Amidst pottery demonstrations, make-your-own-parachute stations, and the strains of a jazz quartet, Harvard students and faculty and parents and children from the Allston community gathered to celebrate the recent addition of an annex that tripled the size of the four-year-old Harvard Allston Education Portal.
Although not necessarily well known among Harvard students, the center is a key component of the University’s outreach to a neighborhood that has not always been happy with Harvard’s involvement in the area. The Ed Portal offers academic mentoring to local children as well as educational and recreational events.
The center was created by molecular and cellular biology professor Robert A. Lue. “The principle here is instead of just sharing buildings, to share people with Allston. These are the things that really make Harvard special,” he said.
The new annex will help the Ed Portal expand from academic programming into recreational activities as well. “The opportunity to bring people together around fun is deeply important, and now we have a space where recreation—and meaningful recreation—can integrate with education,” Lue said. The expanded program will include events hosted by the Office for the Arts and the American Repertory Theater.
University President Drew G. Faust delivered a speech that drew a comparison between the four-year trajectory of a Harvard undergraduate, with myriad moments of growth and change, and the process of development that the center has undergone in the same period of time.
She expressed excitement at the addition of the arts program. “I think that having them here will bring a sort of energy and magnetism to this facility that will only build and enhance the very important work that it’s done so far,” she said.
Rita Vaidya, a local parent who serves on the Portal’s advisory board, recounted in a speech the profound effect that the mentoring at the center has had on her two sons. The younger, in second grade, was recently given a school assignment to draw a scientist he admired. “He drew his mentor, Teddy, looking through a microscope, and wrote: ‘My scientist is a student at Harvard,’” she said.
While some came to show support for the center, others came to learn more about it. Tom Lally, a resident who went to the same Allston elementary school that his grandchildren now attend, said, “I’m here to find out what’s going on.”
Tyreke T. White ’15, a mentor at the center, started volunteering there after receiving an email about it over his Expos list. “I’ve tutored before, but really enjoyed how the mentoring combined academic as well as social growth. I feel like I’m actually a part of the community,” said White, who is also a Crimson designer.
As part of a showcase of the Portal’s programming, which includes a faculty speaking series, prominent ethicist and government professor Michael J. Sandel gave an interactive talk that engaged the audience in discussion on the issue of commoditization, the topic of his new book.
Summarizing the prevailing sentiment of the evening, Faust said of the Ed Portal, “This is an expression of our highest hopes for a shared commitment with the Allston community.”