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Week of 20 November 1998

Vol. II, No. 15

Feature Article

Menino Fellowship to support students of historic preservation

by Eric McHenry

A newly created preservation studies fellowship, Richard Candee says, will help build savings for those who help save buildings.

The Thomas M. Menino Legacy Fellowship is meant simultaneously to honor a mayor with a strong record of support for historic preservation and to help finance the education of promising young preservationists.

At an October 29 reception announcing the creation of the Thomas M. Menino Legacy Fellowship for the GRS preservation studies program, Mayor Menino (left) greets Alan Schwartz, former chairman of the Boston Landmarks Commission and an alumnus of the program. Looking on (from left) are BU Chancellor John Silber, in whose office the reception was held, BU President Jon Westling, and Richard Candee, director of the preservation studies program. Photo by Kalman Zabarsky

"We had three wonderful incoming students who were forced to defer because they simply didn't have the cash, and because I didn't have the resources to make sure they got here," says Candee, director of the preservation studies program in the GRS department of American studies. "Limited financial aid to master's students is the most serious deficiency the preservation studies program has."

The fellowship was announced at an October 29 ceremony in BU Chancellor John Silber's office. Conceived by Candee and three program graduates who have gone on to careers in the field of historic preservation, it will provide tuition remission to students in exchange for their work as interns for regional preservation agencies. Initially, Candee says, it will support one student on a year-by-year basis. He hopes, however, that several annual fellowships will ultimately be funded in perpetuity.

"We announced the fellowship in hopes of people being generous," Candee says, "and our prospects appear to be pretty good. But we're still very much in the fundraising stages."

From biochemistry to maritime history

Colleen Oates (GRS'99) is the administrative director for Cushing House, a 19th-century federal mansion in Newburyport. It's a job that nicely complements her graduate-level study of historic preservation. But Oates' true enthusiasms are paint analysis and structural survey.

"I'm primarily interested in preservation consulting," she says.

Preservation studies is among the most interdisciplinary of disciplines. It can demand a working knowledge of subjects as varied as engineering, Colonial American history, and finance.

Oates, as it happens, majored in biochemistry as an undergraduate. "I found preservation appealing for its tactile component," she says. "I had done summer construction work during high school and college. I saw preservation studies as a way of combining my tactile knowledge and my chemical knowledge in some sort of framework.

"Preservation theory is something that very much appeals to me because of the recycling ethic," she adds. "It entails maintaining historical resources as well as physical resources."

Preservation studies has only come into its own as a discipline within the past two decades, Oates says. BU's is one of about 20 master's programs nationwide. According to Albert Rex (GRS'94), director of the Boston Preservation Alliance, the program is uniquely well situated because Boston is a uniquely historic city.

"BU is such a great place for a preservation program," he says. "There's so much hands-on experience to be had right here, in and around the city. It's a training center."

Oates agrees. She hopes to remain in the area after completing her degree, pursuing a newfound passion within the field.

"I'm really starting to get seduced by the North Shore and maritime history," she says. "I'm interested in old seaside towns and how they operate now, the compromises they have to make as tourism becomes their principal industry."

The fellowship has been created in cooperation with the Boston Landmarks Commission, the Boston Main Streets program, the Boston Preservation Alliance, the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, and the Northeast Regional Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. These organizations, whether publicly funded or private and nonprofit, typically aren't budgeted to pay graduate student interns. But the BU preservation studies program requires a paid internship for all master's candidates. Candee says the fellowship is one way of helping students fulfill that requirement, and of ensuring that the work they do is germane to their discipline.

"So many students have had to take jobs unrelated to preservation just in order to afford their education," says Candee. "We're setting up the fellowship in order to place very good students in those Boston agencies and nonprofit organizations, giving them a terrific experience in urban preservation."

Many of the most prominent local preservationists, Candee notes, are products of BU's program. These alumni are valuable resources, returning to give guest lectures, mentoring current students, and providing them with points of entry to local agencies.

The fellowship, therefore, helps codify an existing synergism between the program, organizations devoted to historic preservation, and the city of Boston. Students profit from the work experience and financial assistance. The program, in turn, is able to draw the best-qualified students and to provide them with a top-notch experience. Preservation agencies get excellent interns and potential full-time employees. All of this has obvious and myriad benefits for a city full of historic sites.

Preservation has been a principal concern of Menino's since he first entered public office. As a city councilor for Roslindale, he brought the Boston area its first Main Street program -- a town center revitalization initiative that had enjoyed considerable success in the Midwest. Since becoming mayor in 1995, he's expanded the program to encompass some 20 other districts in the Boston area.

"Boston's Main Streets program is a model for the country," says Albert Rex (GRS'94), director of the Boston Preservation Alliance and one of the Menino Fellowship's architects. "It's the first truly urban Main Streets program. It had been implemented successfully in towns across the country, but it had never been tested at this level."

"Mayor Menino essentially said, 'What's a big city but a collection of small towns?' " says Candee, adding that Menino also served as an advisor to the National Trust for Historic Preservation for nearly a decade. "We're not naming a fellowship for him just because he's the mayor. Thomas Menino has had an ongoing, absolutely influential role in historic preservation in Boston. It's among his strongest reasons for being in public service. He and the fellowship are a wonderful match."