The Watertown, Massachusetts Planning Board recently approved the construction of a 155-unit apartment complex in the city’s downtown area. The decision was typical of how such boards operate and the outcomes of their deliberations.
But to Nichols sophomore Steve Miller, the result was a big deal. He was one of the local Watertown residents who spoke up at a public meeting earlier this year to scale down the project from a proposed 222 apartments. And he credits his skills—and gumption—in making his public presentation to the Business and Society Management course he had just taken at Nichols.
That course, taught by Professor Mary Trottier, culminated in a simulated town meeting for which students took different sides in a debate over whether to allow the development of a local casino.
Miller says he put the lessons he learned to work almost immediately, when his grandmother, also a Watertown resident and a regular at public meetings, asked him to join her before the planning board. She opposed the large-scale apartment project because it would add to an already congested area of town.
“I went to the meeting dressed in a suit, stood up, and stated my name and what street I lived on, just like Professor Trottier taught us,” Miller recalls, adding that he was the youngest person speaking up.
“I said ‘Watertown already holds 36,000 people in a four-mile square area. It’s already tight enough. Do you want an additional one thousand people to live in this new development? You can’t expand the road to three lanes, and there’s already enough traffic on the streets as it is.’”
Miller had his first taste of making a public case in the mock town meeting for Trottier’s Business and Society course, in which he acted as a consultant warning of the problems in constructing a proposed underground casino.
“My objective in the course was to make it exciting and to engage every single aspect in an experiential way,” Trottier explains, adding that her students used research and presentation skills to fill the roles of developers, town officials, and outside consultants in vetting the theoretical casino proposed in the course.
Miller did his part with a multimedia presentation as a consultant to the town. The lessons of the course were not lost on him, he says. “Everybody should really learn to represent how they feel about their towns, and if necessary to fight for something.”
“There’s a difference in how your town is going to change if you don’t go to your town meetings. It’s almost the same as voting.”