Case Study: Tsongas Industrial History Center
The Organization The Tsongas Industrial History Center is a partnership between the University of Massachusetts Lowell Graduate School of Education and Lowell National Historical Park. TIHC offers unique field-trip programs and teacher workshops that incorporate hands-on activities and the authentic resources of Lowell National Historical Park. The center’s interdisciplinary approach brings history and science to life for students and teachers. TIHC’s mission is to inspire connections with and understandings about America’s industrial past, present, and future through experiential learning using Lowell’s unique resources. TIHC embraces educational theory and pedagogy that put the student at the center of the learning experience.i TIHC serves three audiences: 1. Classroom Teachers in grades 3-12 (professional development and curriculum resources) 2. Students in grades 3-12 (hands-on programs) 3. UMass Lowell Faculty and Students (programs, internships, service-learning projects, etc.) The TIHC also collaborates in these ways with faculty and students of other institutions of higher education, though more infrequently. In the 1980s, the founders of the Tsongas Industrial History Center imagined a hands-on learning center of 15,000 square feet that would engage 20,000 students annually and operate on a budget of about $500,000, including both park and university contributions. Two decades later, the Tsongas Center has grown well beyond the initial vision in space (22,000 square feet), staff (5 NPS and 30-35 UMass Lowell staff), visitation (50,000 students and teachers) and budget (approximately $1.4 million including university staff, park staff, grants, and in-kind support). Of the UML staff, only two are permanent full time. The others, supported by a mix of grants and fees, are a mix of full and part time, a majority of whom are contingent part time. The prime student/teacher audience comes from the greater Merrimack Valley (31% of total student visitors), with the majority of groups coming from Massachusetts and New Hampshire, Connecticut, Maine, Vermont, and even some groups from New York, Pennsylvania, and occasionally Texas or California as part of a multi-day visit to New England historic sites. The table below shows the number of schools that returned to TIHC during the 2014-2015 school year from each of the previous five school years. Of the 412 schools that visited TIHC in 2014-2015, 293 of them were repeat visitors from the 2013-2014 school year, and 119 were schools new to the center. Table 1: Data on Repeat Schools
RETURNING SCHOOLS Total 2015 # Returning %
Returning from 2014 412 293 71.12%
Returning from 2013 412 288 69.90%
Returning from 2012 412 250 60.68%
Returning from 2011 412 241 58.50%
Returning from 2010 412 217 52.67%
What TIHC Is Known For The Tsongas Industrial History Center is a hands-on education center where students learn about the American Industrial Revolution through activities and tours of the sites where history—and science— happened. Students “do history” by weaving, working on an assembly line, role-playing immigrants, voting in a town meeting, or becoming inventors. Students can also “do science” as they use the engineering design process, manipulate simple machines, create canal systems and test water wheels, measure water quality, trace the flow of groundwater pollution, or discover river cleanup techniques.
TIHC’s most popular program is Yankees and Immigrants, as immigration is a key standard in the Massachusetts 4th grade social studies curriculum, and is taught in either 3rd, 4th, or 5th grade in bordering states. The TIHC benefits from a lot of repeat visitation from teachers who bring new classes of students every year. The center has an arrangement with Lowell Public Schools that pays for all 3rd, 4th, 5th, 8th, and 11th graders to participate in TIHC programs at a discounted rate paid for by the district. TIHC staff often hear from adults about their fond memories of a field trip to the “Lowell Mills.”
Here’s a small sampling of what teachers have said about TIHC:
“I have brought my class to the Tsongas Center for several years now and I am consistently impressed with the high quality tour guides and the organization of the tours as a whole. I also like that there are so many hands-on experiences and visual models to demonstrate ideas to the
kids throughout the tour.”
“This trip is the highlight of our year due to the relevance, and also the professionalism of your
staff and the thoughtfulness that goes into the planning of the educational activities.”
“My students LOVED their trip to the Tsongas Industrial History Center. It certainly made the
curriculum come alive for them in a very meaningful way.”
