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We’ve had a few new team members since the summer. Abby Fisher Williamson joined as CHER’s director in July, Gabby Nelson joined as Assistant Director of Urban Engaged Learning in October, and Cynthia Mena began as Trinfo.Cafe’s Program Manager in November. Trinfo.Cafe’s student social media specialist Wendy Salto ’22 interviewed Abby and Gabby to learn more about them. Read on to meet these two new team members. We look forward to further introducing Cynthia in our next newsletter, scheduled to come out in January.

Get to know Abigail Fisher Williamson, Director of CHER.

You are new to the role as Director of CHER. What made you want to take on this role?

I have always loved the parts of my job that allow me to connect students with all that Hartford has to offer. By uniting several programs under one center, CHER synergizes the College’s community engagement activities and more effectively tells the story of these important efforts. I was excited to follow this work in its early years and, as director, I welcome the opportunity to work with the amazing CHER team to take it to the next level.

Tell us about your work at Trinity and in the community. What does a day in the life look like for you?

As a professor, I have roles in teaching, research, and service. This semester, a central focus of my teaching is working with two students who are conducting community-engaged research. One student is examining how Hartford responds to Latinx migrants/immigrants and how the city’s efforts shape civic and political incorporation. The other student is working with a partner organization to interview community health workers about how these lay experts can play a role in informing health policy. In terms of research, I’m currently conducting a major survey examining how Americans form and change their views on whose health deserves society’s investment. And in terms of service, as director of CHER I spend my days meeting with the CHER team and thinking about how we can build and strengthen partnerships with the city of Hartford.

What are your interests and passions?

I’ve always been fascinated by how communities come together to collectively address new opportunities and challenges. I enjoy learning what motivates diverse sets of people to come together and get meaningful things done. My research on how communities respond to new immigrant populations provided some insights, building on a long history of social science literature. The best way to support strong communities that effectively bridge differences is to gather diverse sets of people to work on shared projects as equal partners. Given structural racism and socioeconomic inequality, this work isn’t easy, but it’s the kind of work that I hope CHER can aspire to.

What are some projects your office has done people should know about?

This fall, I’m proud of many efforts that have come together despite the obstacles of the pandemic, including the following:

  • First, Professor Rebecca Pappas and Director of Community Learning Erica Crowley have worked together to host virtual performances open to the public through the theater, dance, and music courses “Performing Hartford” and “Intro to World Music.” This program allows students to interact directly with local artists, and provides a venue for artists at a time when performing is severely limited.
  • Second, Assistant Director of Community Service and Civic Engagement Beatrice Alicea successfully transitioned the JZ-AMP mentoring program to an online format that will allow Trinity students to continue to mentor our cohort of middle school students, regardless of what the pandemic brings in the coming months.
  • Third, student leaders at Trinfo Café are working with Director Carlos Espinosa to create new curricula to serve the needs of Hartford residents during the pandemic. Specifically, these programs address Parents Working From Home and Children’s Remote Learning.

What are some things that you hope to accomplish this year despite COVID-19?

Off-campus community engagement is limited this year in order to do our part to keep the whole Hartford community safe. That said, CHER is still doing important work on and off campus. On campus, we’re offering support and leadership opportunities for community-engaged students and helping faculty pivot community learning efforts to a remote format. In Fall 2020, we’re pleased to be offering 16 community learning classes, involving remote engagement with Hartford partners. Trinfo Café is open and serving our neighbors with access to digital resources, and new technical curricula. And we’re transitioning many community service efforts online, including through our remote volunteering database (, where partners can post opportunities, and students can sign up to serve.

What else should we know about you?

I’m happiest when hiking with my husband and twin daughters, reading a novel in our hammock, trying a new restaurant, seeing a new play, or wandering through a thought-provoking art exhibit.

Get to know Gabby Nelson, Assistant Director of Urban Engaged Learning.

This is a brand new role at Trinity. How does this role work between two centers and what are you most excited about?

This role is shared between the Center for Hartford Engagement and Research (CHER) and the Center for Urban and Global Studies (CUGS). I’ve worked at CUGS for the past two years on coordinating events, student grants, the China summer program, communications, and more. I’m excited to continue working with my super colleagues in CUGS while joining the dedicated CHER team to work on communications and data projects.

Tell us about your work at Trinity College. What does a day in the life look like? 

A typical day for me is a mix of working on communications projects, emailing with students about grants and programs, hosting events, coordinating with coworkers on plans for future projects, miscellaneous administrative tasks, and sneaking in a little time to work on my urban policy research. I’m a student in the master’s public policy program at Trinity, so my days often extend into the evening when I have class. 

What are your interests? 

I am interested in researching urban policy issues, especially related to urban housing revitalization and neighborhood revitalization. Outside of work and school, I grow a garden of about 2,500 square feet of flowers, vegetables, and herbs at an urban farm in Hartford.

What are some projects you hope to accomplish with your new role? 

I am currently in discussion with the CHER team members about the best way to update our newsletter and website to meet our current needs. Getting those updates established will be some of my first longer term projects with CHER. I’m looking forward to creating new pathways for communication and collaboration between CUGS and CHER as well. 

What is your favorite part about your job? 

