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1. Introducing Tufts Now

Want to be in the know?

Then you need to know about Tufts Now, the university's new one-stop site for all things Tufts: news, events, social media, blogs, videos, photography and more. This site replaces the Tufts Journal and E-News.

Take a poll that measures the pulse of the Tufts community; discover the latest great reads by Tufts authors; understand the mysteries unraveled by health science researchers; catch up with students on and off campus; track some of our illustrious alumni; and see how Tufts scholars are creating social policy.

This information hub, launched by the University Relations Division in February 2011, combines the best of Tufts' news and event channels into a single, dynamic site that is enlightening, entertaining and easy to navigate-in other words, a perfect profile of Tufts in words and images.

For those readers of the award-winning Tufts Journal and E-News, you will continue to find the same top-shelf stories and profiles about Tufts people, research, scholarship and teaching. Their merger into an expanded online experience improves their quality and depth.

The Tufts Journal was founded in 1980 as the official university newspaper. It first appeared online in 2001. E-News, launched in 1999, was Tufts' first online news publication. Now they are joined and recast as Tufts Now. (The Tufts Journal and E-News websites will remain online as archives, which are accessible through the search box in Tufts Now.)

All the news and features, including People Notes and Ask the Expert, from the Tufts Journal and E-News are part of Tufts Now. But the new information hub also contains some great additions: a Spotlight section that beams in on the best photography and multimedia, weekly polls and Tufts in the News, which highlights coverage of the university in the external news media.

At Tufts Now you can cycle between features, photos and videos or get firsthand perspectives on life at Tufts via our featured blogs. You can check out the buzz on our Tufts Twitter and Facebook communities-and pursue your personal interests by searching the Arts & Culture, Campus Life, Health & Science and In the World sections.

You can sign up for the Tufts Now biweekly email newsletter (if you are subscribed to the E-News newsletter, you're already on our list) or subscribe to RSS feeds for instant updates. And you can share content with your social networks or recommend stories to others.

Do you have an idea for Tufts Now? Would you like to contribute content? We want to hear from you.

2. Balancing Act

Tufts' roots, thanks to founding trustee P.T. Barnum, are inextricably bound to the circus. Lately, those roots are showing more than ever. Some students in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences are complementing their studies with pursuits in the circus arts and, in many cases, incorporating the two.

Take Tracy McAskill, a Ph.D. candidate in particle physics and a contortionist. While she keeps her academic work and her art distinct, she pushes boundaries in both. As a physicist, she focuses on phenomenology, the bridge between theoretical and experimental physics. As a contortionist, she consistently astounds audiences with what her body is capable of doing.

"When you see a person do something like a triple fold [bending the back so the performer's chest, knees and shins all touch the floor], that makes people say, 'I didn't know that was possible,'" she says. "To be able to do that for an audience, to convey that sense of awe or sometimes disgust, is really exciting."

McAskill is a largely self-taught contortionist. A dancer growing up, she advanced from stretching to overstretching and, eventually, contorting. When YouTube came around, she began emulating other contortionists and teaching herself new moves. Then in 2008, she became interested in performing and got her first gig as part a duo contortion act in the "circus folktale" Mischief in the Machine.

"It was in working on that effort that I realized that this was something I really loved and could work on every day," she says. Today she still does mostly duo contortion as a member of the Boston Circus Guild, with the same partner she met through Mischief in the Machine.

Suzanne Rappaport , in the Department of Occupational Therapy (OT), found her passion for the circus on a Club Med vacation. After trying out the flying trapeze featured at the resort, she decided to trade a desk job for a higher calling. She performed trapeze at Club Med for three years, then moved on to the New England Center for Circus Arts and Cirkus Smirkus. She also taught trapeze, both locally and around the country.

One day, after a class at the Austine School for the Deaf in Brattleboro, Vt., an adoptive parent of a Haitian boy in the U.S. on a medical visa told her that the child had "got his therapy without even realizing it." Rappaport recalls, "That is when the light bulb went off. How could I make circus a therapy, and how could I make that work?"

Since coming to Tufts, she's expanded her concept of circus as therapy, finding inspiration in an OT alumna who has suffered from breast cancer. She incorporated activities such as biking, yoga and Pilates into her recovery and then shared her experience with other cancer patients.

"I thought, wouldn't it be great to have breast cancer survivors come to NECCA or some facility in Boston and do circus for a week and then put on a show?" says Rappaport. "How great would it be to reclaim your health and your wellbeing by, as silly as it sounds, being dressed in sequins and being on the trapeze?"

Fire-eating, Knife-juggling and the Pursuit of Happiness

Tufts' Department of Child Development boasts still more circus aficionados, among them Jeremy Warren, an MA student, who counts fire-eating, knife-juggling and sticking nails in his face among his skills.

As an undergraduate at Vassar, Warren was a member of a circus club called the Barefoot Monkeys, which morphed into a professional circus troupe, A Different Spin, that does workshops and performances for kids, college students and a range of organizations. He has also worked with the National Circus Project in Long Island, N.Y., conducting week-long circus workshops for children. Now he volunteers with the Somerville-based Open Air Circus, another operation that teaches kids circus skills, and is also a member of the Boston Circus Guild.

Warren's graduate studies, under the guidance of Professor David Henry Feldman, center on creative living, self-determination and positive psychology, a school of thought focused on cultivating happiness and fulfillment. One of his main ambitions is to dispel misconceptions about the sorts of people who can achieve happiness. For example, he decries the stereotype that artists are unreliable or antisocial, and he has conducted research to debunk what he calls "the myth of the 'mad genius,' " the perception that creative people are depressed or crazy.

