September 18, 2017

Q&A with UConn's Mark Overmyer-Velázquez

HBJ Photo | John Stearns
HBJ Photo | John Stearns
Mark Overmyer-Velazquez

The director of UConn's new campus that opened in downtown Hartford Aug. 28 is a professor and musician — and he knows what it takes to help conduct an educational enterprise as an elected member and past chair of the West Hartford board of education.

There, Mark Overmyer-Velázquez experienced the scale, complexity and pace of a district with 10,000 students, 1,650 staff and a $160 million budget. After a national search, UConn chose him to lead UConn Hartford — the $140 million complex anchored by the refurbished Hartford Times building. With 3,000-plus students, faculty and staff downtown, UConn has an alpha-dog presence in the city's economy and culture. Overmyer-Velázquez recently answered a few questions about his new job.

What has been students' and faculty reaction to the new campus?

Excitement! The move brought new possibilities for learning and spending time in neighboring businesses and cultural institutions. Co-location with the Hartford Public Library and Wadsworth Atheneum is a particularly exciting opportunity for students.

What's the biggest challenge you face in your new job?

Learning about, negotiating and collaborating with the multiple constituencies involved and invested in our new campus. I need to quickly get up to speed on the needs and demands of students, staff, faculty, university and wider community. This is an enormous opportunity because a lot of people and institutions are committed to the success of UConn Hartford.

What does your director role entail?

My primary job is to clear obstacles and create opportunities for academic success for our diverse student body. My work ranges from supporting staff, to working with our student enrollment and retention team, IT, facilities, security, space usage, budget and finances, communication and community engagement.

Are you going to teach at the new campus?

Yes. Eventually, albeit at a reduced level, I hope to partner with my UConn colleagues in units like the Institute of Latino, Caribbean and Latin American studies to develop courses that involve Hartford's diverse immigrant community with, perhaps, a focus on Latino residents.

Tell us something about you many people don't know.

Before graduate school, I spent a year studying jazz piano performance. I've played in bands since then and play keyboard for the UConn faculty band, Blues without Borders.

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