“Keep up the good educational work you’re doing! You really understand how to engage students. Bravo!!” Moreover, what students say about visiting TIHC:
“It was a mind-blowing experience that taught me about the Industrial Revolution.”
“This was my favorite field trip I have ever gone on and probably the best one I will go on!!!”
“Had fun learning lots. Saw historical sites there. Walked on history”
“It was so cool learning about history. I loved learning about the Lowell Mills.” While the center has never directly asked teachers or students to rate their satisfaction level of their field trip experience, anecdotal information for qualitative teacher/student evaluations could be interpreted to show 97-98% of visitors are extremely satisfied with their experience.
Benefits of TIHC Field Trip for Students and Teachers TIHC field trips provide many intellectual, social, and skill-building benefits for student visitors. The programs connect history and science content with historical thinking and science/engineering skills that reinforce what students are learning in the classroom. All of the programs encourage students to think critically about the historical content and its relevance to their world today. The hands-on experiences encourage collaborative learning, thus developing social and communication skills. Students also learn about the importance of stewardship of public lands and historic sites, preserving and protecting these sites for the learning and enjoyment of future generations.
For teachers, TIHC programs offer a learning experience that can’t be replicated in the classroom. The field trips provide students with a chance to immerse themselves in history/science, engaging with the
content in ways that support their teachers’ curriculum goals.
History with K-12 Schools Since its inception, TIHC has been primarily known as a destination for history field trips. Before the state adopted new curriculum frameworks in the early 2000s, most middle schools operated in a teamteaching structure in which the English Language Arts, History, Science, and Math teachers would work as an interdisciplinary team to create their curriculum. This made a field trip to TIHC relevant to all subjects, as students would be reading Lyddie in ELA, studying waterpower in science, and exploring the Industrial Revolution in history. The new frameworks moved the in-depth study of the Industrial Revolution to high school history classes, and because of academic demands, it is very difficult to get high schoolers out for a field trip. Teachers in all grades are under mounting pressure to “teach to the test” and prepare their students to take high-stakes tests. These teachers also have to justify to their administration the relevance and importance of the field trip to their curriculum. Finding money to pay for program fees and transportation is often a barrier for many low-income school districts. There is a general trend of decreasing school visitation at museums nation-wide, as schools are under more pressure to keep students at their desks learning carefully prescribed curriculum aligned with high-stakes tests.
Competition for School Audience As stated above, there are trends in the education world that are forcing teachers to spend more “time on
learning” in the classroom, leaving them with much less time for field trips. The financial costs of a field trip – cost per student for program fees and buses – can also be a barrier for some less-affluent school districts. However, many informal learning institutions – museums, historic sites, science centers – in the great Boston area host student field trips and may attract some of the same audience that TIHC is trying to reach. Within 30 miles of TIHC, the following institutions offer field trips that appeal to similar audiences: American Textile History Museum (Lowell), Museum of Science (Boston), Minute Man National Historical Park (Lexington/Concord), Great Brook Farm State Park (Carlisle), and Drumlin Farm Wildlife Sanctuary-Mass Audubon (Lincoln). Outside the education world, there other factors that affect visitation to museums in general. “For museums, declines in attendance – a trend that goes back decades – have only continued…. Museums are losing attendance on both measures of audience share and size…. In terms of audience size, history [museums] have lost over 8 million visitors, [its] peak. … Given that older Americans are visiting at the same or higher rates, that means the drop is coming from other segments of the population, and the biggest loss is worrisome indeed: younger, well-educated whites – what has always been the pipeline of museum audiences. This drying-up of the pipeline imperils the very future of art and history museums, because if it is not reversed, obsolescence lies ahead.”ii
History with UML In 2008, Governor Deval Patrick used his emergency powers to cut the state’s budget. Midway through the fiscal year, UML cut two of TIHC’s full time positions, choosing to prioritize positions that clearly and directly benefitted students, faculty, and research. Since then, GSE Dean Anita Greenwood and TIHC staff have worked hard to improve TIHC’s standing at UML, helping faculty and students better understand the services TIHC can provide and needs center staff can meet. Since then the center has
9/29/2015 instituted a number of initiatives, include offering walking tours and programs for classes; customizing
tours and activities for the university’s Honors Seminar program; providing a variety of internships, practica, and service learning projects across disciplines; and forming a faculty advisory board. In 2014, UML and LNHP launched a partnership website to promote TIHC collaborations and provided information about the different types of partnering opportunities for UML faculty and students.