He has a provocative take on socially marginalized groups as well. "I have been playing with all sorts of subcultures that have completely found their own way of being that mainstream society would see as deviant, but these people are perfectly healthy, happy and wonderfully social people," he says.

"Rather than diagnosing what is wrong with people and pathologizing people who live differently or do things differently or think differently, I am focusing instead on what it is that they're doing that works for them and could maybe work for other people," he explains. "What is it these people do that makes it worth it for them? How do they do it, and how can we teach everyone else to do it?"

It's this acceptance of the diversity in human experience that has led Warren to think about the circus-with its unembarrassed celebration of "freakishness"-as a tool for positive youth development. And the free-spiritedness he sees in children convinces him that such a tool could be effective. "I like that kids are generally open to new things, eager and willing to learn," he says. "If you put out a box of circus toys, kids will come flocking to play."

Meanwhile, Christina Zagarino, whose best circus skill is scarf juggling, is pursuing an M.A. in child development along with work in communication and media. Zagarino had studied educational theater at New York University and was teaching circus camp as part of a job at the New Victory Theater in New York City when suddenly everything clicked for her. She observed that the kids at the camp were spending five days a week, eight hours a day exercising-and loving it.

"'This is great,'" she remembers thinking. "'Why isn't everyone doing circus arts right now?'" And she saw tremendous potential. While she acknowledged that it was wonderful to "bring this amazing piece of theatre to an audience of 200 people," she decided that she was "interested in 200,000 people." In other words, a television audience.

Inspired by her role model Fred Rogers -- who went back to school to get his master's in child development after starting his TV career -- she came to Tufts. Here, she's been hard at work on interactive television programming, developed in consultation with Julie Dobrow in the Communications and Media Studies program, that could get kids on their feet and help them stay fit.

Her pilot series of interstitial three- to five-minute programs, Big Top Fitness, earned her the Fred Rogers Scholarship last spring. Currently in post-production, it features two characters, Dot and Ham, who demonstrate circus workouts such as stretching and balance exercises. The next step is to conduct a study to see if the series really does help kids stay fit. Zagarino also hopes to submit Big Top Fitness to be considered for the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences' College Television Awards.

If at First You Don't Succeed . . .

And finally there's Jen Agans, who actually had the opportunity to study circus arts as a child, having attended a school with an alternative approach to learning. Interestingly, what she's chosen to zero in on is the part of her early circus training that she hated: her nightly juggling homework.

"It's hard. The balls are on the floor all the time," she points out. "But that's why it was great that it was homework, because I didn't have a choice. I would just have to do it." By 7th grade, she was a member of a circus troupe that both performed for and taught local kids, and she went on to teach circus at the Silver Lining Circus Camp in Temple, N.H., for nearly 10 years.

There she watched other kids go through the same frustrating trials she had gone through with her juggling homework. She was fascinated to see that they would develop self-confidence, even when they stumbled. "Learning to work through that process and saying 'No, I am going to keep doing this anyway because the end result is worth it,' I think that is a life skill, honestly," she says.

Agans, who began pursuing an M.A./Ph.D. in the Department of Child Development this fall and is studying with Professor Rich Lerner, is intent on investigating such life skills-in circus as well as in sports and the performing arts-and figuring out how best to foster them in kids.

Jackie Davis, the director of Silver Lining and her former instructor, has become one of her most valuable colleagues. "Jackie and I presented at the America Youth Circus Organization Educators Conference about some of the things we have studied in psychology and developmental science," she says, and "people got really excited."

The result of reactions like that could be real advances. "The circus people are starting to say, 'We need grants, and the grants people need evidence, and you guys are doing research,' " Agans remarks. "Things are starting to blossom and come together."

Story by Georgiana Cohen, Web Communications

Photos by Kelvin Ma, Tufts Photo

3. Break-Out Star

By day, Sophia Cacciola sits behind a desk as a secretary at Tisch Library. By night, however, you are liable to find her sitting behind a drum kit on stage at one of Boston's local rock clubs, belting out lyrics such as "Your lips curl out from your face / like they got something to prove."

Just call her a double agent. Cacciola and her husband, Michael J. Epstein, comprise the band Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling, but theirs is not just another rock act. Everything about the band-the songs, their outfits, even the name-ties back to an old British spy show called "The Prisoner."

The series, which has maintained a cult following despite running for just 17 episodes from 1967-68 , tracks a former British secret agent who is kidnapped upon retiring from his position and held captive in seaside village. "The band is not based on it, but it is influenced by it," explains Cacciola.

Two years ago, Cacciola and Epstein-who met in her first band, Blitzkrieg Bliss-were looking for a project to feature his bass playing with her drumming and vocals. At the time, they were watching a lot of British spy shows, like "The Avengers,""Danger Man" (called "Secret Agent" in the U.S.) and "The Prisoner."

Cacciola was drawn to the "dark, moralistic" main character in "The Prisoner" and the mod 1960s aesthetic of the show. She and Epstein felt they could adopt it as the identity for their band, which derives its name from the title of the show's 13th episode. (It also happens to be the name of the song played during the opening credits of "High Noon").

Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling aims to record one song for each of the show's 17 episodes. Their first EP, "The New Number 2," tackles episodes 1, 2, 3, 4 and 9, plus a cover of Leonard Cohen's "First We Take Manhattan."

With only drum and bass, the band has what Cacciola calls "a full, weird sound that people aren't used to hearing." That's also partly owed to Epstein playing his bass through a guitar rig.

"I actually love it because it's very deep and low," says Cacciola. While Cacciola has played guitar in the past, this is her first time fronting a band as both vocalist and drummer. "The drums have been a really interesting difference," she says. "I have been a very rhythmic singer all along and less melodic, so the drums allow me to push that further."

