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Raffaela L. Wakeman ’08 unveils the goal for the Class of 2008 Senior Gift and the senior class project, a student externship assistance fund, at last night’s Senior Gift kickoff celebration in the Vannevar Bush Room.
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The Senior Gift campaign kicked off last night, challenging seniors to donate to MIT and reach 55 percent participation rate. This year’s senior project, a fund for students taking unpaid externships over the Independent Activities Period, was also unveiled.

“We’re really excited, really motivated,” said Senior Gift Chair Raffaela L. Wakeman ’08 at last night’s opening ceremony, held in the Vannevar Bush Room. “There’s a lot of pressure, and we’re ready,”

The Class of 2008 Externship Assistance Fund will sponsor students who take unpaid externships during IAP, Wakeman said. Some IAP externships, which take place off-campus, include a stipend or housing and transportation assistance, though many do not. Wakeman said she hopes the fund will encourage students to get real-world work experience without having to worry about money.

This year’s Senior Gift committee settled on the externship fund after surveying the senior class by e-mail in September. The results showed that seniors were interested in improving academic programs, and the fund was voted for “almost unanimously” by committee members, Wakeman said.

Seniors do not have to donate specifically to the senior project in order to participate in the Senior Gift campaign. Contributions by seniors to other MIT funds or groups — the Scholarships Fund, the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, and the Department of Athletics, Physical Education, and Recreation — also count as part of the Senior Gift.

The goal for participation this year remains at 55 percent, the same goal set by the Class of 2007. If the participation rate exceeds 55 percent, Alumni Association President Harbo Jensen PhD ’74 will donate $25,000 to the senior project. He will donate less for participation rates of 25 to 55 percent will not donate for participation rates under 25 percent.

Last year’s senior class reached a 52 percent participation rate, setting a new record for the Senior Gift but falling short of the 55 percent goal.

MIT has historically had a low senior gift participation rate — around 30 percent. “[MIT] just wasn’t keeping up with peer institutions,” said Senior Gift Adviser Rosheen B. Kavanagh of the Alumni Association. Last year, Harvard’s senior gift participation rate reached 67 percent. Yale’s was 80 percent.

In 2006, a streamlined Senior Gift campaign combined with increased volunteer efforts resulted in a record-setting 51 percent participation rate, an increase of over 20 percentage points from the previous year. In 2007, the senior class broke the record again with a 52 percent participation rate. If the Class of 2008 reaches its goal, it will be the third straight year that senior gift participation has exceeded 50 percent.

Wakeman sees the previous years’ accomplishments as motivation. “We want to show that it wasn’t all an anomaly,” she said, encouraging seniors to do even better. The Class of 2006 “did really well, they broke the record, but that’s not good enough!” she said.

At the kickoff ceremony last night, Senior Gift committee members solicited donations as snippets of “SexyBack” played over the speakers. A timeline on one wall displayed significant events that occurred during the senior class’s time at MIT, inviting seniors to fill in the rest with provided markers. According to entrance logs, over 100 people attended the kickoff.

“There’s a lot of enthusiasm,” Wakeman said. “I think that this is really going to be successful.”

For part of the night, Wakeman stood by the door encouraging seniors to donate. “Have you made your gift yet?” she asked as groups left.

For more information about this year’s Senior Gift campaign, see http://web.mit.edu/senior-gift/.