At annual UMass community breakfast pep rally, many calls for town-gown collaboration

Last modified: Thursday, August 28, 2014
AMHERST — Building on collaborations between the University of Massachusetts and the town of Amherst will lead to mutually beneficial growth, Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy said during the 48th community breakfast Wednesday.

In a warm and humid Student Union Ballroom where shades were drawn over large picture windows, Subbaswamy stressed the importance of partnerships between UMass and surrounding towns. He said everyone can benefit from student community service.

Subbaswamy said a town-gown study focused on housing and economic development, which recently offered preliminary recommendations for private development on campus, is an important partnership. “This has been a stellar example of the positives of the town-gown process,” he said,

More than 200 people, including area legislators; officials from Amherst, Hadley, Belchertown, Pelham and Shutesbury; Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan; and developers David Williams and Kyle Wilson of Archipelago Investments attended the breakfast.

The UMass Minuteman Marching Band, which traditionally concludes the breakfast with a performance, instead opened the event by teaching the “Go UMass” chant. The band was heading to Boston for a pep rally in advance of Saturday’s football game against Boston College, and speakers at the breakfast celebrated the return of UMass football to campus for three games this fall.

Tony Maroulis, director of community relations who served as master of ceremonies, noted that the first home game in Amherst against Bowling Green is during Homecoming on Sept. 27.

He also predicted that UMass could do well Saturday against its Bay State rival. “We have muskets, so I like our chances,” Maroulis said.

Among the speakers were two UMass seniors who said they have become better students and people as a result of their work in the community.

Psychology major Joanna Imbert Leon, a native of the Dominican Republic who moved to Massachusetts when she was a teenager, has volunteered as an academic tutor at Amherst Regional High School and a research assistant in the psychology department at UMass. “Doing volunteering and community service has been an important part of my UMass career,” she said.

Avery Hennigar, a public health sciences major, said her participation in the Citizens Scholars Program transformed the way she looks at community.

The time she spent at MotherWoman in Hadley, which supports mothers through groups and trainings and advocates for statewide policy to help families, has prompted her commitment to public health and social justice work. “I felt more inspired to be an engaged and informed citizen than ever before,” Hennigar said.

Meanwhile, Subbaswamy also thanked local legislators for their commitment to higher education funding and explained why temperatures were high in the ballroom.

“Every time they’re here we turn up the heat a little because we need an expanded Student Union building,” Subbaswamy joked.

A UMass Donahue Institute study of the university’s economic impact concluded that in fiscal year 2013, there was $1.9 billion in economic activity produced by UMass Amherst, or more than eight times the $241 million investment made by the state, Subbaswamy said.

The most visible benefit is construction projects such as the Integrated Sciences Building, the Commonwealth Honors College and the Academic Classroom Building. Subbaswamy said there has been $258 million in both direct and indirect construction benefits and 1,357 jobs created by these projects.

The campus offers other benefits as well, he said. Auxiliary Services, which oversees the dining commons, last year purchased numerous products from local farmers, including 2,000 pounds of turnips, 2,200 pounds of green beans, 8,000 pounds of Chinese vegetables, 10,000 pounds of tomatoes and 10,000 pieces of corn on the cob. UMass also bought 38 million cubic feet of potable water from Amherst.

Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce President Larry Archey said the breakfast illustrates the optimism of a new year and is an opportunity to set aside differences and work on projects that will strengthen both UMass and the surrounding communities.

Archey said the town and UMass can work together to smartly plan for economic development that preserves features of a small community. “We will be your partners at every turn,” Archey said.

Subbaswamy also addressed the riots resulting from the “Blarney Blowout” in March, acknowledging those incidents present a problem for the town. “In the spring we shared difficulties,” he said. “I’m optimistic we will work together for a more positive future.”

Subbaswamy said he is confident that former Boston police commissioner Edward Davis, compiling a report expected to be issued in a few weeks, will help UMass and Amherst create a plan for a safer and healthier community.