On Chancellor Keith Motley’s second day of work at UMass Boston, Eliza Wilson burst into his office. Motley was Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs at the time, and he held the fate of the sailing program in his hands.
“I walked into his office frustrated and just upset, ‘How are you going to allow this to happen?’” Wilson says.
After weeks in a bureaucratic muddle, trying to figure out who could stop the seemingly inevitable end of the sailing club, Wilson found a friend in Motley.
The CURE committee had recommended an array of cuts to student programs, and the sailing program was toward the top of the list because of the expense of maintaining the boats. Wilson had just joined the sailing club that year, and she quickly became their most vocal advocate.
“We didn’t cut the sailing program,” Wilson said. “We’ve actually invested in it and it’s grown. They should probably get new boats, but right now at least there’s still a program.”
Now an outside firm manages UMass Boston’s boats, which allows the public to rent and use UMass Boston’s boats throughout the summer as well.
“They can provide more things like stand up paddle board and kayaking, not just the 1973 mercury sailboats that UMass Boston has,” Wilson said. “So I think it’s a great thing for not just UMass Boston students, but also for the residents of Dorchester and South Boston.”
Chancellor Motley’s receptiveness to Wilson’s request, his willingness to make her part of the conversation, prompted her to join student government. The skills she honed as a Student Senator became the foundation for her career in administration. She works in risk management for a real estate investment firm, the Berkshire Group.
“My time at UMB was transformative,” she says. “I got involved in the decision making process, and I learned how to own the process.”
After advocating for sailing, Wilson joined in a slew of campus activities including the Beacon Think Tank, the Investment Club, the Skateboarding Club, and the Sustainability Club.
“I was able to get involved in anything that I was interested in, not just in the classroom, and I learned how the university functions.”
She got to know all of the Vice Chancellors on a first name basis.
“They’d take the time to explain the administration of the school,” she says. “I learned a lot from my UMass Boston professors and administrators. I’ve been to three, now with my MBA four schools, and not every school administrator in other colleges appreciate a student knocking on their door asking administrative questions about the running of the university”
“I can tell you, what makes UMB different is that UMass Boston truly is a research university with a teaching soul.”
One of Wilson’s favorite memories of her time at UMB involved some delicate financial maneuvering, when she became part of the Sustainability Club.
“We created UMRET, UMass Renewable Energy Trust,” Wilson says.
A Student referendum asked students if they would support a fee for generating renewable energy solutions on campus. 96% students voted in favor and the fund was approved by the board of Trustees.
In celebration, Wilson and two other members of the club planted a tree next to the Campus Center, near the side exit where the Admissions office is located.
“We planted this tree to mark our growing commitment to promote sustainability in the built environment, transportation, and community investment in UMass Boston, Dorchester and South Boston.”
Dorms were a hot issue when Wilson was a student.
“There was a huge push against dorms by the locals. I would go to the civic association meetings.”
The university’s neighbors in Savin Hill, where Wilson had rented an apartment, arranged a UMass committee and they were looking for members.
“I volunteered,” Wilson says. “Afterwards we had a little gathering out by the door and I asked what the committee was for, after they had already said I could be the chair, and they said, ‘We need to make sure UMass Boston doesn’t bring students into our neighborhood.’ I said, ‘Um. Hi.’”
She introduced herself, and told them that the guys living in the house with regular loud parties late into the night were not UMass students (she’d investigated).
“I think that maybe clarified that UMass Boston students are not wild party animals roaming the streets of Dorchester. The average UMass Boston student is very involved and engaged in their school, and their studies, and what they want. They’re very driven students.”
Being part of the student government helped Wilson develop connections all around campus.
“We knew we were the elected officials on campus, and we took that seriously. It was a unique time for
the university. There was a search for a Chancellor. Most of the students, including myself, wanted Keith Motley to be the chancellor.”
The most important thing that she learned was how to understand “the process.”
“Know how you can get involved, and only when you’re involved can you change the process. We can sit back and say oh that’s bad, or they should be doing this.
“When people are making decisions or rules or laws or policies you actually can get involved and you can ask questions, and you can change the status quo by caring enough to get involved and digging to figure out who they are.”
Through classes with Laurence Blum and Arthur Millman, Wilson pursued her interests in policy and developed a knack for philosophy.
“Being at the only public research university in Boston, having access to the state house, I got a real understanding of how decisions in the legislature impact UMass Boston. I had access to go there and watch votes happen, to speak with legislators. I learned how to do that at UMass Boston with Ken Lemanski, a chief of staff at the chancellor’s office. He explained how it all works. Things don’t just happen without someone knocking on some door and asking for something.”
When Wilson arrived on Campus, the Campus Center was just being built, and she had no idea what it was. She ended up attending the ribbon cutting.
“I got to see UMass Boston through a very transformative time, and see how and why the decisions were made the way they were. I wasn’t in student government until we were in the Campus Center, but I was in the sailing club, and they had an office in Wheatley.”