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Community Service Can Be Rewarding

Column by Abigail Mieko Vargus

MIT tries to provide many public service opportunities to its students. However, not enough of us take advantage of these opportunities. I was excited to hear that about 40 students took advantage of their spring breaks to go to public schools in Newark, N.J., the Bronx, and Baltimore. Anthony J. Ives G, who organized the trip, noted that it was enjoyable and productive.

That is what I want to point out: We do get isolated here. Our classes and other activities demand so much of our time, and most of us just want to relax when we finish. No matter that there are plenty of opportunities to give a little to the community that we pass up - it's time to sleep.

Okay, sleep is important, but so is public service. I have volunteered time for several community organizations, and I've really gained a lot from the experiences. They are a terrific escape from MIT, too. There was a sweet 6-year-old, Meron, that I tutored for a while. It's a rewarding experience to help someone achieve what they want to do.

And somehow, the tedium of problem sets is a little less heartening. I spent a summer, full-time, at an educational non-profit in Cambridge (through the generosity of the MIT Public Service Center). I met many of the neighborhood kids and was able to help teach them. I organized volunteers and created a library for the volunteers. I think that this summer gave me more insight on the "real world" than any other summer job I've had.

I asked around and was surprised by how many of my friends were unaware of the opportunities which MIT has. Not only that, but MIT will even give you course credit. My sisters went to Brown. It's a much more liberal and involved environment than our closed, inner-oriented Cambridge home. As such, there were lines of students for programs like Big Brother/Big Sister, and student opportunities were almost all volunteer - and competitive. My sisters think the MIT administration must be crazy because they have to give us incentives to get involved. We're lucky that they do this, and I hope that more of you will take advantage of it.

How? There is a course in the political science department, Community Service: Experience and Reflection (17.903). It is a six-unit course that meets only about four times each term. There is some reading, but the main requirement is a four- to six-hour time commitment to public service. This class is also available in the summer - but with the credit added to your fall course load so that you don't have to pay tuition. Talk about bribery. I encourage anyone who is at all interested in public service to look into this. You can e-mail Tobie Weiner, the course instructor, at for more information.

If you don't know what kind of volunteer work you would like to do, that's OK. There is a huge packet of information that you can skim through and pick what sounds interesting. It includes environmental organizations, educational organizations, and political organizations. If you want, you can volunteer at the Computer Museum or the Museum of Science.

While it is too late for this year, the MIT Public Service Center also offers fellowships. Several students are chosen for each summer and for Independent Activities Period to work full-time. Students must apply in early April for the summers and in November for IAP. The fellowships allow MIT students to work in some educational environment while being paid a real salary (more than UROPs - not a measly token). The Public Service Center posters when the time comes.

I hope that it is mere ignorance of the opportunities that has kept so many MIT students from becoming involved in the public service. Please take the information from this article and get involved. It's worth it.