http://www.uml.edu/UML-LNHP-Partnership/a-partnership-in-place.aspx. The university’s leadership also came to recognize the added value of Lowell National Historical Park to a UML student’s education and increasingly incorporated references to the park in its marketing materials.
Doing More with Less In addition to the cuts sustained from the UML side, Lowell National Historical Park has had to cope with a tightly constrained budget and a new FTE cap. This has affected staffing levels for Lowell National Historical Park and TIHC, due to highly cautious hiring practices and no increase in funding support for TIHC. Over the past five years, in spite of the fact that funding has not increased and vacant positions remain unfilled, TIHC staff have nonetheless done “more with less.” The center wants to remain a forwardthinking and innovative institution, yet growing the programming with reduced resources can lead to in strain and stress on the employees. A 2006 National Park Service case study report on NPS-community partnerships highlighted TIHC’s
work and made some suggestions for creating financial sustainability. “The Center needs to reduce
operating expenses, increase its staff’s capacity to seek and administer grants, work with the park and the university to attract large gifts from individuals, corporations, and foundations, and build a strong
financial reserve.” Since that time, TIHC has made great strides in building a financial cushion that has allowed for more flexibility in staffing and innovative programming. This cushion is not a sustainable model, though, as much of it has gone to updating the facilities over the past three years and back-filling staff costs for what the NPS does not fund.
TIHC found fundraising, with or without UML support, difficult because the center doesn’t have the cachet that other social service organizations have. The center has been successful with certain granting organizations, such as Mass Cultural Council, Mass Humanities, and National Endowment for the
Humanities, but discovered that grants don’t always increase capacity in a sustainable way. TIHC also receives grants for specific projects through a competitive National Park Service grant program. This money has been used for facility improvements, and to purchase equipment for students to use during programs. Teachers will point out and comment on the physical improvements to program spaces and the addition of new hands-on objects, which keep the programs fresh and encourage annual visitation.
TIHC’s partnership status (UML-NPS) brings both constrictions and opportunities. The center is sometimes constrained by rules (e.g. must-use website templates) or codes (can’t alter that because it’s original historic fabric). Opportunities also present themselves in the partnership, as what one parent might see as a constraint by (hiring or issuing contract RFPs) can often be worked-around through the other parent.
Reaching the Audience Over the past 24 years, TIHC has tried various forms of communication to reach their audience. Currently, the main method of advertising programs is through an annual programs brochure – fullcolor, 8.5×11, 12 pages – designed by a UML graphics designer (see Attachment C). They mail this to the 9000 names on their mailing list, which includes public and private school teachers, district and
9/29/2015 school curriculum coordinators, administrators, and home-school teachers. If by mid-August, they don’t receive a reservation from a teacher who booked the previous year, they follow-up with a personalized note inviting the teacher to book a field trip. This year the center added an additional reminder postcard to the mix, which will be sent as a mid-year reminder to teachers who have yet to book programs (see Attachment A). TIHC is also trying a new way to market their environmental science programs. This fall they mailed a special postcard to all district and school science coordinators in the greater Merrimack Valley of Massachusetts and New Hampshire (see Attachment B). The center also uses Facebook and Twitter to disseminate images and information about their programs and initiatives.
