Why did you choose UConn?
I came to Bridgeport from Jamaica in 2009. I was 12. I never knew anything about college, just that it was something I wanted to do. So when the time came I applied to Connecticut colleges. When I got into Southern my mom was so excited; she was like, “Oh, you’re going there!” Then I got into UConn and she was like, “No, you’re going to UConn!” One great thing UConn has going for it is that as a first-generation college student, through Student Support Services, I was able to live on campus the summer before freshman year to transition to college and to begin earning credits. The counselors are great and help with everything. I became a U.S. citizen this year, and they helped me get my passport.
As a freshman you lived in Innovation House. Have you always been entrepreneurial?
I like the idea of having my own business. When I was little, I wanted to be a fashion designer, and my friends and I would draw collections. Later, I became interested in teaching. But if I was going to be a teacher, I wanted to plan the school, create the curriculum, and make everything exactly how I thought it should be. When I have an idea, I always think, “I’ve got to own this thing!” So Innovation House was immediately interesting to me.
Where does psych fit in with entrepreneurship?
If I want to be a business owner one day, I’ll want to know the psychology of my employees. How are they going to play together? For my research project, through the McNair Scholars Program, I decided to study impulsiveness. Because I really don’t understand it. It sometimes boggles my mind when I see people making impulsive choices. Your life is going to be terrible if you keep doing that! I want to know how the brain works.
What’s been your favorite class so far?
I have two favorite classes. I really liked Psychology of Language. One thing we talked about was how someone who learns sign language at age 10 won’t ever be as fluent as someone who learns it at age 5. Which is just like a spoken language. American Sign Language is my minor, so that means I’ll never be as good as a child. Nice to know!
My other favorite was a coding class with Alex Tung. Not because I did well in it, because I didn’t really, but because I learned a lot. One of the things I learned was that when a professor gives you 10 days for an assignment, you need all 10 days. The instructions for a coding project might only be a couple of lines, but to execute those two lines requires a lot of thinking and trial and error. On our first project, my group finally left the Business School at 5:59 a.m. The sun was coming up. This was when it really hit me that I was in college. Freshman year was pretty chill, first semester sophomore year was pretty chill. But spring semester? No. I was like, “Mm-hmm, now I know I’m in college.”
You won a First-Year Excellence in Innovation Award for work on a phone app.
Yes, as part of the Innovation House program, students pitch an idea that could be developed as a start-up. I joined with a student named Jeremy, who had the idea for encrypting personal data on your phone. When you download certain free apps, they strip your data. We worked on a security app to protect data so that it can’t be hacked or stripped. We divvied up the labor. Jeremy is a computer science major, so he was technical. I handled the business development end and put together a plan for the product.
What’s something most people don’t know about you?
I’m a fan of WWE. The first time I passed the corporate headquarters in Stamford on the highway after moving here from Jamaica, I was like “Whoa!” I thought I could go over and meet the wrestlers. I was so disappointed when I found out they didn’t stay there.
Last summer WWE was offering internships and I seriously thought about applying. I thought maybe they’d give me a free ticket to SummerSlam. But I had already accepted an IT internship with Travelers in Hartford. During my orientation at Travelers, a woman from the leadership group mentioned that she’s a fan of the wrestler Sheamus. I said, “Sheamus?” She said, “Yeah, he used to work in IT. I love him.” I thought, “We could all bond over this.” But everyone else was like, “No, not really. We’re all grown-ups.”
Do you ever visit Jamaica?
I visited in May to present the Top Girl scholarship at my old school, Victoria Primary in Linstead, St. Catherine. I presented the first scholarship in 2013, but since then I’ve just sent the trophy and the money, so this was a little different.
Wait, you send the scholarship money yourself?
I was the Top Girl when I graduated, so my grandmother, my mother, and I thought maybe this was something we could do to give back to the school. We started the scholarship my sophomore year of high school here in Connecticut.
Does it have a name?
The Britney Reynolds Top Girl Scholarship. Inflation in Jamaica is very difficult. Every little bit helps a struggling family, so I add whatever I can to the monetary award my grandmother puts together. I work on campus in the Admissions Office, and I don’t really spend much, so there’s a little left over from my paycheck.
Any other great ideas in the works?
I’m an RA, and my current thing is figuring out ways to get my residents more engaged with floor programs. My first floor meeting last spring, I said, “Come to the Community Center.” Nobody came. So next time I made it easier: “Come to the second floor lobby.” I could capture everyone as they went to their rooms.
Then I realized people might already be in their rooms and not ever pass through the lobby. So for the next one, I knocked on doors. And I always offer snacks. I’ll keep trying different things, mixing up locations and times and incentives, until we get a formula that works. That’s part of being an entrepreneur, I think. You test an idea, find out where the errors are, and keep modifying it until you get it right.