A member of Trinity’s championship rowing team helps keep a community education effort on course.
“A successful coxswain is someone who views the boat as a whole—nine individuals working toward one goal—not one person leading eight charging forward,” explains Courteney Coyne, a petite senior from Westwood, Massachusetts, and a varsity coxswain for the champion Trinity College women’s rowing team
As a coxswain, Coyne sits in the stern of the boat where she motivates her teammates and keeps the shell on course. “[The coxswain] has to be a little bit selfless, because it’s not about you,” says Coyne, who had never rowed competitively before coming to Trinity. “It’s about helping eight people achieve the same thing at the same time.”
Off the water, Coyne is playing a remarkably similar role in the Hartford community. Hartford’s South End faces challenges common to many urban neighborhoods—including underperforming schools—all of which are far more complicated than finishing first in a crew race. But Coyne is using the same skills that help her excel at rowing—a strong ability to connect with people from different backgrounds and work together toward common goals—to help strengthen Hartford’s public school system. And she brings to bear her academic preparedness a triple major in Educational Studies, Hispanic Studies, and International Studies and a minor in Human Rights Studies.
Coyne grew up in a Boston suburb and had never lived in an urban setting before arriving at Trinity. She credits her introduction to community activism to a first-year seminar called “Analyzing Schools” and a classroom of smiling third graders. The course required Coyne and her classmates to spend three hours a week as teachers’ assistants in a local school.
“I was wowed by these students and so excited to go every week,” says Coyne, who quickly began stretching her volunteer time to five or six hours and extending her focus beyond the classroom. “It was a snowball effect—one thing led to another. I loved the kids, so it made sense to talk to their parents. And from there I got involved with community partners.”
In the three years since she first met those third graders, Coyne has become deeply involved in multiple efforts to stabilize and transform the neighborhoods adjoining Trinity College:
- Led by Professor of Educational Studies Jack Dougherty, Coyne and her classmates in “Cities, Suburbs, and Schools” created and translated an interactive Web site called SmartChoices, that helps Hartford-area parents navigate their growing options for public school choices
- She worked as an English-language instructor at a local chapter of the Connecticut Puerto Rican Forum.
- And this year she served as the community collaborator for the Southside Institutions Neighborhood Alliance (SINA) and the only Trinity student member of the Frog Hollow Neighborhood Revitalization Zone Committee.
For her part, Coyne knows that this path of hers is possible because she chose to attend Trinity.
“My trajectory would have been 180 degrees different without the opportunities that being in an urban setting have afforded me,” says Coyne, who also credits professor Dougherty and other Trinity faculty with guiding her newfound community activism toward projects like education that make a difference for Hartford families.
As for the next step, Coyne has already been accepted to graduate school at Boston College, where she’ll be pursuing a master’s in elementary education with a focus on urban schools.