Mary E. Walsh—namesake of the Lynch School of Education and Human Development’s Center for Thriving Children—is this year’s recipient of the Saint Robert Bellarmine, S.J., Award in recognition of her exemplary career and significant contributions that have consistently and purposefully advanced the mission of Boston College.
Walsh, who was the Daniel E. Kearns Professor in Urban Education and Innovative Leadership at the Lynch School until her retirement from teaching, received the faculty honor from University President William P. Leahy, S.J., at the University Commencement Exercises on May 22. She is the fourth recipient of the award, named for the Italian cardinal, influential professor, and one of the leading figures in the Counter-Reformation.
Drawing from research in child development and learning, Walsh, a clinical developmental psychologist and BC faculty member since 1989, has advanced a path-breaking, evidence-based “whole child” approach to supporting students in school. Under her leadership, the Walsh Center and its signature initiative, City Connects, have grown to annually serve 50,000 students in public, charter, and Catholic schools in Massachusetts and other states, as well as Dublin, Ireland.
“We are thrilled that Mary Walsh and her extraordinary work are being recognized with this prestigious University award. She and the City Connects team exemplify a powerful blend of first-rate research brought into practice for the benefit of others, exactly the kind of work that we aim to do at the Lynch School and Boston College.”
She recently retired from teaching but has continued as the executive director of City Connects, and the Walsh Center for Thriving Children.
“We are thrilled that Mary Walsh and her extraordinary work are being recognized with this prestigious University award,” said Stanton E.F. Wortham, the Charles F. Donovan, S.J., Dean of the Lynch School. “She and the City Connects team exemplify a powerful blend of first-rate research brought into practice for the benefit of others, exactly the kind of work that we aim to do at the Lynch School and Boston College.”
City Connects, an intervention that Walsh and her Boston Public School colleagues launched in 2001 within schools serving predominantly under-resourced neighborhoods and families, has demonstrated gains in academic achievement and student success by effectively addressing both the in- and out-of-school needs of students. Her focus on improving education for urban school students emanated from her initial research with homeless children and families, a formative experience that identified and linked the harmful impact of out-of-school challenges on students’ academic performance. City Connects has become one of the nation’s leading networks for connecting students in high-needs urban schools with the resources required to thrive.
Through an anonymous $10 million gift, the Center for Optimized Student Support was renamed the Mary E. Walsh Center for Thriving Children in February 2022, to honor its founder.
“For three decades, Mary Walsh has been building an exceptional program that is improving the lives of tens of thousands of children,” said Wortham at the renaming event. “She conceptualized it, raised funds for it, and commissioned research that shows it is both successful and cost-effective. Her consistent focus on developing the whole child fits wonderfully with the BC formative education mission."Walsh has published and presented widely in the area of school-community supports for students and their families, and written or co-written three books: Children, Health and Learning; Meeting at the Hyphen: Schools-Universities-Communities-Professions in Collaboration for Student Achievement and Well-Being, and Moving to Nowhere: Children’s Stories of Homelessness.
Walsh earned a bachelor’s degree from the Catholic University of America, and a master’s degree in developmental psychology and a doctorate in clinical-developmental psychology from Clark University, from which she received an honorary Doctor of Science degree in 2005.
She began her academic career as a lecturer at Assumption College and Clark University, then served as clinical and research consultant and an adjunct professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and an associate professor and chair of the Department of Psychology at Regis College, before joining the BC faculty.