R.E.A.L. Student Narrative Initiative

The R.E.A.L. program at Tufts University is for students who are 24 or older and are seeking to complete their undergraduate education. The program began more than 35 years ago as a means by which women whose education had been interrupted could have access to a selective college education and in 1976 began to admit men as well in an effort to provide access to education for the soldiers returning from the Vietnam War.

In August of 2005, a research project called the REAL Student Narrative Initiative was started. It asked the question 'What has been the impact of the program at Tufts?' This web site tells the story of the research project: how it came to be, our findings, and our future plans.

The project was inspired by what I learned at the 35-year anniversary celebration of the REAL program. At the anniversary dinner I sat listening to the stories of fellow alumni and realized that every REAL student has a story to tell and that those stories illustrate the importance of the program and programs like it.

After the anniversary dinner, I spoke with my colleagues at the Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service about the idea of recording the narratives of REAL students and alumni in an effort to understand the true impact of the program on Tufts as well as on the students. We met with the program director, Dean Jean Herbert, and the project was launched with seed funding from the Tisch College. We also received funding from the Pratt family, who help support the REAL program, and the diversity fund at Tufts. We used the funding to hire three research assistants: Janet Wilkins, Katerina Lucas, and Derek Benoit, all three of whom were REAL students at the time, and all three of whom have now graduated.

Having research assistants allowed us to begin the process of collecting the narratives. In all, we interviewed more than 40 of the 400 REAL students who have been enrolled in the program over the last 35 years. Additionally, we asked faculty and staff to talk with us about their experiences with REAL students. We found three primary points of impact of the program: Diversity, Resiliency, and Legacy.