MetroBridge Program Connects BU Students, Faculty & Local Governments in Fall 2020 Projects

By Claudia Chiappa

In the fall 2020 semester, MetroBridge continued to benefit students at Boston University and local governments despite disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. MetroBridge is an Initiative on Cities program that connects students and local communities by embedding real-world projects for local governments into courses across Boston University, giving students a valuable experiential education opportunity while providing support to local communities. Students in six graduate and undergraduate classes  worked-on six ambitious projects, which we will highlight  in a series of articles coming during the spring 2021 semester.

Students, with faculty support and supervision, examined issues ranging from the COVID-19 pandemic to racial equality and public health. Collaborating with local partners, students delivered projects which will contribute to the growth and betterment of Massachusetts communities.

“Our students and faculty had the opportunity to help local governments and community organizations in navigating COVID, addressing racial equity, and creating age-friendly services,” shared Emily Robbins, MetroBridge Program Manager. “As always, we are extremely grateful for our partners and the opportunity to help them advance key priorities.”

Community-Driven Design Concepts to Honor the Lives Lost to COVID-19 in Revere, MA.

The City of Revere, a state-designated “high-risk” community for COVID-19, has experienced over 5,000,100 cases and over 100 deaths due to the virus as of this writing. Assistant Professor Rébecca Bourgault and students in her Art, Community, and Social Engagement class worked with the Revere Health Division to create community-driven design concepts and ideas to commemorate the lives lost to COVID-19. Working with health providers, local officials, community leaders, and residents of the city, the students learned from their experiences and worked to honor the victims with projects that aimed to build a “community healing process.” Students presented ideas including murals, a memorial wall garden, a labyrinth, and an event to bring people together on Halloween. In a presentation, report, and memo to city officials, students outlined the details of each plan, detailing the meaning behind each choice and the positive impact it can have on the community.

Analysis of COVID-19 Challenges and Responses in Gateway Cities

A team of undergraduate’s students in Assistant Professor Joseph Harris’s Politics of Global Health class conducted a study focused on the unique challenges faced by Massachusetts Gateway Cities during the COVID-19 crisis. Working with the New Bedford Health Department, the students examined New Bedford and other cities in Massachusetts—including Fall River, Lowell, Lawrence, and Cambridge to examine not only what particular struggles those cities faced but also how they responded to them. Through interviews, statistics, and other research, the students presented their findings and proposed recommendations through a presentation to city officials and community members, and are producing a report and memo for New Bedford officials. This project provides insight on the cities’ responses in a time of crisis, so that they  can learn from each other and better prepare for future COVID-19 waves or other crises.

Insight into Community Processes in Framingham to Help Inform the Mayor’s Racial Equity Initiative

The City of Framingham’s Racial Equity Initiative aims to advance the city’s efforts in equity and inclusion through educating residents, engaging them in community conversations, and to implement activities designed to help residents understand how they can take action on racial equity and antiracism. Associate Professor Katherine Einstein and her Inequality and American Politics students supported the Racial Equity Initiative through research which explored ways the City of Framingham can improve its equity and inclusion efforts. Students watched town hall meetings, looked at issues with potential racial dimensions such as multi-housing development, and examined the composition and language of city boards, commissions, and committees to determine what steps the City of Framingham can take to become more representative of its residents and more inclusive.

Designing an Automated Online System for Framingham’s School Choice Process

A team of undergraduate students in Dharmesh Tarapore’s Software Engineering course worked with Framingham Public Schools to explore how to effectively move the district’s elementary-level school assignment process from a paper-based, manual system to an online, automated one. The students developed an algorithm for a computer program that can match students with their school assignments in response to the district’s struggles in finding a software vendor that could satisfy their need. The aim of the project was to help the school district determine which technical requirements they should include in future Requests for Proposals (RFPs) from vendors offering school assignment software programs and provide Framingham with a valuable proof of concept.

Community Focus Groups on Healthy Aging in Easton

The Town of Easton is currently implementing a year-long community engagement and planning process in preparation for becoming a member of AARP’s Age-Friendly Communities national network. Last year, MetroBridge assisted the town in the first phase of the process with resident surveys and interviews to better understand the needs of aging residents. This semester, graduate students in Assistant Professor Yesim Sungu-Eryilmaz’s Urban Research Methods course assisted the town by facilitating virtual focus groups with residents. These focus groups allowed the town to collect data which the students then coded and analyzed. The students will soon present to city officials and will also provide a full report and memo of their findings.

Community Survey on Healthy Aging in Martha’s Vineyard

Assistant Professor Jessica Simes and students in her Sociological Methods class worked with Healthy Aging Martha’s Vineyard (HAMV) to create and administer a survey to older residents of the island. The survey, based on a 2015 Brandeis survey, explored the residents’ housing choices and their concerns related to transportation, equity, and physical and mental health— among other topics. The survey also included questions related to COVID-19 that aimed to assess how the virus affected the lives of Martha’s Vineyard residents. HAMV will use the results to better target their programming and more effectively support the aging population on the island.

Stay-tuned for more about the MetroBridge Program, as we will highlight some projects in more detail during the spring 2021 semester. To stay up-to-date follow us on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook, or subscribe to our newsletter.