This Tuesday, UConn Waterbury held its inaugural “Waterbury Innovation Sustainability and Health” Festival. Organized chiefly by Campus Director Fumiko Hoeft and Associate Director of Operations Monica Lattimer, with the help of Waterbury students and faculty, the festival was one of the largest post-pandemic events the campus has hosted and was a tremendous success.
Open to the public, the campus invited members of the community and local businesses, scholars from across the country and several local school bodies to the event. In particular, the event was a great way to create a sense of community between each of the Waterbury schools, including students from Waterbury Arts and Magnet, Crosby High School and several others.
The attendees began their day at the Waterbury Palace Theater, where Campus Director Hoeft, UConn President Radenka Maric, Waterbury Mayor Neil O’leary and Superintendent Dr. Verna Ruffin spoke. The speakers articulated the importance of the event in bringing together the city to focus on critical health related issues.
Soon after, two speakers took the floor to comment on their research and scholarly work conducted in the field of psychological health and wellbeing. Dr. Richard Davidson, from the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, began with a brilliant presentation entitled “Well-being is a skill.” He remarked on various tools to better encourage positive thinking and reframing, and finished by mentioning his free mental wellbeing app: Healthy Minds.
Next, Dr. Adam Gazzaly of the Neuroscape Research Center at the University of California, San Francisco, illustrated his groundbreaking work studying technology in medicine. Both speakers brought attention to the purpose of the W.I.S.H fest, tackling important health issues.
Following the presentations, Dr. Sandra M. Chafoueleas, Co-director of the UConn Collaboratory on School and Child Health, began a talk on her work producing “Feel Your Best Self” and “Shake Off The Yucks,” two influential works on new ways to teach mental health to children. Dr. Chafouleas even pulled volunteers on stage who demonstrated the techniques used in her research, causing the audience to get involved and energetic during her presentation.
After the speakers finished, they were joined by two student speakers, Sara Fitzgerald, a student from the Waterbury Career Academy and Kaitlyn Tran, a UConn Waterbury student. The four held a panel moderated by Dr. Chafouleas which elaborated on the importance of improving mental wellbeing and the potential to incorporate healthy strategies in everyday life, which Dr. Davidson said, could be improved by reflecting just “one minute per day.”
Once the panel concluded, students were directed by Hoeft to the Waterbury campus, where a plethora of opportunities awaited them. Local health services and clubs hosted tables and demonstrations, including several hands-on demos of work related to the topics of the earlier presentations.
To name just a few of the many opportunities, attendees were able to attend virtual-reality demos for several health related topics such as holographic anatomy exhibits and EEG brain wave demonstrations. These exhibits helped bring awareness to the health issues plaguing both the state and the country, but more importantly, encouraged student involvement in the effort to solve them.
Moreover, the Allied Health program at UConn took a prominent position with several info tents in the courtyard, hoping to bring attention to one of UConn Waterbury’s four year degrees. Health related exhibits such as “Health Care Heroes: A Day in the Life Experience” and the “Virtual Reality Healthcare Training Expo” helped bring increased attention to the career path, and the potential to pursue it on the Waterbury campus.
However, health was not the sole topic of exhibits featured at the event. Attendees could meet with local business owners and receive info about job opportunities at the Career Expo, or even explore the livelihood of aging drag queens at an info table. In tandem, the UConn Experiential Global Learning program had a table, providing more information about the opportunities provided within UConn.
Nearly every area of the campus was brimming with activity, and several classrooms on each floor were reserved for exhibits and interactive activities. Further adding to the energy and excitement was the K-POP dance routine in the courtyard, the “UConn Science Alliance Mobile” — equipped with research equipment and displays — and the arrival of Jonathan the Husky, who can be seen in many Instagram photos from the event.
Attendees crowded around each table and exhibit, and the atmosphere was energetic as students and community members took advantage of the varied experiences provided and had a blast in the process.
During her opening remarks, Director Hoeft expressed a desire to turn the event into an annual occurrence, hopefully bringing energy and community to the Waterbury campus in years to come. As Superintendent Verna Ruffin exclaimed in her opening remarks, “Take advantage of the opportunities given to you!” No doubt, the W.I.S.H Fest abounded with opportunities and many look forward to a potential follow-up in 2024.