Stage Presence

When Cacciola sits behind her bright red drum set, placed right at the front of the stage, she strikes a commanding pose. Wearing a mod black dress with white piping, she has removed both her glasses and her shoes (for more effective pounding of the bass drum).

Cacciola's vocals shift from shouted to whispered to snarled, while she continues to pound away on the drums as Epstein's riffs grind alongside. The performance is punctuated by knowing glances into the audience that help perpetuate the sense of paranoia that characterized "The Prisoner."

She admits that her Tufts colleagues may not recognize her on-stage persona.

"It's kind of a theater thing," Cacciola explains. "I am here and and I am going to yell, and I am not looking at my shoes, I am looking at the crowd. People who meet me see that character, who is very loud and moved by the music, but I am normally very reserved."

That said, Cacciola says the climate at Tufts is conducive to having a second life as a rock star. "Because it is a university, everyone is open to what you are doing," she says.

'The Cycle of Art'

Cacciola is no stranger to the Boston music scene. She moved here from a small town in the Finger Lakes region of New York directly out of high school in 2001 and threw herself into the local music community. She started on the folky, acoustic side of things, performing in open mics around town, but her time spent working in area CD stores began influencing her taste. Soon, she shifted to punk and "whatever genre of art rock," as she says, her current band is.

While their songs are inspired by "The Prisoner," fans don't need to have heard of the show to enjoy the music--though they have made a few converts.

"They like the songs for what they are and that is the point, because the songs have to stand on their own," explains Cacciola. "The 'Prisoner' people are excited, too, because we are reviving this."

The revival goes beyond the music. Cacciola and Epstein have spent the past year indulging their interest in visual media by working on a video recreation of the show's three-minute opening sequence, right down to finding someone with a Lotus 7 kit car similar to the one driven in the show.

The video will be screened in April at the annual Portmeiricon -- a convention for fans of "The Prisoner" in the village of Portmeirion, Wales, where it was filmed. While the show enjoys cult status in the U.S., it's a major phenomenon in Britain.

"I have gotten these emails from people saying, 'I can't believe how respectful you are being for doing every scene exact," says Cacciola. "I think they are just excited that we are keeping it alive."

Cacciola sees her band's current focus on "The Prisoner" as being part of the "cycle of art."

"People ask, 'how do you write about a TV show?' It's the same creative process," she says. "It is so easy to take those ideas, and you know they were inspired by something, and then take them into a new medium. I see art as always being inspired by, and pushing someone else. So, something I do will push someone else."

Story by Georgiana Cohen, Web Communications

Photos by Alonso Nichols, Tufts Photo

4. A Budding Interest

In the midst of discussing world food systems, Marisol Pierce-Quinonez, (G'11), bends down into a bed of greens and helps herself to a crisp piece of peppery arugula.

"For me, food is the connector issue between everything from climate change issues to obesity and poverty issues-all these things can be seen through the lens of food systems," says the dual-degree student from both the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy and the department of urban and environmental policy and planning in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

With the bounty of produce at her feet, you might imagine that Pierce-Quinonez is standing in a vast farm in the middle of nowhere. In reality, she stands in a small garden between the South Hall and Latin Way dormitories on Tufts' Medford/Somerville campus.

Marisol Pierce-Quinonez

The quaint plot, the brainchild of Signe Porteshawver, (A'11), was planted over the summer and has been the catalyst for the Experimental College course Pierce-Quinonez and fellow Friedman student Jeffrey Hake, (N'11), have been teaching this fall. Originally proposed to the pair by Porteshawver, the course, Emerging Alternatives in Modern Agriculture, explores up-and-coming agricultural systems, considering both the role that agriculture plays in our society and the ways in which cities and communities are becoming active players in modern agriculture.

Planting the Seed

Before coming to Tufts, Porteshawver had never even thought about gardening, let alone food policy and agriculture. It wasn't until her sophomore year that it all came together.

"I was taking an anthropology course called Native Peoples and Indigenous Rights in South America, and we talked about a group that thought disease was all ecologically based-so if you hunted too many deer, people would get sick," she says. "For some reason this idea was the coolest thing to me."

At the same time, Porteshawver says, she began reading books by food activist Michael Pollan, author of "The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food." In spring 2009 she heard Pollan speak at the Richard E. Snyder President's Lecture Series.

"At that point, I started searching around the Internet, reading anything I could find on everything about practical gardening and policy," she says. "It just all sort of clicked."

Signe Porteshawver

That summer-between her sophomore and junior years-Porteshawver began writing a blog, "The Veg Table." But although it became a great way to capture her thoughts on such matters as the CSA (community-supported agriculture) farm she had joined and the Medford/Somerville food happenings and groups she had attended, it didn't satisfy her need to take action.

Then studying abroad in Costa Rica in the fall, she learned more about techniques like growing coffee in the shade and other aspects of enlightened agriculture, and she decided something needed to happen when she returned to campus that spring.

"I just began sending out emails, mostly to people I had never met, asking if anyone wanted to do something 'foodie' on campus in the spring," she says. "I got an email from Yosefa Ehrlich (A'10), saying 'Yeah, let's do this.'" And thus the student garden was born.

Keeping Things Growing

"Pretty soon we had a lot of people bringing up the issue of how the garden would continue as people moved on," Porteshawver says. "Our biggest issue was increasing student involvement and interest.

"Then we thought maybe an Experimental College course could bring students together, and maybe caring for the garden could be one of the course components. If students felt more connected to the garden, they would be more likely to want to see it thrive."

Having met Pierce-Quinonez at a tree-tapping held on campus by the local non-profit Groundwork Somerville, Porteshawver contacted her, and soon Pierce-Quinonez and Hake had signed on to help put her and Ehrlich's ideas into action.

