By Prudence Brighton
LOWELL -- Whenever there's a success story in Lowell, the "p" word is often at the root of that success.
Such was the case Thursday night, when a host of the city's top political, cultural and educational leaders celebrated a key milestone in the life of the Tsongas Industrial History Center, which grew out of the Lowell National Historical Park, Lowell School Department and UMass Lowell "partnership" 25 years ago.
Reminiscing at the anniversary event, City Councilor William Samaras paid tribute to two men in launching the center: the late U.S. Sen. Paul Tsongas and the late school Superintendent Patrick Mogan.
Samaras, a retired Lowell High School headmaster, reflected on the privilege of seeing two very different men "learn how to work together" to create the Lowell National Historic Park and the Tsongas Industrial History Center.
"One was a dreamer and the other a no-nonsense type." Mogan had a dream of experimental learning in an urban environment, and Tsongas filed the legislation and found the resources to make it possible.
The center began as a partnership between the national park and the University of Massachusetts Lowell Graduate School of Education in 1991. Located in the Boott Mill complex just steps away from the Mogan Cultural Center, it is jointly funded and operated by the park and university.
At the kickoff event, park Superintendent Celeste Bernardo said, "The highest priority of education is to build citizenry. And the national parks have an important role in doing that. And the center has a distinct role as a premier educational center and a model partnership."
Michael Vayda, the new provost of UMass Lowell called the center "a unique partnership that celebrates our history."
And recently retired Provost Don Pierson said, "The sum is definitely greater than its parts." Pierson, who know serves as special adviser to the university chancellor, was part of the original team that got the center up and running.
"They had the buildings, and we had the experience with teaching," he said. "It's very gratifying to be here 25 years later and to see how the idea has evolved."
The center provides field-trip programs for 50,000 students annually. The field trips are hands-on experiences designed to promote both the humanities and science. Some field trips have come from as far away as California.
Ann Carpenter has experienced the center from three perspectives -- as a workshop teacher at the center, as a teacher at the Stoklosa School leading field trips to the center and as a parent.
She explained that the center provides hands-on activity that helps students "understand how we once lived and how technology has changed our lives." The students leave with a finished product; for example, a model canal or a weaving.
Sheila Kirschbaum, director of the center, told the audience that the center "works to keep things fresh and abreast of trends in the education world." As a result, digital and long-distance learning are in the center's future.
U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas recalled, "I was here at the creation. I could never have imagined being back her 25 years later as your representative in Congress."
Tsongas remembered the work that her late husband had to do to convince Congress of Lowell's "singular place in American history" and "to overcome the traditional sense of what makes a national park."