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Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life

Celebrating Exemplary Community Partnerships

Monday, April 6, 2015

At the 13th Tufts Presidential Symposium for Community Partnerships, local leaders and members of the Tufts community highlighted successful initiatives and brainstormed new collaborations.

Table conversations at 2015 Symposium on Community Partnerships

Last month, more than 150 Tufts students, faculty, staff, and local community leaders gathered for the 2015 Presidential Symposium on Community Partnerships, a yearly event which highlights, celebrates, and advances campus-community initiatives at the University.

The symposium, now in its 13th year, is organized by Tisch College and hosted by Tufts President Anthony Monaco.

“At Tufts, community engagement is part of our DNA and integrated into our activities across the university,” he said. “In fact, our partnerships with the community are at the heart of the vision for the university we have outlined in our T10 Strategic Plan.”

This year, the Presidential Symposium highlighted three exemplary partnerships that showcase the depth and breadth of collaborations between University and community:

CAFEH

Dr. Doug Brugge, a professor at the Tufts School of Medicine and member of the Tisch College faculty, presented on the Community Assessment of Freeway Exposure and Health (CAFEH) project alongside Ellin Reisner of the Somerville Transportation Equity Project (STEP). The study, a community-based participatory research project to measure the health impact of air pollution alongside local highways, has received millions in NIH funding and recently released a series of findings as well as related design solutions.

Faculty and students from the Tufts schools of medicine and engineering have partnered with STEP, the Chinese Progressive Association, the Chinatown Resident Association, the Committee for Boston Public Housing, and the City of Somerville to perform the research.

“One of things that the community has been able to bring to the study is the insight of understanding what the community is: how to reach out to the community, how to recruit community members to become part of the study, and to really ask the real-world questions that need to be addressed in this kind of research,” said Reisner.

“Our goal was not only to do the research, but to use the data to create real-world change, and I think we’re moving much closer in that direction now,” she added.

Tufts at Tech

Dr. Greg Wolfus of the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine presented on Tufts at Tech: a partnership between the veterinary school and Worcester Technical High School that has created the first nationally approved Veterinary Assistant Certificate Program at a high school in the country.

Senior veterinary students from Cummings operate a veterinary clinic at the high school, which serves the surrounding low-income community that would otherwise not have access to quality care for their pets. The Worcester Tech students assist in every facet of the clinic’s operation, learning much more than just veterinary skills.

“We’re creating active and good citizens at a high school lever and we’re encouraging these individuals to engage in the global community,” said Wolfus, who directs Tufts at Tech.

The experience is equally invaluable for the Tufts veterinary students.

“They’re getting primary-care, hands-on skills … but the most important part is they’re getting to engage with their community,” said Wolfus. “They’re realizing that there is this desert of access to traditional veterinary care and there’s an opportunity for them to go out in the community and make a difference. We’re making good people.”

The clinic, which handles nearly 4,000 pet visits per year, was also one of the reasons why President Obama gave last year’s commencement address at Worcester High School. During his speech, he intimated that he would entrust the care of the “first pets” to the Tufts at Tech clinic.

Citizen Engineers

Tufts School of Engineering professor Chris Swan, also a member of the Tisch College Faculty, spoke about the School’s efforts to increase community engagement and make it an essential part of an engineering education.

“Our engineers are not just engineers: they’re actually citizens,” said Swan, who was joined by engineering students Jessica Swenson and Gabrielle String “And we impact the people, we impact our communities tremendously in the engineering profession.”

Swenson, a graduate student at Tufts’ Center for Engineering Education and Outreach, spoke about going into local classrooms as part of Tufts’ Student Teacher Outreach Mentorship Program (STOMP). She helped students identify problems in their school—like gum constantly stuck under their desks—and led them to design, use, and improve implements that would address those problems.

Seeing their iterative process was really the starting point for my Master’s thesis,” said Swenson. “I’m continuously looking for community-based problems to bring back to the engineering school and to help kids learn to use engineering to solve problems.”

A Successful Gathering

Tisch College Dean Alan D. Solomont praised the featured partnerships and emphasized their importance to the educational mission of Tufts University.

“When community leaders and organizations work hand in hand with the University, they benefit from the boundless energy of our students and the expertise of our professors,” he said. “Together, we provide a more meaningful educational experience, and more effective approaches to the intractable problems that affect our communities, our nation, and the world.”

Shirley Mark, Tisch College’s Director of Community Partnerships, was pleased by the turnout and the table discussions that have already begun to spark new relationships and possible future partnerships.

“Each year’s Presidential Symposium is better than the last,” said Mark. “It’s exciting to have so many people in one room who work on different issues in different places, but who are united by a commitment to improve their communities and eager to make connections that will enhance their work.”