At the Action Lab, our starting point for semester-long research projects are questions or problems posed by Hartford community partners, which are prioritized by our Hartford-resident advisory board. The methods we use are as diverse as the partners we work with and the questions we explore together. Some of the more common techniques we use are:

  • GIS mapping and spatial analysis
  • Community surveys
  • Qualitative interviewing
  • Public data analysis
  • Data visualization
  • Focus groups
  • Case study and best practices research
  • Digital storytelling
  • Public history
  • Policy analysis

Contact Action Lab Director Megan Brown for any questions about the projects below. See also our current round of proposals.

Spring 2019 Projects

Fall 2018 Projects

Spring 2018 Projects

Spring 2019 Projects (to come)

Culinary Careers

Food service is one of the few options open to people with barriers to employment, especially in Hartford. Many people of color and women, however, are mired in entry-level positions without advancing due to lack of training and often-unconscious racism and sexism in the culinary sector. In this project, students will conduct research to improve training programs for entry-level food service workers to move into middle-income managerial jobs. They will review other national training models, participate in phone interviews with programs, identify any best practice reports available, and review and rank conferences for relevance.

Community Partner: Cary Wheaton, Billings Forge Community Works

Faculty Fellow: India Weaver, Capital Community College

Student Success

West Indians comprise the largest foreign-born population in Connecticut at precisely the same time that budgets for “new arrivals” programs aimed at easing their transition into the K-12 education systems have been slashed. In this project, students will gather data from parents, students, and teachers in Hartford area schools to answer the question: how do local area schools integrate West Indian children and their parents into the education system when English language learning and programs aimed at cultural competency often miss the nuances of the needs of English-speaking migrants, their children who emigrate with them, as well as their first-generation children?

Community Partners: West Indian Foundation (founded 1978) (Desmond Collins, President; Violette Haldane, VP of Programming; and Dr. Fiona Vernal, board member)

Faculty Fellow: Cleo Rolle, Capital Community College

Latinx Theater

Upwards of 45 percent of the population in Hartford identifies as Hispanic or Latinx. After surveying their audience, Hartford Stage identified a need for both Spanish-language theater and Spanish-language published materials which accompany their shows. Students in this project will collect qualitative and quantitative data from Hartford’s Latinx arts community to improve and expand Hartford Stage’s partnerships and programming.

Community Partner: Rachel Alderman and Theresa MacNaughton, Hartford Stage

Faculty Fellow: Diana Aldrete, Trinity College

Riverside Recapture

Riverfront Recapture is seeking to expand access to the Connecticut River to include neighborhoods in the North End of Hartford. This expansion will allow for an increase in environmentally-friendly transportation in the city and access to other green space in the region, and the organization is planning on adding amenities to existing trail systems that will remove barriers to access. In this project, students will engage residents in the planning processes, provide an opportunity for their voices to be heard, and identify barriers, needs, and interests, in order to create a park and trail system that will be fully utilized and valued as a community asset.

Community Partner: Martha Conneely, Riverfront Recapture

Faculty Fellow: Stefanie Chambers, Trinity College
Fall 2018 Projects

Food Stories in Hartford

This project explored how oral histories can be used to make detailed, wordy food policy relevant to and digestible for everyone to encourage widespread advocacy. Each team member researched an area of food policy: food regulations, urban farming, food industry, and food access. Students then conducted and videotaped interviews with six people who were either Hartford residents or have spent the majority of their life in Hartford. Topics ranged from challenges of urban farming to building a career in fast food. Each story was associated with a food policy, such as soil testing requirements and food safety regulations, which directly impacted the narrative. Learn more at

Community Partner: Meg Hourigan, Connecticut Food System Alliance

Student Researchers: Christopher Carter (Trinity), Trea Mannello (Trinity), Carlo Puccio (Capital), Antoine Smith (Capital)

Faculty Fellow: Sarah Moon (University of Connecticut)

Opportunity Youth

In this project, students collected, analyzed, and identified gaps in data about Opportunity Youth in Hartford in order to learn how to better serve this population. The team collected demographic data from the American Community Survey (ACS) to identify who are Opportunity Youth, as well as program data from five organizations in Hartford to see who was receiving services and of what kind. They also gathered qualitative data from a focus group of eight Opportunity Youth program participants in Hartford. After compiling their research, students learned Tableau to produce data visualizations of their analyses. They found that while most Opportunity Youth in Hartford lived in the South End, most Opportunity Youth who received services lived in the North End. They also found that many Opportunity Youth face challenges including criminal justice involvement and Department of Children and Families (DCF) intervention. Learn more at

Community Partner: Julie Geyer, Capital Workforce Partners

Student Researchers: Mohammed Albehadli (Trinity), Ardyn Allessie (Trinity), Micalyia Douglas (Capital), Tiana Starks (Trinity), Daouda Williams (Capital)

Faculty Fellow: Alyson Spurgas (Trinity)

Home Ownership

This group investigated how homeownership rates vary in the city and the region, what factors affect homeownership rates, and potential solutions to increase homeownership. Students used data from the Decennial Census and the American Community Survey and also conducted an interview survey of thirty residents from two Hartford neighborhoods. The team found that many of Hartford’s neighborhoods were unaffordable for the typical neighborhood resident and that housing stock was limited. They also found that, while the desire to own a home was high, credit was a major barrier to home ownership. Learn more at

Community Partner: Jeff Devereux, Breakfast Lunch & Dinner

Student Researchers: Leah Cormier (Trinity), Alex Dahlem (Trinity), Gisselle Ortiz (Capital), Caroline Sullivan (Trinity)

Faculty Fellow: Jack Dougherty (Trinity)