Hake says it was clear early on that many students were in the same boat as Porteshawver-lots of interest, but no outlet. The course maxed out almost immediately, with 30 students showing up on the first day-10 more than the ExCollege limit, according to Pierce-Quinonez. "Every week, they just kept showing up," she says.

The idea was to offer a survey of all issues pertinent to food systems, which has proved to be a difficult task, since there are only two hours a week to discuss everything from the history of agriculture to ways of working with large institutions and businesses to purchase locally grown food.

"We've turned this into a course that we wish we had at the Friedman School," Hake says.

As Porteshawver had hoped, a percentage of the course has been dedicated to gardening time, with two of the three existing garden beds having been built and planted by the class.

"A good portion of each class has focused on teaching the students practical gardening skills," says Pierce-Quinonez. "We have covered topics such as transplanting seeds or harvesting-whatever has been seasonally appropriate for the garden.

"On many occasions we would lead classes in the garden on planting or thinning [a technique similar to weeding that reduces competition between plants and enhances growth]. It has definitely become an integral part of not only the class, but also their homework, which has been to work in the garden, keeping a log of what they have done and any changes they have noticed."

Jeffrey Hake

Pierce-Quinonez feels garden work has provided something tangible that the students can relate to the topics they learn in class. "The great thing about gardening is you learn something new every time and you have to be able to roll with it," she says. "In a way, it is kind of like teaching."

With winter approaching, students have most recently learned how to prep their garden for winter, extending their growing season during the colder months.

"The first favor we did ourselves was planting cold-hardy crops that are able to better withstand the winter months," Hake says. "Then we were able to get cheap, old windows from Craigslist to create cold boxes, which basically utilize the sunlight and create a greenhouse effect, extending the life of our plants for a while longer."

Beyond the Classroom

While Pierce-Quinonez and Hake hope to obtain funding to continue the ExCollege course, Porteshawver hopes that those who missed the course this fall will look for other ways to become involved.

"Tufts' Environmental Consciousness Outreach group is currently being restructured to have varying branches, with the garden expected to be one of them," she says. "We are hoping to have an elected garden coordinator to help continue to grow a community around the garden and keep it going."

"There is a lot of concern out there that agriculture is going to fall apart, or that the only way we can continue to feed a booming world population is through conventional means of using chemicals and really intensive agriculture," Hake says. "I hope we have shown our students that there are other ways we can sustainably feed the world's population."

Pierce-Quinonez says having the opportunity to work with the undergraduate population has been "invigorating."

"It has been a while since I have been in the undergraduate setting, and it is definitely a different frame of mind," she says. "I have really appreciated working with these students who aren't as jaded as I am and still feel like anything is possible. If you recognize a problem you can go out and change it."

Story by Kaitlin Provencher, Web Communications.
Photos by Alonso Nichols, University Photography.

5. A Family Affair

So many members of Jim Stewart's family have gone to Tufts that it took him a minute to count them all. The tenth member of the family to attend Tufts is his son Greg Stewart (A'11), who has made the entire Stewart clan proud as a conference-leading receiver on the Tufts football team.

Greg Stewart is a third-generation Jumbo. His father, Jim (A'81), also played football. Jim's father, Ervyl, graduated in 1946. Several other relatives also have Tufts degrees, and many of them will be in the stands on Oct. 23 to watch Greg and the rest of the Jumbos play their Parents' Weekend game against Williams College.

In addition to their family ties, the friendships that Jim and Greg have made at Tufts make it even more of a special place. Jim's football teammates have been his lifelong friends. Greg says his teammates are the best group of guys he's ever played with. Father and son also share the brotherhood of Delta Upsilon Fraternity.

"The fact that my father and I had a very similar experience and that he feels the same way that I feel about the school is a really big statement about what Tufts football and Tufts in general stands for," Greg says. "I think it shows that the main focus is not scoring touchdowns. Doing well in school and being prepared for a good career when I graduate is important. But just as important is being around great people with similar goals and values. I really have some great friends at Tufts."

Good Sports

The Stewarts are fortunate to be a part of two strong communities. The family's roots in Wilmington, Mass., about 15 miles north of campus, date back to the 1920s. Jim, who is a member of the Wilmington High School Hall of Fame, was quarterback of the 1976 team that advanced to the Massachusetts Division II Super Bowl. As a high school pitcher, he hurled a no-hitter against rival Tewksbury. He also played basketball.

Familiar with Tufts, Jim jumped at the opportunity to get a great education and play two sports. He led the 1978 Jumbo football team in rushing, and also started for the undefeated 1979 team. He and his wife of 25 years, Mary, settled in Wilmington. Greg is the oldest of three children, including Stephen (who plays football at Bentley) and Jennifer (who plays field hockey, basketball and softball at Wilmington High School).

Because Jim kept his trophies and game balls in bags in the basement, the son only heard about his dad's athletic achievements from others. Jim was more interested in teaching his children the right way to succeed.

"It was never an ability thing with him; it was always attitude," Greg says of his father. "He instilled in me that you need to play at your full potential on the field and give 100 percent in class. I really try to work as hard he does in every aspect of my life because he does everything with his best effort."

By the time Greg was a sophomore at Wilmington High School, where he also played basketball and baseball, the father could see that the son had the talent to play football in college. He helped Greg with the logistics of the college recruitment process, but wanted his son to make his own decision.

Greg says he got great advice from Mike Whelan, who at the time was coaching at Williams and now leads the Wesleyan football team. He told Greg that he would just know which college was the right one for him. That was Tufts.

