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Nearly ten years after its inception, the Harvard Ed Portal, a Harvard service initiative in Allston, has grown to provide academic support to about 250 Allstonian students each year.
Founded in 2008 as part of a community benefits package Harvard agreed to in exchange for the ability to begin development in Allston, the program originally tutored about 25 Allstonian students. Today, the Ed Portal serves about ten times that many students and now includes clubs and summer activities in addition to after school mentoring.
Harvard spokesperson Kevin Casey said the original idea for the Ed Portal came from within the Allston community.
“When Harvard was first contemplating expanding its campus… we engaged with the community to discuss what kinds of things they would expect and want from Harvard,” Casey said. “What rose to the top of the list was an interest in experiencing the kinds of interactions students experience in the campus.”
Robert A. Lue, a biology professor and the faculty director of the Harvard Ed Portal, said the program served both Allstonians and Harvard students.
“The mentoring program is really an opportunity for Harvard undergraduates to come together with children from the Allston neighborhood and jointly explore what it means to become passionate about learning,” Lue said.
Lue said the program’s original focus on science and writing has expanded to include the arts and other academic disciplines.
Terry Lee ’18, a mentor in the program, said mentors currently have four sessions a week with either one or two mentees, but they can also lead larger clubs. Lee leads a computer club; Ellen R. Jang-Milsten ’18, another mentor, leads a science of cooking club.
Jang-Milsten said many of the club ideas, including the science of cooking club, come from the undergraduates involved in the program. Lue described the process of creating clubs and activities as “co-creative,” involving mentors, mentees, and faculty support.
Tina R. Schneider, an Allston resident and mother of two daughters in the program, said that while she had heard negative sentiments in Allston surrounding Harvard’s development there, she supported Harvard’s presence.
“We started right when they started—first semester we were there, and we’re still there,” Schneider said.
Schneider added that her daughters have been involved in many facets of the program, including one-on-one mentoring, group mentoring, and club activities. Her elder daughter, Emma, worked a summer internship at the Ed Portal last summer. Emma said she was responsible for “helping to organize the space and taking care of some of the insects” in the program’s science center.
Schneider said her daughters were interested in science, and their exposure to female mentors and role models in science has been her favorite thing about the program. Her daughter Emma said she became so close with her first mentor that the Schneider family invited her over for dinner.
Emma also said the mentoring program exposed her to opportunities and resources she did not have access to in school. She said she has done dissections at the Harvard-Allston campus, but not in her high school.
Casey said one of the community’s ultimate marker of success for the program was to see a mentee attend Harvard. Kevin Y. Yang ’20 became the first Allston mentee to matriculate to Harvard this September.
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