Residents Celebrate Education Portal

Portal, part of $25-million community benefits package, provides educational services

CORRECTION APPENDED

As a small child chased another with neon pink “gluep” slathered over his hands, parents and Harvard administrators mingled at the celebration of the Harvard Allston Education Portal on Friday.

The portal, which opened in July, is a component of the $25-million community benefits package that Harvard approved in order to build the $1-billion Allston Science Complex, Harvard’s first project in Allston.

Harvard broke ground on the four-building science complex in May, after more than a year of debate with the community to reach a cooperative agreement approved by the city of Boston.

The education portal is designed to provide Allston residents with a “gateway” into the University’s teaching and learning. In its opening months, the portal has run one-on-one student mentoring programs teaching science, math, and writing.

The science-math program is the brainchild of Robert A. Lue, a professor of molecular and cellular biology and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences’ director of life sciences education. Through a competitive application and interview process, he chose sixteen undergraduates to mentor the 62 Allston students, ranging from six to 18 years old, who have signed up so far.

The portal is located at 175 North Harvard Street, a building just across the river that the University once reserved for bureaucratic uses.

University President Drew G. Faust—introduced as “educator-in-chief” by one Harvard student at the celebration—commended the program for allowing “many generations to learn together.”

After first showcasing mentoring activities and experiments, ranging from exercises in magnetic poetry to the making of gooey “gluep,” a few undergraduate mentors accompanied their young mentees to the stage to describe their experience in the program.

“It’s a really quiet place and really great for homework,” said sixth-grader Angus Cusak about the portal, before his sister grabbed the microphone from him and proceeded to talk at rapid speed. The mentor behind them struggled to stifle her giggles.

Qi Yu ’11, a mentor in the program, said she spends about three hours a week volunteering. One session with a mentee, she said, led from talking about electromagnetism to discussing binary numbers. [SEE CORRECTION BELOW]

“It was far more advanced than the math he was learning, but he seemed to love it,” she said.

Yu added that volunteering at the portal has enabled her to form a connection with parts of the Allston community, which she said she was surprised to find was “immensely diverse.”

“The negative voices in Allston ring loud but they also ring few,” Yu said. “The majority of the community is excited about the benefit from this presence.”

Lue likened the portal to a “sharing of our circulatory systems,” and said he envisions future lecture series from prominent Harvard professors for the benefit of the portal’s approximately 300 adult affiliates.

“When I first came to this country, there was nothing. I had to struggle to learn the language and everything,” said an elderly Allston resident at the celebration. “I wish they had this then.”

—Staff writer Vidya B. Viswanathan can be reached at viswanat@fas.harvard.edu.

CORRECTION APPENDED

The Nov. 24 story, "Residents Celebrate Education Portal," misspelled the name of one of the students in the program and stated that the undergraduate mentors are volunteers when in fact they receive stipends.