A Winning Decision

"I remember when I picked Greg up from the recruiting weekend at Tufts. During the ride home he turned and said that's where he wanted to go," Jim says. "He had a good connection with the guys there. He liked the coaches, liked the whole feel of it. All of the schools he was looking at were good choices. I'm glad that he found a place that Coach Whelan said he'd find during the process. The fact it was Tufts, that was pretty good with me, too."

Jim had coached Greg's middle school travel basketball team that won their division's championship. The experience they shared in three seasons together left a lasting impression on Greg, who still thinks his father is the best coach he's ever played for. In Tufts football Coach Bill Samko, Greg sees a lot of his dad.

"Coach Samko tells it to you straight," Greg says. "He doesn't talk out of the side of his mouth. That's just how my dad is."

During a preseason practice when Greg was a freshman, Samko strolled by to tell him that he was going to be the team's kicker. Greg had kicked in high school, and an injury had left the Jumbos in need. In the first game of his college career, at Hamilton on September 22, 2007, Greg kicked a 38-year field goal and made all three of his extra points during a 24-7 win.

"I drove up to see the game with no expectations that he would see the field as a freshman, but I wanted to make sure I was there the first time that he put the uniform on," Jim says. "Sure enough, he goes in and kicks a field goal and makes his extra points. That was one of those extremely proud-father moments."

Greg Stewart had much more football in him. As a sophomore in 2008, he played a lead role on special teams and was the gunner for the punt team that led the nation with 1.8 yards allowed. He started at wide receiver in the 2009 opener at Wesleyan, but left the game with a concussion. He then came down with mononucleosis and missed the rest of the season.

This year as a senior, Stewart is one of the leading receivers in the New England Small College Athletic Conference, with 23 catches for 286 yards. He's also returning kicks. After catching 13 passes for 126 yards against Bates, he was popped late in the game and remained down on the field after having the wind knocked out of him. For his family, that put things into perspective.

"There are three priorities for him at school," Jim says. "First and foremost is always his health and well-being. Second, is that he gets a great education. The third is football. I'm very excited for him, but at the end of the day, you can't lose sight of what the priorities are at Tufts."

An economics major, Greg is making the most of the few remaining opportunities to play football in front of his family. His father loves coming back and seeing old friends. His mother Mary, who has been equally influential to his success, will be cheering him on again today. His grandparents, both over 80 years old, have traveled to almost every NESCAC school the past 4 years to watch Greg, and will be in the stands this weekend as well. His brother and sister are in attendance when they don't have a game of their own. His aunts, uncles and cousins have been to many games as well.

"Having family behind you means a lot," Greg Stewart says.

Story by Paul Sweeney, Sports Information Coordinator, Tufts Athletics

Photo by Kelvin Ma, Tufts Photo

6. Putting Their Best Foot Forward

Growing up in Charles Town, a small town of around 3,000 in the eastern corner of West Virginia, Corey Mason knew early on that, outside of a major scholarship, his options for college were extremely limited. With divorced parents and his dad cutting grass for a living, Mason says he was "forced into a place where I needed to pay for my entire education myself."

But when he learned that he would receive an ROTC scholarship to study engineering anywhere he wanted, he began wondering what exactly there was beyond the "cornfields, cows and mountains" of West Virginia.


Being the first in his family to go to college, Mason sought help from some trusted neighbors whose grass he's cut since he was eight years old. "We were talking about Ivy Leagues and then they said, 'How about Tufts?' It seemed like a good reach for me."

Still he wondered, was he reaching too far? Would being at the top of his local high school AP calculus class be enough?

"I had taken all the same classes as everyone else coming to Tufts, but I was sincerely worried about how well the math program at my high school had actually prepared me," he says.

Fortunately for Mason-and Aliandro Brathwaite and Leticia Lopez-Benitez, fellow members of the School of Engineering's class of 2014-Tufts created a program to make engineering a viable option for interested students from all backgrounds.

Eight incoming engineering students from underrepresented populations enrolled in a six-week bridge program this summer, taking two classes for credit, participating in academic and college life workshops and gaining an edge in their math studies. Now the eight students are pursuing similar course schedules this fall and belong to the same first-year pre-major advising group, which will bring them together again several times throughout the semester.

"We know the faculty, most of us have a couple credits under our belt and we know the campus. And I know I am going to be friends with and have the support of these kids for the entire four years," Mason says.

Called BEST (Bridge to Engineering Success at Tufts), the program was piloted by the School of Engineering and the Center for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Diversity, in conjunction with the Office of Undergraduate Admissions.

A New Beginning
Mason had already applied to Tufts sight unseen when he came to April Open House earlier this year. He says he "fell in love" with the campus. "There was green grass in the middle of a big city."

The first Mason heard of the BEST program was upon opening his Tufts acceptance letter.

"'Your acceptance to Tufts is contingent upon the fact that you participate in a six-week bridge program called the BEST Scholars'-I don't know why I remember that word for word," Mason laughs. "I was really thankful to learn that part of the program was a calculus refresher specialized to our individual needs."

Once classes started, he realized quickly that he needed the program more than he could have imagined. "I knew I wasn't prepared, but I didn't know how unprepared I really was," says Mason, who is currently the only Tufts undergraduate from West Virginia. "Everything was new to me, people were three steps ahead of me and I was playing catch-up the entire six weeks."

After what he has deemed the hardest and best six-weeks of his life, Mason says he walked onto campus in September with an ace in his pocket: "I went in feeling a step ahead and I don't think anyone else is came in quite as prepared as the BEST Scholars."

Mason was far from alone when it came to his concerns, says Travis Brown, project manager for the Center for STEM Diversity.

