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Class of '92 Gift Will Help Poor Junior High Schools

By Eric Richard
Staff Writer

The 1992 Class Gift, announced last week, has been hailed as an ambitious and innovative program, which, according to Senior Class Gift Co-Coordinator Joanna E. Stone '92, may "set precedents" for future class gifts.

The program, called the Program for the Encouragement of Technology Fund, will send MIT students around the nation visiting junior high schools to encourage the use of computers in school.

"The objective of the program is to get students excited about science and technology," Stone said. "Studies have shown that the 7th and 8th grades are critical times in forming interest in science disciplines. We hope that we can provide engineers as role models for these students since there is no L.A. Law for engineers."

The program will send five members of the Class of 1992 and five other undergraduates to two underfunded junior high schools in each of five regions of the United States. These students, who will travel during Independent Activities Period, will bring donated computers to each of these schools, instruct teachers on the use of the computers, and encourage students to use and program the machines. Stone noted that the MIT students will be teaching the junior high school students to program in LOGO.

According to the description of the PET fund program, the week-long program will conclude with a competition among the students. "Two students plus one teacher representative from each of the schools will then be flown to MIT for a week-long visit to give them a taste of what MIT and college life is all about," the description said.

"We hope this gift will give the junior high students a glimpse of what futures may hold and inspire them to pursue higher education," said Rizwan Q. Virk '92, senior class gift co-coordinator.

The program is scheduled to continue for five years. At the class's fifth year reunion the project will be re-evaluated, but organizers hope that by that time it will be an overwhelming success and will continue indefinitely.

The next phase of the project is to raise money for the PET fund. Stone said that the committee hopes to raise $60,000 over five years to pay for transportation costs. The committee has already put together a team of 40 solicitors. According to Alumni Association Program Director Maryglenn Vincens, the Class of 1942 has pledged to match up to $6,000 in donations.

Corporate sponsorship featured

One of the features of this class gift is that it will receive corporate sponsorship. The Class of 1992 Senior Class Gift Committee is working with the MIT Development Corporation to have Apple Computer Inc. donate four computers to each of the junior high schools visited.

Junior high schools will apply for involvement in the program; the admissions office will then aid the committee in its selection process. According to Director of Admissions Michael C. Behnke, the admissions office would be able to help "identify disadvantaged junior high schools which have the leadership to accept and be responsive to a program like this. In cooperation with our educational counselors, we have done work like this, but never on such an ambitious, large scale."

This year's gift is similar to last year's Teacher Fund -- a loan forgiveness program for MIT graduates who pursue K-12 teaching -- in the respect that it is non-physical. In past years classes donated physical gifts such as the campus maps provided by the Class of 1987.

"What is striking to me about the gifts for this year and last year is the sense of focus which goes beyond those of the past. This is a `living' gift and the fact that it has the potential to affect students and teachers for a long time is very impressive," said Ronald M. Latanision, chairman of the council on primary and secondary school education.

"It is a very exciting program. I think that it is very good that they care this much about the future," Vincens said.

"This is a program that is going to keep our class together for at least five years," Stone said. "It is a project that only has potential to get bigger and bigger. We hope that this type of program will become a model for other colleges to help get America's secondary school students interested in science and technology."

Other proposals considered

This particular program was selected by the gift committee after consideration of many other proposals. Initially, the committee collected ideas from posters placed in Lobby 7 to gather student input, letters sent out to seniors, and comments collected in return for free admission into Strat's Rat.

The committee compiled these suggestions and made a list of the top 12 ideas. This list was placed on a survey and sent out to seniors. According to Stone, over 25 percent of the senior class returned these surveys.

Other ideas which were investigated included building a spiral escalator, construction of an outdoor basketball court, and placing a fountain on campus. However, both costs and availability of space on campus eliminated each of these possibilities.