Susan Johnson (right, photo 1), manager of teaching and curriculum at the Harvard Allston Education Portal, helps Mubeen Elamin with a microscope during a showcase of the mentoring partnership between Harvard undergraduates and Allston-Brighton residents. Mom Priscilla Anderson (from right, photo 2) watches daughter Dora Capobianco get input from Abigail Orlando ’17, while Kennedy O’Neil looks on. Kawn Ang ’15 (from left, photo 3) and Stella Tu ’16 work with Brighton resident Mandy Lin.

Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer

Campus & Community

A spark for young minds

4 min read

Ed Portal event showcases mentoring program

At the Harvard Allston Education Portal, China Cardriche ’16 was happily inspiring impressionable children — with explosions.

“Nothing inspires first-graders more than blowing things up,” Cardriche said, picking up a balloon covered in small, dark marks. “A regular balloon explodes when you light it on fire. But if you fill a balloon with a little bit of water, the water acts as a shield and it warms before the balloon pops … so it actually burns the balloon instead of popping it.”

Cardriche and other Harvard undergrads were on hand Dec. 7 to help showcase work that was accomplished over the past 10 weeks as part of the Ed Portal’s mentoring program. In a service that is free to Allston-Brighton residents, 26 Harvard undergrads mentor 102 local students from first through 12th grade in fields such as math, creative writing, and science.

“Inspiring children is one of the best takeaways,” said Cardriche, an applied math concentrator who facilitated a science club for first-graders at the Ed Portal.

Nearby, Allston resident Priscilla Anderson and her 9-year-old daughter, Dora Capobianco, watched one of three computer animations Capobianco designed while enrolled in the Ed Portal’s new Scratch programming mentoring option.

“She’s certainly never programmed anything before,” said Anderson, adding that her daughter had been involved with the mentoring program since first grade. “She’s learning a new skill, and she has a lot of fun — it’s fun learning.”

Robert Lue, director of Life Sciences education, faculty director of HarvardX, and faculty director of the Harvard Allston Ed Portal, said he always enjoys attending the mentoring showcase, and seeing how students’ imaginations have been “sparked” by the program.

“Being here gives you an idea of how much of an impact working with the mentors has had,” he said. “The undergraduate students here have a long history of being socially engaged, but we’re seeing the growing realization that it’s a mutually enriching exchange. It’s a learning opportunity for everyone involved. What we may have traditionally thought of as service becomes much more of a partnership.”

Speaking of her work in writing and the visual arts with sixth- and eighth-graders, mentor Ujunwa Nwosu ’17 echoed that sentiment.

“I learned a lot from my students — just about teaching and how to connect with someone,” said Nwosu, a neurobiology concentrator. “This was my first semester doing it, and it was a great experience. I’m definitely coming back because I loved it so much.”

Such learning opportunities will expand dramatically when the Ed Portal moves into its new facility in February. The new digs at 224 Western Ave. in Allston will include flexible-use spaces, creating opportunities for performing arts events, an art gallery, and deeper programming. The new space will also expand the relationship between HarvardX and the Ed Portal and build upon the new educational initiative HarvardX for Allston.

“The iStudio at the Ed Portal will take the best of what we know about digital learning, and bring people together in the local community,” Lue said. “We’ll take everything we’ve learned about digital resources and media, and bring that to the community as a re-imagining of what a community space can be like — a 21st-century version of that communal space. We’ve experimented with it here, in this space, but I think that will really be quite something.”