Although Brandeis University is tucked away on South Street, a small trek from the center of Waltham, the school has long interacted with the city in a number of ways.
This year, however, some faculty and staff say they are ramping up their efforts to reach out to the broader Waltham community and provide more organized support to local nonprofits.
Audra Grady, the program administrator for experiential learning at Brandeis, which is a new full-time position at the school, said that her department and others in the school are planning on offering more programs and launching new services for Waltham residents this semester.
One new service is an after-school program for students at the Plympton Elementary School. Lucas Malo, who is the director of community service at Brandeis and works with Grady, said the program is based on a successful one that the school previously launched for students at the Stanley Elementary School.
Grady and Malo said they are also working with local nonprofits to see how the school can help meet their needs.
“I think that right now we are in the midst of building really good partnerships,” Grady said. “I hope that in a year or two people really see changes in how Brandeis interacts with the local community.”
“We have a lot of room to move forward to make our partnerships the best they can be,” she added.
Previous connections between the school and Waltham were typically smaller-scale projects between individual professors or student groups. Jodi Rosenbaum, the executive director of More than Words, a bookstore that helps youth build job skills and confidence, said she has seen changes over the years in the way the university works with her organization.
“We had interns from Brandeis work with us early on," Rosenbaum said, "our connection was much more individual, and for specific activities, whereas what has evolved now is much more organizational collaboration.”
This year, Rosenbaum said the school has had a “coordinated university-wide approach” to helping More Than Words, and the two will be hosting author events and new workshops throughout the spring semester.
Some community outreach has come directly from the classroom, particularly through Professor Laura Goldin’s “Environment, Social Justice, and the Role of Women” course.
Goldin, who has taught at Brandeis for 12 years, said she was one of the first professors at the school to combine coursework with community outreach. In the past few years, she said she’s seen a change in attitude regarding service learning.
“I’ve certainly seen a real ramping up of interest and excitement about this kind of community engagement, particularly in the local Waltham area,” Goldin said.
Goldin said students in all of her courses work on projects with the community. This semester, her “Environment, Social Justice, and the Role of Women” class will be running a nutrition and cooking program for homeless women at a local shelter, teaching them how to best use food stamps to create healthy meals.
“This summer we’re also piloting the Justice Brandeis summer program, where faculty like me will actually take students in for an integrated street course unit,” she said.
Her Justice Brandies course will focus on helping Waltham residents reduce their exposure to toxics in their homes and food.
Goldin says the programs not only make the school a positive member of the Waltham community, countering any “town vs. gown” sentiment, but they are also learning experiences that the students will remember long after they graduate.
Student leader Nathaniel Rosenblum, who oversees the Waltham Group, which is comprised of 17 different volunteer programs, said he has been involved ever since freshman year. He said he hasn’t heard much feedback from people in Waltham, except for one time when he wore his Waltham Group t-shirt to shop in Costco.
“The person working at the Costco customer service desk started telling me how the Waltham Group had such a positive effect on her life,” he said. “She was just so grateful that the group had people out there who cared.”