Problem-solving emerges as a theme on HUBweek’s third day

Road Scholar’s Suzanne Rommelfanger (left) and Alex Snyder, with Wistia’s Laura Powell.
Kayana Szymczak for the Boston Globe
Road Scholar’s Suzanne Rommelfanger (left) and Alex Snyder, with Wistia’s Laura Powell.

On the 15th floor of the Wyndham hotel in Beacon Hill, two American leaders in the fight against substance abuse were outlining the particulars of the battle to a banquet room full of listeners.

Just a block or so down the road, inside the Paul S. Russell, MD Museum of Medical History and Innovation at Massachusetts General Hospital, a congresswoman was standing behind a podium discussing ways to nurture the city’s economic future.

And across the river in Cambridge, a former Nobel Prize winner was introducing a roundtable discussion on the future of health care.


In a busy third day, Boston’s “HUBweek” festival on Monday drew a number of prominent names in a variety of fields, handing them microphones and asking them to dive head-first into some of the area’s — and world’s — biggest issues.

Get The Weekender in your inbox:
The Globe's top picks for what to see and do each weekend, in Boston and beyond.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

“One of the draws of living in a place like Boston is there’s so much going on and there’s a draw for intellectual discussion and a hunger to talk about all kinds of things,” said David Beckmann, a psychiatry resident at Mass. General who attended the day’s opening forum on substance abuse. “And specifically, the major problems affecting our community.”

The problem-solving began early, as more than a hundred people filed into the Wyndham on Monday morning. Inside a ballroom filled with linen-covered tables, the day’s keynote speakers — A. Thomas McLellan, the founder of the Treatment Research Institute, and Wilson Compton, deputy director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse — spent the morning holding court in a discussion designed to devise better ways to treat and prevent substance abuse.

With the region’s struggles with opiates well-documented, the speakers focused on the future. McLellan described his opinion that not just addiction but “substance-use disorders” would soon become a regular part of mainstream health care, while Compton shared his thoughts on ways to tackle prevention.

For those in attendance, the forum opened a window on the kinds of discussions to which the public isn’t always privy.


“I’m sure that if you’re faculty at MGH, these kinds of talks happen all the time,” said Ayala Livny, who works in the substance abuse treatment field as part of the Center for Social Innovation and who attended Monday morning’s forum. “But as a member of the public, you just don’t have access to it in the same way.”

Not far away, another Monday-morning discussion was playing out on the Mass. General campus — this one on sustaining and growing the area’s STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields.

Taking a page out of the “speed-dating” playbook, the event placed representatives from for-profit companies (including Facebook, Microsoft, and AT&T) and not-for-profit organizations at the same table, imploring them to figure out how they might be able to help each other.

And at least on the surface, it seemed to work.

“How else am I going to meet 30 other people with all these relevant resources and experiences?” asked Lucy Yan, who, along with friend Pattaya Hongsmatip, is launching a Boston chapter of ChickTech, a nonprofit that puts women and girls in touch with STEM fields.


Perhaps the day’s signature event, though, came in the afternoon session at MIT’s Kresge Auditorium, as Jeffrey Sachs, director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute and a leading authority on economic development, called on students and faculty from MIT — “one of the great gifts of the world,” he called the school — to help lead the way in tackling issues as large as world poverty and education.

“He’s sort of a legend among MBA students — or anyone with an interest in social impact,” said Riley Clubb, a student in MIT’s Sloan MBA program, as he left the auditorium.

The day’s slate would continue with panels on health care and the economic infrastructure, and today’s schedule features gatherings on cancer, climate change, and the modern-day podcast — another opportunity to tackle the city’s issues in a proactive way.

Said Clubb, quoting one of the presenters from Monday’s discussions, “We’re here to solve — not whine.”

Dugan Arnett can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @duganarnett.