June 9, 2017

Seuss Museum is Open!

Commonwealth Honors College students foster literacy (and fun) in Springfield

Who would have guessed that just a short drive down I-91 is the origination point of an entire creative universe? You may not know, so we’ll tell you so: Springfield, Massachusetts, is the hometown of Theodor Seuss Geisel—aka Dr. Seuss—and it’s also a new site of collaboration for the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

When Gretchen Gerzina, dean of Commonwealth Honors College (CHC) and native of Springfield, learned that The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum was coiled to spring open in June 2017, she immediately contacted the Springfield Museums: “We have students who can work in every aspect of what you’re designing!”

The new museum, which opened June 3 with considerable national publicity, expands on the existing Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden with indoor spaces that celebrate Geisel’s life by promoting the literacy and creativity he so valued.

“People ask where he got his ideas from,” Leagrey Dimond, one of Geisel’s two stepdaughters, told the Boston Globe in a recent article about the opening of the museum. “Who knows? What matters is they were there.”

Besides artifacts such as Geisel’s hats and bowties, the museum will boast hands-on bilingual activity rooms for children, complete with stacking turtles, a bakery of sculpted pies, and a “Horton Hears” corner filled with musical instruments—all in living, colorful glory. Throughout, colorful murals by artist and Commonwealth Honors College lecturer John Simpson evoke a Seussian universe.

University of Massachusetts Amherst student at the Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum.

UMass Amherst student Elisabeth Yang designed a Dr. Seuss conference as part of her independent study.

Due to Gerzina’s proactive call, the CHC is now collaborating with the museums on independent studies and internships. Students have completed projects ranging from a script of Geisel’s personal history for docents, a plan for a capital campaign, and translations of Seuss’s work in the 28 international languages spoken in Springfield. Elisabeth Yang ’18, a public health major with expertise in event planning, designed a two-day conference focusing on Dr. Seuss. “I wanted to curate an environment where people from many different fields could interact on common ground,” says Yang.

“We asked where was their immediate need?” explains Gerzina. There were opportunities for painting murals, fabricating statues, engineering, programming, digitizing archives—a reach of activities as far as the students' imaginations could stretch.

“Eventually we would like to extend these opportunities to the rest of the museums,” says Gerzina. “This is the beginning of an ongoing connection.”

And it’s one to be embraced warmly by students and locals alike: “As an upperclassman, I wanted to connect with the community outside of campus,” says Yang. “This gave me a wonderful way to do that.” One would imagine that Geisel would say:

Your mountain is waiting.
So… get on your way!