Amherst Magazine

Creating a Culture of Service

Molly Mead

Molly Mead is the first director of the Center for Community Engagement at Amherst. She is pictured here on land that the college donated to Habitat for Humanity. The house in the background is the first of four to be built on the property.  

By Emily Gold Boutilier

In July, Molly Mead arrived at Amherst as the first director of the Center for Community Engagement. While interviewing for the job, she says, she learned about the work of various Amherst faculty members, including Kristin Bumiller, professor of political science and women’s and gender studies, whose course on citizenship is held inside a prison and enrolls an equal number of convicts and Amherst students. Mead also heard about partnerships that match Amherst student tutors with area children. The thought occurred to Mead: “The pieces are all here. What they need is some help knitting it all together.”

At Amherst, Mead hopes to establish more explicit connections between classroom and community work. She arrives from Tufts University, where she helped to build from scratch a program to integrate public service into academic life—to make community service an intellectual endeavor, not just an activity that students do on the side.

The Center for Community Engagement is housed in renovated space in Keefe Campus Center. In September, it marked the opening of its new space with a talk by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and panel discussions. Amherst created the center with the help of a $13-million investment from the Argosy Foundation, a family philanthropy established by John E. Abele ’59. The CCE is designed to promote a widespread culture of service at Amherst.

In her new post, Mead plans to work closely with faculty members who’d like to add a civic-engagement component to their courses. Perhaps, for example, students in a seminar on urban poverty might work with a homeless shelter in Holyoke, Mass. Or Amherst students in an introductory math course might tutor local youth.

Mead also hopes to expand and deepen the partnerships that now send Amherst students into the community to serve, in many cases, as tutors or mentors. Mead and her staff will build new partnerships, she says, not only locally but also nationally and around the world. In doing so, Mead also hopes to connect with alumni who are doing community work.

Mead was founding director of the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service at Tufts from 1999 to 2003. She played a major role in developing the program’s curriculum. Until she came to Amherst, she was the Lincoln Filene Professor at the Tisch College and director of its Faculty Fellows program, which enables faculty to research civic engagement and develop methods of teaching citizenship in class.