Several hundred people celebrated Lesley’s past, present and future at Family & Friends Weekend this year, attending presentations from alumni, sharing a luncheon to honor our Urban Scholars Initiative (USI) and learning about significant ongoing and future campus upgrades.
Family members, former faculty and staff and other Lesley supporters gathered last weekend for a wide-ranging array of events to mark the 1909-founded university’s changes, as well as to bask in the spirit of community.
The USI event harked back to the past, as well as the future. Vice President of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Justice Gloria Noronha and USI Student Success Coach Yamileyka Rojas showed a brief video featuring former Lesley administrators and staff who were instrumental in the founding and development of USI. People highlighted in the video included former Provost Selase Williams, past USI director Dr. Maritsa Barros, former Diversity, Equity and Inclusion director Amarildo “Lilu” Barbosa, as well as former staff members Jennifer Castro and Bwann Gwann.
However, Noronha also highlighted the future of the program, alluding to a post-graduation support initiative, USI Next, to help alumni navigate their careers and life after Lesley.
People, Noronha said, “need some booster skills on how to make it after college,” while Rojas added, “USI is all about community … showing up for one another every single day.”
That’s also true of Lesley students on the whole: showing up for one another and, ultimately, showing up for society.
“As you know, Lesley educates students for some of the most critically needed professions in our country. It confers the most degrees in New England in specialized education and mental health,” said President Janet L. Steinmayer at the luncheon celebrating USI, now in its 10th year. “In fact, according to an independent study, Lesley-trained educators are preferred among Massachusetts school administrators. The university is home to one of the country’s leading programs for practicing artists, known for having one of the highest percentages of graduates working in their fields of choice upon graduation.”
Steinmayer would reinforce this message several times during the weekend, underscoring Lesley’s legacy and continued importance to Cambridge and communities across the globe.
“These are fields that touch everyone in profound ways — teachers, mental health counselors, social workers, people running schools, mental health clinics, designers, fine artists, to name a few. They become mentors, coaches, caregivers who must build trust, inspire learning and change, and design solutions based on many factors, including cultural and religious norms, the constraints of poverty, and more.”
Many of these professionals over the weekend spoke about how Lesley prepared them for these important callings, sharing their stories at a variety of alumni panels.
Stephanie Spadorcia, acting dean of our Graduate School of Education, earned her bachelor’s degree at Lesley. She said her education helped her see the possibilities of a career in education beyond the noble profession of classroom teaching, adding that it has been invaluable to her role as a consultant and, eventually, as an academic administrator.
Michael Coleman, a 2018 Graphic Design graduate of our College of Art and Design, said Lesley not only helped him prepare a robust, diverse portfolio to launch his career, but also encouraged him to take chances and follow his artistic vision while preparing for the workplace.
“Moving out into the graphic-design world, you really need a great portfolio,” said Coleman, a senior grahic designer for Stark / Raving Graphic Design + Digital Marketing, a Boston-based design studio. However, he added that Lesley helped him “branch out and stay curious,” which added to his value in a competitive field.
“Staying true to your interests and not trying to people-please,” is how Coleman put it, saying that employers like his appreciate creativity and originality, since hiring managers can tell if you’re just submitting something that “you were told to do.”
“Learning how to learn is really something I appreciate learning here at Lesley,” he added.
Other alumni also extolled the virtues of Lesley’s caring, supportive lifelong instructional and mentoring model, particularly those who graduated from our Threshold Program for neurodiverse learners.
Speaking ot an audience of about 70 people in the University Hall amphitheater, Threshold alumni spoke about their various employers’ appreciation of their hard work and promptness, recollections corroborated by Threshold Executive Director Jennifer Thorell and Amanda Matarese, assistant vice president of Enrollment Management, Visitor Services and Events and Enrollment Operations.
“We hear from employers all the time about the positive experiences they have” with Threshold graduates and students,” Thorell said.
Matarese added that employers have told her that Threshold graduates “make the best team players” in their workplaces, from early childhood education centers to hospitals to hardware stores.
In addition to panel discussions, Family & Friends Weekend attendees enjoyed a comedy show, a stage hypnotist, a carnival and more. They also took campus tours and participated in a ceremonial groundbreaking on our South Campus in front of Reed and Burnham Hall, which is undergoing extensive renovation.
“We are excited about how this renovation of the Reed-Burnham Hall will contribute to the life of campus and Lesley as a whole,” said Lesley Board of Trustees Chair Hans Strauch, an award-winning architect, during a talk in our St. John’s Memorial Chapel, which will be renovated for an multidisciplinary arts center.