Last spring, four Northeastern students were challenged to create an innovative and comprehensive development proposal that would address the needs of Codman Square Neighborhood Development Corporation, a local nonprofit whose mission is to build a better, stronger community in Codman Square and South Dorchester.
The goal, they said, was to develop a housing plan that could eventually be built at Morton Street Crossing on the Mattapan/Dorchester line.
Together, in collaboration with graduate students from Boston Architectural College, the group envisioned a mixed-use, mixed-income development with 35 affordable housing units. They presented their proposal at the 16th annual Affordable Housing Development Competition and scored a second place award that came with a $6,000 stipend.
“We were the only team that did not have an Ivy League student on it so we didn’t expect to do as well as we did,” said Chelsea Biggs, who graduated with a Master of Public Administration in the spring. “It was the hardest I have worked for anything, so to hear our name called at the ceremony was unbelievable.” Biggs is now the youth programs and database coordinator at Screening for Mental Health, a local nonprofit dedicated to coordinating nationwide mental health screening programs.
Eric Goldman, who graduated with a Masters in Urban and Regional Policy (MURP) in the spring, said the capstone project allowed students to combine the knowledge they acquired in the classroom with the true nature of real world dynamic project development – multiple moving parts, interested stakeholders, and collaboration and compromise to grow a concept into a viable option that impacts the urban environment.
“The real world experience and struggles of working with stakeholders – politicians, developers, designers, community members, etc. – provided more than something to put on a resume,” said Goldman, who is now a senior consultant in global construction practice at Navigant Consulting in Fairfield, Conn. “During interviews and networking events, the capstone experience allows meaningful conversation and dialogue that shows my background, interests, and what I have to offer.”
But students weren’t the only ones to benefit from such a collaborative project. According to Vitalia Shklovsky, project manager at Codman Square Neighborhood Development Corporation, the nonprofit gained valuable insights.
“I was really impressed with the work they did, and I was really happy to see them excited,” Shklovsky said. “Because they’re so new, it was really helpful to have them do so much work, especially in the community outreach piece. It was valuable on the company perspective to have that insight, basically free work, and building relationships with the students who will be entering the field.”
For Sandra Larson, a MURP graduate, the project was an “excellent microcosm” of working to craft solutions to a variety of urban problems.
The MURP program, she said, prepared her to tackle an affordable housing proposal that would be financially feasible and match the city of Boston’s goals as well as fit into the surrounding community on the Mattapan/Dorchester line.
“I felt well-prepared for the crucial tasks of dividing up and sharing the labor, communicating effectively and constantly across the whole team, respecting teammates’ time, and appreciating differences in communication and workflow management,” said Larson, a freelance journalist covering urban issues and minority communities in Boston. “This was a very intense project in a very condensed timeframe; having those teamwork and project management skills was very useful.”
To learn more about capstone projects and graduate programs, visit the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs webpage.