Hartford S.H.E.L.F. – Sustainable, Healthy, Economical and Local Foods

In this project, students investigated the informational barriers that Hartford residents face when trying to access sustainable, healthy, economical, and locally-grown foods. Students conducted and implemented interviews with farmers, residents, and experts in the Hartford food system about the struggles these groups encounter providing and/or accessing local foods. Cost followed by nutritional value were the most highly-considered factors for Hartford residents when making their food choices, and more than half of the residents surveyed said they were likely to consider both locally-grown and environmental impact when shopping. Students found that while residents mainly used the internet to get information about healthy foods and recipes, they did not use it as commonly for information about where to shop. They concluded that there is not a consistent and/or reliable source for residents to determine what is being sold at farmers markets by day and suggested an internet intervention by publicizing a coordinated Twitter feed. Learn more at

Community Partner: Shubhada Kambli, Office of Sustainability, City of Hartford

Student Researchers: Gillian Birk (Trinity), Maddie Farrar (Trinity), Amanda Lafferty (Trinity), Megan Logan (Trinity), Eve Molodetz (Capital), Doris Zhang (Trinity)

Faculty Fellow: Christoph Geiss (Trinity)

Spring 2018 Projects


In this project, students investigated how Hartford residents came to face eviction, their experiences with the eviction process, and the immediate and long-term ramifications of their evictions on their families. Students designed and implemented a courthouse survey project based on Matthew Desmond’s work in Milwaukee. They surveyed 22 people facing eviction in the city. Of those 22 people, 21 were people of color, 19 were women, and 14 had children living with them, which suggested that people of color and women were over-represented in eviction court based on their share of the Hartford MSA renter population. In their surveys, they found that poor housing conditions were common and sometimes egregious. They also found that stipulation agreements (i.e. eviction plea bargains) were the most common result of the court process, resulting in large fines and a tarnished eviction record for renters. Learn more at

Community Partners: Salmun Kazerounian and Erin Kemple, CT Fair Housing Center

Student Researchers: Lindsay Pressman (Trinity) and Anjenique White (Capital)

Faculty Fellow: Serena Laws (Trinity)

North Hartford Promise Zone Mapping

Students learned GIS mapping software and spatial analysis techniques alongside their community partner in order to analyze the results of Community Solutions’ Neighborhood Conditions Survey and investigate the connection between housing conditions and health outcomes in NE Hartford. They produced a series of interactive story maps identifying “hot spots” of blight conditions and connecting these with maps of health disparities affecting the North End of the city. Learn more at

Community Partners: Kathy Del Beccaro and Nadia Lugo, Community Solutions International, Inc.

Student Researchers: Garret Forst (Trinity), Cecilia Harris (Capital), Lindon James (Capital)

Faculty Fellow: David Tatem (Trinity)

Creative Placemaking

This project took a close look at the Nook Farm area of Asylum Hill (which includes the Mark Twain House, Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, and Hartbeat Ensemble’s Carriage House Theater), connecting the historical significance of this site for creative and intellectual pursuits with current studies in “creative placemaking”–development projects that leverage the power of the arts, culture, and creativity to serve a community’s interest while avoiding gentrification. After investigating how other places around the country had used creative projects to develop neighborhoods, students surveyed Asylum Hill residents on their views of the neighborhood, their knowledge about neighborhood institutions, and the types of creative placemaking projects that might be interesting to them. They found that residents expressed the most interest in parades and the least interest in gardening. Learn more at

Community Partner: Steven Ginsburg, HartBeat Ensemble

Student Researchers: Josephine Bensa (Capital), Giana Moreno (Trinity), Aulona Zeka (Capital), Jane Bisson (Trinity)

Faculty Fellow: Tim Cresswell (Trinity)

PILOT Messaging

In this project, students investigated how best to message the Payment in Lieu of Taxes program (PILOT) to suburban Hartford residents. Students first conducted interviews and focus groups to learn how suburban residents related to the city and how they understood (or misunderstood) the PILOT program. Then, they created prototypes of messaging products to promote fully funding PILOT. They tested these products in a survey that they promoted through Facebook. They found that most people were unfamiliar with the PILOT program, but that people who knew about the program were more likely to support funding it. Learn more at

Community Partners: Wildaliz Bermudez and Jason Ortiz, Hartford Court of Common Council, and Erin Boggs, Open Communities Alliance

Student Researchers: Michael Barlowski (Capital), Luke Blough (Capital), Haley Dougherty (Trinity), Massimo Eichner (Trinity)

Faculty Fellow: Abigail Fisher Williamson (Trinity)

Parent Engagement

Students looked into best practices for engaging immigrant and refugee parents on topics related to their children’s education. Working with the Hartford Public Library’s Immigrant Youth Project, students researched current immigration and refugee settlement patterns throughout Hartford. They identified ways that other places had engaged immigrant parents in their kids’ education and constructed a qualitative interview and survey instrument to investigate how Hartford’s immigrant parents and adolescent children related to one another through education. They found that, overall, parents were interested and committed to working with their kids’ schools, believing that education was a key to a better life. Despite these beliefs and desires, common barriers such as language differences and work hours sometimes got in the way. When asked about methods to increase engagement, parents were very interested in working on collaborative homework assignments with their kids, like engagement strategies that involved teaching a child to cook a recipe from the home country or interviewing a parent about their early life. They were also in favor of more field trips that they could participate in with their kids. Learn more at

Community Partner: Nancy Caddigan, Hartford Public Library

Student Researchers: Alison Odermann (Trinity), Tyesha Rodriguez (Capital), Clinton Triumph (Capital)

Faculty Fellow: Daniela Ragusa (Capital)