of undergraduates, SCSU does have a larger commuter population than many other local campuses.

“We’ve done some important work to engage our commuter students and help them see themselves in the life of the university. Commuter assistants are available to help them navigate the university and life, kind of through the lens of a commuter student,” Tyree said. “When they come onto campus, they feel welcomed, seen and heard.”

The university hosts special events just for commuters including a breakfast in the parking garage where most students park, lunches in between classes and more. She runs traditional events to keep all students involved.

“We set the tone every semester how excited we are that the students are here. We have pep rallies and big carnivals a few times a year,” Tyree said.  “We have Student Appreciation Day in the spring with carnival rides and food trucks to create a festive environment.”

Southern also hosts impactful events to keep its students involved with the community. Students celebrated the 32nd annual Friends of Rudolph in December with students engaging with children from the New Haven community, partnering with the New Haven Police and Parks and Recreation.

“Hundreds of children celebrate Christmas with us where our students do crafts, decorate cookies and give out gifts,” Tyree said. “In the fall we held a trunk or treat for the community that hundreds of our students helped at. So that’s a way our students both have fun themselves and see the role that we play in the community—that’s so important as a regional public university.”

Southern has a robust set of 125 clubs and organizations and club sports. While some clubs are related to classroom learning, there is also a game group that plays board games, anime society, theater organization and musical groups. Tyree said at the root of all clubs and organizations is to see that students engage with their peers around anything.

“In this case, it’s about engaging around friendship, it’s engaging around common interests or ideas—it’s engaging around identity. Things that they personally share in common around who they are and how they identify. All of that will strengthen their connection to the university and make them more likely to persist and earn their degree,” Tyree said.

Albertus Magnus also places a strong concentration on student identity. Since it is a Catholic college in the Dominican tradition, it has a bit of a different faith-based flair from other colleges.

“We look at study as a lifelong process and we instill in our students that learning is beyond the classroom. Yes, you’re going to learn classroom things here, and yes, you’re going to leave here with a degree that you can use to get a job, but we also like to grow the love of knowledge and truth. We want them to be searching for the truth in the world and we want them to know when they leave here that they continue to grow and educate themselves about the world as a person,” said Sister Cathy Buchanan.

The college is based on four pillars: study, prayer, community and service. “Everything that we do is based on one of those pillars and we try to look at it from a holistic perspective. We try to make a well-rounded student when they leave here with more than just the education,” added Sr. Buchanan.

The school ministers to all faiths, not only Catholic students. If a student is Muslim, Jewish or other Christian denomination, Sr. Buchanan will connect them with a local parish, church, mosque or synagogue. In addition to a chapel at the college, there is a sacred prayer space for Muslim students.

While all four pillars are important, the pillar of service is the driving force of Albertus’s culture. Connected with 17 different service organizations in the New Haven area, students are actively involved with service projects.

“We introduce how important it’s for us to be good neighbors. Every freshman has a responsibility to get involved in a service project. Then we also have what we call St. Dominic’s Scholars, students who have a scholarship for service with a requirement to do a certain amount of hours of service,” she explained.

The college’s biggest day on campus—Service Day—comes each April. The school is closed and the whole college community comes together and does service projects in the community, from where many of Albertus students come.

The University of New Haven (UNH) is also very active in community events, offering more than 150 student organizations, thousands of campus events each year and a competitive Division II athletics program. But in the end, beyond the classroom, a job awaits.

Since the ultimate goal of higher education is a job, students need hands on experience. Matt Caporale, executive director for the University of New Haven’s Career Development Center, prepares students for graduate school, careers or even starting their own business. He builds relationships with employers and brings opportunities to campus for students.

“We help our students discover why they’re in school and what it is they really want to do. We focus on personal and career discovery and through connections, drive opportunities back to campus,” he explained.

A big part of the college experience is encouraging students to discover who they are as individuals, where their skills and interests and personality traits lie, and then how that matches up with their field and their areas of interest.

All undergraduate students are required to do two “high-impact practices” in order to graduate. That can include an internship, studying abroad or what the university calls academic service learning, such as a faculty-mentored research project, a capstone course, or an industry-sponsored course or project.

“There are abundant opportunities for students for those two experiences throughout their time as an undergrad—we have avenues for every one of our students,” Caporale said.

Workplace experience naturally depends on the career of choice. For example, criminal justice students at UNH are often interested in federal law enforcement and do internships with the FBI, the DEA or ATF; some choose to work with local police departments. UNH is, however, seeing a boost in interest in the nonprofit side of criminal justice as students are looking at opportunities in areas such as crime prevention, victim advocacy, recidivism reduction, parole or probation.

“Over the last 5 or 6 years, we’ve seen a large shift from the students wanting law enforcement to a focus on careers where they can really have impact, some meaning in their work and give back to their communities,” added Caporale.

Across the subjects of study, the main intention is for an internship to lead to a paid position.

“If you get an offer out of it, that’s phenomenal. It’s the point of the internship, which also gives the student opportunity to explore the field and test it out in not as risky of an environment. If they realize that it’s not what they wanted to do, they still have time to shift before they have rent or loan bills,” he explained.

“It’s important to have those connections, alumni engagements and bringing opportunities to our students, but even with all the work that we do to close that gap to bring employers in front of students, students need to understand that while the school is doing a ton, each student also has to do a ton,” Caporale concluded. “It is their careers, their majors, it’s their area of interest. And so while the school is going to put a lot of things in front of them, it’s important for our students to self-motivate, self-advocate, grab those opportunities, ask those questions, put themselves in the best position.”


Melissa Nicefaro is a writer for magazines and business publications across Connecticut. She lives in Orange with her husband and two daughters.