Movers and shakers

UCCPS fosters lives of public service

Jesse Levy, A02, has always loved politics. In high school he was class president, and as a Tufts undergraduate, he was elected senator and worked on U.S. Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign. So during his freshman year in 1999, when former President Bill Clinton was impeached, he was disturbed when fellow students expressed cynicism and unhappiness about politics.

Today Levy and another Tufts graduate, Larry Harris, A00, are co-founders of United Leaders, a program whose aim is to involve college students in government. Its flagship program is a summer-long institute held at Tufts, and one of the program's key partners is the University College of Citizenship and Public Service (UCCPS). The institute trains college students for careers in political service through a variety of programs, including seminars and speakers, and by having students volunteer in local nonprofit organizations to learn about issues facing communities.

Sophomore Sahmra Stevenson describes the youth empowerment and community-building project known as NIA. © Jacob Silberberg

Levy was one of a group of students and alumni who described their projects to more than 100 people attending a poster session sponsored by UCCPS at Aidekman Arts Center on October 28. The buzz of conversation filled the space as students and faculty explained some 20 projects, ranging from helping pre-schoolers from low-income families get a head start for school, to cleaning up contamination in a Boston neighborhood.

Service to society
"The vision of the college is to prepare students in all fields of study for a lifetime of active citizenship and service to society. The means to accomplish this is to integrate the values and skills of active citizenship across the curriculum," said Rob Hollister, dean of UCCPS.

Engineering professor Chris Swan directs an environmental clean-up project. © Jacob Silberberg

Some of the posters represented faculty work, while others represented the work of current students. Still others, like United Leadership, were the work of alumni. "These are initiatives created by students that took off and are continuing and run by alumni," Hollister said.

NIA, which means "purpose" in Swahili, was founded by Emery Wright, A99, and Seth Markle, A00. It is "dedicated to youth empowerment and community building," in part, providing tutoring and mentoring for young people, explained sophomore Sahmra Stevenson, a member of the organization. There are chapters in Medford and Roxbury, Mass., and the program is expanding to Atlanta.

Among the other programs are Bridge, a group of students planning to travel to Nicaragua to learn more about Latin America; a program offered by Christopher Swan, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, in which students are working to help clean up a contaminated site in Roxbury; Building Bridges, a collaboration between Boston's Chinatown community and Tufts students that offers students a chance to learn about community development and public service; and the Mystic River Watershed Collaborative, a grassroots organization that works on environmental issues affecting the watershed.

The lives touched
In a give-and-take during the session, Swan said he hoped UCCPS activities could be expanded. "I love to teach students, and one of the best ways to teach is to get students involved in their communities. I would like to see this as part of the curriculum for everyone."

Rob Hollister, dean of UCCPS, addresses the crowd at the poster presentation. © Jacob Silberberg

Maryanne Wolf, professor of child development who works with the Tufts Literacy Corps, which tutors youngsters in reading and math, said each person representing a project is probably affecting the lives of 50 to 100 people. "Look at how many lives Tufts is touching," she said.

The UCCPS was founded with the support of Pamela, J89, and Pierre Omidyar, A88, who wanted to help students and other members of the Tufts community rediscover the importance and benefits of community in their lives. Among the college's offerings is the Omidyar Scholars program, which this year has designated 47 students to work in community programs.