Student’s Community Service Helps Downtown Amherst
When students apply what they learn in the classroom to their work with community organizations, the result is Community Service Learning. The College of Social and Behavioral Sciences strongly encourages its majors to connect with the community in meaningful and significant ways by addressing community-defined needs. Undergraduates can do community service for credit in a course (many such courses are currently available on campus and at Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke and Smith Colleges as part of the Five College Consortium), as part of a fraternity/sorority or religious group, through a Federal Work-Study job, or just on their own.
Take, for example, Ibrahim Salah ’10 (legal studies and political science). This fall he is doing an internship with Amherst town officials, working on a survey of downtown properties to determine their economic development potential. Town Manager Larry Shaffer says this examination of buildings and sites could provide a vision for what downtown might look like with a greater number of mixed-use properties and more three- to four-story buildings.
Salah is compiling characteristics of all the downtown properties, including the type of building on each parcel and its assessment, what zoning would allow to be built on each parcel and the estimated difference between the potential assessment and its current assessment. Armed with this information, Shaffer says he will approach owners of underutilized properties to explore ways in which they could be developed more fully.
Salah, who hails from Lynn, MA, has a history of getting involved with work that has an impact on the public and the community. “In high school I volunteered for programs like “Toys for Tots” and various Marine Corps Junior ROTC-run programs. My interest continues to be in doing things that have an impact on the world.”
That’s why Salah has combined legal studies and political science along with a minor in economics and a certificate in public policy and administration, all offered through the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. “My internship with the Town of Amherst gives me a firsthand account of how and why decisions are made in our government. And given that this past summer I interned at the Massachusetts State House for Senator Thomas McGee, I’d like to be a legislative aid, earn my master’s degree in public administration, and then move into the federal government doing something interesting and beneficial to society.”
But until he graduates, Salah plans to continue balancing academics (he’s part of the honors program with Commonwealth College) with extracurricular activities. “The Muslim Student Association is a place where I can socialize with people like me. My twin brother, a chemistry major here at UMass Amherst, and I are practicing Muslims and attend Friday prayer each week. And there are lots of other programs, activities and organizations here such as the Arab Student Club and the Political Science Honors Society that make me feel at home. I’ve been a community leader for two years, and a house council president for one. I enjoy working out at the gyms, and exploring downtown Amherst.”
To enrich the academic experience, Salah, who has received the House Council Officer of the Year and the Excellence in Leadership awards from Residential Life, recommends joining a club, tapping into various resources available on campus and in the surrounding area, and to never stop learning. “Not many people have interned for the Town of Amherst,” he says. “I visited the website and then contacted the Town Manager’s office directly.” They certainly were happy to have some help, especially in this time of budget crunching and cutbacks, and for Salah, it is an experience that “I’ll never forget and will never stop paying off.”
October 21, 2008