Mindy Nierenberg, the senior director of programs at Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life since 2002, will retire from Tufts later this spring, leaving behind a legacy of student programs that have provided thousands of Tufts students with transformational learning experiences.
Nierenberg’s career has been marked by the expansion of the Tisch Scholars, Tisch Summer Fellows, Tufts 1+4 Bridge Year, Tufts Civic Semester and Community Service Learning programs.
When Nierenberg first arrived at Tisch College, which was then called the University College of Citizenship and Public Service, the only program offered for students was Tisch Scholars. She was tasked with developing new programs and initially created what is known today as the Tisch Summer Fellows program.
“There was a sentiment that so many students at Tufts would really be interested in the work at Tisch and that we needed to engage students more broadly,” she said.
The initial Tisch Summer Fellows program had students undertake internships in community organizations in Somerville, allowing students to learn more about the community through the lenses of different people.
One of Nierenberg’s longer-term projects was to develop connections and programs for the graduate and professional schools at Tufts. Nierenberg coordinated with faculty at Tufts University School of Medicine, Tufts University School of Dental Medicine and the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine to create the Community Service Learning program for graduate students.
At Tufts University School of Medicine, for instance, the program takes the form of a course that requires students to do 50 hours of community-based work addressing health disparities.
Nierenberg also spearheaded the design and development of the Tufts 1+4 Bridge Year program. When Dean of Tisch College Alan Solomont came to Nierenberg with the idea, she identified service partners in other countries and went out to inspect them to pick the strongest programs to work with, according to Solomont.
“One of the most amazing and gratifying aspects of my work has always been taking an idea and [turning] it into a reality,” Nierenberg wrote in an email. “It’s always about figuring out who the other stakeholders are or who the resources are on campus, what they have to offer, and thinking about what we have to offer, and to build something together.”
Nierenberg emphasized the importance of diversity and inclusion in the work done at Tisch College. This served as a key inspiration for the Tisch Summer Fellows program.
While the programs that Nierenberg has built from the ground up are the most tangible part of her legacy at Tisch College, she also recognizes that the most important aspect of her work has always been working with students and developing relationships with them.
“The reasons that people want to be engaged in a community, whether it’s local or global, oftentimes it stems from a place deep inside. It could be [an] influence of their childhood and life circumstances, or it could be something deeply personal or something from family history,” she said. “You get to know that person deeply, and I think that’s a privilege to be a receiver of stories from students.”
Nierenberg taught a course for the Tufts Civic Semester in Peru last semester, giving her another opportunity to build meaningful relationships with students.
“Through that, I’ve gotten to know many of those students in a way that, at the end of my career, has really brought me back to what I love so much,” she said.
Nierenberg said these students would present their experiences in the program on Thursday.
One student, Justin Mejia, had the opportunity to develop a relationship with Nierenberg throughout his time at Tufts. Mejia, a senior, has been involved in many Tisch programs, including 1+4 Bridge Year and Tisch Summer Fellows.
“Mindy has had one of the biggest impacts on myself as a student here at Tufts just with being a person that I can come to for anything,” Mejia said. “[Nierenberg] has been someone that I know has influenced the lives of many students here at Tufts, and I see that with the relationships that she had with the programs and different students that come in and out of Tisch College.”
Mejia expressed gratitude for Nierenberg’s work, reflecting on the timing of her departure from Tufts.
“I’m so happy to have gotten the chance to know her and I think it’s very bittersweet and maybe even poetic that I’m graduating and leaving Tufts at the same time that she is,” Mejia said.
Solomont also reflected on Nierenberg’s influence at Tisch College.
“The passion that she brings to the mission [of Tisch College] is sort of infectious,” Solomont said.
Tisch Scholars Program Administrator Sara Allred also praised the passion and energy in Nierenberg’s work at Tisch College.
“She is guided by genuine interest in students’ civic goals and ideas, and leads the student programs staff with compassion and care,” Allred said.
After she retires from Tufts, Nierenberg intends to continue to pursue her passion as an artist and designer, in addition to spending more time with her family.
Looking forward, Nierenberg shared some hopes for Tisch College after her departure.
“One hope would be that any student who wants to be engaged in meaningful work to address social change, to make this world a better place, will have the support, the advice, and the resources through Tisch College to make that happen, which is a huge dream, but that would be amazing,” she said.