Creating Space for Community and Collaboration

Opening doors to dialogue

Creating Space for Community and Collaboration

Thanks to the Carney family, a new auditorium is transforming learning and engagement at the College of Education.

Paul Carney, supporter of the UMass Amherst College of Education

In a once disused and dilapidated auditorium in Furcolo Hall, Class of ’82 Isenberg School of Management alumnus Paul Carney saw an opportunity, not only to give back to his alma mater by jump starting a much-needed project with a generous donation, but also a chance to honor his mother and his family’s roots in public education.

On October 25, faculty, staff, and students from the UMass Amherst College of Education joined members of the UMass Foundation Board, the Dean of the College of Education, and the University’s chancellor, among others, for a ceremonious ribbon cutting to officially open the centerpiece of Furcolo Hall that will forever be known as the Carney Family Auditorium.

The auditorium was part of the former Marks Meadow Elementary School, like the rest of Furcolo Hall, a public lab school located on the northern perimeter of campus with close ties to the University and its faculty and students. However, unlike the rest of Marks Meadow’s $22.5 million transition into the fully renovated 100,000 square foot Furcolo Hall completed in 2016, the auditorium space remained untouched due to a lack of funding.

Images of the old Marks Meadow auditorium at Furcolo Hall

That all changed during a tour of Furcolo Hall with Paul Carney and his mother Grace Norton Carney, a former public school teacher for 23 years in Waltham, Massachusetts. Andy Goulet, then Assistant to College of Education Dean Cynthia Gerstl-Pepin, offered the pair an impromptu tour at the end of which Carney inquired about the disused auditorium. Goulet described how helpful it would be to the future of the College to renovate the space.

“[Paul] asked a lot of questions, but I didn't really think anything of it,” he explained. “Then he and the Dean had dinner later on that night, and he continued the conversation with her.”

Paul Carney and his family at the Carney Family Auditorium Ribbon Cutting and Dedication

Two years later, Goulet sat alongside the many members of the UMass Amherst Design and Construction Management Team including  Director of Campus Planning Richard Yeager II, Director of Design and Construction Management Mireya Cudemus-Jones, Senior Facilities Planner Andrew Soles, and College of Education Director of Development Brian Toohey for the ribbon cutting ceremony during this year’s Homecoming weekend.

At the beginning of the ceremony, Sonya Atalay, Associate Professor of Anthropology and archeologist specializing in research with, by, and for Native American tribes; greeted those in attendance in her indigenous language. “One of our traditional protocols is to acknowledge the land and the waterways that we’re on,” Atalay said. “It’s a way to kind of start us off by bringing us all together in heart, mind, and one’s spirit to just say that we acknowledge where we’re at and on this really beautiful day, in this wonderful new space and a special time,” she explained.

Following the land acknowledgement, Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy was introduced by Charles Desmond, Class of ’92 Ed.D., Chief Executive Officer for Inversant, the largest children’s saving account initiative in Massachusetts, and member of the College of Education Advisory Board.

The Carney Family Auditorium that we celebrate today is a perfect example of Paul’s broad philanthropic commitment and spirit.

Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy

Desmond introduced Subbaswamy as the “man of the hour.” However, once at the podium, Subbaswamy clarified that the true man of the hour was, in fact, Paul Carney, seated in the audience with his mother Grace, wife Lovisa, daughter Olivia, and his sisters Mary Beth and Patricia. “If we were to take a map of the campus and put a pushpin in every location where Paul Carney has either directly given to the University or really helped in some way or another to make sure that things got done there, I assure you that the results would cover almost the entire 1,450 acres, from athletics, to Isenberg to communications, to the College of Education here today,” Subbaswamy said.

Images of the newly renovated Carney Family Auditorium at UMass Amherst College of Education

Subbaswamy noted how Carney’s passion for his alma mater transcends his Isenberg affiliation. “Rather than the University cultivating Paul and then diplomatically suggesting an area that might be of interest to his support that we need, Paul is usually one step ahead of us - identifying an area of need on campus, and then aligning it with his giving and also catalyzing the giving of others,” he added. “The Carney Family Auditorium that we celebrate today is a perfect example of Paul’s broad philanthropic commitment and spirit.”

Carney’s name also adorns the Carney Café in the recently opened Isenberg School of Management’s Business Innovation Hub. Additionally, a College of Education scholarship honors Grace Norton Carney and was awarded to three students the previous night at the College’s Scholarship Celebration in the Carney Family Auditorium.

