From the monthly archives: April 2008

I’m a lucky blogger today — someone else has done my writing for me! About a week ago, I heard from an incoming Fletcher student, Jessie Evans. Via email, Jessie told me this story:

After we were notified about our early admission, a group of us Boston locals got help from Peter VanDerwater in arranging an informal dinner on the Sunday night before the small Open House in January. Three of us were able to make it to dinner in Inman Square: Aparna Polavarapu, Joshua Haynes, and me. We had a great time at Punjabi Dhaba and the three of us have all gotten together a few times since to play. The twist, and what you might be interested in, is that Aparna emailed me shortly after our introduction and asked if I wanted to join her on a trip from London to Cameroon. In short, I said yes, and now two incoming students who didn’t know each other a few months ago are going on this crazy adventure together, really because Peter took the time to put us all in contact with one another. You can read about our plans on the web site we’ve set up.

Since then Jessie, on behalf of the other “Sandbox Savants,” has kept me updated on their planning and activities. I’ll post occasional updates for them, and if you’re an incoming student, get ready for some great stories from Jessie and Aparna!

 

Yesterday was Patriot’s Day, a holiday in Massachusetts.  Though classes were held at Fletcher, the rest of the University was closed, including Fletcher staff offices.  I used my day for a bit of cooking, a little cleaning after a busy weekend, and reading applications.  What’s that you say?  How can she be reading applications in April?  Well, in this case, they’re for the Tufts Distinction Awards, and would more accurately be called nomination forms.

Tufts University President Lawrence Bacow initiated the idea of formally recognizing members of the University staff, and this is the first year for the award.  I’m on the selection committee, which I initially saw as an annoying burden and now see as a wonderful opportunity.  The committee has met twice, and there are also a lot of other people working behind the scenes to create a structure for the awards.  It’s fun to be part of the initiative in the first round, and to have the opportunity to shape it for future years.

I did worry initially that the awards might turn out to be cheesy — but I am very happy to say I was wrong.  Everyone involved is taking them so seriously.  Best of all, we have received an amazing batch of nominations.  It’s almost as if some people were just waiting for the opportunity to talk about their colleague, boss, friend, or employee, and about the great work that person has done.  I know of several Fletcher staff members who submitted nominations, though I haven’t come across those forms yet.  We’ll have our first selection meeting this week and wrap up the process in May.  The awards will be presented to recipients in June at a ceremony to which the entire University is invited.

The awards have nothing to do with Fletcher admissions, of course, but I’ve always considered Tufts to be a very nice place to work.  It’s collegial and filled with interesting people.  If you are thinking of applying, or if you are an admitted student who has already decided to attend, you may appreciate the idea that most of the people with whom you will interact are satisfied employees.  And some of them will also be newly recognized for their efforts.

 

It was great to meet so many newly-admitted students at this week’s Open House! The School is certainly a lot quieter today, with only our usual students and one major conference taking place! Seeing so many of you at once can challenge my memory. I can divide the students whose applications I reviewed into two groups: those whose name I didn’t grab onto (the reading pace we need to keep means that some minor details (such as the applicant’s name) don’t stick — in one eye and out the other!)  And those whose names and backgrounds are firmly stuck, and I have to resist the urge to say, “Oh, Suzy Smith!  You’re the one who traveled across South America teaching classical lute!” Not every conversation gets off to a smooth start after we reveal the tiny nugget to which your entire life has been reduced.

Many of you are moving open house to open house this week, and we know that some of you face continued contemplation before you make a decision. Keep your Fletcher decision deadline in mind, and do send us the questions that you need answered!

 

Many blog readers have asked me whether everything worked out for my son, Josh, in his college application process. I can say that March brought him great news. He was admitted to many of his first-choice schools — a better result than we had dared to hope for!

Josh, as readers may know, is a sports fanatic, and March also brought good news for his high school’s basketball team when he and his teammates won the league championship. In fact, I can say that Josh’s pursuit of college admission was not so different in approach from the team’s pursuit of a championship. It’s all a big competition!

But now he’s doing the hard work of figuring out where he should end up. Attending several Open Houses. Perusing lots of web sites for admitted students. Tapping away in on-line chats. Much like Fletcher’s admitted students are doing at this time of year.

