The University of Connecticut is by no means an urban school. Much to the lament of many of its students, UConn does not offer the glamours and nightlife of New York, or Boston, or Los Angeles. More importantly, there is something lost in the immersion and opportunities from being so apart from population centers. Internships are much easier to get living in a city, for example.
These observations are by no means new. Fifty years ago, Homer Babbidge (yes, the Homer Babbidge) noticed this in a time when urban areas were experiencing an explosion of growth and quality of life. To adapt, the Urban Semester was started. Now, 50 years later, this program is still going strong and celebrated in its namesake urban center of Hartford last weekend.
The Urban Semester is an opportunity to live and work in the city of Hartford while also taking some classes. Through it, students earn the usual 15 credits while also assisting companies and nonprofits with their experience. While it does provide the benefit of living in a city for a semester (and getting out of Storrs, for those coming from the main campus), the focus is really more on the internship and work experience.
Detractors might still deride the choice of city. Hartford is the natural choice for the state university, but its such a drab, impoverished city. In a way, though, this is to the benefit of the program. The Urban Semester does not shy away from the fact that Hartford is in dire straits. This allows the program to fulfill its main purpose. Far from a dead city, Hartford is in a state of growth. It must find a new identity after the economic hardships of the past few decades, and the Urban Semester aims to work on just this.
Yale does not need New Haven and in many ways seems to try to shield itself from the poverty of the town around it. UConn cannot hide away in the same manner. It is inseparably tied to the state, and vice versa. While this can feel like a shackle to the university (and the state, as well), it allows for mutualism. Recently, UConn has doubled down on its efforts to help Connecticut, working from its capital out. Celebrating and dedicating to programs like the Urban Semester or the Hartford campus in general show that UConn is keeping this in mind.