By Breanna Edelstein
LAWRENCE — For Liam Fouhy, the swell of nostalgia as college graduation nears is different than that of many students. At the forefront of his mind is a single project: An ongoing collaborative effort with Lawrence officials to better the city.
Fouhy will earn a diploma from the University of Massachusetts Lowell on Saturday for his nutritional science studies. But he says he also feels that he's gained a second home in the Merrimack Valley.
"He's been adopted into the city," said Martha Velez, executive director of the Lawrence Council on Aging and Senior Center. "He has walked many of those streets and is dedicated to making them better."
Fouhy is leading a team of other UMass Lowell students in assessing Lawrence’s walkability — to start — as part of a World Health Organization initiative that asks cities and towns to become more age-friendly so that senior citizens can live in their homes longer.
The project involves things like making sure sidewalks are in good condition and crosswalks are in convenient locations, before delving into the city's food landscape and other areas key to longevity and healthy living.
UMass students for three years have partnered with the city's council on aging, the Mayor’s Health Task Force and Groundwork Lawrence, a group focused on environmental and open space improvements, healthy food access programs and youth education. The Age-Friendly Initiative in Lawrence, as it's formally called, is funded by the Tufts Health Plan Foundation.
"What I've learned from the whole experience is a lot about professional development, how to work with city officials, learning about city demographics," Fouhy said. "So far, we've found these difficulties with people crossing the street, degrading infrastructure, things that aren't problematic for people in their 20s, but you have to put yourself in the mindset of someone who's aging."
Efforts to collect the preliminary data are ongoing and will be as Fouhy pursues a master's degree in public health at UMass Lowell.
Eventually, the results will be compiled and presented to the City Council.
This summer, he’ll work full time as a research assistant for Biomedical and Nutritional Sciences Assistant Professor Sabrina Noel Feldeisen, his mentor and one of the faculty researchers leading the Lawrence project.
"Liam listens and hears," Noel said. "He's very respected in the community. That's a unique skillset. It's a hard one. He's done a wonderful job, especially when it comes to students. It's more than a project."
In recognition of his work in the community, Fouhy recently received the Professional Skills Development Award from UMass Lowell’s Biomedical and Nutritional Sciences Department.