PolSci Student Wins Human Rights Award
This past summer Evan Brassard ’10 (political science) participated in an internship at Rehabilitative Resources Inc. (RRI), a nonprofit agency in Sturbridge, Mass. RRI specializes in providing services and support to the developmentally disabled. Brassard’s work focused on the agency’s human rights training manuals, the implementation of a teaching aid to help site supervisors relay human rights lessons to individuals served by the programs, and writing a guide to aid in understanding of the state regulations. To say he did a good job would be an understatement. His work earned him the agency’s Human Rights Award, presented in October at their annual recognition event.
Brassard became interested in working with developmentally disabled people while growing up in Monson. “My stepmother, Bea Brassard, worked for the Department of Mental Retardation (now the Department of Developmental Services),” he says. “I met many of the people she supported and became more aware of their plight through her stories. She had worked at Belchertown State School for the developmentally disabled before it shut down in 1992. It doesn’t take many stories about life in an institution to empathize with those who lived there.”
Those times of overcrowding and poor living conditions in state institutions have changed. RRI, with over 400 employees, has 40 residential sites, owns and leases six state-operated residential homes, and maintains 70 vehicles that transport approximately 155 people to and from work daily. Winning the Human Rights Award, therefore, was a big deal.
Says Brassard’s internship supervisor Christine Walton, “Though unpaid, Evan worked tirelessly to revise and improve the human rights training materials. Addressing the complexity and monumental responsibility of teaching human rights, he created a teaching aid to be used as a reminder of key points for the person performing the training. Evan also interviewed individuals supported by the agency about what human rights means to them. The filmed montage of stories reflecting their voices will become a training CD for new staff. For the Human Rights Committee, Evan helped compile information by translating vital pieces of DDS regulation into concise, understandable reference material. His compassion for the people we serve was demonstrated in all of his interactions and assignments.”
“I was very happy to receive the award,” Brassard says, “but I think that the people who work there day in and day out contribute much more on a daily basis than I did over the summer.”
Brassard certainly brought a level of maturity and experience to the job. “When I graduated from high school in 1998, I had little interest in higher education,” he explains. “I did attend Springfield Technical Community College, but dropped out a semester later.” After working as a landscaper and an industrial radiographer, he joined his family’s business selling landscape equipment. During that eight-year period Brassard realized that he wanted a more stimulating career path. He went back to STCC, earned an associate’s degree, and then transferred to UMass.
“I chose political science as my major because it blended well with my interest in history and contemporary issues. It’s been a wonderful experience. I have yet to take a course that wasn’t well taught and fascinating. I’ve made many connections with members of the department, and the advisors have been so helpful. It’s wonderful to learn from people who truly care about the student experience.”
Asked about the correlation between political science and his summer internship, Brassard says, “This was the question I was most asked while interning. Political science is not just the study of politics in the sense that people outside the major think it is. I have spent little time focusing on elections and polling, although you could study that if so inclined. My focus has been more on human interaction, as it pertains to politics. By this I mean looking at who gets what from legislation. In the case of the developmentally disabled, political science relates to how individuals have access to rights and funding.”
Addressing the future, Brassard chuckles. “My dreams for the future are constantly redirected by the latest interesting class. Academics have become a major part of my life, and I’m thinking about a master’s or a law degree. I would like to work in the non-profit sector or for the government, state or federal, focusing on the developmentally disabled, the impoverished, or others who have little voice in the political arena. But for now, I’m taking classes four days a week and working three days at Home Depot.”
November 18, 2009