42°
UMass Boston's independent, student-run newspaper

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

3-4-24 PDF
March 4, 2024
2-26-24 PDF
February 26, 2024
An inside look at Bobby B. Beacon’s insides. Illustrated by Bianca Oppedisano/ Mass Media Staff.
Bobby's Inside Story
February 26, 2024

UMass Boston Alumna’s Famous Elephant Toy

Elephants get bored easily, so the toy had to be something the elephants could move, and which could be taken from their enclosure to keep them from getting sick of it.
Elephants get bored easily, so the toy had to be something the elephants could move, and which could be taken from their enclosure to keep them from getting sick of it.

Trisha O’Neill graduated from UMass Boston in 1997 with a bachelor’s degree in earth science, and since then she’s been doing everything at once. She’s been a land surveyor, a postal worker, an elder care worker, and a real-estate agent. She helped to build the DeYoung Fine Art Museum in San Francisco, and she’s hugged Andy Goldsworthy. Just last spring, she graduated from MassArt with her second bachelor’s, this one for industrial design. She is now an exhibiting artist and a full-time companion to the elderly.

Recently, O’Neill has been in the Boston Globe, National Geographic and countless other news outlets for an invention she came up with while a student at MassArt: the Pachy Sac. This is an elephant toy, which sounds simple enough until you consider how difficult it is to design toys for elephants, whom O’Neill described as being “like toddlers.”

“They get really bored with their toys,” she explained. “If something is stationary, they’ll probably get bored.” So the toy had to be something the elephants could move, and which could be taken from their enclosure to keep them from getting sick of it.

She began by cutting up old tires with a jigsaw and a Sawzall. “If you can picture one long spaghetti-thing…then I twisted it all together. It was smelly,” she said. Next, she had to make the Pachy Sac indestructible. O’Neill said, [“Elephants] are so smart, they can undo bolts on some of these toys, so I had to weld all the bolts. There are ninety bolts.”

She described going with her class to make some last-minute improvements and to show the elephants the new toys, when she cut her hand. Then she realized the Boston Globe was filming her. Later, when articles about the class began to come out, her toy was the central focus. Three of the four pictures in the article were of her. “It was crazy,” she recalled; “I had top billing in the Globe. It certainly does look good on a resume.” After the story got picked up by National Geographic and NPR, O’Neill hired her sister to act as a press secretary.

When asked, O’Neill teased out the threads of her busy life, putting her work in design, elderly care, and the arts in context. She described herself as “mostly a painter, hoping to invent something everyone wants so I can just paint.” Her work with older people is something she does “to pay the bills.”

Her paintings have met with success. She sold so many at a Dorchester Open Studios exhibition that she didn’t have enough for another showing the following weekend. “Most of my stuff sold on Tuesday. I’m scrambling to get more ready, it’s 8 o’clock on a Friday, and I just want to hit the hay.”

O’Neill discussed the circuitous route which led her to this point. “I just graduated, and I’m in my forties. I was so lost in my twenties,” she exlained, but was quick to credit UMass Boston: “I want to state that UMass Boston was the school that made me realize I could do anything I focused on. […] I am so grateful to the UMass community.”