University of Massachusetts Amherst

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Boltwood Project Students

The Boltwood Project Connects Students to Community Members


Is your student interested in community service learning? The office of Civic Engagement and Service Learning (CESL) gives students the opportunity to combine academics with local community development programs. One of the many opportunities CESL offers UMass students is the Boltwood Project.

For over 43 years UMass Amherst has connected with local community organizations that serve community members who have developmental disabilities. Beginning in 1970 Professor Merle Wilman organized a course named The Boltwood Project, which connected UMass students to the Belchertown State Hospital where they provided enrichment activities for the residents.  As Massachusetts journeyed through the deinstitutionalization process, The Boltwood Project began to partner with community-based organizations that provided services to the people coming out of the state hospital setting.

Today, The Boltwood Project is one of the courses and programs supported by UMass Civic Engagement and Service-Learning (CESL).  This class offers students the opportunity to connect with people in the community, build relationships with individuals who are often different than themselves, and provides reciprocal benefit to the community members and the students, as they learn about each other and enjoy regular time together.  Over 100 students each semester enroll in the Boltwood Seminar. They visit nine different community sites each week and attend three Saturday seminars. Through the course they learn about issues related to disability, explore matters of privilege and oppression, investigate social identities, and reflect on their learning through both the course content and their service time. The Boltwood Project is also a student leadership program. Two student coordinators oversee the program, and thirteen student supervisors organize the weekly community visits and teach their peers. The fifteen leaders are enrolled in a Service-Learning Leadership course offered by UMass CESL. Together they plan and conduct the Saturday seminar sessions, with support from their Faculty Director. Over 11,000 UMass students have participated in the Boltwood Project over the past few decades.

For more information and to see how your student can get involved, visit the UMass CESL website.