This auditorium is a testament to the power of inspiring teachers.

Dean Cynthia Gerstl-Pepin
Dean Cynthia Gerstl-Pepin speaking at the Carney Family Auditorium ribbon cutting

Dean Gerstl-Pepin described the empty space before the renovation, saying that the College felt incomplete without a space to host large gatherings. “With our location on the edge of campus, large numbers of students do not regularly walk down our halls, but now at this beautiful new Carney Family Auditorium, we are a more vibrant and integral part of campus – hosting classes, performances, lectures and community events,” she explained. Gerstl-Pepin acknowledged that the renovation has created a space for the College to grow and prepare more educators. “This auditorium is a testament to the power of inspiring teachers,” she said.

Desmond noted the important role the Carney Family Auditorium will play in the College of Education’s vision of education for a socially just world.

Charles Desmond speaks at the Carney Family Auditorium ribbon cutting ceremony at the UMass College of Ed

“This is what social justice is. This is why we do what it is that we do. To think if we could send across America, across the nation, across the world, teachers like [Grace Norton Carney] who love, care, support, nurture young people who will make them believe the potential that they have to do wonderful, exciting, and great things,” Desmond said.

Carney echoed this sentiment in his remarks. “My efforts are also an appreciation and recognition of all the dedicated educators and administrators who have sacrificed for me and all children and learners with the aspiration that my example might lead others capable of doing so to join me in the rightful recognition of the role education has had on our success in life,” he said. Carney stressed the importance for all UMass alumni to participate in philanthropy and giving, even in small amounts, as a means to recognize educators who have played a part in their success.

Portrait of Alicia Gonzales Ph.D. Candidate at the College of Education

Alicia Gonzales, a doctoral candidate with a passion for math education, spoke about what the Carney Family Auditorium will mean for students. Gonzales described how her experience at the College has pushed her out of her comfort zone more than ever before, and in doing so, has taught her much about the field of education and in her words, “a little bit about humanity.”

“So, in this college, I not only thought deeply about what teaching and learning methods mean, but also what it means to be a person who wants anything and everything every other person desires,” Gonzales explained. “A place where they belong, a place where they feel they matter and this place and space helps do that—not only for us in the College of Ed, but for all who walk through these doors, whether it be undergraduates, graduates, community members, or people who are looking for a temporary place to call home.”

Assistant Professor of Social Justice Education Jamila Lyiscott

Before the ribbon was cut, the final speaker was Jamila Lyiscott, Assistant Professor of Social Justice Education. Lyiscott, a renowned spoken word artist who focuses on racial justice, community engagement, and youth activism in education through a lens of “Vision-Driven Justice;” read aloud a riveting spoken word piece.

“Where I’m from everything broken is beautiful if you give it a reason to survive. As we uphold this moment, I cannot help but reflect on the history of what it has meant to inhabit space in this country,” Lyiscott began. Lyiscott implored listeners to remember the College of Education’s social justice mission and how this new auditorium space offers an opportunity to set clear intentions for using the space to support that mission.

And here we are on this day of celebration, on this day of hope, on this day of vision, on this day of futurity, with the power to inscribe our own narrative of what it means to inhabit space in this country.

Jamila Lyiscott

“In this space, once an empty vacant thing, now decked out with the finest and most cutting-edge technologies and style, but there is a difference between quality paint and quality purpose. What is our purpose? Will our commitment to social justice as a College live and breathe in these walls, opening opportunities to bring together people from across and beyond the University to strengthen our cause?” she asked. “How will we inhabit this space in ways that are truly transformative, disruptive and revolutionary?” she continued.

Technology will play a large role in transforming the ways in which the College can engage across various audiences in new and profound ways. “This was the former site of the Marks Meadow Elementary School and it was a school for progressive education, a laboratory, and we really look to continuing this space as a laboratory of collaborative innovation with all the amazing technology we have,” said Gerstl-Pepin. “The goal we have is to engage the rest of campus and the outside world. We can now host classes and events, digitally bring in researchers and speakers, and connect across the world with this space,” she continued.

The opening of the new Carney Family Auditorium has inspired the College to present a series of speakers to discuss today’s most pressing issues facing education. Thanks to Paul Carney and his family, the stage is now set for the College of Education to facilitate these dialogues across difference, to showcase innovative research, and to open its doors to new audiences.