While more than 90 percent of students who enter the School of Engineering as freshmen will graduate with an engineering degree, Brown notes that this success rate has not been achieved when it come to attracting and retaining African-American, Latino/Hispanic, Native American, low-income and first-generation engineering majors.

"There are a number of really strong students who apply for the School of Engineering, but may not have had the opportunity for adequate calculus preparation," Brown says. "Maybe they have taken AP classes, but scored a three or four instead of a five on the AP exam; maybe instead of a 750 on the math SATs, which is the average for engineering students, they scored in the high 600s to low 700s."

Taking the 'A' Train
Growing up in Brooklyn, N.Y., Aliandro Brathwaite says his fascination with engineering started with public transportation.

"I'd always lived next to a subway line and I was interested in how it was built, how the very heavy trains stay on this elevated track," he says. "Even today, when I'm around the country, in a different city, I always look for an opportunity to experience their transportation system."


Brathwaite went to private school as a young boy, but things changed dramatically in third grade when his father died and money became tight.

"I was transferred to a public school with a much longer commute and an increased school size, going from about 400 students to 1,500," Brathwaite says. "It was a lot harder to adjust to the bigger class sizes and I wasn't getting the attention I needed."

By his sophomore year in high school, Brathwaite was given the opportunity to attend boarding school at St. Mark's in Southborough, Mass. Boosted by the additional academic support he received there, he began looking at engineering programs in New England for college.

The freshman says that BEST prepared him not just for the engineering curriculum, but all aspects of being a Jumbo.

"I think what surprised me most about the program was how candid and honest everyone was about what I should expect from my Tufts experience," he says. "By the end you know exactly what is going to happen, how hard the classes are going to be and what will be expected of you."

You Are Not Alone

Leticia Lopez-Benitez was born in East Boston shortly after her parents came to the United States looking for a better life.

"They were both born in El Salvador," she says. "My dad got his high school diploma there but didn't go to college due to financial issues, and my mother only completed up to seventh grade."


That was the same grade that Lopez-Benitez was in when she discovered her passion for engineering.

"The tsunami hit Indonesia in 2004, and I was given a science project to design a home that could survive a tsunami," she says. "I really enjoyed it, and I remember my teacher saying it was engineering-based, so from then on when people would ask me what I was interested in, I would say engineering."

As the school year progresses, Lopez-Benitez knows the network fostered over their six-week summer program is never too far away.

"With neither of my parents having gone to college, I don't have the support system from them when it comes to advice on classes and such," she says. "I really felt like the program was telling us, 'You are not alone.' "

Story by Kaitlin Provencher, Web Communications.
Photos by Alonso Nichols, University Photography.

7. Mentoring a City

Watching her mother provide foster care to a number of children over the years, Abby Copeman (G'14) learned at an early age that when it comes to opportunity, not all children are dealt the same hand.

As she pursues a doctoral degree in child development at Tufts, Copeman is doing her part to close that opportunity gap. She spent the summer working on a new initiative called SomerPromise, which is helping Somerville's youngest residents reach their potential by setting them up to succeed in school and engaging their parents more fully in the education system.

Elizabeth Pufall Jones, Ph.D. candidate in child development from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences this spring and Laura Tolkoff (G'12), a graduate student in urban and environmental policy and planning, also took part.

Similar to the Harlem Children's Zone project, a program designed to end the cycle of generational poverty for thousands of children in New York City, SomerPromise is piloting several initiatives for families in the Mystic Housing Development, one of the largest public housing projects in Massachusetts, through the neighboring Arthur Healey School. A number of groups at Tufts are contributing to SomerPromise, including the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Development and the Department of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning in the School of Arts and Sciences and Tisch College, which has so far supported three Child Development and UEP courses as well as these summer fellowships, through their Project PERIS (Partnering for Economic Recovery Impact through Service).

This summer's programming is just the beginning of what the city hopes will eventually be the integration of many social services, giving families a single, accessible site where they can get a full range of services from education to health to jobs.

"Whether the end goal is going to college or vocational training for a career, we want to help community members accomplish that," says Tolkoff, who worked as project coordinator in Mayor Joseph Curtatone's office. "There are a ton of services in Somerville," she says, "but there are also a lot of gaps in terms of who is being covered and who is not, and it is being reflected in student achievement" in the city's public schools.

"People living in public housing can often be the hardest population to reach due to language barriers and other issues, so the Mystic Housing Development is a good starting point for a program that we eventually hope to expand into greater Somerville," says Tolkoff. The program's focus is on the children, since "we have them for at least six hours a day in school," she adds.

A Summer of Promise

Copeman led a kindergarten transition project at the Healey School, focusing on social and emotional skills like sitting in a circle and standing in line, as well as academic skills like basic counting and writing. Jones worked with The Welcome Project, a community based group that works with the city's immigrant population, to learn directly from parents in the Mystic Housing Development about their challenges and successes with the Somerville school system.

"We heard from the principal and from others in the community that they had a lot of kids who came into the kindergarten who were really well prepared after coming from private pre-schools and other pre-kindergarten programs," Copeman says. "But then they had a lot of kids, particularly from the Mystic, lower-income and immigrant families, who hadn't had the pre-school experience and were already behind coming into kindergarten."

The transition project Copeman worked on sought to make sure all students from the Mystic development would enter kindergarten at about the same level as their peers. While the number of participants was small, Copeman says the program gave parents tangible results. "I hope through this experience the parents feel more comfortable coming into the school, now that they've seen what it's like and know there are people here to help them," Copeman says.

Jones worked on building relationships with parents, holding focus groups and meeting with individual parents, learning more about their experiences in Somerville and how those compared to their own education in their home countries. With the help of local, multi-lingual teens trained as interpreters by The Welcome Project, Jones was able to collect data on the greatest needs of the community.