My favorite part of my job is being surrounded by incredibly smart people everyday. I learn so much just by being around my colleagues. 

What else should people know about you? 

I teach yoga through Trinity Recreation on Fridays from 12:00-12:45. The class is open to all members of the Trinity community. Here is the recurring zoom link if you’d like to join: The last class for this semester is November 20th. We’ll resume again next semester.





The Office of Community Service and Civic Engagement and their associated student groups usually try to get off campus and into the community as much as possible. Community service has looked different this year. Student groups pivoted to remote and socially distant  formats for their service and advocacy work. Some of the work has taken on new forms, while other projects are annual events that have been rethought.

A screenshot of the Habitat for Humanity evictions crisis event.
A screenshot of the Habitat for Humanity Evictions Crisis Event. Salmun showed attendees a data visualization map that Trinity students helped create depicting evictions in CT.

Trinity’s chapter of Habitat for Humanity hasn’t been able to build houses this years, so they switched to a focus on advocacy. The group hosted a virtual lecture on the Covid-19 eviction crisis. Writes Ananya Ravishankar Usharani, president of the chapter,

“We at Trinity Habitat were able to host our first event of the semester, learning about and discussing the COVID-19 eviction crisis with CT Fair Housing Center staff attorney, Salmun Kazerounian. As someone who represents victims of housing discrimination, Salmun shed light on the intersecting issues of race and gender in housing discrimination and eviction cases, using mapped data to help visualize the crisis. Given our platform and commitment to being anti-racist, we believe it to be imperative to actively promote meaningful and sustainable efforts at education and advocacy. Looking forward, we are planning more such events which address housing issues and social justice.”

Students from ACES donated candy to Vernon Street residents to continue the Halloween on Vernon Street tradition. Virtual fun and games were uploaded to their YouTube channel as well.

The Annual Community Event Staff (ACES) pivoted Halloween on Vernon Street,  a 30 year annual campus and community staple, to a remote format this year. “We came into this semester being quite positive that we wouldn’t be able to hold this event at all, but after sitting with it for a few days, we eventually decided that this was something we couldn’t let our community go without,” says Elizabeth Jensen ’22, a leader in ACES. They set up a YouTube channel  with games, activities, and crafts that was publicized to our community partners. “Given that campus conditions are constantly changing with Covid-19, I am really proud that our club members were so willing to participate and put so much thought into their videos,” writes ACES leader Michaela Anton ’22. If you have young ones who are still looking for fun Fall games and crafts, their YouTube channel is now a treasure trove, thanks to their efforts to put together a fun virtual event. The Office of Community Service and Civic Engagement and ACES made 100 bags of candy that were donated to the residents of Vernon Street (east of Broad Street) for their own Halloween celebration.

Cleaning up a community garden in Hartford.
La Voz Latina students participated in a socially distant clean up at a Summer of Solutions garden in Hartford on October 31, 2020.

Students from La Voz Latina participated in a clean-up day at a Summer of Solutions community garden on Zion Street in Hartford. They made great progress in getting the garden cleaned up for winter in a safe and socially distant way. 

Finally, the annual Thanksgiving Drive is still happening this year as well. This year’s drive will benefit the Expeditionary Learning Academy at Moylan School (ELAMS) and Hands on Hartford. Trinity community members can donate the cost of one or more food baskets (approximately $60) or provide a basket of non-perishable goods based on the provided shopping list. More information on how to donate can be found here.



Community Service, News, Trinfo.Café

Fostering engaged voters among the Trinity and Hartford communities was an important focus for us this fall. “We create and provide opportunities for community service and civic engagement in part for students to understand that citizenship is an active existence that transcends mere national identity.  It is a philosophy and a way of life that demands positive involvement in the civic sphere by all of us.  Free and fair voting is one of the foundational tenets of such a system,” writes Joe Barber, Director of the Office of Community Service and Civic Engagement. Barber, along with Carlos Espinosa, Director of Trinfo Cafe and the Office of Community Relations, served as a leader of TrinVotes this year.

TrinVotes is a nonpartisan initiative to encourage the Trinity community to vote by making voting more accessible and by educating the community about upcoming elections. Abigail Fisher Williamson, Director of CHER, served on the TrinVotes committee this Fall as well. 

A student holding up a ballot in front of the Chapel.
A student holds up a ballot in front of the Trinity College Chapel. Photo credit: @TrinVotes Instagram.

In addition to the diligent work of the TrinVotes coalition, students in the Community Action Gateway first year seminar course “Envisioning Social Change” worked with community partners on voter engagement projects this semester. Assistant Professor of Educational Studies Stefanie Wong said, “The course allows students to gain a deeper understanding of social inequity and systematic oppression and learn from and alongside community organizations in the Hartford area that are working to challenge inequities and work for social change.” (Quote from Trinity news article by Emma Sternberg ’21). Three out of five groups in the class worked with community partners focused on voting. Students worked with the Hartford Votes-Hartford Vota Coalition, Blue Ribbon Strategies, and Moral Monday CT  on social media projects related to voting. 

We’re proud of the work our team and students put in this semester to ensure everyone in our community was informed, aware, and engaged in the election this year.