Students respond to proposed solution for NEC transportation issues

Students board the shuttle to the SMFA campus from New England Conservatory at 6:30 p.m. on March 2. (Seohyun Shim/The Tufts Daily)

The shuttle stop connecting Tufts to the New England Conservatory of Music (NEC) and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts (SMFA) will be reinstated after area construction is completed, according to a Oct. 10 email sent to students in the Tufts-NEC combined-degree program.

When the NEC stop is reinstated, buses will only stop when there are students waiting to be picked up or dropped off, and it will not wait until a scheduled time before leaving, the email states. Additionally, Tufts will grant NEC combined-degree students $1,000 stipends for transportation for the 2017–18 academic year, which can be used to cover the cost of MBTA passes and Lyft rides.

Removal of the Shuttle Stop

According to Matthew Estabrook, a third-year in the program, students have faced significant difficulties getting between the two schools on time since the beginning of the semester. Estabrook noted that, when shuttle service was suspended, students were often forced to walk from the NEC to the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts (SMFA) late at night in order to catch the shuttle, proving time-consuming and potentially dangerous.

In addition, several students say they have had to pay out of pocket for alternative methods of transportation between the schools, according to a Sept. 29 Daily article. Combined-degree students expressed hope that this new solution will make their commutes easier.

“I’m optimistic about the changes and the thought that admin has finally put into NEC transportation, but I’m also going to be pretty skeptical until it’s actually implemented,” Daniel Cetlin, a sophomore combined-degree student, said.

Cetlin expressed some concern about the logistics of the proposed system.

“I don’t like the idea of flagging down buses. The buses are currently very unreliable, come late [and] don’t turn on GPS,” Cetlin said. ‘This could potentially add a whole new layer of frustration.”

Ari Brown, a third-year enrolled in the combined-degree program, also expressed concerns about having to flag down the shuttle. He and another student have considered developing an electronic texting system for this purpose, Brown added.

“We should not be reliant on flagging the shuttle down coming back from NEC,” Brown said. “I personally feel a request system should be put in place to determine whether the shuttle stops at NEC to pick someone up.”

Further NEC Concerns

While combined-degree students saw some promise in the new transportation solution, they said that the program would benefit from more administrative support.

Brown said that, when he started in the program, he was unsure about how much work to take on because the program is not very well described online. Brown said that due to a lack of advising from the schools, he ended up being overwhelmed by too many classes.

“My main advising came from my orientation leaders,” Brown said. “Really, the advisors didn’t know that much about the other school. Advice is hard to get.”

Brown also voiced concerns about the inconsistency of university management of the program.

“The advisor for the Tufts-NEC program has changed [frequently]. No one is familiar with it,” Brown said. “We almost feel a sense of responsibility for orienting whoever is new, because we can’t trust the orientation system.”

According to Brown, students get assigned an advisor at both schools, but he said one advisor who is knowledgeable about the situation at both Tufts and the NEC would be much more effective.

“It takes a lot to understand both sides of every degree in the program,” Brown said. “It’s a complicated system and I think it needs one person’s attention.”

Tania Valrani, also a third-year in the combined-degree program, echoed Brown’s concerns, emphasizing that the program needs a more senior authority figure to step in and make sure problems get solved quickly.

As of this year, Associate Dean of Undergraduate Advising Robin Olinsky is in charge of advising NEC combined-degree students.

“Combined degree students are assigned advisors on both campuses to help them navigate the demands of their degree programs,” Olinsky told the Daily in an email. “In addition to my work with the students, first-year and sophomore dual-degree students have a Student Success Advisor and a faculty major advisor once they declare their major.”

“At the NEC, there is an advising office that works with students on completing their degree requirements. On both campuses, dual degree students also benefit from peer support, including FYAs, CDAs and an NEC Orientation Peer Leader,” Olinsky added.

Olinsky discussed plans to meet individually with students to organize their spring schedules in a way that minimizes time spent on transportation. She also assisted students with course registration during first-year orientation. 

“During orientation advising, we discussed the students’ interests, degree requirements for both programs and transportation logistics. We tried to minimize the number of trips back and forth between the two campuses each day. We also discussed being realistic about the amount of time it takes to commute between the two campuses, regardless of the mode of transportation,” Olinsky said.

Estabrook said he has experienced both challenges and benefits in the program for the past three years.

“I feel that what’s keeping the program held back is that there’s not enough administrative attention to the issues in the program,” Estabrook said. “We’re a small group of people and it’s understandable that in an institution as big as Tufts, numbers matter. “

Estabrook noted that this was part of the reason that issues like the transportation system took a fairly long time to solve.

Addressing student concerns, Olinsky expressed enthusiasm about the new transportation solution.

“We realize transportation has been a challenge so far this semester,” Olinsky said. “We appreciate students’ patience while we have worked through these unexpected difficulties. We’re confident that the solution we are rolling out will address these concerns. “

Valrani said that because combined-degree students contribute to the NEC community as well as the Tufts community, the responsibility also rests with NEC to support the students.

“It’s an honor to be associated with NEC. The NEC teachers really do like having Tufts students … We enrich the NEC community as well, [so] NEC needs to take responsibility,” Valrani said.

Elaborating on the nature of communication between advising resources at Tufts and NEC, Estabrook emphasized that he wants Tufts to acknowledge the shortcomings and challenges of the program so that incoming students have all the facts.

“They still have [an admissions resource] from 2013 regarding the academic structure of the program that’s completely false,” Estabrook. “It outlines that you’ll take six or seven classes per semester [while] we take about eight to nine. I personally have to take 10 a semester.”

Estabrook said, despite its problems, the combined-degree program is valuable. 

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to be able to study with such great academic rigor at Tufts but get top-notch musical education at NEC as well,” Estabrook said. “I’ve studied with some of the people who inspired me to get into music.”