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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

University Maps Community With Grant

Unlike many other area institutions of higher education, the geography of UMass Boston often allows for a sense of detachment from the people and institutions surrounding the university. In an effort to chart the university’s connections and forge new partnerships with both its neighbors on the Columbia Point peninsula and the community at large, faculty, students, and administration are beginning to piece together a centralized source for promoting awareness of the resources UMB has to offer.

In conjunction with UMass Boston’s Urban Mission Coordinating Committee, and in order to promote the university’s commitment to serving the residents of the city and metropolitan area of Boston, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has awarded a $150,000 Community Outreach Partnership Center (COPC) grant to aid in the creation of a physical and virtual Community Resource Center.

“It will be sort of a portal, if you will. Where members of the community, be it community groups or individuals could come and find out about the kinds of resources that the university offers both educational research services activities, and it will be a center at which university faculty and staff could make connections with community groups or with one another,” explains Dr. Rob Beattie, Director of the Environmental Studies Program, who along with College of Public and Community Service (CPCS) Professor Joan Arches is co-principle investigator and co-writer of the grant that spurred the project.

Along with Geiger Gibson Healthcare, a non-profit resident of Harbor Point, the initiative plans to supplement this database with gardening, art, and community planning projects that will help to link UMB with the people and places that surround the campus. After three years of preparation and complications resulting from the death of their original non-profit partner, Colombia Point Community Partnership, Arches and Beattie say they are anxious to get started.

With inhabitants as diverse as public and private schools, the Boston Globe, Sovereign Bank, and religious organizations, Beattie acknowledges that representing all interests won’t be a simple task. “All these things are sharing the point, because the interests are so diverse, because the levels of power among these different institutions are so diverse, and because the legal authority is diffused…there’s the potential for a stalemate that keeps Columbia Point isolated from the rest of the city and we’re trying to come up with a process for trying to get people to sit together that would connect Columbia Point to the city, and also connect the people and institutions on Columbia Point to one another.”

In order to facilitate this discussion, a community planning charity will be held, where members of the community can physically draw out ideas for changes. Also, workshops will be held beforehand to help ease the communication between these diverse groups. Beattie explains, “Because it would be a unified vision…it would actually carry some weight politically with the city of the Boston and with the state.”

Meghan Doran, a third semester Community Planning major in CPCS, is a member of Arches’ Strategy and Proposal Development course. Students in the course are heavily involved in researching ways in which the student population can utilize the proposed Community Research Center.

“The real world doesn’t really happen on university time,” says Doran. “They have credits to get and they have outside lives, so we’re trying to figure out how we can make action learning in the university really amenable to students and make it fit into their schedules and their lives as best as possible. We really want to assess that and find out what the needs of students are.”

Doran, along with the other students in the course, will culminate research in a report to Chancellor Keith Motley on their findings. Doran says, “We are neighbors and the university being here does have an impact on the places that surround it. But, as students, a lot of times we’re not conscious of that at all. We just come and go…I think the architecture of the place…is very much like this fortress, this isolated fortress. I doubt a lot of students really even know what Harbor Point is at all. So, I think that if there was more life on the peninsula it might encourage students to go off campus.”

Arches agrees. Despite the fact that the resource center would focus primarily on faculty and staff relationships with the urban mission, students will also have the ability to access outside learning and community service projects to supplement both their academic and personal lives. Arches hopes that reaching out to students will assess, “what students experiences are, what they need, and how from the beginning we can make sure that we’re being responsive to student needs for learning and for experience, and to promote connections and partnerships with the university and the community.”

Arches’ students will assist in discussions at a Student Engagement Forum on November 17 to generate additional feedback on the project.

In an effort to get faculty and staff excited about the project, Arches and Beattie spearheaded the creation of a computer-simulated map that will geographically link statistical and textual information. Typing the name of a faculty member into the database would yield information regarding all the places, both location-based and otherwise, where he or she has done work or conducted research.

The map, a physical representation of UMass Boston’s many alliances with communities of the city, state, and the world, is scheduled to be unveiled at the Urban Connections Forum on October 22.

“We’re linking… reputation, retention, and research with collaboration, community, and connecting. And really doing what Chancellor Motley emphasized in his convocation address, trying to build on community,” says Arches.

The project is still in its early stages of outreach to the Colombia Point community. Arches continues, “The big ideal is to really make UMB well-known for how it carries out its urban mission…and to have the community research center really be a structure that can coordinate, plan, and sustain these activities.”

Members of the UMB and surrounding communities who would like to become involved may contact Arches at [email protected].