A Conversation with Jennifer Orlikoff, UConn’s New Stamford Campus Director

Located in the heart of one of Connecticut’s most dynamic cities, UConn Stamford has always attracted students who want the breadth of a UConn education along with the energy, diversity and opportunity of a metropolitan environment.

They have found a like-minded leader in Jennifer Orlikoff, who joined UConn in July as Director of the Stamford campus.

A veteran educator and administrator, she came to Connecticut to amplify what is already great about UConn Stamford and work with others at the university and in Fairfield County on the next steps as the campus continues to evolve as a hub for innovation and developed student success.

With more than 700 graduate students and more than 2,400 undergraduate students — about 460 of whom live in dormitories near campus — UConn Stamford has a population that is remarkably diverse in terms of racial and ethnic backgrounds, socioeconomic status, and academic interests.

Orlikoff is well suited for the commitments of running a UConn campus. Most recently, she served as campus president for Potomac State College in the West Virginia University system for six years, a role with myriad responsibilities and challenges similar to that of a UConn regional campus director.

Before that, as a faculty member, she taught French language and culture at WVU’s Department of World Languages, Literatures and Linguistics; was Director of the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies; and Chair of the University Faculty Senate and Faculty Senate Curriculum Committee.

She learned French while living in Switzerland for several years as a child, and before joining WVU she taught the language at Rutgers University, the University of Memphis, and junior high and high school in her home state of New Jersey.

Orlikoff earned her BA in French and Art History from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and her MA and Ph.D. in French literature by Rutgers.

Orlikoff, who is married with three children and two grandchildren, settled in Norwalk after being named campus director at UConn Stamford and has spent the past few months getting to know the Fairfield County area.

She has also spent significant time at UConn Storrs and has developed strong relationships with other regional campus directors, the Provost’s Office, school and college deans and many community groups in Stamford and beyond.

In fact, she expects to spend time with many of these stakeholders and others during a meet-and-greet reception being held at UConn Stamford on Tuesday, October 11 to introduce them to the community.

Orlikoff recently spoke to UConn Today to discuss her first few months at UConn Stamford, her future, and the important role this campus and other regional locations play in the overall UConn mission.

What drew you to UConn Stamford?

The reputation of the University of Connecticut itself was certainly a big draw, but what really drew me to UConn Stamford was the diverse student body. Approximately 65% ​​of our students come from underrepresented backgrounds or are otherwise diverse, and this adds to the richness of everyone’s experiences.

It takes me back to my experiences growing up in New Jersey where we lived in a very different area. I missed that on my West Virginia campus; Despite being the most diverse campus in the (WVU) system, we were still only about 22% diverse.

When I saw the diversity at UConn Stamford, I thought to myself, “Wow, this is amazing.” I am so passionate about this work and committed to ensuring that we provide higher education to the broadest possible base of students, particularly in the marginalized or underrepresented communities in our country.

I think it is our social obligation to make this happen and UConn Stamford has historically done such a good job in that regard.

I was also excited to learn about the growth in the student population at UConn Stamford over the past few years. On a national level, we don’t see that kind of growth in college enrollments in many places, so the growth here really tells me that there are a lot of things that draw people to this campus.

A view of the UConn Stamford atrium.
A view of the UConn Stamford atrium. (Photo by Peter Morenus/UConn)

UConn’s regional campuses are deeply connected to their communities. How did you settle into the Stamford and Fairfield County area?

I felt so welcome and met so many people from all walks of life in the area. I really enjoyed learning how many people are connected and how much the different groups and organizations work together for the benefit of the region.

It was immediately clear to me that Stamford saw a valuable partner in UConn. When I applied for the position, I ate dinner with community partners and even then, the support and positive energy towards the university and campus was amazing. I immediately thought, “I really want to be a part of this.”

An important form of our partnership is to identify the need for labor in this region. We already have strong programs in business, digital media and design, as well as a variety of emerging and growing areas, and we will continue to add or change programs as needed to keep up with trends.

We were very fortunate to have David Souder acting as interim director prior to my arrival. He did a great job of introducing himself and ensuring a smooth transition and I am very grateful for that and for the welcome I received throughout the university and the region.

Stamford is the only campus other than Storrs to have student housing. So, your population includes residential and commuting students. How is the experience of the students and what do you see for the future?

It is crucial that we not only focus on the academic success of the students, but also that every student feels like they belong here. We truly are their second family, whether they are students or commuters, and we want them to feel connected and valued.

As soon as a freshman student comes onto our campus, I believe it is our duty – or you could even call it our moral obligation – to see that they make it all the way through and graduate, and that they have a personal degree enriching experience on our campus.

One of the worst things that can happen is they take some courses and get some credits, but they don’t finish and instead end up in debt and not graduating.

Holistically, we know that each student is so much more than their grades in class, and we are here to see and serve them as a whole person. For example, we know that mental health issues are more prevalent today than ever and that we need to reach out to them and make sure they feel connected and supported.

A picture of UConn Stamford at night, cars passing leaving streaks of light.
UConn Stamford. (Photo by Peter Morenus/UConn)

Even some of the basics can be challenging for some students, such as: B. Food insecurity. I am so proud of our campus that he initiated the new Husky Harvest Food Pantry and we are so grateful to the companies and others who have supported him with in-kind and financial gifts.

Connecticut Foodshare is also establishing a program; Once it’s up and running, we’ll be able to place a weekly order online and it’ll be shipped to our campus for free for any member of the UConn community in need of groceries. We believe this will be a great benefit for so many students, including dorm students, who will be able to take away food to prepare in their kitchen.

We also work to be sensitive to the needs and desires of our commuting students. We know their circumstances can be very different, whether they need to stay home to help out there or maybe have jobs elsewhere, and living in campus housing isn’t the best option for them.

We don’t want them to feel that their only connection is to take the train or drive here, take classes and then leave. Our activities coordinator pays particular attention to ensuring that many activities take place, especially during lunchtime, so students who commute can participate and feel included in the full life of campus.

UConn’s regional campuses have a unique place in the broader university ecosystem. How do you see your role and what makes it so special?

Each of the regional campuses is poised to develop its own stories and unique identities within the system and stand out as a target campus. Each location can benefit from its individual merits and offer students experiences that meet their specific needs and career goals.

For example, here in Stamford, our programs and location place us very well to attract students in business, finance, computer science, digital media and design and related fields.

For Avery Point, of course, marine science is a big draw, along with the health programs at Waterbury, the public policy and social work programs at Hartford, and so on. Each campus has so many ways to differentiate itself and provide unique opportunities for students who want to spend their full four (bachelor’s) years on one of the campuses.

Have you found favorite places to relax or other areas on and off campus that you enjoy spending time in?

On nice days I really enjoy spending time at Whitey Heist Park near the main building. It’s the perfect place for a quick al fresco meetup or to have lunch outside and relax a bit.

The campus building itself is fabulous. It features soft seating areas and collaborative seating built into the different levels and plenty of light as the front of the building is made entirely of glass.

You see people from different backgrounds gathering in groups throughout the building to learn together, to talk, to watch movies on their laptops and things like that. Because of the way it’s designed, it automatically feels collaborative. Everything comes together to create a welcoming environment.