“It’s better to know how to learn than to know.” – Dr. Seuss
For several years, Commonwealth Honors College students have had the opportunity to intern with the Seuss Museum in Springfield, Mass. The internship program was implemented by Dean of the Honors College, Gretchen Gerzina, during the early phase of the museum's design and construction. The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum was first established in June 2017, and for the past two years, students of all majors have been involved in the partnership, providing experience in working on exhibits and murals, creating and facilitating hands-on, literacy-based activities for children, and helping with organizing conferences and community events.
As part of the program, students work with UMass Honors College lecturers John Simpson, a local artist, and Elizabeth Sharpe, a professor of museum studies. Last spring, students participating in the program presented their work at the Massachusetts Undergraduate Research Conference (MassURC), showcasing their contributions to the museum and their reflections on the experience.
Theodor Seuss Geisel, known to many as Dr. Seuss, was born on March 2, 1904, in Springfield, Mass. The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss is the first and only museum to honor the life and legacy of Theodor Geisel, providing visitors with the opportunity to learn about his work. The museum is also designed to promote literacy among children through a variety of engaging, highly-interactive exhibits,
The space is more than just a museum, however. According to the Springfield Museums, a collective comprising five different spaces that have had their doors open since 1857, The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss is part of an effort to enhance public access to these educational, historical places, and to expand the extent of their programming in order to improve the visitor experience. Furthermore, the museum is part of a campaign to “support restoration work vital to the integrity and aesthetics of their historic buildings and the collections they house.” Admission to the five museums in the collective is free to all Springfield residents, and passes to the museums are available at various public libraries in the area and are free to loan.
On October 23, Leegray Dimond, Theodor Geisel’s step-granddaughter and the head of the Seuss Foundation, visited Elm Hall to talk to students in Honors 221H, “The Springfield Renaissance: Art and the City.” Dean Gerzina joined the gathering, completing the circle of connections between the UMass Honors College and the legacy of Dr. Seuss.
Aidan Sliwkowski, a student in Honors 221H, reflected on the impact the course has had throughout his semester. "Through this class, I have learned that there are many ways to heal your community," Aidan explained. "Art can and should be an essential part of that. Art does not require people to be displaced, historical monuments to be destroyed, or new buildings to be built. Art takes what is there and utilizes it to connect the community. It encourages all community members to find a place in a city they call home. Outsiders may still look at Springfield and see a lump of coal, but if they get a little closer, they will find a diamond waiting to be polished off."
Thank you to Leegray Dimond, Dean Gerzina, John Simpson, Elizabeth Sharpe, and all other faculty and students who have been involved in celebrating the life and work of Theodor Geisel through scholarship, stewardship, and a love of learning.