Campus & Community

Harvard Allston Summer Corps supports local students

4 min read

On the verge of making some of life’s biggest decisions, a group of Allston-Brighton high school students listened attentively to a few of the possibilities that lay before them.

In a room next to Harvard Stadium, the teens were introduced to a diverse group of men and women — including a West Point graduate interested in computer science, an art enthusiast who loves math, and a former teacher — who told them how they landed at the same construction company, working in a variety of capacities.

The recent morning meeting was part of the new Harvard Allston Summer Corps, a Harvard-sponsored program that connects local students with summer jobs at area nonprofits and community-based organizations. The participating organizations, selected by the city of Boston’s Mayor’s Youth Fund, included the Jackson Mann Community Center, West End House, the Oak Square YMCA, Allston-Brighton APAC, the Honan Allston Public Library, and Tenacity.

In addition to their weekly work, the 10 students participate in a series of enrichment activities organized by Harvard. Together, the teens and professionals from different fields, meet to explore possible college and career options. The informal discussions take place around Harvard’s campus or at the new Harvard Allston Education Portal located near the stadium on North Harvard Street.

“The Summer Corps teens have met with senior staff from Harvard College Admissions, Turner Construction, Hub2, and the Allston Development Group,” said Jim Barrows, Harvard’s associate director of community relations, who is coordinating the enrichment activities. “They discussed college selection, college admissions and career planning, learned about open space planning, construction and engineering careers, and urban planning.”

On this particular morning, the students met with representatives from Turner Construction Co., the firm building Harvard’s new science complex in Allston on Western Avenue. The project’s manager walked the group through the construction process using intricate, computer-generated graphics. The students watched as the building’s skeleton was slowly developed, one floor at a time, in a 3-D image that was projected on a screen.

In addition to learning how new technology is being used in today’s architecture and construction, the Turner reps also told their own stories, detailing the paths they took to guide their career choices, eventually bringing them to Turner Construction.

For Boston Latin student Beckett Dunning, the morning’s discussion about the design process left a strong impression. The 16-year-old from Allston, who has an interest in physics, thanks to his father who teaches the subject, said he was now inspired to think more about engineering as a possible career.

“I sort of thought about it before, but this just made it seem really interesting to me,” Dunning said. “I learned a bunch of new things and about the [computer] programs … I didn’t know that those programs existed. I just thought that engineering was … going out there, building the building, standing outside all day. But now I know you can work in an office, you can work with the actual design and three-dimensional modeling [on the computer].”

Far from working in an office just yet, Dunning has spent his summer employed at the Jackson Mann Community Center as a junior counselor, working with children. Winning praises from the program manager, Dunning was described as “outstanding.”

“He is very diligent in his work, he is really committed to good activities with the children and a very hard worker,” said Barbara Pecci, administrative coordinator of the program. “We are delighted to have him in the group, we hope he comes back each summer … [the kids] just love him,” she added.

Dunning said he appreciated learning about the college admissions and application process from Harvard’s Senior Admissions Officer David L. Evans. That talk, Dunning said, which included information on the importance of college interviews and taking college tests as early as possible, encouraged him to think about Harvard as an option after high school.

“I’d like to try to get into Harvard,” he added.

Donna Sullivan, associate executive director of the Oak Square YMCA where Brighton teen James Ly is working at the organization’s summer camp with children, said the experience with the Harvard-sponsored program has helped Ly in a variety of ways.

“He has really enjoyed [the Harvard enrichment activities]. He feels like it’s helpful for him in thinking about his future so that he can plan, so he can go to college,” she said.

In addition, noted Sullivan, the program allowed Ly to learn about giving back to his local community.

“He really wanted and was very eager to work, he wanted to make a difference in kids’ lives … it’s more than just a job for him, it’s the experience and commitment to helping kids learn and grow.”