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Neighborhood Activists Get Master's Degree-Tuition Free

Written by Featured Organization on 09 April 2009.

Three community activists from Boston's urban neighborhoods will attend graduate school at Tufts University without having to pay a tuition bill. As the newest incoming class of Tufts' Neighborhood Fellows program, they will research and conduct field work, and complete 9 graduate courses in the area of public policy. The result of all the hard work will be a Master of Public Policy degree.

James Jennings, a professor in Tufts' Department of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning, launched the Neighborhood Fellows five years ago. A key goal, he says, was to increase the enrollment of minority students in the M.P.P. program. At the same time, the program sought to introduce working professionals from the urban neighborhoods around Boston into the classroom.

"These professionals are a link between the theory we teach and the world in which our students hope to have an impact and problem solve," says Jennings. "They know about the current problems and the issues in these communities and can translate that experience."

To launch the Neighborhood Fellows program, Jennings enlisted support from senior administrators at Tufts, including Provost and Senior Vice President Jamshed Bharucha. Tufts maintains up to five slots in its M.P.P. curriculum for students enrolling through Neighborhood Fellows. Seven fellows have graduated since the program began and another 11 are currently enrolled.

One of the most important benefits of the program, says Bharucha, is the substantive contributions to class discussion and debate that the fellows make through their real-life experiences. They also help foster stronger connections between Tufts and local communities.

The fellows, in turn, are exposed to new theories and approaches - ideas that they can later apply in their work - as they earn an advanced degree.

Tuition for traditional students who enroll full-time in the M.P.P. program is $38,000. Part-time students pay $3,662 per course. But Tufts waives these costs for the Neighborhood Fellows.

Notes Bharucha, the program "advances our commitment to civic engagement and also provides these dedicated community leaders an opportunity for mid-career professional development."

Tulaine Marshall, president of New Resource Strategies, a management consulting firm that assists non-profit organizations, is a current Neighborhood Fellow. Graduate school, she says, "was a dream deferred because of the cost and the time required to complete a master's program."

As a fellow, Marshall has focused on financial analysis and organizational development. She notes the "incredible symmetry between my studies and my practice in the field."

The fellows are drawn largely from Boston neighborhoods, though some come from other cities and towns - and even other states - where concerns have revolved around urban community politics, economics, social life, education and housing. Jennings meets with community groups three to four times a year to explain what the Neighborhood Fellows program is all about. Candidates are nominated through a network that encompasses Boston and surrounding communities.

The nominees are evaluated by a panel that includes Jennings, Department Chairman Julian Agyeman and a faculty member from UEP's admissions committee. Nominees are required to have worked at least seven years in a management role within their respective organization.

May Louie graduated last May. She came to Tufts from the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, a nonprofit organization that serves Roxbury-North Dorchester, one of the poorest communities in Boston. Louie directs a program that grooms local residents for roles as community leaders and advocates for neighborhood causes.

As a Neighborhood Fellow, Louie focused her studies on urban land trusts and the ways in which communities in other states have used them to preserve affordable housing while also controlling development in their neighborhoods. She found her graduate studies immediately relevant since DSNI has created its own land trust as a tool to help families avoid foreclosures.

"It was a good learning experience, the faculty was wonderful and the chance to apply my knowledge almost immediately made everything worthwhile," she says of her studies.

Jennings says the incoming class of Neighborhood Fellows will be selected by April 30.

Tufts University, located on three Massachusetts campuses in Boston, Medford/Somerville, and Grafton, and in Talloires, France, is recognized among the premier research universities in the United States. Tufts enjoys a global reputation for academic excellence and for the preparation of students as leaders in a wide range of professions. A growing number of innovative teaching and research initiatives span all Tufts campuses, and collaboration among the faculty and students in the undergraduate, graduate and professional programs across the university's schools is widely encouraged.