Meet the Team with Abby and Gabby

We’ve had a few new team members since the summer. Abby Fisher Williamson joined as CHER’s director in July, Gabby Nelson joined as Assistant Director of Urban Engaged Learning in October, and Cynthia Mena began as Trinfo.Cafe’s Program Manager in November. Trinfo.Cafe’s student social media specialist Wendy Salto ’22 interviewed Abby and Gabby to learn more about them. Read on to meet these two new team members. We look forward to further introducing Cynthia in our next newsletter, scheduled to come out in January.

Get to know Abigail Fisher Williamson, Director of CHER.

You are new to the role as Director of CHER. What made you want to take on this role?

I have always loved the parts of my job that allow me to connect students with all that Hartford has to offer. By uniting several programs under one center, CHER synergizes the College’s community engagement activities and more effectively tells the story of these important efforts. I was excited to follow this work in its early years and, as director, I welcome the opportunity to work with the amazing CHER team to take it to the next level.

Tell us about your work at Trinity and in the community. What does a day in the life look like for you?

As a professor, I have roles in teaching, research, and service. This semester, a central focus of my teaching is working with two students who are conducting community-engaged research. One student is examining how Hartford responds to Latinx migrants/immigrants and how the city’s efforts shape civic and political incorporation. The other student is working with a partner organization to interview community health workers about how these lay experts can play a role in informing health policy. In terms of research, I’m currently conducting a major survey examining how Americans form and change their views on whose health deserves society’s investment. And in terms of service, as director of CHER I spend my days meeting with the CHER team and thinking about how we can build and strengthen partnerships with the city of Hartford.

What are your interests and passions?

I’ve always been fascinated by how communities come together to collectively address new opportunities and challenges. I enjoy learning what motivates diverse sets of people to unite and get meaningful things done. My research on how communities respond to new immigrant populations provided some insights, building on a long history of social science literature. The best way to support strong communities that effectively bridge differences is to gather diverse sets of people to work on shared projects as equal partners. Given structural racism and socioeconomic inequality, this work isn’t easy, but it’s the kind of work that I hope CHER can aspire to.

What are some projects your office has done people should know about?

This fall, I’m proud of many efforts that have come together despite the obstacles of the pandemic, including the following:

  • First, Professor Rebecca Pappas and Director of Community Learning Erica Crowley have worked together to host virtual performances open to the public through the theater, dance, and music courses “Performing Hartford” and “Intro to World Music.” This program allows students to interact directly with local artists, and provides a venue for artists at a time when performing is severely limited.
  • Second, Assistant Director of Community Service and Civic Engagement Beatrice Alicea successfully transitioned the JZ-AMP mentoring program to an online format that will allow Trinity students to continue to mentor our cohort of middle school students, regardless of what the pandemic brings in the coming months.
  • Third, student leaders at Trinfo Café are working with Director Carlos Espinosa to create new curricula to serve the needs of Hartford residents during the pandemic. Specifically, these programs address Parents Working From Home and Children’s Remote Learning.

What are some things that you hope to accomplish this year despite COVID-19?

Off-campus community engagement is limited this year in order to do our part to keep the whole Hartford community safe. That said, CHER is still doing important work on and off campus. On campus, we’re offering support and leadership opportunities for community-engaged students and helping faculty pivot community learning efforts to a remote format. In Fall 2020, we’re pleased to be offering 16 community learning classes, involving remote engagement with Hartford partners. Trinfo Café is open and serving our neighbors with access to digital resources, and new technical curricula. And we’re transitioning many community service efforts online, including through our remote volunteering database (, where partners can post opportunities, and students can sign up to serve.

What else should we know about you?

I’m happiest when hiking with my husband and twin daughters, reading a novel in our hammock, trying a new restaurant, seeing a new play, or wandering through a thought-provoking art exhibit.

Get to know Gabby Nelson, Assistant Director of Urban Engaged Learning.

This is a brand new role at Trinity. How does this role work between two centers and what are you most excited about?

This role is shared between the Center for Hartford Engagement and Research (CHER) and the Center for Urban and Global Studies (CUGS). I’ve worked at CUGS for the past two years on coordinating events, student grants, the China summer program, communications, and more. I’m excited to continue working with my super colleagues in CUGS while joining the dedicated CHER team to work on communications and data projects.

Tell us about your work at Trinity College. What does a day in the life look like? 

A typical day for me is a mix of working on communications projects, emailing with students about grants and programs, hosting events, coordinating with coworkers on plans for future projects, miscellaneous administrative tasks, and sneaking in a little time to work on my urban policy research. I’m a student in the master’s public policy program at Trinity, so my days often extend into the evening when I have class. 

What are your interests? 

I am interested in researching urban policy issues, especially related to urban housing revitalization and neighborhood revitalization. Outside of work and school, I grow a garden of about 2,500 square feet of flowers, vegetables, and herbs at an urban farm in Hartford.

What are some projects you hope to accomplish with your new role? 

I am currently in discussion with the CHER team members about the best way to update our newsletter and website to meet our current needs. Getting those updates established will be some of my first longer term projects with CHER. I’m looking forward to creating new pathways for communication and collaboration between CUGS and CHER as well. 

What is your favorite part about your job? 

My favorite part of my job is being surrounded by incredibly smart people everyday. I learn so much just by being around my colleagues. 

What else should people know about you? 

I teach yoga through Trinity Recreation on Fridays from 12:00-12:45. The class is open to all members of the Trinity community. Here is the recurring zoom link if you’d like to join: The last class for this semester is November 20th. We’ll resume again next semester.