MIT team finds that the ratio of component atoms is vital to performance.
Participation in the Public Service Center's Fellowship Program has doubled in the past year, and director Emily Sandberg hopes to see interest in that and other PSC opportunities continue to grow.
The Fellows program offers paid full-time positions to MIT students in either summer or during IAP to work in Cambridge public schools. The MIT students help develop science curricula, work with children on classroom activities and science fair projects, and train students and teachers in the use of computers. Last year, 15 students took part during IAP and three during the summer; this year, those numbers went up to 30 and seven, respectively.
MIT students and the teachers they worked with during recent fellowships are enthusiastic about their collaboration. "It was really neat to see kids be surprised at what they learned," said Heather Lee, a senior in chemical engineering who worked at Fletcher Elementary School. One of her tasks was showing children how to make estimates of the fat contents of food, and one of the findings they found interesting and unexpected was that margarine contained fat, she explained. "I loved those guys because they were really receptive and inquisitive."
"It was the ideal experience for me-using my background in science to teach classes about the hows and whys of certain phenomena," said freshman Jeffrey LeBlanc, who led chemistry classes and laboratory demonstrations for seventh- and eighth-graders at Peabody Elementary School. "In retrospect, I learned as much if not more than the children."
In working with both students and teachers, the Fellows are "phenomenal-they've been a godsend," said Joanne Krepelka, coordinator of educational technology for the school system.
MIT is involved in local schools in more than just a student-volunteer capacity. With the help of a $1.8 million grant from the National Science Foundation, the City of Cambridge school system is in the midst of restructuring its science department, and the Institute is assisting in that effort, said Ms. Sandberg. (The City's schools have adopted equipment designed by Cambridge Physics Outlet, a company founded by MIT graduate students-see accompanying story).
In addition to academic assistance, Fellows have talked more informally with their charges, sometimes answering questions about violence or other social issues-"questions that they may not feel comfortable asking a teacher," Ms. Lee noted. She had the added bonus of serving as a role model for girls in the school. "They think it's really cool to be a scientist now," Ms. Krepelka said.
KEYs, a program started by MIT women to foster girls' interest in science and technology, is now supported by the PSC. In its second annual January session, 35 girls aged 11-13 worked with more than 20 mentors who showed them labs and other facilities at MIT, Ms. Sandberg noted. "We felt it was an important and worthwhile program and we wanted to see it continue" after the forthcoming departure of graduate student Corinna Lathan, who cofounded KEYs, which stands for Keys to Empowering Youth (Tech Talk, July 20, 1994). The PSC hopes to become a clearinghouse to provide information linking various other service groups on campus.
The Center also has ties to community agencies as well as schools. It sponsored an IAP seminar in which representatives of organizations including Shelter, Inc., and Cambridge Cares About AIDS discussed their work. PSC staffers are working with Paul Parravano, assistant for community relations, to explore community volunteer opportunities for students. By facilitating volunteer efforts by students beginning their freshman year with CityDays during R/O, "we're continuing the two-way street," Ms. Sandberg noted.
There is a tradition of continuing work in the schools through crossovers between the PSC Fellows Program and LINKS, a program in which students volunteer one to three hours a week during the term. And former Fellows also keep in touch with the teachers they worked with. Freshman Helen Trapp corresponds via e-mail with Kathy Boutin, a Fitzgerald Elementary School teacher whom she helped with setting up a computer lab during IAP. Her work included showing sixth-graders how to send and receive e-mail to scientists in China for a project on that country. "I have nothing but good things to say about her," Ms. Boutin said.
For her part, Ms. Lee and other Fellows gained some understanding of teachers' concerns and methods. "It was neat to see them brainstorm about new and innovative projects that involved the computer," she said. She, too, has maintained contact with her students-or they with her. "I don't think I'll be able to go to the [CambridgeSide] Galleria without someone yelling `Hey, computer teacher!'"
PSC Fellows receive stipends of $4,800 in the summer (480-hour minimum) or $1,200 during IAP (120-hour minimum). Applications for the summer program are due March 22. For more information, contact Emily Sandberg at x3-0742 or
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on March 15, 1995.