Mayor’s Symposium Course to Become Regular Part of Honors College Offerings
Boston Mayor Martin Walsh visited the University of Massachusetts Boston on Friday to hear proposals from eight of Erin O’Brien’s Honors College students who spent their fall semester creating plans to revitalize Dorchester’s iconic Strand Theatre.
Walsh and UMass Boston Chancellor J. Keith Motley also signed a memorandum of understanding establishing this Mayor’s Symposium honors course as an annual program. Honors students will take up issues the mayor brings to the Honors College and work with the community to address them.
“At UMass Boston, we are very serious about our commitment to stand with the city, and specifically with our friends and neighbors in Dorchester,” Motley said. “I applaud and thank Mayor Walsh and his staff for placing their confidence in our Honors College students, and I thank our students for lending their creativity and enthusiasm to this important community initiative.”
Each group had different ideas for changing the Strand Theatre, from a rental facility to an arts and cultural destination that meets the needs of all community constituents. They each discussed the importance of changing the administrative structure (to a nonprofit board), making infrastructure changes (to make the facility handicapped accessible), and providing a consistent schedule of offerings.
The students made their recommendations after spending four months interviewing community members and researching similar situations elsewhere. Chair and Associate Professor of Political Science Erin O’Brien also brought in guest speakers, including former Governor Michael Dukakis, former Senate President William Bulger, and Boston’s economic development chief John Barros, to speak to her class.
“This isn’t a guess whether these are good ideas. These are ideas that are proven and molded with the unique problems that Boston faces,” O’Brien said.
One student group talked about creating a marketing street team of paid local youth, opening a public kitchen, and bringing back the Strand Teen Players, a paid internship program which exposure to youth of all areas of production in the 1990s.
“It could serve as a space where kids could learn to cook, where residents could share foods from their cultures or families, where local restaurants could sponsor performances and showcase their food. This could be an invaluable public space where community members could congregate and creatively engage each other to think about how food is representative of place and culture and to form more meaningful connections through it,” honors student Emma Hays said.
Hayes’s group members also talked about removing the first few rows of theater seats so that the space could be either sitting space or standing space, and establishing a yearlong creator-in-residence position.
A second group suggested creating a year-round paid internship program for high school and UMass Boston students, partnering with nearby businesses on parking and adding a shuttle bus route from the JFK/UMass station on performance nights, and enhancing both the exterior (through a mural) and interior spaces.
“We will turn the lobby into its own unique space by placing doors on the entrance to the main stage area, a feature that will also enhance performance quality. In the lobby, we will install kitchen capacity, a coffee bar, high-speed Internet, and large community tables for eating and socializing. These improvements will allow the lobby to properly serve guests during performances, while doubling as a community café during the day and an attractive location to hold private functions and community meetings,” honors student Ryan McGoff said.
Walsh was particularly interested in learning about how the city would fit in with the proposed nonprofit structure and said the Boston City Council has approved a budget allocation to redo the roads and sidewalks around the Strand, which would fit in with these ideas.
“I just want to thank UMass Boston, Chancellor Motley, the provost, the dean, and Dr. O'Brien for the great work. This is really impressive,” Walsh said.
“A few months ago this was just a dream—an idea in my head. I thought—we are an Honors College at UMass Boston. We should be partnering with the City of Boston. Our students should be providing the City of Boston with ideas and with innovations,” said Honors College Dean Rajini Srikanth. “This is going to continue. This is not a one-time affair.”
About UMass Boston
Celebrating its 50th anniversary, the University of Massachusetts Boston is deeply rooted in the city's history, yet poised to address the challenges of the future. Recognized for innovative research, metropolitan Boston’s public university offers its diverse student population both an intimate learning environment and the rich experience of a great American city. UMass Boston’s 11 colleges and graduate schools serve nearly 17,000 students while engaging local and global constituents through academic programs, research centers, and public service. To learn more, visit www.umb.edu.