"The biggest thing that has come across is that the residents here really care about their children and their children's education, but they struggle with finding ways to communicate that with the school, as well as having the school communicate with them effectively," Jones says. "The communication issues are both on a language level and a cultural level, as they try to understand the politics around education."

While Jones helped set the groundwork for this part of the initiative, The Welcome Project ultimately plans to use the information to set up an advisory board of parents in the Mystic Housing Development that would convene on a regular basis and advise the schools and city hall.

"It was really a grass roots sort of thing," Jones says. "It's letting the parents know there are these changes that are going on in their neighborhood and we want their voices to be heard."

As the coordinator for these summer initiatives, Tolkoff says she got to see how "all the moving pieces" come together.

"For students like me, it's easy to get trapped up in your ideas of what's right, how the world should run and all how these new programs that should be done," Tolkoff says. "In reality, there are a lot of constraints."

"Community development projects can be frustrating," says Copeman, "because it feels like things move really slowly while you're trying to get everyone on board and making sure people are comfortable that things are not getting rushed through. There is tension between making progress and making sure we are doing things in a thoughtful, careful way."

Story by Kaitlin Provencher, Web Communications.

8. Community Day 2010

More than 2,000 people came to the Medford/Somerville campus on Sept. 26 to celebrate Tufts' 8th annual Community Day.

Thirty-eight city and community organizations from Medford and Somerville were represented, along with 30 Tufts departments. Those attending enjoyed free food and performances by several of Tufts' a cappella groups, including the Beelzebubs, Amalgamates and Jackson Jills, as well as the dance troupe BlackOut, the percussion group B.E.A.T.S. and more.

Tufts' children's theater group, Traveling Treasure Trunk, entertained the kids, who also got their faces painted and participated in arts and crafts. Grownups got to learn how to salsa or ballroom dance and discuss Tufts research with faculty members. Among those on hand were David Kaplan, a professor of biomedical engineering who explained his silkworm research, and biology graduate student Natasha Tigreros, G12, who is investigating butterfly reproduction.

Student groups hosting demonstrations and other activities included the Tufts Robotics Club, Tufts Smile Squad, Engineers Without Borders, Leonard Carmichael Society and the Sharewood Project, while Tufts Athletics, Tisch Library, the Department of Music, the Office of Sustainability and other groups shared information about their resources and services.

Photos by Kelvin Ma and Alonso Nichols, Tufts Photo

9. Experimental Learning

The eight students paired off in a Tufts chemistry lab, conducting an experiment to determine whether the soy in certain food products had been genetically modified. They chatted about their classes. Their instructors stood nearby, occasionally chiming in to coach them on the next phase of the experiment or sharing in a laugh.

The students on this particular day were area high school science teachers. Their instructors were Tufts undergraduates.

The teachers came to the Medford/Somerville campus for a week this summer to be trained to conduct experiments with equipment they will use in their own classrooms this year as part of Tufts' Chemistry Organized Outreach Partnership (CO-OP).

In addition to lending out state-of-the art equipment to cash-strapped public schools, the outreach program is giving Tufts undergraduates an opportunity to lead experiments in area high schools and show their younger counterparts that a career in science is within reach-and pretty cool to boot.

Local high school science teachers meet with Prof. David Walt

The inspiration for CO-OP came from David Walt, the Robinson Professor of Chemistry in the School of Arts and Sciences. After being named a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor in 2006 and receiving $1 million to develop curricular innovations in undergraduate science education, he decided he wanted to develop experiments for students in grades K-12, building on a program he runs with Tufts undergraduates in local high school science classrooms.

One stumbling block has been the condition of chemistry equipment at the high schools. "We kept finding high school chemistry labs full of broken or obsolete equipment, uncalibrated micropipettes and dwindling budgets for laboratory apparatus," says Walt.

To bridge that gap, Walt conceived of a lending library to provide chemistry equipment-and the associated maintenance-to schools in Somerville, Medford, Malden and Boston's Chinatown neighborhood. Some of the equipment, like the thermal cycler that can replicate DNA, is new, while some is being donated from Tufts' own labs.

The program, which began in September, is funded in part by $50,000 from the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation Special Grant Program in the Chemical Sciences.

Doing, Not Talking

For teachers who are eager to engender in their students an excitement for laboratory science but don't have the resources in their own schools to do so, the partnership with Tufts is a boon.

"I really want to find kids and inspire them to study science, but I need an interesting hook," says Rocco Cieri, a science teacher at Medford High School. The experiments he learned at Tufts-testing soy products for genetic modification and analyzing maternal ancestry-may just do the trick.

Amanda Tsoi, who teaches at Somerville High, says in the past she would talk to her chemistry students about genetic testing or maternal ancestry, and "it would sound like magic, or at worse be completely indecipherable. Now, "to actually have an experiment where you're doing this lab, it makes the idea more realistic," she says.

Diem Ho (left) of Malden High and Audrey Carmosino of Medford High complete a step in the experiment, as Jan Fouad (A'11) watches.

Ultimately, students also need to learn the most important science lesson of all: failure.

"In the classroom, we may do an experiment, but it's an experiment in name only. I know how it's going to end, and they know how it's going to end," says Somerville High School science teacher Chris Angelli. "It's important to show them that science doesn't always work, and that's why we call them experiments."

"Students need to be prepared for failure," says Walt. "They need to understand how to overcome that."

The program also shows high school students who don't have many role models who have attended college "that it is a path they can take," says Angelli. "There is a career they could pursue in science, and this is their first step."

