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Group coordinates service activities

By Adnan H. Lawai

The Public Service Initiative will soon move into a permanently-staffed office which will be a center for coordinating local social service efforts involving members of the MIT community, according to Professor Robert W. Mann '50.

The public service group was formed last fall "to try to provide some support to student groups who were involved in public service and to give new students a chance to participate," Mann said. PSI is presently based in the TCA office and staffed by Steering Committee coordinator Virginia Sorenson.

Mann and Priscilla Gray co-chair the Public Service Steering Committee which directs the activities of PSI. The committee was formed last September on the initiative of Dean for Student Affairs Shirley M. McBay, and includes student representatives from campus activities already involved in service. Among these activities are the Undergraduate Association, Tau Beta Pi, Urban Action, Graduate Student Council, InterFraternity Council, Alpha Phi Omega, Technology Community Association and the Dormitory Council.

The PSI will be a place with "some dollars" and support for student service efforts, Mann said. In that way, the group will hopefully give "more structure and visibility" to service efforts on campus.

Mann noted that MIT students already provide volunteer service at various public service organizations such as United Way, Amnesty International, and Massachusetts General Hospital. The new group will be a "vehicle for making the whole process easy," he explained.

As its first campus activity, PSI organized a public service midway during Independent Activities Period. A number of local and on-campus groups such as APO, Upward Bound, local hospitals and community groups were invited to participate in the midway. The purpose was to inform the MIT community about local problems and the opportunities that exist in public service, Mann said.

According to Mann, the student response was "very good" and the midway was a "kaleidoscope of activity." Dozens of tables with representatives from service groups "informed students and gave them an interface."

Among the categories of activities that PSI will be engaged in are literacy and education, medical issues, underprivileged youth and hunger, Sorenson said.

The group intends holding a public service midway every term. In addition, luncheon seminars where service groups can describe their activities and goals are planned, Mann said. Booths featuring such groups may be set up in the Student Center soon.

The Steering Committee is also exploring possibilities of offering certain public service projects as Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program projects, according to Mann. A large number of volunteer agencies have problems with a technical content and such projects can be integrated with UROP. For example, a recent problem was to develop software that would enable computers to translate Braille.

"MIT students like to do good," Mann said. "They enjoy the idea of combining science and technology with projects with a humanitarian dimension." Elizabeth Williams '90, who is DormCon representative on the PSSC, said that "a lot of people at MIT want to take part in public service but don't know where to go." She thought PSI will contribute to general awareness of public service oppurtunities.

Student activities have already begun to work in conjunction with the new group. According to Jason Slibeck '91, the UA representative, the UA intends to send student representatives from MIT to an upcoming conference in New York City that will bring together public service groups from a number of colleges. The conference will give students a chance to examine public service projects under way in New York City.

Tau Beta Pi representative Henry Houh '89 said that his organization intends to use the new group's resources to find volunteer tutors and workers for other community projects.