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Brockton

Mentor program scrambles to find new space to meet

The handful of students enrolled in the Robert R. Taylor Network, most of them from Brockton, are no strangers to problem-solving.

It is, after all, at the core of the program that links minority or underprivileged high school and college students with professionals in so-called ASTEM fields — architecture, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics — to guide them toward entrepreneurial solutions to real-world problems, such as power failures in Haiti, or affordable health care in Africa.

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But now the students have their own problem to solve — figuring out where they will gather this summer, after being told that the classroom space they used for the past four years at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge will no longer be available to them.

The reason behind MIT’s recent decision is a mystery to Darian C. Hendricks, chairman and chief executive of the network, which is named after the first known black graduate of MIT, and modeled after the university’s “Learn by Doing” approach to solving problems.

Hendricks said he was notified by Mark Jarzombek, associate dean of MIT’s School of Architecture and Planning and a member of the network’s board, that there is a perception that Hendricks misused the MIT name when promoting the program, which runs independently of the university.

Hendricks said he does not know who made the allegation or the decision to pull the classroom space, which the students used for eight hours a day, five days a week from June to August for the past four years.

Jarzombek could not be reached for comment, but MIT spokesman Nate Nickerson issued a statement confirming that in March, the school informed Hendricks that it would no longer offer classroom space for the network.

While noting that MIT is independent of the Taylor network, Nickerson said MIT “fully supports its mission” and wishes Hendricks and the network “all success in finding new space, and in pursuing their important work.”

Hendricks agreed that the program is separate from MIT. “When I say ‘associated with MIT’ in my everyday language, it doesn’t mean that MIT has an involvement in some way,’” he said. “I was just trying to give credit where credit is due. . . . It was one of our marketing points: You’ll be at the MIT campus, working.”

The biggest blow, he said, is to the students, who take on the intensive program year-round, on top of school work and extracurricular activities. During the school year, they meet in different places, depending on availability.

“Everybody was in shock,” said Hendricks, a graduate of MIT.

Brockton High School junior Romi Alexandre said not being able to go the MIT campus is “unfair, because we’ve been going to MIT for quite a while [and] all of a sudden ignoring that and saying, ‘You can’t come here any more,’ without a good reason.”

When Hendricks came up with the idea of the network, likened to a CEO boot camp, he decided to start with Brockton students. In the summer months, it was up to the students to figure out how to get to Cambridge — all part of the program’s problem-solving core.

Those summer months were about more than bringing them to MIT — it was about getting them to see beyond Brockton, Hendricks said.

“The first step is get out of Brockton, get into an environment of riches, intellect, high-capacity learning; be in an environment of what you plan to be,” he said. “The incubation with MIT really helped students to get out of their environments that are not inventive in any way. [Cambridge has] people of a certain energy, and the students loved the space because it made them feel valued, like professionals.”

With the summer portion of the program scheduled to start this Saturday, Hendricks has been busy trying to get a new space, but he also put students in charge of solving the problem. Although he conceded that not being able to use MIT classrooms “created a disruption in planning,” Hendricks said it bodes well with the network’s mission of creating and running initiatives through a so-called XStudio, a mobile, virtual studio that would eliminate the need to physically be in a specific place, whether it be in Africa or MIT.

“We want to have a space and create a space that is professional, but that doesn’t mean the organization can’t operate if there is no space,” he said.

Katheleen Conti can be reached at kconti@
globe.com
. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKConti.
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