Miriah Russo Kelly is a Connecticut native. After living overseas and working and studying on the West Coast, she has returned to her home state as an assistant extension educator and evaluation specialist in the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources to enhance the impact of extension programs through her background in communications and environmental science.
Kelly received her master’s degree from Central Connecticut State University (CCSU) in organizational communication. It was during her time at CCSU, where she also earned her undergraduate degree, that she met Dr. C Benjamin Tyson, a professor who introduced her to the field of environmental communication and the International Environmental Communication Association. She spent the next few years fostering her passion for the environment and ecology.
Traveling to New Zealand, Kelly completed evaluation projects for the New Zealand Landcare Trust. When she returned to the US, she worked as an ecology tour guide in the Colorado mountains. These experiences led her back to graduate school at Oregon State University (OSU), where she earned her Ph.D. in environmental science. At OSU she bridged her interests, studying communications and teaching public speaking, organizational communication and other communications courses while exploring the human dimensions of natural resource management and decision-making.
While at OSU, Kelly also worked as a research assistant and coastal resilience program coordinator with Oregon Sea Grant. Kelly was interested in using the practical applications of her research and communication background to directly help communities. Her dissertation exhibited these interests, examining how groups in coastal Maine and Oregon were collaborating locally and organizing their efforts and approaches to combat the effects of climate change in their towns.
This journey inspired Kelly to return to her roots in Connecticut to help communities in the state through extension.
Kelly holds a new position in UConn Extension as an evaluator. The position was created by Michael O’Neill, associate dean for outreach education and public engagement. He saw a need to expand evaluation in the College to develop more effective programs and secure additional grants to further assist communities.
“I knew I wanted to do applied research and help people in their communities in an impactful way. All of my experiences helped me understand how to do that kind of work. My approach is community-based, responding to stakeholder interests, the concerns people have, and helping to understand what they want to know and how to best get them the information they need to achieve their goals. My research approach is designed around the needs of the people with whom I’m working. Extension is described as tying research to real life, and that’s the intersection where I belong. My passion is getting people good information in the way they want it,” Kelly says.
As an evaluation specialist, Kelly assists extension educators in a variety of capacities from fielding questions to collaborating on program design.
“Sometimes my colleagues will call or email with a question about how to design a survey or strategize on how to do their evaluation, maybe with a focus group or through interviews, so I walk them through the process and can help them with formulating their questions.” says Kelly.
“As new projects get underway, in some cases, I will become more of a program partner, planning and designing thorough evaluation protocols with educators from start to finish. I will conduct formative evaluations at the beginning, monitoring evaluation to help fine tune things along the way, and complete summative evaluations at the end to measure its success.”
“Ultimately, I want to transfer my knowledge to the outreach educators and encourage them think about evaluation in thoughtful ways and meaningfully integrate it into their work. To do this, I use both hands-on interaction, sitting together and working out a problem, as well as more formal training programs and skill building workshops. Through these experiences they are learning from me and I am learning from them. Together we are learning how to do the best possible evaluation research for UConn Extension.”
Kelly has already become involved in a number of projects since coming to UConn in June, and she is excited by the range of outreach and public engagement programs sponsored by the College.
“I get to work on all kinds of different projects in the College. Right now I’m involved in projects related to childhood obesity prevention, agricultural risk management, local food production and land use and water management. I enjoy finding linkages between disciplines and I like that my work is interdisciplinary. I feel comfortable working at disciplinary intersections given my background and experiences in communications and the environmental and social sciences. It’s what I love to do,” says Kelly.
“I always knew I wanted to come back home and I’m happy to be here working with these communities. People here are outgoing and direct; I get them and I think they get me.”