UMass Boston

Winter 2020 Cohort Graduation Marks One Year of Partnership Between UMass Boston and the Commonwealth Seminar

03/30/2020| Brooke Kohnen

The fourth cohort of UMass Boston students graduated in the winter 2020 session of the Commonwealth Seminar on March 11 marking one year of the partnership between UMass Boston and the Commonwealth Seminar.

Members of the 2020 cohort of the Commonwealth Seminar
Members of the 2020 cohort of the Commonwealth Seminar

The Commonwealth Seminar is a six-week interactive seminar held at the Massachusetts State House, founded in 2003 with the mission of “opening the doors of government to everyone.” The program has nearly 1,400 alumni, 90 percent of whom are people of color and 70 percent first-generation to college. Participants meet once a week with top legislators, legislative staff, media members, and policy makers and are introduced to topics ranging from the legislative process to working with the media. The program runs three times a year and is intended for leaders from under-served communities.

Through the partnership, UMass Boston students and recent alumni are able to participate in this opportunity with a scholarship offered through the seminar. In the winter of 2019, the first cohort of two students from UMass Boston participated in the seminar. Since then, the number of spots available to UMass Boston has grown from two to five in each cohort. Following are the 11 UMass Boston participants who are alumni of the seminar thanks to this partnership.

  • Armando Vizcardo, Economics, 2017
  • Daniela Bravo, Anthropology, 2017
  • Raymond Tejeda, Political Science, 2019
  • Shinelle Kirk, Psychology, 2021
  • Meriam Nouri, International Relations, 2021
  • Sasha Restrepo, Criminal Justice, 2019
  • Naoise McDonnell, Community Development, 2019
  • George Igandan, International Relations, 2019
  • Mirlande Thermidor, Critical Ethnic and Community Studies, 2019
  • Anyah Prasad, PhD candidate in Gerontology
  • Raven Laird, Anthropology, 2021

Leverett Wing, the executive director of the Commonwealth Seminar, is excited to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the partnership and to see what the future holds. Wing believes that UMass Boston is a good partner for the Commonwealth Seminar because “UMass Boston students are local, and they stay in Boston or Massachusetts which allows them to make an impact within local communities.” The populations served by UMass Boston and the Commonwealth Seminar are similar, which allows for a strong partnership through aligned goals.

Wing started in community advocacy in college, when he organized a petition drive that collected over 500 signatures in just three days. Following this, he pursued an MPA from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and went on to work at the State House. For him, the biggest impact through this partnership is the diversity of perspectives that students from UMass Boston bring. One of the main goals of the Commonwealth Seminar is diversifying advocacy, and UMass Boston students bring a wide variety of perspectives that add tremendous value to the seminar.

Naoise McDonnell, an alumnus of UMass Boston with a BA in community development, participated in the seminar in the spring of 2019. “The Commonwealth Seminar really opened my eyes to the amount of people locally who are willing to sacrifice and put in work to learn and improve themselves in order to pass on that improvement to the various communities of their choosing,” he said.

McDonnell, pictured below with Leverett Wing, also believes that keeping shared goals in mind will allow people to shape the future in the way they envision it.

Leverett Wing and Naoise McDonnell at the Commonwealth Seminar graduation

This partnership has allowed past participants to dive deep into the seminar topics and speak with leaders of the community through local government. George Igandan, a graduate student working toward a second master's in instructional design, participated in the seminar in the spring of 2019. Igandan, below with Wing, appreciated having the opportunity to speak with policy makers.

“This experience was very insightful, informative and educational as it improved my understanding of what it takes to work in and with the government,” he said.

Leverett Wing and George Igandan

A big part of government is collaboration with communities on issues faced by the communities that they serve. The seminar helped him understand “how the House of Representatives and the Senate work collaboratively to successfully pass bills that would improve the quality and standard of living of people both at the state and the national level.”

The winter 2020 participants graduated on March 11 at the State House. The cohort will now join the alumni ranks, bringing the total number of UMass Boston participants in the program to 16. Recent graduates include current UMass Boston students Aiyana Williams, Social Psychology and Human Services; Ashley Torres, Critical Ethnic and Community Studies; Celine Voyard, Labor Studies; Chanel Fields, Public Administration and Gender Leadership in Public Policy; and recent UMass Boston alumnus Elizavette Cordero, Theater Arts and Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.

The seminar allows students to take what they learn and bring it back into the community, but it also allows bonds to be made between people from all walks of life who might not otherwise have a chance to connect with one another.

"I really loved the respectability we all had in that space,” Voyard said.

The Office of Community Partnerships at UMass Boston is excited to continue this partnership with the Commonwealth Seminar and can’t wait to see what the future holds.

“We are motivated by the mission of growing diverse representation in public service and changing the conversation so that we are building more equity in public policy and administration,” said Cynthia K. Orellana, director of the Office of Community Partnerships. “UMass Boston students are well positioned to take a seat at the table and help lead our Commonwealth with the communities that they passionately represent and seek to serve.”