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Sidebar Contents:

 Tools for Life Long Learning/Adaptive Technology

 Museum Studies

 Program Evaluation

 Post B.A., Pre-med


TOOLS FOR LIFELONG LEARNING
ADAPTIVE TECHNOLOGY

Mary Hill Peters describes herself as a teacher who likes to find solutions

For some 14 years she has worked at the Perkins School for the Blind with blind and deaf children for whom simple tasks can seem overwhelming. Peters finds herself frequently thinking up inventive ways to help her students accomplish tasks like brushing their teeth, pulling on their socks or climbing into a bathing suit.

In solving such challenges, Peters has collaborated with occupational and physical therapists to strategize and invent devices to meet specific challenges. “I have terrific respect for them and their understanding of the human body," she says. “More often than not, a clinician will come up with a dream or idea and we will attempt to make it a reality.”

While looking for a program that would give her a nuts and bolts education—“I didn't want to write a thesis. I’m too pragmatic”—Peters discovered a brochure for Assistive Technology among some conference papers. The program, offered in collaboration with the Department of Psychology, the College of Engineering, and the Boston School of Occupational Therapy, sounded like a match. Anticipating the increasing need for adaptive equipment, the program is geared toward therapists, architects, engineers and special needs educators who want to help individuals achieve independence.

“I was pleased to find something so compact: four courses, two required and two electives,” says Peters. “It was perfect.”

A 1972 graduate of Fitchburg State College, Peters also sees her technical preparation as a natural extension of her training in special education. She was one of the first in Massachusetts to be certified in special education and in 1982 she earned a master’s in vocational rehabilitation from UMass-Boston.

Her professional growth has always been a means toward the greater good, and not only at Perkins. As a supervisor of international student teachers from programs for the deaf and blind, she marvels at the challenges other countries are facing. She recently traveled to Bulgaria, where she shared ideas for programs to serve blind, multihandicapped students.

So far, the Tufts courses are paying off. After one assistive technology class on wheeled mobility, Peters dreamt about a child who has special difficulties walking.
“I dreamt about a walker for a child who really needs a kind of seat along with the walker,” says Peters. “I described it to a physical therapist, who asked a few more questions, and within a week she had designed a prototype. It’s working, and the child is delighted. I’m learning there’s so much more I can do by thinking a little differently.”

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MUSEUM STUDIES

For Jim Wagner, a hat belonging to Rose Kennedy does more than describe fashion trends. Worn in the late 1930s, while her husband was Ambassador to the Court of St. James, the hat features a wooden stork and nine figurines, one for each of her children.

“I feel it epitomizes the pride she must have felt as a mother,” says Wagner. “I was intrigued by that piece from the first time I saw it and wanted to learn more about it.”

As a staff assistant at the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum in Boston, Wagner had the opportunity to research and tell the hat’s story as part of the coursework for the Tufts Museum Studies certificate program. Offered in collaboration with the Departments of Art History, History and Education, the program draws on the expertise of Tufts faculty as well as that of museum professionals at the Concord Museum, the Davis Museum at Wellesley College, and the Museum of Fine Arts, among other resources.

Working in the JFK museum, first as a volunteer and later as a curatorial assistant helping with the inventory of some 17,000 artifacts, Wagner brought his certificate assignments to bear on preservation, conservation, and research at the world’s leading research center on John F. Kennedy. At the same time, he stretched himself beyond his everyday responsibilities.

For his certificate internship, for example, he planned, designed and installed an exhibit at the Provincetown Museum on Cape Cod that celebrated the life of the founder of the Provincetown airport and one of the country’s first commuter airlines. His commitment to museum work as a career goal, and to strengthening his museum skills comes, he admits, as a bit of a surprise.

“I’ve always been interested in history, although I never imagined making a career in the museum world until I was actually doing it,” says Wagner, who majored in English as an undergraduate at Merrimac College. “But I can’t say enough good things about the Tufts program. It strengthened my abilities in everything I was doing here. It was the first time I ever really studied something in terms of a career.”

Wagner’s latest project is assisting in the planning of an exhibition on the April 1962 dinner for the Nobel Prize winners of the Western Hemisphere. It was the largest dinner the Kennedys hosted while in the White House. Stories like these, told through such exhibits, he says, consistently reveal the potential of museums to enliven history. “There are still many stories to tell here and thousands of artifacts yet to be inventoried,” he says. “As I found with Rose Kennedy’s hat, those stories are just waiting to be discovered.”

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PROGRAM EVALUATION

Joy Larson’s life has an enviable international flavor. She has consulted on housing policy in Estonia and on economic and environmental programs in Bolivia, Jordan and Nicaragua. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire), she spent six months on a program evaluation project that looked at the relationship between deforestation and child nutrition.

