Small, urban, and ambitious, UConn Stamford keeps its head in the liberal arts but both feet in the job market. Meet six Stamford students doing the same.
By Kim Krieger Photos by Peter Morenus
Stamford, Connecticut, calls itself The City That Works. And as the home of one of the largest concentrations of corporations in the U.S., including four Fortune 500 companies and nine Fortune 1000, you better believe it.
In this kind of neighborhood, it’s no surprise that the students at UConn Stamford tend to have a strong preprofessional impulse, often landing jobs in their chosen fields years before they graduate. There are plenty of opportunities in finance, IT, design, and entertainment right in this city and the surrounding towns. And if the right position isn’t available locally, it surely is in New York City, just a 50-minute ride on the express train from Stamford station, itself just a few blocks from campus.
But don’t think UConn Stamford students are only in it for the jobs. Most of them attend UConn Stamford because they want a liberal arts education and they want it in the fast-paced milieu of lower Fairfield County. Students can get a four-year degree here in political science, history, digital media and design, business, or computer science. They can live here, too: more than 400 students currently enjoy apartment-style living in three buildings. This expansion of Husky habitat has led to a boom in the number of Huskies: applications for study in Stamford have tripled since 2016. With its unusual combination of preprofessional opportunities and the liberal arts, UConn Stamford has become a destination school for a certain kind of student. We followed six such students, four seniors, a junior, and a graduate student, on a typical Tuesday in November.
UConn Stamford applications tripled from 2016 to 2018
Undergrads who hail from outside the U.S: 6.5%
Number of possible internship placements: 750-plus
Naika Denerville, Communications
Senior Naika Denerville sips a grande vanilla chai tea latte, no water, no foam, in the Darien, Connecticut, Starbucks. “My office,” she calls it.
Denerville, a communications and gender studies student by day and an NBC Sports production assistant by night, lives at home to save money. She doesn’t have a car for the same reason. So her dad drops her off at the coffee shop at 6:30 a.m. on his way to work. It’s a comfortable place to study and it’s just around the corner from the train station, which gets her everywhere — to school, to her internship at the Greenwich Film Festival, and to her jobs as a sales specialist at the Greenwich Apple store and, of course, at NBC Sports. The ride is fast and free with a student ID and U-Pass. And before the train, she can study. Which is what she’s doing right now.
While Denerville hits the books at Starbucks, Eloisa Melendez wrangles two kids to school as part of her daily babysitting gig. Meanwhile, in downtown Stamford, Anshul Manglani is reading the Wall Street Journal over breakfast. Charlie Ira wakes up, already thinking about computer science. And Isabella Ferrante gets in her car.
By 9:30 in the morning, while Denerville’s in Psychology, her first class of the day, senior history major Ferrante has arrived at the UConn Stamford Writing Center.
Tutoring other students in writing is Ferrante's on-campus job. She also works off campus at the Greenwich Historical Society. The jobs are apt; together, writing and history make stories, her favorite things. This particular morning in late November, Ferrante’s thinking about the stories told by the poems of Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, who met as young men when they were injured during World War I and both ended up in Scotland’s Craiglockhart War Hospital. It’s her thesis topic.
“It’s the bane of my existence!” she says, laughing, and then explains that there are very few sources about the hospital, so she’s probably going to have to go to the U.K. to do some original research. Both her honors thesis advisor and her general advisor are urging her to go, even though she’s never left the northeastern U.S. before.
Isabella Ferrante, History
THE GREENWICH HISTORICAL SOCIETY
Four-year bachelor’s degree programs: 14
Time to New York City by train: 50 minutes
# of students living in the new residences: 425
Anshul Manglani, Risk Management
Anshul Manglani, a risk management graduate student, knows the feeling. He had spent his life in Indore, India, and was working in the risk department of a large financial company when he decided he needed a change.
“Everybody should have some global experience to see how the world works,” says Manglani. He wanted a business master’s degree that would be practical and give him some programming skills. The business schools in India are very into theory, he says. UConn Stamford, on the other hand, is all about practice. And its location, close to the world financial hub of New York City, would be ideal. Indeed, now Manglani takes classes taught by executives from firms like Goldman Sachs, co-leads the UConn Student Managed Fund, and has learned the programming language R well enough to assistant teach a graduate class in it.
Which is what he does every Tuesday, starting at 11 a.m. And he always stays an extra half hour afterward, for what he calls “the student doubt session.”
“I resolve their doubts,” he says, and grins.
Right about the time Manglani starts teaching, Eloisa Melendez, a senior in political science and women's studies, starts her first class of the day. She takes four classes in a row on Tuesdays, from 11 a.m to 4:45 p.m. It’s stressful, she admits, but stacking all her classes midday means she can babysit in the mornings and attend to city business every evening. That is, City of Norwalk business. The unassuming poli sci major turns into Councilwoman Melendez at night. She ran for council at age 19 and never looked back. She’s president and founder of the campus Young Democrats, vice president and co-founder of UConn Latinx Organization. Statewide she’s a member of the Connecticut Hispanic Democratic Caucus. She chairs the Ordinance Committee of the Common Council, and listening to her talk about next moves after the November election, you can tell she’s already versed in the fine arts of rounding up votes and compromise.
