It wasn’t long after arriving to campus that I became aware of the so-called “Harvard Bubble”.
There is simply so much happening at Harvard on any given day that students find little reason to leave campus and venture into the surrounding community. Pre-COVID, nearly all students also lived on campus in residential housing for all four years and ate the majority of their meals in the dining halls. Sometimes, it felt easy to forget that there was a world out there in which everyone was not primarily between the ages of 18 to 22.
Yet by being at Harvard, we not only join a university community, but also a larger community—Cambridge and its surrounding neighborhoods of Allston, Brighton, Dorchester, Roxbury, and so on. For me, becoming part of the Harvard EdPortal Mentoring program was my wake-up call.
Located on the other side of the Charles River, past the Harvard Business School, the EdPortal has served the communities of Allston-Brighton since 2008. The Harvard EdPortal Mentoring Program pairs undergraduate mentors with students of all ages and grade levels, giving them training in teaching and pedagogy and challenging them to develop their own structured lesson plans that will engage mentees in topics that interest them.
Being a mentor at the Harvard EdPortal isn’t like most undergraduate extracurricular activities. Yet it has become perhaps my most meaningful involvement outside of the classroom.
This meant that during my sophomore fall, as I was getting acquainted with my new residential community on campus – Winthrop House – I was simultaneously getting to know another: the communities of Allston-Brighton. I remember breathless shuttle rides and reflective walks in the snow as I traveled between the two – for a few hours each week, my concerns about midterms, problem sets, and essays would melt away as I would become immersed in mentoring while at the EdPortal. When COVID-19 sent a shock through the community in early 2020, the EdPortal staff worked tirelessly to adapt to a remote format and the changing needs of students and I’ve continued as a mentor over Zoom uninterrupted by the pandemic.
Through my experiences as a mentor, I’ve been able to explore my interest in education. Each year, one or two master’s students from the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) help support the undergraduate mentor cohort – leading trainings, observing our teaching and providing feedback. Additionally—something that has been particularly valuable to me over Zoom—I’ve appreciated being able to develop a connection with my mentees. This semester, my mentees and I have explored architectural wonders all around the world and built structures with toothpicks and marshmallows to examine principles of engineering and design.
It won’t be long before the massive new Science Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) campus opens up across the river, bringing more undergraduates into Allston on a daily basis. Now more than ever, undergraduate engagement with Harvard’s neighboring communities is so important. Whether through the Harvard EdPortal, the many opportunities organized through the Phillips Brooks House (PBHA), or elsewhere on campus, I hope you also consider service as part of your Harvard experience!