TIHC Concerns New state frameworks and the focus on high-stakes tests have shifted the focus off of history/social studies and on to literacy and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). TIHC has adapted to these changes by integrating specific STEM programs into their repertoire, particularly capitalizing on the
technology and engineering that marked Lowell’s historical place in the Industrial Revolution. However, teachers do not think of TIHC as a destination for science field trips. They have tried various marketing strategies – highlighting the curriculum connections in the marketing materials, doing STEM specific mailings to science teachers – but they
haven’t seemed to break-through that barrier yet. The center even playfully added “and Science” to the logo on some marketing materials. The statistics bear out the decline in two of the history programs, and one environmental science program. The table below shows the number of programs over the past seven years. Table 2: Program Enrollment Numbers For the 2014-2015 school year, these three programs represent approximately 35% of the center’s revenue for field trips. The table below compares the actual number of programs presented to the center’s potential capacity. Table 3: Capacity Utilization of TIHC Programs
Program 2015 Actual 2015 Capacity Percentage of Capacity Bale to Bolt 200 368 54% Change in the Making* 202 716 28% River as a Classroom 75 153 49%
*CIM is the only program that can accommodate 4 classes per day. The others accommodate 2 per day. For the 2015-2016 school year, TIHC raised its program prices for the first time in 8 years. The previous fee of $195 is now $225, and staff is concerned that will have an effect on visitation, although reservationists have heard no complaints and the most recent visitation statistics indicate bookings on
Program 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 Bale to Bolt 238 193 193 199 221 202 199 Change in the Making 253 256 258 253 236 222 202 River as a Classroom 47 46 54 65 93^ 54^ 75*^
*24 of these programs were grant-funded River as a Classroom
^ Also includes Science of Rivers and Bridging the Watershed – The spike in this category is accounted by the fact that these
were grant-funded, paying program fees and transportation costs.
9/29/2015 par with previous years. The staff hasn’t developed a formal system for tracking those from previous years who haven’t rebooked this year because of the higher fee. Due to the constrictions of the partnership, it is not easy for TIHC to change fees; therefore offering discounts or “two-for-one” rates can be difficult or even impossible, and would not be financially viable.
Discussion Questions 1. Perform a SWOT analysis of TIHC. Identify the key internal strengths and weaknesses, and external opportunities and threats that TIHC must consider in making its strategic marketing decisions. 2. How does TIHC become better known as a STEM field trip destination? 3. How does TIHC better reach out to schools that aren’t coming to the center – the right people at those new schools? What can TIHC do to entice them to come and make an annual TIHC visit part of their curriculum? 4. How can TIHC leverage social media to reach teachers, who are sometimes hesitant about using social media? 5. Take a quick read of chapters 3, 5, 10, 11 of the Roger Best textbook. In your opinion, which theoretical frameworks presented in these chapters could be particularly informative to TIHC’s strategic marketing decision-making? Name the frameworks and briefly apply them to this case. Optional: If you would like to extend your reading for potential, relevant theoretical frameworks, please also cover chapters 9, 12, and 13. 6. What additional strategic marketing questions would you recommend TIHC to consider? Why do you think your recommended issues are relevant?
Abbreviations TIHC – Tsongas Industrial History Center UML – University of Massachusetts Lowell GSE – Graduate School of Education LNHP – Lowell National Historical Park NPS – National Park Service STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math
Attachment A Attachment B
Authenticity – We use Lowell’s story, historic landscapes, buildings, and objects as a case study to explore the
causes and consequences of the American Industrial Revolution.
Collaboration – We are teammates – learners, classroom teachers, TIHC staff (UML and NPS), LNHP colleagues, and
community partners – sharing authority, knowledge, and viewpoints.
Customer Service – We make every attempt to meet our audiences’ needs through careful attention to their
requests and appropriate flexibility in our logistics.
Engagement – We provide learners with compelling simulations and activities through which they build
understanding about the Industrial Revolution.
Inquiry Learning – We facilitate critical thinking and foster investigation skills to stimulate learner engagement in
history and science/engineering.
Relevance – We help our diverse audience find connections between Lowell’s historical significance and their own
Museum Audience Insight, September 30, 2013.
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