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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Sunday, December 10, 2023

SHAPE pre-orientation program promotes civic engagement, community involvement

Leaders and coordinators reflect on the newest pre-orientation program.

SHAPE pre-orientation program participants pictured standing in front of a table in the Boston community.

SHAPE pre-orientation program participants in the community

What would Tufts be without pre-orientation programs? The experiences and memories shared seem to last throughout the entirety of a student’s Tufts experience.

The new pre-orientation program SHAPE, short for Students Heightening Actionable Political Engagement, gives incoming first-years the opportunity to interact with the surrounding Tufts and Boston communities and truly make a difference within its short duration.

The pre-orientation program consisted of 37 participants, seven peer leaders and two coordinators.

SHAPE partnered with many city organizations, ranging from the City of Somerville and the City of Boston to the Metropolitan Area Planning Council and local nonprofits including TEK Collaborative.

Sophia Chung, a junior and SHAPE co-coordinator, shared how the idea for the program came about.

“It started with this general goal of introducing students to resources for civic engagement because it is such a strong interest here at Tufts, and engaging in impactful activities throughout the five days,” Chung said. “Then using this time also as an activation period for students to start getting involved in the community at Tufts.”

Naheim Washington, a junior and fellow SHAPE co-coordinator, described what SHAPE aims to do for the participants and the community members that it serves.

“The goal of SHAPE is to give students the opportunity and the access to materials and other people to be civically engaged and be an active student while in this community,” Washington said.

In traditional pre-orientation fashion, each day of SHAPE was action-packed with a busy schedule that allowed students to familiarize themselves with Tufts, take part in meaningful activities and socialize with their peers.

Kevin Kraft, associate dean of student life and one of the SHAPE program advisers, described what a typical day in SHAPE looked like in an email to the Daily. 

“After our morning meetup at HQ, we would engage in either a group activity or head out to conduct surveys for Somerville’s digital equity project,” Kraft wrote. “Following this, we had 'social time,' during which we participated in social-based activities to strengthen the bonds among SHAPE participants. Later, we'd welcome a guest speaker or embark on a field trip to learn about the issues we could contribute to addressing.”

Carly Rothschild, a sophomore and a SHAPE peer leader, explained the role of “surveying” during SHAPE. The participants would split up in various places and ask nearby members of the community to fill out their surveys. She added that one of the main issues SHAPE worked to address was digital equity.

“The surveys were about gathering data about who in the Somerville area has access to internet [and] Wi-Fi … Also what that bill looks like and if they’re able to pay it [and] what their salary looks like in relation to that,” Rothschild said. “The last day [we were] trying to sign up as many people [as possible] for the [Affordable Connectivity Program] and Link Health, which is the program that we were with.”

In addition to increasing outreach for these programs, SHAPE, in collaboration with TEK Collaborative, gave out a free computer to each community member who signed up at the site where SHAPE was working.

Sanya Desai, a sophomore and SHAPE peer leader, shared one of her favorite memories from the program. She described an interaction that she had while signing people up to receive computers for the Affordable Connectivity Program at the East Boston Community Health Center.

“[I] met one man who wanted a computer because he was getting a degree in business management, and at the moment, he had to go to the library every night to do all his work to get his degree,” Desai said. “He was going to use his computer to do his work at home so that he could take care of his kids more so his wife could get a job, which I thought was so powerful to hear that our work was helping people in our own community.”

Although the program focused on political and civic engagement, the participants did not have to be particularly knowledgeable in those topics.

“You didn’t have to come in here with a background … especially since it was the first year, we wanted to see how successful we were to give people without backgrounds the resources they needed to be engaged and be an active student citizen in the community,” Washington said.

While there are clubs on campus that work to engage Tufts students with the surrounding communities, Chung shared why having a pre-orientation in this setting was a unique and necessary addition.

“Civic engagement is something that has been really core to my experience here at Tufts,” Chung said. “Some of the activities that I get most excited about, and am most proud of, involve going out into the community and engaging with community partners. So, I think that having a pre-orientation for [civic engagement] would help build that community so that students feel connected to other people who are also interested in that.”

Washington also noted that by making SHAPE a pre-orientation program rather than a club, the program was able to focus on the first-years and their experiences, while providing helpful resources.

“After the program ended, and hearing all the bonds they created and the memories they created, Im very happy that we did the program,” Washington said. “[It] gave the resources the first years needed to be successful in a civic engagement way but also be successful in a social way.”