Meanwhile, I have taken advantage of all these admit packets on our kitchen counter to look at how other schools present information. Not exactly industrial espionage — more like “best practices” review. I also went with him to an open house this week and inwardly sympathized with the school’s admissions staffers who were swamped with requests for information.

Thanks to those of you who asked about Josh! By the end of this month of madness, he’ll have his choice made. In my work, I’ll enjoy learning which of Fletcher’s admitted students will have chosen to study here. Meanwhile, I’m going open house to open house — undergrad and grad — until the processes are complete.

 

Visitors to Fletcher end up hearing us talk about the community all the time. The constant refrain can become trite, but the fact is that the community is a very important part of the experience for students, and even for those of us who work here.

Today’s entry is to consider the meaning of community. Beyond good participation at lectures or Africana Night. Beyond crowds of caffeine-lovers at coffee hour. What does it mean when we say that Fletcher has a strong community?

One of our students, Erica Murray, has been battling leukemia since shortly after she enrolled. Despite a leave of absence, and treatments during the semesters she was here, she has been a valued member of the community. Last fall, she was one of the student interviewers for the Admissions Office. When it came time to schedule her for an interview slot, Erica asked me not to assign her on a Wednesday, the day she had her chemo treatments. Thankfully, few Fletcher students face the kind of real-world challenge that Erica was facing. Of those few students with the real-world challenges, few take time to volunteer for the Admissions Office. But Erica’s remarkable spirit enabled her (somehow!) to give her time to the community, while attending classes and, most important, taking care of her own health.

Erica has kept a blog of her experiences, and I admire it. She has written in a way that captures both the enormity of her challenges, as well as the day-to-day annoyances. And her spirit comes through so clearly. (Check out her entry and the photos from her last days at Fletcher before she returned home to San Francisco for treatment, as well as the video of her song.) In fact, much as I admire the blog, it’s Erica who has earned the true admiration of so many of us at Fletcher.

Erica’s leukemia has returned, and her best hope is a bone marrow transplant. And here’s where the community comes in. Fletcher students organized a bone marrow registration drive, which took place last Wednesday. Over 400 students, professors, and staff members from throughout Tufts University had themselves added to the registry. Particularly important to Erica was registering non-Caucasians, because Erica is Eurasian. The minority community came through in a strong way to show its support. The representative from the National Marrow Donor Program told students that a university drive that results in 75 new potential donors is considered a success. The rep said Fletcher’s drive was the best she had seen, by far! Read some reactions to the drive at the Facebook page “1000 Voices in Support of Erica Murray.”

The objective of the Admissions blog is to shed light on Fletcher and on the admissions process. Nonetheless, I hope you will also take a minute to look at Erica’s blog, as well as the information about becoming a bone marrow donor. Welcome to the community of Erica’s supporters.

 

Food is one of the preferred subjects of conversation around the office — many of us like to cook, and we all like to eat! Since Fletcher will have lots of visitors this spring, I’ve asked the folks here to provide some restaurant picks. The limits on my request: that the restaurants should be moderately priced, more interesting than the pizza places that ring the campus, and that they should be within a half-hour walk from Fletcher. Here’s what we came up with.

Peter suggests Redbones, and says: This tasty BBQ joint in Davis Square features funky artwork-filled décor, 24 beers on tap, and valet parking for your bicycle. They also recycle their old fryer oil into biodiesel. Their menu ranges from ribs (Memphis, St. Louis, Texas, or Arkansas) and brisket, to fried catfish and pulled pork (alas, vegetarians may be disappointed). Just think twice before ordering the Jerk Beef Sandwich—it can be brutal on timid taste buds.

Kate stays in the Davis Square area and provides a vegetarian-tested option: On a Sunday morning there is no better place to meet up with friends than Johnny D’s Restaurant and Music Club in Davis Square. Their Sunday Jazz Brunch offers up live music, hot cups of coffee, and a menu filled with a huge variety of bunch options. If you’re not sure whether you’re craving eggs or pancakes, get both in one of their many reasonably priced brunch combos. Served with many of their meals is a delicious bowl of homemade oatmeal accompanied by a side of brown sugar. There are many specials offered each weekend which adds to the array of choices. Johnny D’s is a popular spot and was recently nominated for Best Brunch in Boston so be prepared to wait for a table. The wait will be worth it!

