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Urban Renewal
By Lisa Prevost '85

TArthur Rivet, 44, sometimes jokes that during his adolescence and well into adulthood he read only eight books: J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy—twice. Who needed books? A gentle bear of a guy, Rivet wanted to drive a truck, and drive one he did for 20 years, delivering beer throughout New Hampshire.

But then came the '80s, and the union jobs that once promised lifelong security began to dry up. Worse, Rivet's back and knees were crumbling under the weight of countless beer kegs. As he approached 40, Rivet was horrified to find himself on the brink of being unable to support his family.

Rivet thought about teaching—he'd discovered he was pretty good at reading to his son's first-grade class. With weak high school grades, however, Rivet knew he wasn't prime college material. Nevertheless, he applied to the education program, and was accepted into a transitional program aimed at students who have a lot of catching up to do. Rivet not only caught up, he developed a fondness for Hemingway and graduated summa cum laude this year. He begins a teaching internship at Beech Street Elementary School in Manchester this fall.

"I feel like I have received a second calling," Rivet told his classmates in an emotional speech at graduation.

The same could be said of UNH-Manchester. After years of uncertainty about where it was headed and what kind of college it was supposed to be, UNH-Manchester is finally coming into its own. Primarily serving Manchester-area residents who, like Rivet, are changing careers and/or holding down a job while pursuing a degree, UNH-Manchester has committed to an urban agenda.

This revised mission calls for a tighter focus on the educational needs of the surrounding community, with particular attention to the growing pool of students who, usually for financial reasons, plan to live at home and begin their education at UNH-Manchester, then complete their degree elsewhere. The urban setting, in all its richness and complexity, is to become part of the learning experience, through an increased emphasis on internships, service learning projects, volunteerism and community partnerships.

In keeping with its honed image, the college is giving up its out-of-the-way Hackett Hill campus to be reborn in a more central and visible location amid the collection of historic mills that once housed the massive Amoskeag industries. The consolidation will rid the college of what dean Karol LaCroix '67, '75G, refers to as "the plague of the split campus."

The Manchester branch was originally conceived in the '70s as a large suburban campus for commuters. The 10,000-student enrollment never materialized, however, and investment in the Hacket Hill property never went beyond a single building, French Hall. For more than a decade, faculty and students have divided their time between the cramped French Hall and additional rented space in a mill building alongside the Merrimack River downtown.

A deal finalized this year calls for the University to swap its 830 acres on Hackett Hill for the entire 71,000-square-foot mill building in which it has leased space since 1986. The city will also pay the University $4.6 million, which will cover the cost of renovations to the three-floor University Center over the next year.

With its exposed brick walls, 14-foot wood-beamed ceilings, and massive, arch-topped windows, University Center offers a much more dramatic and pleasant learning environment than the drab cinder block and dropped-ceiling interior of French Hall.

More importantly, however, by putting a library, classrooms and computer labs under one roof, the one-stop campus will bring a sense of cohesiveness to a student body that is already pulled in too many directions. Many UNH-Manchester students have to squeeze their studies in between work and family commitments. While classes tend to be small enough that instructors occasionally brainstorm with students around a table at the brew pub up the street, socializing on this campus tends to be more a means to an educational end. "There's not a lot of time for interaction—everyone's busy," says Rivet. "We have to go home and mow lawns and take care of kids."

For Robert Macieski, an assistant professor of history at the college and an aficionado of millyard lore, the University's millyard address seems particularly appropriate. "This building was the machine shop. It's where they made the machines to make the products in the other mills. They made steam locomotives and steam fire engines here that were world-renowned," he says. "This was the intellectual hub of the industrial world. And I hope it will be the intellectual hub again in this post-industrial world."

Like many of his colleagues, Macieski has already proven that these thick factory walls are quite permeable. For him, the community and the classroom are necessarily intertwined—Manchester is a ready-made research laboratory. One of his students, for example, researched the city's existing historic markers, then did further study to come up with her own set of worthwhile (and not-so-serious) sites. A realtor by profession, she used the presentation to educate co-workers about the city's past. Other students have looked into the histories of various immigrant groups in Manchester. Macieski hopes to one day use the research in a computerized geographical system that will be able to link a particular floor in any mill building with the immigrant population that worked there and the area of the city in which they lived.

If Macieski is reaching out to raise awareness of the city's past, Richard Zang is aiming to secure its future. Two years ago, Zang, an assistant professor of mathematics, came up with a way for his Finite Math students to enhance their understanding of the subject while volunteering their time in the community. Zang's "social responsibility option" gives students class credit for working as math tutors at Youthbuild Odyssey, a vocational training and education program for youth with drug problems and, often, criminal records. So far, Zang says, about a third of his students have chosen the option, which requires them to put in a minimum of 25 hours and keep a journal of their experiences.

The University's education department is taking advantage of the city's increasingly diverse population to better prepare future teachers in the realities of urban classrooms. Catherine Reischl, assistant professor of education, says teacher interns are sent to local schools selected for their large multilingual populations. "At Beech Street school, about 200 of the 700 kids are multilingual," says Reischl. "The schools really like getting good-quality interns, and we need these schools as a site for our students to learn."

The possibilities for community linkages are only limited by the faculty's time and energy. There is no shortage of ideas. Construction of a small radio studio is expected to open a new partnership with New Hampshire Public Radio. Zang is pushing for other professors to adopt his social responsibility model. Macieski is teaming up with a communications instructor to teach a course in oral history, with the focus on the local community. "Our mission is an urban variant of Durham's land-grant mission," he says. "And what a great little laboratory. I can teach my students while at the same time helping them to develop a greater understanding of place."

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