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NewsOct 18, 2023

Celebrating Lesley with family and friends

Full weekend of informational panels, dinners and other events mark university milestones, plans for the future

By John Sullivan

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.

Washburn Lounge, people dinding at tables while video shown on screen
People gather and dine in Washburn Auditorium for a Family & Friends Weekend celebration event for the Urban Scholars Initiative. A video featuring key people from USI's past played during part of the luncheon.

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.”

Gloria Noronha talking with Barbara Russell
Vice President for Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Justice Gloria Noronha, left, converses with Trustee Barbara Russell, a Lesley alumna, during the Urban Scholars Initiative celebration luncheon. (Photo by Ben Zackin)

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.”

People at ceremonial groundbreaking at reed and burnham hall
President Janet L. Steinmayer, center, and others took part in a ceremonial groundbreaking outside of historic Reed and Burnham Halls on our South Campus during Family & Friends Weekend. (Photo by Ben Zackin)

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.”

President Steinmayer speaks with panelists prior to UHall amnphitheater event, podium in foreground with Lesley logo
President Janet L. Steinmayer, standing right, speaks to members of an alumni panel prior to the start of a presentation on how Lesley prepares graduates for the workplace.

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.

presentation in UHall amphitheater, Jen Thorell at podium, panelists at long table speaking to crowd seated in auditorium
Graduates of our Threshold Program discussed their challenges and successes in the workplace during an informational panel event.

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.

hans strauch in st. John's chapel
Board of Trustees Chair Hans Strauch speaks in St. John's Memorial Chapel on our South Campus during Family & Friends Weekend. He celebrated the diversity of architecture on the campus and mentioned that he submitted a sketch of Sherrill Library as part of his application to architectural college — and he got into all 10 he applied to! (Photo by Ben Zackin)

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.