What is your educational and professional background?
I have a bachelor’s and master’s degree in technology education. I finished my doctorate in educational leadership and my dissertation is on African-American women principals in Massachusetts. I went to college back to back. I finished my master’s degree at 23 years old … and then I took a little time and took courses here and there on leadership and eventually enrolled myself in a doctoral program. … I’m in the very first cohort of that program, and it’s been going strong ever since. Professionally, I’m the vice president of the Museum of Science National Center for Technological Literacy. My official title is vice president of advocacy and educational partnerships. … What we do is primarily working with school districts and communities to, not only develop a strategic plan to implement across the board, but also offer professional development for teachers and administrators, also people in the community, in order to build the capacity for STEM education across the board. … I personally have worked with about 100 school districts here in Massachusetts, and it’s been wonderful.
When you were an undergraduate student, did you see yourself getting into politics?
No! When I was in college, I started off wanting to pursue architecture. I wound up transitioning into teaching and the first subject I ever ended up teaching in high school was architecture. … I wasn’t a professional architect, but I taught it. When I think about politics, I really had no political aspirations whatsoever. It didn’t occur to me, but I also look at how valuable all of the skill sets I have learned over the last 30-plus years, how valuable it will be to this role as mayor of Framingham. How to negotiate with people, how to build a strategic plan, how to manage budgets, how to manage people, how to collaborate with people across the aisles, and also my life experiences – so it’s kind of all of that coming together that prepared me for this job. As far as being a politician, I liken myself to a leader that tends to be innovative and visionary and looking at ways we can grow something together with all groups of people.
How do you see the Framingham State community playing a role in the city?
One thing for sure, I sit on Town Meeting and I sit on the Ways and Means Committee. I am very focused in on the partnership between Framingham State and The Danforth Museum, and this was an agreement that, a few months ago, I didn’t vote for. I voted against it because I felt the agreement wasn’t as detailed as it needed to be for the parameters for having the museum. … I can honestly say, I was very pleased with the partnership between a municipality and a university to look at ways that it’s a win-win. … I would like to see more of those types of partnerships, more of those ways that we can collaborate together, where students at Framingham State can feel a welcomed part of the community. … I see different opportunities for us to continue to grow and partner together. I know this year, Framingham State is having to move their graduation to Worcester. I am looking forward to finding some ways to make sure that you come back home and have your graduation here at home. … Students being able to participate in things in the community, also see themselves as welcomed in the community, frequenting some of the restaurants. I know a number of the businesses are looking for ways to attract more of our student business and so thinking about that as more of a partnership.
Recently on campus we have been dealing with a few hate crimes. How would you address hate in the city?
When I think about hate crimes, I think about the lack of information, the lack of awareness, the lack of empathy – and I think it’s very important that it is those who are outside of the victimized group be the advocates for those who are inside of that group, and be consistent about it and stand up, and call it out. Whether it’s a joke, whether it’s a drawing or a photograph, to really say ‘Does that seem right to you? Is that a wise thing to do? Is that hurtful? Is that necessary?’ … I think the president of the University did an excellent job handling it. I think he called it out and I think he also had an opportunity for people to come together and look at it very critically. So, the thing that I hope is that it doesn’t go away. … Often times I think, for the most part, most people do things out of ignorance – not out of malice. I think there’s more the lack of knowledge that is causing more of the challenges. … Here on this campus, I know years ago I worked closely with one of the professors on social justice issues, Professor Sue Dargan. She would have a number of seminars around issues of social justice. So, I just think “everybody gotta stay woke.”
Even after a student was killed in 2012 while crossing Route 9, students still opt to cross at the railroad tracks. How would you improve pedestrian safety throughout the city?
We have to really look closely – and it’s not just this one intersection – and we’ve tried to mitigate it with the bridge. But really thinking critically about how do we encourage safety? Does it mean traffic slows down a little bit, and then you say: ‘What is there in that space to slow the traffic down?’ I think it’s also about being smart and thinking, ‘How do we work on this together?’ Implore students to be thinking smart – you’re crossing a major highway. That’s unsafe. … Do we need other strategic bridges at different locations along the way? Does that make sense, and what’s the cause? … It is very tragic having lost someone crossing the road and so traffic is a big concern, especially in this little stretch. … The good news is, as a part of the charter, there is a traffic commission that will study some of the patterns and I’m sure this will be one of them on the list.
Do you have any advice for students?
Whatever you choose to do in life, whatever path you choose to take, don’t be afraid to veer off of it and try something different. Stretch yourself in many facets of life. If you have meals with the same people all the time, find somebody that doesn’t look like you, doesn’t act like you or talk like you – learn something different and experience something different. … Take advantage of experiences, travel, explore, learn something in another language. All of those things have allowed me to be a more well-rounded person in many arenas – whether I’m talking with dignitaries or I’m talking with people in a homeless shelter – I have the capacity to be able to reach across all avenues and it’s been because of experiences like that.