But after she moved to Cambridge in the fall of 1997 with her husband and two small children, she realized it was time to rethink how she could use her economics skills closer to home. “I didn’t want to travel internationally anymore, but rather focus on domestic issues, particularly affordable housing, and to develop program evaluation skills,” she says. “I had also taken off time to have children and wanted to reenter the job market in a new field where I had few connections and little direct experience.”

Today, Larson’s bridge is Tufts’ Program Evaluation certificate, a new program aimed at mid-career professionals and others interested in program evaluation. Tapping faculty from the Departments of Child Development and Urban and Environmental Policy, the School of Nutrition Science and Policy and the School of Medicine, the program draws professionals from fields as diverse as social service, public health, community development and environmental protection.

Larson, who earned an undergraduate degree in economics from the University of Colorado, Boulder, and a master’s degree in agricultural economics from the University of Wisconsin, says: “I can now build important skills and make a transition to a new field without enrolling in a full-time graduate program. It has also provided me with links to the community.”

Through the certificate’s flexible schedule, Larson balances family responsibilities with schoolwork. At the same time, she enoys the chance to delve more deeply into an emerging interest, affordable housing. And being a student again has been a positive experience. She speaks enthusiastically about her first course, “Program Evaluation.” For her final project she wrote a plan for evaluating the role of tenant participation in large-scale public housing reconstruction projects.

“I loved it,” she says. “Fran Jacobs [professor of child development] was marvelous, very high energy and accessible. I learned a great deal from her and the students as well.” Looking ahead, Larson is optimistic that her coursework is a good investment in building a career. Federal agencies and others are increasingly requiring evaluations as a provision for funding; designing and implementing effective evaluation strategies will put her back in the arena of addressing social needs. “Program evaluation is a growing field,” she says. “This program will be an important step toward refocusing my diverse experiences into a useful and rewarding career.”

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POST-BACCALAUREATE, PRE-MEDICAL

Jonathan Berz, A94, started thinking about medical school during his junior year in Paris, when he made friends with biology majors. As an international studies major, he found the discipline of biology comparatively "down to earth." When he got back to Tufts, he signed up for physiology and was "inspired."

After graduation, Berz worked with AmeriCorps in Memphis, tutoring inner-city children in math and reading, but it was an additional job in the trauma unit of the city's public hospital that opened his eyes to the responsibilities of the medical profession.

"I saw everything from gunshot wounds to some gruesome, desperate situations," he says. "But it was the helping aspect that appealed to me and at that time the science of medicine, in particular, physiology, was really interesting in itself as well."

Dimitri Bacos, A93, tells a similar story. For him, a medical career didn't come as an epiphany but emerged from his life experience and a "craving" to learn a hard science. He majored in English and enjoyed writing fiction and poetry, but his thoughts about medicine became focused teaching English in Romania with the Peace Corps. "I was challenged by my limited ability to really change anything," he says. "I knew I wanted to work in developing nations, and I thought that as a doctor my capacity would be broadened by medical training."

These experiences brought Berz and Bacos back to Tufts after graduation. While neither was a science major or pre-med, the Post-Baccalaureate Premedical Program gave them a second chance to take the courses necessary for applying to medical school. A minimum of six courses in biology, chemistry and physics, and calculus prepares students for careers in medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine, occupational therapy, or nursing, among other health care professions.

Now both are students at Tufts Medical School, where the drive and inspiration that drew them to pre-med studies is apparent. "I'm glad the program was there," says Berz. "It gave me a chance to explore, to take my time choosing a career in medicine."While Berz is not sure what his specialty will be, he has already made a strong commitment to public health. He volunteers at the Sharewood Project in Chinatown, an urgent-care service run by Tufts medical students on Tuesday evenings for uninsured community members.

"I was attracted to the idealism of it all," says Berz. "It is a free clinic and it's a way to get hands-on experience in medicine . . . I am really interested in being a human to patients, not a detached scientist. I see myself as someone who, as a primary care physician, will be involved in the people side of the disease."

That idealism is shared by Bacos as well. Enrolled in the MD/MPH program (a joint degree in medicine and public health), he is pursuing a growing interest in epidemiology and hopes to work in Bangledesh this summer.

He is particularly interested in exploring nontraditional medicine, and helped form a student group that augments regular coursework with studies in holistic and humanistic health care, such as a recent visit to the New England School of Acupuncture. "What appeals to me in medicine is the constant cutting-edge nature," he says. "You can never really learn enough."

Looking back, he is grateful that the Post-Bac Pre-Med program recognizes that some undergraduates need more time than others to discover their career goals. "I really never anticipated being a doctor; not everyone is geared to it since birth," says Bacos, who sustains his literary passions by writing in a journal and reading. "The Peace Corps gave me a way to experience the world, and provided a safety net while I figured out what I wanted to do. I'm glad that the Post-Bac program exists, so I can fulfill one life and pursue another one later on."

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