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Beyond the Infinite

Beyond the Infinite, Fall 2012
Volume 7, Issue 2

Introducing MIT's culture through service


As part of their FUP experience, participating freshmen volunteered at the Greater Boston Food Bank and sorted food donations. Photo: Holly Hinman

When freshman Sylvia Atsaves arrived to campus in August, she immediately met 35 fellow new students and 16 upperclassmen while volunteering at seven local organizations over the course of six days.

MIT Orientation didn't even begin until the following week.

Atsaves and her peers came to campus early for the Freshman Urban Program (FUP), a freshmen pre-orientation program (FPOP) that has been offered by the Priscilla King Gray Public Service Center since 1997. FUP introduces students — or "FUPpers" as they affectionately call themselves — to MIT and the surrounding community through service activities and discussion of urban issues.

After doing some community service in high school, Atsaves was looking for an FPOP experience that would resonate with her interests. Not only was FUP an enjoyable experience, but it also gave her the inspiration to continue serving the community.

"FUP really gave me the focus and passion to do more public service while at MIT," says Atsaves. "It's nice to know that there are so many places to serve near campus that it's just a matter of choosing."

This year, FUPpers volunteered at organizations such as the Cambridge Community Center, Cradles to Crayons, The Greater Boston Food Bank and Science Club for Girls in conjunction with discussions surrounding domestic hunger, gender, peer pressure, privilege and diversity.

As part of an evening discussion on hunger, Cambridge Mayor Henrietta Davis visited with the FUPpers and explained that issues of food insecurity and malnutrition very much affect the local community. For example, The Greater Boston Food Bank has seen a 23 percent increase in requests since 1995, according to Davis. As this was one of the week's volunteer sites, Davis expressed her enthusiasm for the students' interest in the local community.

"It makes a big difference to the community to know that MIT students are involved," said Davis.

Though FUP is an important introduction to service opportunities, urban issues and the local community, it is also an acclimation opportunity for MIT itself.

"FUP is an amazing introduction to MIT because of the resources it provides for incoming freshmen," says senior Caitlin Pomeroy, one of this year's FUP co-coordinators. "Not only are they instantly connected with other freshmen, but they are also met by caring upperclassmen who can show them everything they need to know to get around MIT."

Pomeroy was a FUPper herself when she was a freshman, and she returned to the program as a counselor for the next two years before assuming the coordinator position as a senior.

The boomerang effect of FUP is common, as many FUPpers return to the program by applying to a student leader position. Sophomore Shilpa Agrawal is another example of this, as she returned as a counselor this August after participating as a freshman in 2011.

"Looking back, signing up for FUP was one of the best decisions I've ever made," says Agrawal. "It's really shaped my MIT experience in a way that no other thing has. I got exposed to the public service culture at MIT, and service has become the most important thing for me here aside from academics."

In fact, Agrawal's interest in service was piqued as a result of a chance encounter during her own FUP experience. At a service placement, she built a bookcase with counselor and fellow student Noam Angrist, co-founder of Amphibious Achievement. As a result of their ensuing conversation, Angrist learned of her interest in writing, and he persuaded her to join the Amphibious Achievement staff as its grant writer.

"Through FUP, I realized how much need there is in the community I moved in to and how much diversity there is in these organizations that exist," says Agrawal.

Though the primary goal of FUP is to expose student to service opportunities and urban issues around campus, it has a remarkable side effect of bringing students closer together.

This year, Agrawal lives in a five-person suite in Burton-Conner. Though all of her suitemates study different Courses, belong to different sororities and participate in different student groups, all five were FUPpers.

"FUP friendships last," she says.

Regardless of what Sylvia Atsaves' living situation will be next year, she finds that the strong sense of community FUP provided through shared service experiences has set her on the right trajectory.

"Learning how to work with people in a group, talk with others and convey your ideas and emotions can be applied to everything at MIT," she says. "Even psetting."

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