This semester’s Action Lab cohort took “rise to the occasion” to a new level in response to the pandemic’s limitations. Although it was the shortest semester since the program’s inception, that did not stop students from navigating unprecedented challenges to deliver products to Hartford community partners. 

This spring, teams of students and faculty from Trinity College and Capital Community College worked with Grow Hartford Youth Program, SAWA Refugee, and Charter Oak Adaptive Sports and Fitness on the School Nutrition, Refugee Needs, and Limitless Fitness Projects. Partners from each project posed a pressing question about the city and topics ranged from food quality in Hartford Public Schools to increasing access to adaptive sports and fitness.

Over the semester, students worked with the visiting instructors Professors Pratiti Tagore and Tricia George to learn community-engaged research methods in a virtual setting. Emphasizing ethical collaboration, students learned research design strategies, methods, and tools to explore partners’ questions and also developed project management skills to work with community partners and teammates. At the end of the semester, students built their own websites using WordPress to display and share their findings with over 50 attendees at the Action Lab final presentations.

For Capital Community College student Destini Watson, a shorter timeline motivated teams to hit the ground running: “We had to get a lot of work done in those ten weeks, but it was a great chance to engage professors and teammates to collaborate on the project.” As a member of the School Nutrition team, Watson worked with peers from both Trinity and Capital to conduct research to improve food quality and options in Hartford Public Schools. “I was able to learn a lot about school nutrition in Hartford, as well as different people connected to the education sector in Hartford, so it was a really informative experience for me,” said Watson. 

The School Nutrition team’s community partner Shanelle Morris, Youth Program Coordinator at Grow Hartford Youth Program was thrilled to see the results of the project. “The School Nutrition Project is important for Hartford because all Hartford students and families deserve to know what kind of food is being served in schools each day,” said Morris. “I gained a ton of useful information from working with the Action Lab—the deliverables are essential for our campaign. This is my first time participating in community-engaged research, and it was a great process. I liked that I was able to check in with the students throughout the semester and provide any necessary direction.”


Rafael Villa (TC ‘21) presents a Hartford Public School budget analysis for the School Nutrition Project.

Students also worked on the Refugee Needs and Limitless Fitness Projects. For the Refugee Needs Project, Sawa Refugee tasked the team with creating a resource guide for refugees and also conducted focus groups to receive feedback and assess needs. This team conducted research on issues facing refugees including immigration and acculturation, housing, employment, education, and language access and provided recommendations to their community partners based on each issue. 


Malika Buscaino (TC ’21) discusses the research process for the Refugee Needs team. 

In the third and final project of the semester, the Limitless Fitness team worked with Oak Hill Adaptive Sports and Fitness to help improve the quality of life for Hartford residents with disabilities and chronic health conditions by increasing their access to adaptive fitness and sports. Utilizing methods and techniques such as literature reviews, power mapping, and cold calling, students researched and provided recommendations on how to increase Oak Hill’s sphere of influence and involvement in other facilities and similar organizations.  

James Michielli (TC ‘23) shares the Limitless Fitness team’s Power Map of potential partners for Oak Hill.

Even with the pandemic’s challenges, this semester students provided their partners with quality research and products to support the important work being done in the city. The Action Lab would like to thank all students, faculty, staff, partners, and community members who participated in this experience. You can learn more about each project by visiting their websites: School Nutrition, Refugee Needs, and Limitless Fitness. To learn more about the Action Lab and how you can get involved head to our website or sign up for updates here

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