Dr. Lisa Wisniewski is an assistant professor of sociology at Goodwin University and a former lecturer at the University of Connecticut. She’s also founder of career blog Belle’s Notebook and author of Progress Not Perfection: A Millennial’s Story. MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager spoke with Lisa about why she was determined to build her career in Connecticut.
NAN PRICE: In what ways has being in Connecticut shaped all the elements of your career?
LISA WISNIEWSKI: I earned all my degrees at Connecticut colleges. I got my bachelor’s degree with a focus on communication and sociology from UConn, my Master of Science with a focus on student development in higher education from Central Connecticut State University, and my Doctor of Education from the University of Hartford.
With so many great opportunities in higher education so close to home, I was never going to be the student who moved away. There are also a lot of options to work in higher ed here in Connecticut, which was always my goal.
Being in Connecticut has also helped with my more entrepreneurial pursuit, running the Belle’s Notebook blog. There’s a growing entrepreneur community in the Hartford area. I’ve met some wonderful people who are building businesses and doing all kinds of cool things because, pre-pandemic, I was attending so many local workshops and networking events.
Where would I have met everyone if I hadn’t gone to these events? Many of those connections translated into relationships on social media during the pandemic, so the networking and relationship building has continued.
I also need to give props to the Polish community in New Britain, where I grew up. I run workshops and trainings focused on college and professional development, which was stimulated by the Polish community. That really jump-started my career.
I first began teaching at UConn with a course called the Polish Experience in America. I also ran an international conference for students and young professionals of Polish descent that was hosted at Central Connecticut State University. Attendees traveled to the conference from all over the United States, Poland, England, and even Australia! These early networking and teaching opportunities helped begin my career. Recently, they even led to international opportunities with one of my book chapters being published in Poland.
Overall, having access to so many resources all within a few miles of home really opened doors and created opportunities without me having to travel far, unlike other states where things may not be as accessible.
NAN: As a professor at Goodwin University, how are you encouraging students to build their careers or put down roots here in Connecticut?
LISA: A lot is through mentoring. I’m at a stage in my career where I’m very interested in mentoring. I work with individuals in all different industries who want to learn more skills they can use to level up. Instead of directing them to find another job that will pay more, we talk about enhancing their skillset to help them get to their next position.
I also let mentees know there are opportunities that exist here in Connecticut; they don’t have to look outside of the state. If they’re already employed, I encourage them to look for opportunities within their organization.
NAN: What do you say to those who feel better opportunities are outside the state?
LISA: My first question is always simply: Why? And then, based on their response we’ll have a conversation about the realities. For example, if someone tells me they want to move somewhere where the cost of living is lower, I’ll ask them: Have you considered the wages? Have you considered whether you need other resources? Usually, those questions lead to that person realizing they may not actually need to leave Connecticut because they hadn’t considered all the factors.
I also share about the opportunity I had to leave the state when I was 27—and how something in me knew to say no. It was the right move because I don’t think I would’ve been happy anywhere other than my homegrown Connecticut.
NAN: What specific resources would you advise people to get involved with to help find themselves professionally and build their careers here?
LISA: I can’t say enough about the local colleges and universities. I’ve had great experiences. You don’t necessarily have to be enroll in that college or university; a lot of people don’t realize some host community events that are open to the public. For example, the Entrepreneurial Center & Women’s Business Center at the University of Hartford and the People’s United Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship at Quinnipiac University are great resources that are open to the public.
If you’re in college, your best resources are your professors and your fellow classmates—that’s your initial network. I don’t think students network enough in college, especially with faculty. Typically, the most underutilized resource on the college campus is the faculty. I encourage students to initiate a conversation with their professors about their future goals. Professors are usually connected within their fields, so they can be a great resource.
Outside of higher education institutions, a lot of Chambers of Commerce have young professional arms, like Hartford Young Professionals & Entrepreneurs (HYPE), Future Leaders of West Hartford (FLOW) , and SPARC (Suburban Professionals Achieving Real Change) that provide networking and professional development opportunities.
And, there are so many community events. You and I connected at West Hartford Coworking when you were moderating the #MakeItInCT series and we’ve stayed connected. I met a lot of other people in our business community at those events, too.
I also encourage people to think outside the box. Farmer’s markets, coffee shops, breweries, yoga studios, and pop-up and ongoing events like KNOW Good Market are great places to connect and build your community. There are plenty of free resources that I don’t know if everybody’s tapping into. All you have to do is show up and be open to conversations.
NAN: So, it’s about rethinking networking and finding opportunities to build your community and connect with all kinds of people.
LISA: I agree 100%. Rethinking networking is a great way to put it. It’s about doing a little bit of research and tapping into those resources. There’s a huge network. Connecticut is a great place to connect and create opportunities and collaborations.