Newton Mayor Setti Warren ’93 (right) with Catherine Wong, the Lynch School's director of Urban Outreach Initiatives (center), and Hannah Hays '16, M.A. '18, Urban Outreach Initiatives graduate assistant


Newton is widely thought to be one of Massachusetts’s most affluent communities. Indeed, census data show that the median household income in 2014 ($118,639) was nearly twice the national average. But nearly one in eight Newton households lives on an income of less than $25,000, according to Northeastern University’s Center for Urban and Regional Policy. And more than 12 percent of Newton public school students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

In October, Boston College and the City of Newton announced plans to address economic disparity in the city with the establishment of a research partnership that supports “Economic Growth for All”—a wide-ranging effort launched in 2015 by Newton Mayor Setti Warren ’93 that has been described as a “city-wide blueprint to promote economic mobility in Newton over the long term.”

Deborah Youngblood, Newton’s commissioner of health and human services

Newton city officials asked Boston College faculty to submit proposals in their areas of expertise that would help bolster economic mobility for Newton residents. Areas of focus might include education at every level, income self-sufficiency, health and well-being, and economic innovation, according to Deborah Youngblood, Newton’s commissioner of health and human services (pictured right).

A first round of proposals, submitted in December, yielded some 15 submissions, according to Youngblood. One project, led by Lynch School Professor and former dean Maureen Kenny (pictured below), is underway.

Kenny is collaborating with Youngblood and Quinn Etchie, Newton’s director of youth services, to assess the mayor’s Summer Youth Internship Program, which aims to offer opportunities to high school students with limited access to academic and career planning resources. Kenny is working alongside Counseling, Developmental, and Educational Psychology Professors David Blustein and Belle Liang to incorporate theory and research on youth purpose and the psychology of working into the program. Kenny’s team is also mentoring master’s students who will serve as workshop coordinators, student mentors, and research assistants, she said.

Lynch School Professor and former dean Maureen Kenny

“This collaboration provides an opportunity to simultaneously enhance and assess an important program of our community partner while also developing and testing an extension of the psychology of a working model for youth,” Kenny says. “What we learn from the Newton research will inform the refinement of our theory and the development of interventions for low-income youth in other schools and communities.”

In December, faculty and administrators from the Lynch School, the Connell School of Nursing, and the School of Social Work met with Youngblood and other city officials to explore possible research and practice collaborations and to discuss how faculty interests could align with Newton’s paramount needs—and complement its existing initiatives. Charles F. Donovan, S.J., Dean Stanton Wortham, Associate Dean for Research Jim Slotta, Kearns Professor in Urban Education and Innovative Leadership Mary Walsh, Associate Professor Martin Scanlan, and Urban Outreach Initiatives Director Catherine Wong represented Lynch.

Lynch faculty also shared their areas of interest with Youngblood, which included topics such as career education, school-based health education, and out-of-school learning challenges. Slotta, who said he expects as many as six proposals to emerge from the Lynch School, hopes the partnership brings greater urgency to issues of economic mobility. “The strong commitment from Newton can really help these projects go,” he said.

Youngblood says that Newton is a particularly dynamic area in which to study economic mobility and possible solutions.

“It’s hard to be poor in a wealthier community,” she said. “Boston College was a logical partner because there’s so much intellectual capital, and I think it is a way to help shore up [BC’s] home city.”

—Kara Baskin