By Greg Abazorius
As residents of Brookview House in Roxbury, Mass. made their way into the building in March 2015, they found newly installed floors, freshly painted walls, upgraded computers, and new furniture—all the result of work completed by Wentworth students and members of the Center for Community and Learning Partnerships (CLP).
Since 1990, Brookview has offered housing, youth development programs, and prevention and stabilization treatments to homeless and at-risk families. In 2014, the home was short on funds and their teen center had fallen into disrepair. CLP representatives saw a neighbor in trouble a
nd decided to make sure that Brookview received vital upgrades over the next year. The CLP also made provisions to periodically replenish Brookview technology and make additional physical upgrades as needed.
“The goal is to help tomorrow’s engineers, managers, and entrepreneurs at Wentworth and Brookview build a solid foundation toward career success,” says CLP Director Erik Miller. The Brookview project is just one example of the CLP’s ability to weave the school into the fabric of Boston, helping current and future generations find their potential to thrive.
Wentworth has always been engaged with the Boston community, but the arrival of the new millennium brought about a sea change in the Institute’s approach to partnerships.
Sandra Pascal was appointed head of the new Office of Community Relations in 2000 and immediately began to work with community leaders and Wentworth neighbors, including the Alice Taylor Housing Development. Two years prior, she met Jim Bradley, a youth coordinator for Alice Taylor Housing and Mission Main, another housing development. Bradley offered to bring residents from his housing areas to a Wentworth computer lab that the Institute opened to the public. Visitors would learn about the latest technology, and the Wentworth community would have a chance to introduce itself to potential future students.
“That became a model for our neighborhood partners: We’ll provide the resources, you bring the people,” recalls Pascal, now Wentworth’s associate vice president for community relations and external affairs.
President Zorica Panti?’s start in 2005 further cemented Wentworth’s role as a good neighbor and expanded upon the Institute’s original mission of providing opportunities to students in Boston. With the start of community relations, including hosting city-wide initiatives such as Alternative Spring Break and tax preparation services for local residents, Wentworth has become a regional leader in developing sustainable community partnerships while navigating the many stakeholders that represent Boston neighborhoods.
When Wentworth began to look into constructing a building at 555 Huntington Avenue to serve as a residence hall and a home for the newly created CLP office, representatives from the Institute worked closely with the former Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA), the offices of Boston City Councilor Michael Ross and Mass. State Representative Jeffrey Sanchez, and neighborhood groups including Mission Hill Main Streets and Mission Hill Neighborhood Housing Services to secure a space for programming that positively impacts local neighbors.
“Partnering with our neighbors has always been so important to us,” Pascal says. “They loved
555 because we spent a year collaborating with them on the planning to make sure they were involved in the process.”
The hiring of architect and Wentworth alumnus Erik Miller, AAET ’04, BARC ’07, MARC ’10, in 2012 as the CLP’s assistant director served as another turning point for the center. Miller focused on increasing the center’s work in creating long-term, reciprocal partnerships with key strategic organizations to help improve Wentworth’s influence on city-wide college access initiatives for Boston youth and public interest projects that positively impact all Boston residents.
A BOSTON PIPELINE
Miller, now CLP director, thinks of his office as one that helps Boston teens realize untapped potential. Half of Boston Public Schools students are listed as economically disadvantaged, according to data provided by BPS officials, and a vast majority of Boston students entering college are first generation U.S. citizens. Miller believes strongly in early-access programs that introduce and encourage interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields. The Institute has also benefited from philanthropic support from a variety of individuals and corporations who have helped contribute to the pipeline of Boston growth.
RAMP, a six-week pre-college bridge program, has emerged as one of the CLP’s signature
initiatives. Offered over the summer to Boston residents planning to attend Wentworth, RAMP
engages students in real-world projects and pays a stipend.
“Only 51 percent of BPS students who go to college receive a degree within six years,” Miller says. “I tell them that they are already a statistic, so break it. Ask questions and get help if you need it. At the same time, we try to identify the students who are in danger of not succeeding and figure out ways to help put them on the right path.”
Miller describes the CLP’s work as being half for Wentworth and half for the Boston community, citing the center’s work with Wentworth faculty on externally focused projects, as one example. In recent years, Wentworth students have designed and implemented new interior furniture at the Huntington Avenue YMCA, designed and installed seating and landscaping at the Thomas M. Menino YMCA, designed and built the Tobin Community Center’s Community Garden, and worked as co-ops at multiple technology-based community centers throughout Boston.
“Wentworth is a model institutional partner—an exemplary Boston citizen,” says Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson. “The Center for Community and Learning Partnerships builds bridges that create opportunities for our diverse communities, and for the amazing young people who are rightly proud to call themselves Wentworth Leopards.”
Today’s CLP thrives under Miller and Pascal, along with assistant directors Nicole Jensen and Courtney Wright, and Community Engagement Coordinator Julia Kahn. Johanna Sena also works with the team as Wentworth’s community relations liaison, cultivating relationships with city officials and solidifying those she built while working with the Boston City Council.
The CLP has grown in the last decade to incorporate the Alternative Spring Break program, prep classes for Boston students about to take the high school SATs, dual enrollment to allow
BPS students to earn dual credit in high school and college, and Co+build, a community design/ build program. The CLP has also consistently earned national recognition by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and named to the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll for six consecutive years.
Wentworth’s Community Scholarship alumni, Paul Britton and fellow CLP volunteer Ron Jean, established a scholarship to provide up to $500 per semester to be applied to textbooks and other college expenses. Britton and Jean work with the Institute to choose the recipients, who must be minority students with demonstrated financial need and highly engaged with the National Society of Black Engineers student chapter.
Britton, a senior systems engineer at Raytheon, credits the CLP’s early work for helping him thrive. “I didn’t have many people motivating me to go to college,” he says, adding that the idea for the book scholarship came partly from seeing the impact of the CLP’s work in the community. “Because I was seen as this student who was able to utilize his resources to better himself, I thought, ‘Why not teach others to do the same?’”
Upcoming projects include building a sunshade system at the Carter School in Boston, ongoing opportunities with additional YMCA locations, and collaborations with partners like Travis Roy, the former Boston University hockey player who founded the Travis Roy Foundation, a grant-awarding nonprofit for traumatic spinal cord injury victims. Roy has spoken on campus, and CLP members have made improvements to Little Fenway in Essex Junction, Vt., a small-scale replica of Fenway Park that hosts Roy’s annual charity WIFFLE Ball Tournament.
“It’s very important to listen to the community’s voice, something that’s vital to teach our students,” says Pascal. “The more voices you have, the better a project will turn out. We like to think of Wentworth as a strong piece of the Boston community.”
“We don’t want to be other schools,” adds Miller. “Wentworth has always been a model ‘town-gown’ institution, building long-term, reciprocal partnerships with neighborhoods throughout Boston. While other institutions may focus on issues abroad, Wentworth continues to reflect on its original mission, finding really high value in what Boston can give us, and hopefully everyone feels we’re returning the favor.”
To hear more about the CLP’s work in the Boston community, listen to Episode 7 of the “Inside Wentworth” podcast.