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Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life

Tisch College Hosts Civic Action Conference for Middle Schoolers

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The symposium serves as a great example of Tisch College’s commitment to working with community partners and inspiring the next generation of civic leaders.

Middle School Symposium 2017

On Monday, May 22, dozens of middle school students from five schools across New England came to Tisch College for a day-long symposium focused on civic engagement and environmental action. The event marked the second time that Tisch College has hosted the International Baccalaureate Schools of the Northeast Middle Years Program Student Conference for 7th grade students. 

The diverse group of 60 students from schools in Maine, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts included a contingent from the Josiah Quincy Upper School (JQUS), a longtime Tisch College community partner located in Boston’s Chinatown neighborhood, one of Tufts University’s host communities.

This year’s conference theme was “Access to Water in the 21st Century,” and students participated in discussions, lectures, and “action team” projects covering various facets of the topic. A key objective of the symposium is for students to connect their own academic learning —in disciplines like biology, chemistry, writing and social studies —to real-world policy challenges facing communities here and around the globe.

After some icebreaker activities, the day kicked off with a keynote address by Dr. Daniele Lantagne, Assistant Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and a former Tisch Faculty Fellow (2014-15). In an engaging presentation peppered with questions and comments from the young participants, Professor Lantagne explained her own research, which focuses on water and sanitation and the links to infectious diseases in developing countries and after natural disasters. She discussed simple interventions that can address the majority of causes of water-borne illnesses and, as importantly, the complex systems needed to develop and deploy these innovations to individuals and communities.

Professor Lantagne also connected her research around the world to water quality and other public health challenges here in the United States, including the recent crisis in Flint, Michigan, where tainted drinking water contained dangerous levels of lead and other toxins. She told the students that the crisis in Flint demonstrated the interplay between science, regulation, and public policy, saying that “science helped make the case to explain what was happening, but it is also clear that there are other big systems at play” that prevented a relatively simple solution from being deployed to help a community in need. Professor Lantagne said that she hoped her presentation would challenge students to be “open-minded and balanced communicators and critical thinkers.”

Following the keynote address and discussion, students moved to break-out groups covering topics like Active Citizenship, Water Filtration, and Making Change with Clean Water, which was offered in conjunction with Generation Citizen, another important Tisch College community partner. The students then worked in “action teams” to develop ways translate what they learned at the conference back to their home communities. They presented those ideas in the final session of the conference with colorful posters illustrating their proposals.