Two-Way Learning

The week of training for the high school teachers was developed and led by Tufts seniors Jan Fouad, Dan Rodkey and Shrikar Rajagopal, in consultation with Walt, Meredith Knight, the coordinator for CO-OP, and graduate student mentors. They selected the labs with an eye to what topics would engage high school students.

The Tufts students "began to take ownership and make a huge amount of progress," says Walt. "There was a team of minds that were working and bringing in new perspectives and ideas to the project that I couldn't do myself."

"It drives you to do better when you have to come up with your protocols and what you need to do once you fail," says Fouad, a biology major. "It drives you to work harder and understand what you're doing more."

"It was increased pressure and responsibility, but I think it was more fun that way," adds Rodkey, a chemical engineering major.

The undergraduates said they also surprised themselves with the expertise they gained while teaching the teachers.

From left: Seniors Dan Rodkey, Shrikar Rajagopal and Jan Fouad

"You start explaining things to [the high school teachers], and it starts pouring off your tongue, and it's like, 'Wow, that was all in there somewhere,' " says Rajagopal, also a biology major. "It felt good."

On top of the science, the Tufts students serve as role models for the high school students, answering questions about college life and making science more accessible. For the three Tufts students, who had similar introductions to science when they were in high school, they see their involvement in CO-OP as an opportunity to mentor those who might follow them into majoring in a science in college. Walt also sees it as potentially laying the groundwork for a lifetime of service.

"I think some of these Tufts students want to build on this aspect," he says. "They want to stay connected with their communities over time."

That's what Walt has done through his outreach to area schools during his nearly three decades at Tufts. He says part of what drives him is a conviction in what these young people are capable of accomplishing.

"They have a tremendous capability and capacity to absorb and learn new material," Walt says. His hypothesis: if you encourage those for whom science sets off a spark, "you'll see some dramatic results." For Walt, that's what makes CO-OP a successful experiment.

Story by Georgiana Cohen, Web Communications

Photos by Zara Tzanev for Tufts Photo

10. All the World's a Stage

Sarah Ullman (A'10) attended the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland as a child. In thinking about a perfect coda for her four years at Tufts, she came up with one crazy idea: return to the world's largest arts festival to direct a play.

Pretty daunting, right?

Ullman and the ten students [ full list ] comprising cast and crew from the Tufts student theater troupe Pen, Paint and Pretzels-known as 3Ps, and celebrating its centennial this year-raised $25,000 doing everything from web fundraising to selling grilled cheese sandwiches at 1 a.m. for a buck apiece to finance the trip.

In mid-August, after months of rehearsing and earning the money-with help from University Advancement, the Office of the Provost and the Office of Undergraduate Education-they boarded a plane to Scotland and staged a 16-night run of two plays by Sam Shepard, "Icarus's Mother" and "Red Cross."

From left: Logan Reed (A'11), Rachel Schoenbrun (A'13), Joe Pikowski (A'10), Zoe Marmer (A'13) and Brady Pierce (A'11) in "Icarus's Mother."

"I still can't quite come to grips with the fact that we actually did this," says Brady Pierce (A'11).

For the actors, the prospect of representing Tufts on an international stage for more than two weeks was hard to pass up.

"This is the theater we do every single day, every semester. This is how we grow," says Logan Reed (A'11). "It's wonderful to share that with other people and show the world how we represent Tufts theater."

The biggest barrier to entering the Edinburgh Fringe Festival is simply getting yourself to Scotland and finding a venue to host your production, Ullman says.

On the Fringe

In Edinburgh the students stuck to a routine-exploring the city, putting up fliers for their show and catching other performances during the day, and then cooking a group dinner before walking to Merchants' Hall, a 19th-century building in the heart of the city, to perform their 9 p.m. show.

Ullman chose the two Sam Shepard plays because they are challenging, but also because she wanted to bring an American playwright's work to the U.K.

"Although the plays were written about 45 years ago, they remain highly relevant," says Reed. "It is very much our world and the feelings that people are feeling."

The group spent a significant amount of time trying to understand Shepard's work and who the characters were they were each playing.

Schoenbrun and Pikowski in "Red Cross"

"They're so obscure and so absurd that our main goal in the way that we translate this to the audience is to just get the feeling across," says Zoe Marmer (A'13). "Our main goal is to make [the audience feel] uncomfortable and weird along with us.

Performing at the festival allowed the group to develop the show over a long run-a rare opportunity for college actors. For any given show at Fringe, the average audience is about a half dozen people-some nights more, some nights less. With a small audience, the performance became more personal.

"It became more about what was happening on stage for us," says Reed. "We began to realize the show was more about developing this piece and challenging ourselves in this piece, and whoever showed up would get to experience this with us."

"The hardest part was getting used to the fact that you can't take any audience member for granted," says Ullman. "Anyone who comes to your show is a gift."

Performance Notes

Over the months of rehearsing, fundraising, traveling and performing, the members of the troupe grew close. "It's one of the best things about student theater, that you build relationships with people," says Joe Pikowski (A'10).

They were also inspired by being in residence with an international community of professional actors. "It was nice to get to talk to people and feel a sense of importance that we made it to Edinburgh to be a part of that large community," says Reed.

A scene from "Icarus's Mother"

Reed, who will direct Torn Ticket II's fall production "Assassins," says his Edinburgh experience-both what he learned from performing with 3Ps and from watching other performances-will influence how he approaches the show.

Pierce says he derived a different, but no less valuable lesson, from the experience: "If you want to make something happen, the only way to do it is to engage yourself and make sure that something is happening," he says. "I don't know if I'll be doing theater the rest of my life, but I know I'll have to advocate for things I believe in for the rest of my life."

Story by Georgiana Cohen, Web Communications

Photos courtesy of Pen, Paint and Pretzels