“Sometimes I feel like Nancy Pelosi,” she says. But most of the time she feels like every other UConn Stamford student, working hard on her liberal arts education and her career.
Ferrante goes to her first class of that day. Denerville and Melendez go to their second. Manglani’s still resolving undergraduate doubts.
Nina Drozdenko is just getting to her first class, too, Critical Perspectives on Digital Media, in which she and her classmates critique television shows and movies.
Drozdenko, a senior digital media and design (DMD) student, started college at UConn Torrington and transferred to Stamford when Torrington closed. It had always been her plan to go to Stamford — she’d made one of her first films in high school as part of a program founded by UConn Stamford DMD director Matt Worwood, and she wanted to be close to New York City and all the internships and job opportunities in Fairfield County. She also wanted to stay in a smaller campus environment — although Stamford feels a lot bigger now than when she started a few years ago, she says.
A lot of her time on campus is spent working in the student ad agency Beachball in the student lab they call The Splash Pad. DMD professors recruit the projects from local businesses, and the students get to build their portfolios with those real-life projects. All the experience helped Nina get her next job at Logicbroker in Shelton, Connecticut, which she says she scored by geeking out about design tools with a marketing director she met at a UConn job fair.
Eloisa Melendez, Political Science
NORWALK CITY HALL
Nina Drozdenko, DMD
THE SPLASH PAD
Junior Charlie Ira gets out of his last class of the day. He started computer science at UConn Stamford the first year it was available and has taken every comp sci class they offer.
“CS is awesome here. I don’t know why anyone would want to study anywhere else,” he says. There are a lot of jobs nearby, he says, and a great startup culture. Just today Amazon announced a new headquarters in New York City, amplifying an already juiced tech community in the area.
Now he’s going to grab some lunch with some other CS majors, then he has a meeting on making internet-of-things devices that use private blockchain technology for security. Ira is a proponent of blockchain technology. With a few other students that he met in an independent study class, he formed a startup that uses blockchain in the health care space. Ira never misses an opportunity to improve his skills. “There are no days off,” he says. A couple years ago he resolved to always take his schoolwork seriously. “And my opportunities have expanded in step.”
Both Denerville and Drozdenko attend the class Women, Gender, and Violence on Tuesday afternoons. Denerville says it drove home to her that gender is in everything. She wants to take that sensibility with her into the TV industry and create entertainment that recognizes women as people with diverse motivations, that doesn’t mindlessly play to stereotypes.
“There’s a conflict between my gender studies and my marketing. Long term, I want to be a truly ethical marketer.”
Ferrante usually hits the gym around 3:30 p.m. on Tuesdays. In previous semesters she would spend afternoons working on the winter showcase for The Outlets, the improv group she founded her first year at UConn along with another student. Over the past four years the group has evolved from four people doing short improv skits to nearly 30 students dancing, singing, cracking jokes, and performing skits. Ferrante directed the annual showcase the past three years, but now she’s looking to pass the baton.
Manglani is still in the undergraduate R class, taking notes as the professor teaches. After class he’ll TA another study and “doubt session” until 7 p.m., when he’ll finally have some free time. But Tuesdays aren’t typical — most of his classes start at 6 or 7 p.m., to accommodate the many business graduate students who work during the day. During the afternoons he studies or attends meetings of the Risk Management Student Committee.
Though it might sound like a stodgy group of business students discussing credit-and-loss statistics, the Risk Management Student Committee functions a lot like a support system for the graduate students, especially those who come to the U.S. from other countries. They showed Manglani the basics of living in Stamford, such as where to buy food, and they also organize graduation parties and events, such as the recent Diwali dance party celebrating the Hindu festival of lights. Manglani practiced a special Michael Jackson–style moonwalk for that one.
“The college has been generous. They gave us a budget, they let us plan. UConn never makes you feel like you are far from home,” he says. Now that he’s a second-year student, he says he takes special pride in using his experience to help others adjust and succeed.
“I dearly love to help people. Many times you don’t get anything in return. But I have received so much help in my life, I cannot tell you. Whenever I have needed help, people have been there.”
Charles Ira, Computer Science
“I KNEW I WAS A HUSKY, BUT I WASN'T A STORRS HUSKY.”
Percentage of first-generation undergrads: 45
UConn Stamford offers 3 Master's Degree programs
Undergrads can choose from 110 majors
Manglani’s in the gym. Ferrante and Ira are back at their respective homes, eating dinner and studying. Denerville and Drozdenko are still on campus. Drozdenko likes to stay late, working on her own or with other students in The Splash Pad. Denerville’s also still on campus, using the relative quiet to focus. Both of them are likely to stay until the campus police shut the place down at 10 p.m.
Melendez is back in Norwalk at City Hall. She always has a committee meeting on Tuesday nights, either Public Works; Health, Welfare, and Public Safety; Ordinance; or Planning. She particularly likes the Planning committee — she’s only 24, so when she makes policy, she’s thinking about the next 50 to 60 years. Because she plans on sticking around. When she chose to study at UConn Stamford, she wanted a place where she could complete her entire political science degree while continuing to live and serve in Norwalk.
“I knew I was a Husky, but I wasn’t a Storrs Husky,” says Melendez. Ferrante, Drozdenko, Manglani, Ira, and Denerville would agree — for them, Stamford is the right place to be.