Yurii Stasiuk, Contributing Photographer

Acting U.S. Labor Secretary Julie Su visited New Haven to promote a $5 million federal grant to the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system. 

On Thursday, Su, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, government officials, college students and staff gathered at New Haven Gateway Community College to celebrate the new resources local public universities and colleges received from the grant. The grant was awarded in fiscal year 2023 to support students from underserved communities pursuing degrees in the CSCU system.

“We talk about infrastructure a lot,” Su said. “I think of our workforce system as infrastructure, too. It’s the roads and bridges that connect people to the good jobs they want and need and employers to the people they want and need. And we need that infrastructure to be just as strong as our physical infrastructure.”

The grant was awarded through the Department of Labor’s Strengthening Community Colleges Training Grant program. DeLauro, the ranking member of the House Committee on Appropriations, says she created the grant in 2o19, the first year she chaired the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services. 

At the press conference, DeLauro called the current process of funding federal programs “tumultuous” but promised to advocate against cuts proposed by the current Republican House majority. 

Congress, unable to adopt an annual budget, has passed three stopgap spending bills to avert government shutdowns since the beginning of the current fiscal year this past October. According to DeLauro, the House is currently considering a $4.7 billion cut for the Department of Labor, a 34 percent drop from the previous fiscal year.

“We were able to increase funding for community colleges at the federal level. That is in some jeopardy. I ask you that with the strength of your networks that you talk about and raise your voices,” DeLauro said. “We need the voices of students, we need the voices of the faculty, and we need people saying: no, that is not what we should be doing because education is a great equalizer.”

Three students at Gateway, part of the CSCU system, spoke at the event about the experiences they were able to access because of the grant promoted on Thursday.

Angela Irizarry, who is in her final year studying computer engineering, told the News she always had an interest in technology and, at Gateway, learned hands-on skills. 

“Being first-gen to go to college, being Hispanic, a lot of things could be stopping me. With the help of [the] grant, this is an opportunity where I can take advantage of what I have,” Irizarry said. “Free tuition is a big thing, [because] a lot of people don’t have that opportunity. I want to set the page for others so they are not intimidated to pursue this type of career.”

Adonis Dawson, a freshman at Gateway studying computer science, said he was able to get a better education with the support of grants at Gateway than he could otherwise. 

Dawson said he wants to transfer to one of the CSCU universities after graduating from Gateway. With a computer hardware engineer career, he hopes to support his family and his five-year-old brother to let him “grow in a different environment than [he] did.”

Gateway is a majority-minority college — 24 percent of students are Black and 34 percent are Latine as of Fall of 2023, according to a statistics sheet distributed at the press conference. DeLauro praised Gateway for providing “affordable higher education” and empowering local communities. 

Besides Su, Lamont and DeLauro, Connecticut Department of Labor Commissioner Dante Bartolomeo, New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker and CSCU Chancellor Terrence Cheng spoke at the event. 

“Everything that we do requires a partnership between the federal government, state and local leaders,” Su said. “And so we are here to strengthen those bonds and also say thank you for the work that we do together.” 

While in New Haven, Secretary Su also visited a youth job training program at Common Ground High School and held a roundtable on the need for paid family and medical leave. 

CSCU is a system of six public colleges and universities across the state.

Yurii Stasiuk is a Managing Editor of the Yale Daily News. He previously covered City Hall as a beat reporter. Originally from Kalush, Ukraine, he is a sophomore in Jonathan Edwards College majoring in History and Political Science.