Alumna Annika Anderson receives 2020 Outstanding Senior Award

Annika AndersonAnnika Anderson graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Human Development and Family Sciences in the spring of 2020 and completed the Early Childhood Specialization program. As an HDFS student, she received the 2019 Clyde A. Jones Scholarship in Human Development and Family Sciences and the 2020 Outstanding Senior Award. Annika is passionate about studying the dynamic relationship between early education and lifelong health outcomes.

Annika loved the Early Childhood Specialization program because it challenged her to consider how relationships, play, curriculum design, and other environmental factors influence the development of the whole child. She spent two semesters doing her practicum in the infant and toddler classrooms, applying her coursework to practical experience. These classes helped her develop confidence, that she describes as the highlight of her undergraduate career. As a former biology major, Annika was drawn to the Early Childhood Specialization program because of its multidisciplinary nature, the fact that the program pushed her to think in ways that she otherwise wouldn’t, and its consideration of child development as both a science and an art. Annika describes the program as the perfect avenue for students who are interested in working with children in their future careers.

Stemming from her involvement in the program, Annika has worked for the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in New York City as both an intern and a contracted early childhood consultant. This work included involvement in early childhood development projects, including Ahlan Simsim, a collaborative humanitarian initiative created by the IRC and Sesame Workshop (funded by LEGO and the McArthur Foundation). Annika is currently pursuing her Master’s Degree in Public Health at UConn. She largely draws from her experiences, skills and knowledge from the UConn Early Childhood Specialization program to continue studying early childhood development education and health.

Alumna Jonelle Reynolds Director of Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives at UConn

Jonelle A. Reynolds, Ph.D (pronouns: she/her/hers), is the Director of Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives in the UConn Office for Diversity and Inclusion. In her role, she develops, manages, and supports data-driven diversity and inclusion strategies for the University of Connecticut system, including the regional campuses and UConn Health. She identifies gaps in resources and trainings, then works in partnership with community stakeholders (i.e., faculty, staff and students) to meet those needs. In addition, Jonelle supervises the Native American Cultural Programs. She also a certified facilitator in cultural intelligence and managing unconscious bias.

Jonelle earned a doctorate in Human Development and Family Sciences at UConn, a master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy from Oklahoma State University, and a bachelor’s degree in Business Journalism at Baruch College [CUNY]. Her clinical and research experiences have afforded her the opportunity to work with diverse populations and levels of need.

Alumna Sara K. Johnson awarded Evans Family Assistant Professorship

Sara K. JohnsonSara K. Johnson, Assistant Professor in the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development at Tufts University, has been awarded the Evans Family Assistant Professorship. This professorship recognizes one outstanding junior faculty in the School of Arts and Sciences, with preference for faculty conducting research to advance our understanding of cognition, human development, and learning. Sara received her Ph.D. in HDFS at UConn (major advisor: Preston Britner) in 2012.

Alumna Amy Wiltsie named YMCA Annual Campaign Director

Amy Doherty WiltsieAmy Wiltsie graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in HDFR (Human Development and Family Relations) from UConn in 1998. She then worked as a case manager at Kennedy Center Services, a rehabilitation program for disabled adults. After one year, she felt she had learned what she could in that organization and was ready for something new. Amy began her twenty-year career with the Department of Children and Families (DCF) in 1999, as a Social Worker. At DCF, Amy served as a treatment worker, where she worked with families who were at great risk of losing their children due to neglectful situations. Most families had a high level of need, and required support and resources for stability and successful parenting. In 2001, Amy moved on to the Permanency Services unit where she was assigned cases of families entering the Termination of Parental Rights process. This process begins after a family has worked unsuccessfully toward reunification for a period of 12-18 months. Amy spent time searching for and making matches for pre-adoptive placement, facilitating the transition, testifying in court on the efforts the state had made to reunify and support the best interests of the child, and then ultimately applying for adoption finalization in the Probate Court. In 2005, Amy realized a shortage that existed in Connecticut of viable homes and families willing to adopt, and applied for a position in the Foster Care and Adoption Services Unit (FASU). In FASU, Amy began attending public events to highlight DCF’s need, holding informative open houses for families seeking more information, and inviting these families in for formal screening, training, and licensing. Amy loved working for DCF, especially for the children and families she served throughout her career and always desired to continue her education. Never knowing which field to select as her role had navigated from social worker to recruiter and trainer, she struggled with graduate school program selection.

In 2012 Amy’s family was affected by the Sandy Hook tragedy. Their world stopped, like so many others’, and everything began to come into question. From their loss on 12/14/12, Amy’s family developed a nonprofit organization in memory of Vicki Soto, her husband’s cousin and a first-grade teacher killed in Sandy Hook. The Vicki Soto Memorial Fund needed fundraising, board development and legal guidance, and Amy began doing some groundwork research. During her search, she found a Non-Profit Management Program through Post University’s Masters of Human Services degree program. This Master’s Program ultimately led her to a new career, one she had not predicted. Amy began working for the Central Connecticut Coast YMCA as their Annual Campaign Director in 2018. As the Director of a national and international organization, Amy continues to serve youth, families, and communities. In her new role, she solicits support, creates relationships, and raises funds for the Annual Campaign which provides scholarship for those who may need it. These scholarships afford the opportunity of housing for the homeless, preschool, before school, afterschool, swim lessons and summer camp experiences to children whose families cannot afford these programs. These programs help children to be happy, healthy, strong and confident. She views these scholarships as “changing someone’s life trajectory,” a parallel to the lives she worked hard for during her twenty-year DCF tenure. According to Amy: “this was the marriage of my two worlds. The members of our community whom the Annual Campaign benefits are some of the same that I served at DCF; my work continues.”

Amy, her husband Jim, and their three children Ryann (17), Raegan (12) and Jack (10) call Stratford, CT home. In November of 2019, Amy was elected to the Stratford Board of Education, continuing her commitment to best positive outcomes for all of Connecticut’s children.

Alumna Allyson Zoppa assistant coach of the UConn rowing program

Allyson ZoppaAllyson Zoppa, a 2008 and 2012 UConn graduate, is in her 11th season as assistant coach of the University of Connecticut rowing program in 2018-2019.  A native of East Hartford, CT, she earned her bachelor’s degree in Human Development and Family Studies with minors in English and Psychology and her master’s degree in Sport Management.

Read the complete write-up on the UConn Women’s Rowing website.

Alumna Jill Berquist establishes coaching service

Alumna Jill (Leider) Berquist, BA 1984 (HDFR), worked for over ten years as a recruiting director with Accenture. Subsequently, Jill founded Berquist Coaching Services, LLC in 1997.  For 21 years she has served clients nationally, working with executive leaders and their teams to uncover and leverage their unique brilliance to bring about meaningful and sustainable results, and inspire their people to do the same.