Each evening on the seventh floor of 10 Akron St. in Cambridge, Alena Yermalovich and her husband, Pavel Paromov, read to their young children before a stunning view of the Charles River and the Boston skyline.
The couple moved into their Harvard University Housing (HUH) apartment nearly 10 years ago, when Yermalovich became a research assistant at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Their apartment is one of 3,000 units in Harvard Housing’s Graduate Commons Program (GCP), which is marking its 10th anniversary this fall.
“When I applied to the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Ph.D. program, one of the questions was, ‘Why do you want to be at Harvard?’ And the answer was easy: ‘Because I love my apartment,’” said Yermalovich, now a postdoctoral researcher in the Dana-Farber lab of Matthew Meyerson, Harvard Medical School. “We have watched the Graduate Commons program unfold since the beginning, and it just gets better and better.”
The GCP’s innovative approach offers housing that brings together graduate students, faculty, staff, and their families, through integrative events and programming that fosters community. Its motto is “Live. Laugh. Learn.” Live-in faculty directors and resident community advisers work collaboratively with GCP staff to help ensure HUH residents have the opportunity to experience friendship, diversity, culture, and an exchange of multidisciplinary knowledge outside of the classroom.
“We are from another country, we don’t have family here, but there is such a feeling of community, security, and opportunities for work-life balance, we cannot imagine our life without it,” said Yermalovich, who came to Massachusetts from Belarus in 2003. “The feeling here is that this is your home, and we feel welcome.”
That was one of the goals for Lisa Valela, director of the GCP, who helped launch the Harvard Housing initiative in 2008. What began as a pilot program of 300 University apartments in two buildings near campus is now is a dynamic community accommodating 5,000 residents across 108 buildings in Cambridge, Somerville, and Boston.
“One of the main components of Graduate Commons’ success over the past decade has been its ability to utilize residential common spaces to develop intentional programming mapping back to their four pillars: building community, bridging divides across cultures and disciplines, learning outside the classroom, and service to self and others,” Valela said.
Hundreds of events each year provide enriching and sometimes life-changing social and intellectual opportunities for all residents, including spouses, partners, and children, she said.