(A note here: Boston-area “squares” are not square — they’re the intersection of traditionally major roadways. The squares closest to Fletcher are Teele, Powderhouse, Ball, and Davis.)

Roxana made sure that Teele Square (the closest to Fletcher) was represented: Amelia’s Kitchen — Fabulous and quaint authentic Italian restaurant located in Teele Square. Go hungry but not so hungry that you can’t wait, because they only have one waitress to go around. My favorite thing to order is the bruschetta for an appetizer (best I’ve ever tasted) and the prosciutto panini at lunch.

Kristen, the official Admissions Foodie, was the first to send me her choice: My favorite local restaurant is Café Barada, a family-run Lebanese place. Their falafel is beyond compare, the fatoosh salad is the stuff dreams are made of, and the owner Sami is always a welcoming presence. Plus, you might just see Fletcher professor Leila Fawaz there!

Laurie wasn’t far behind: When Jessica asked my to give a local restaurant recommendation for prospective students, I did not have to think twice. By far my favorite local place is the Greek Corner on Mass Ave. in Cambridge. For me, the Greek Corner is the ultimate comfort food at lunch time. The atmosphere is bright and comfortable and the food is amazing! For some reason feta just tastes better at the Greek Corner. I always start with the Avgolemono soup, and then have a hard time making up my mind what to order since everything is so tasty. The souvlaki is definitely a crowd pleaser. The prices are great and the Greek Corner is just a short ride from Tufts. Enjoy!

I decided not to pick one place, but to fill in the dots between Greek Corner and Café Barada. This stretch of Mass Ave (officially — Massachusetts Avenue, but no one calls it that) borders ordinary, but fairly densely-populated residential areas of North Cambridge. You can follow this walking map, which starts at Fletcher and takes you to Mass Ave. (You need to zoom in on the map.) Keep an eye on both sides of the street, and not only will you pass Greek Corner, but also Qingdao Garden (a favorite for my family for Chinese food), Frank’s (a traditional “old Cambridge” steak house), Verna’s (the ultimate donut shop), Bengal Café (family-style Bangladeshi food) and others. End your walk at Café Barada, or continue on, all the way to The Elephant Walk (a very special French/Cambodian restaurant). In fact, your challenge won’t be to find some place to eat — it will be to agree with your lunch companions on a restaurant! The total walk is just over two miles — but you’ll almost surely find the perfect place to eat before you walk that far.

Let us know how you like these restaurants and if you’d like to add your own local favorites! Happy eating!

 

As admitted applicants consider where they’d like to pursue their graduate studies, I thought I’d pass along two of my favorite little facts about immigration to Massachusetts and the Boston area.

The first, which I have read in more than one place, is that the most common language spoken in Massachusetts homes, aside from English, is Portuguese. In the towns nearest to Tufts, many of the Portuguese speakers would be from Brazil. But the state has a long history of immigration from countries with Portuguese-speaking populations. There’s even an organization that provides services to the Portuguese-speaking community (Massachusetts Association of Portuguese Speakers) which tells us about immigration patterns: Most Portuguese speakers in the greater Boston and Lowell areas come from Brazil, Cape Verde, or Portugal, but the area also has attracted newcomers from Angola, Guinea Bissau, Macau, Mozambique, São Tome/Principe and East Timor. Check out the MAPS website for more details.

And my other favorite little fact is that the Boston area has the third-largest Haitian population in the U.S., after Miami (similar climate), and New York (more of most immigrant groups than most U.S. cities). There’s a group called the Haitian Coalition that supports the community, which is well-established in the area and is becoming active in mainstream politics. Both my kids are at schools with large Haitian populations, and are well familiar with the sounds of Kreyol.

The Boston area is well known for its waves of Irish immigrants, and for a large Italian-American population, too. The area’s immigration profile is way more complex than its reputation might lead us to believe.

 

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