Students Integral to UMass Boston Partnership Development, Expansion

Colleen Locke | April 11, 2014
Ninety partnerships were highlighted during the symposium’s poster session.

Ninety partnerships were highlighted during the symposium’s poster session.
Image by: Harry Brett

Community partners hold the knowledge and the expertise that only manifests itself through daily interactions.

Documented Partnership Programs Up 220% Since 2012

With more than 900 community partnerships documented by the University of Massachusetts Boston’s Office of Community Partnerships in 2014, it’s clear that faculty, staff, and students are making the university’s civic engagement mission a priority. At last week's third annual Community-Engaged Partnership Symposium, a large number of undergraduate and graduate students presented their work in the areas of teaching, research, and service alongside faculty, staff, and community partners.

Mayara Fontes, an applied economics master’s student graduating this spring, worked with the Puerto Rico Cultural Center, undergraduate UMass Boston student researchers, and community residents in Springfield to document and improve communication between mothers and children 10 to 19 years old.

Kylie Millbern, a third-year master’s student in conflict resolution also graduating this spring, traveled to the Middle East last summer to evaluate the Ultimate Peace Program, which uses Frisbee to bring Israelis and Palestinians together, and put the program in a position to get more funding and develop more of a dialogue with the Frisbee players.

Holly Belanger, a junior gerontology major, worked with other UMass Boston students and Professor Nina Silverstein to come up with strategies to improve transportation challenges for older adults.

“I like that we’re just so engaged with each other as a whole community. We get all different types of opportunities to work with other communities and altogether. It’s just really great. You feel like you’re really a part of a great team,” Belanger said.

Fontes, Millbern, and Belanger represent just three of the 90 partnerships highlighted during the symposium’s poster session. Lisa Van Thiel, the senior early childhood specialist at the Institute for Community Inclusion and an adjunct faculty member in the College of Education and Human Development, shared her new Higher Order Teaching partnership with the Lowell Public Schools. In her first year of the three-year grant-funded project, Van Thiel is investigating whether teacher training in higher order thinking, which involves the learning of critical thinking and problem solving skills, can lead to improved mathematics skills.

Van Thiel also wanted to present a poster on Chelsea Achieves in Mathematics, UMass Boston’s new partnership with the Chelsea Public Schools, Early Learning Center and CAPIC (Community Action Programs Inner-City, Inc.) Head Start, but there wasn’t enough floor space.

At the symposium’s plenary session, Office of Community Partnerships Director Luciano Ramos shared that the number of documented partnerships is up 220 percent since 2012. (Maps and graphs showing updated partnership activity are available online.) UMass Boston Chancellor J. Keith Motley was part of a panel that discussed the future of partnerships at UMass Boston.

“I see partnerships becoming increasingly important in our efforts to both advance our university and our communities. I see partners playing a critical role in helping us in addressing and solving some of the greatest challenges that plague societies around the world,” Motley said. “By collaborating to better understand the issues we face, their causes, and the best ways to solve the problems, community partners hold the knowledge and the expertise that only manifests itself through the daily interactions, other settings, and disciplines.”

Those interactions continue well after the symposium. This semester, students in Joyce Peseroff’s Introduction to Creative Writing class are sharing and responding to the work of the homeless writers in the Black Seed Writers’ Workshop. The English lecturer used funding from the Civic Engagement Scholars Initiative (CESI), to incorporate aspects of civic engagement into her undergraduate course.

“I thought this was an interesting program to use in creative writing because creative writing is about community. You’re always looking not just for yourself, but for writing to an audience. You’re always trying to express with your own authority, the authority of your own voice, something that’s important to you and which you feel a larger community should pay attention to. So this seemed like a natural fit,” Peseroff said.

About UMass Boston
Recognized for its innovative research addressing complex issues, the University of Massachusetts Boston, metropolitan Boston’s only 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 16,000 students while engaging local, national, and international constituents through academic programs, research centers, and public service activities. To learn more about UMass Boston, visit

Tags: community , ocp , partnership symposium , partnerships

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