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Skills That Shape the City

MET and mayor honor city workers in master’s programs

Daniel LeClair, chair of the MET department of applied social sciences (left), and Dion Irish (MET’07) at a reception honoring the achievements of Boston municipal employees. Photo by Kalman Zabarsky

When Indira Alvarez analyzes statistics on Boston public housing residents, she sees more than just numbers. Alvarez (MET’07), assistant director of the city of Boston’s housing division, recently took a course in statistics for her master’s in urban affairs. “The class that I did for statistics helped me understand what these numbers mean,” she says, “so I don’t feel like I’m doing this in vain anymore.”

Alvarez is one of 22 municipal employees honored at the Castle on January 18 for applying what they learn while earning their master’s degrees at Metropolitan College. Boston Mayor Thomas Menino (Hon.’01) congratulated the employees for their educational efforts and for the fresh perspectives they bring to their work.

“I’m a firm believer in programs like this, which educate our workforce and make them better prepared to deal with their jobs,” says Menino.

Those honored are studying at MET through BU’s City Scholar program, which offers full scholarships to Boston employees for graduate study. The scholarship covers tuition and all costs for up to 12 credits a semester. For city employees working full-time, the combination of the scholarship program and night courses opens a door to higher education that might otherwise be closed.

“Without the partnership with Boston University and the city of Boston, I wouldn’t be able to afford to go to school, especially with three kids,” says Alvarez. “Now I’m able to tell my kids the sky’s the limit and no, you cannot stop at high school.”

When Daniel LeClair, a MET professor, joined BU in 2001, he combined the programs in criminal justice, urban affairs, city planning, applied sociology, applied psychology, and prison education to create the department of applied social sciences, which he chairs. LeClair looked to the city of Boston to spread the word to its employees about the full scholarships offered by the City Scholar program.

“Most of the faculty work full-time in their area of specialty, and most of the students do,” says LeClair. “So the networking among the students and between the students and faculty is a wonderful mix and very good for career development, job mobility, and class discussion.”

One-third of the students in the urban affairs degree program work for the city. Among them is Selvin Chambers (MET’09), director of youth development and family services, who spearheaded the creation of the Help Increase the Peace Project, a program that recruits teenagers to teach other youth about why violence occurs and how to avoid it.

Chambers often uses what he’s learned in his courses in his work for the Boston Center for Youth and Families. In particular, he cites the “broken window” theory.

“One of the broken window theories is that in neighborhoods where windows stay broken, the message is, ‘Let’s keep tearing it down; it’s not of value,’” says Chambers. Instead, the solution is to fix windows — and problems — right away. “In the work that I do, where we deal with problems in some of our youth programs, we address the issues immediately so that they don’t fester,” he says.

Alvarez and Dion Irish (MET’07), director of the city’s housing division, plan to use what they’ve learned in a course on analytical methods to keep tabs on all Boston public housing tenants.

“We’re going to create a system where we can analyze the participation rate in the rental program by neighborhood, because right now we just do it citywide,” says Irish. “We can compare the neighborhoods where we have a lot of complaints about distressed housing problems to see if they’re taking advantage of this proactive rental program, and then we can direct the resources where they should go rather than throw them at the entire city.”

The program’s students are earning master’s degrees in criminal justice, computer science, and arts administration, in addition to urban affairs.

Catherine Santore can be reached at csantore@bu.edu.