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Beyond the Infinite

Beyond the Infinite, Fall 2013
Volume 8


ReachOut students

ReachOut tutor Sandy Zhang '03 reads to children at the Cambridge Community Center.

The PKG Center's foundation is education, and for 25 years, the PKG Center has enabled students and communities alike to be educated through public service. When the PKG Center was founded, its primary focus was on engaging MIT students with K-12 students in our Cambridge community. Through the years we have expanded our reach across the nation and around the world, but Cambridge education remains a core area of emphasis.

Cambridge education

Through programs such as ReachOut and Community Service Work-Study, MIT students venture off campus to serve the local community that is their home during their time at MIT. Whether students engage in literacy tutoring at the Cambridge Community Center, mentor local children in math, or work at an education-focused nonprofit, they bring their knowledge into Cambridge while also learning more about Cambridge itself.

"By having MIT students serve the local community, we are able to take advantage of a very valuable resources – the knowledge and expertise that these students have," says Darrin Korte, director of out-of-school time programs at the Cambridge Community Center. "MIT students are also becoming more engaged with the city of Cambridge, and they develop an understanding of the area they are living in during their college years."

With such a dedication to Cambridge over 25 years, the impact of education in the community has been quite profound. Connie Chow has seen this impact firsthand as executive director of Science Club for Girls, a Cambridge nonprofit that aims to increase STEM literacy and self-confidence among K-12 girls.

"Through the PKG Center, MIT students have helped inspire hundreds of girls in the Cambridge area by connecting with them directly in hands-on Science Clubs, preparing materials for these explorations, or working behind the scenes to raise funds for our programs," she says. "They have also organized other students to create a thousand science kits that have been distributed to girls and families and to present at our outreach events."

Four Weeks for America

Through the PKG Center's Four Weeks for America program, founded in 2008, MIT students have the opportunity to work under the guidance of a Teach For America host teacher to develop projects that will have a long-term effect on the participating schools. Such projects often include curriculum development, data analysis, and classroom management strategies. The success of the program at MIT has led Teach For America to create similar models at other universities. 

Through the program, MIT students have spent their IAPs in school all over the country. This year, students served at schools in California, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Texas, and Washington, DC.

"I have been fortunate to have many people care about my education," says Marissa Stephens '16, who served in Chelsea, Mass., during IAP 2013. "I wanted to participate in Four Weeks for America for the chance to pass on the support to students who may not have had the education opportunities that I have had."

As Maria Cassidy '14 realized during her experience in Mesilla, N.M., MIT students aren't the only ones to do the inspiring.

"I benefited so much, I think even more than the school or my teacher did," says Cassidy.

 Student-created endeavors

As busy as MIT students are with their own education, many still find the time to deliver an innovative educational experience to surrounding communities.

As an MIT student, Cori Lathan PhD '94 had a keen interest in introducing young girls to STEM fields.

"As a grad student at MIT, I was one of the only women in my research lab and classes, and it finally occurred to me to ask, 'why?'" says Lathan.

In 1993 Lathan founded Keys to Empowering Youth (KEYs), a program which provides MIT mentors to middle-school girls and shows them hands-on aspects of science and engineering. Once a PKG Center program that now is student-run through the Society of Women Engineers, KEYs provides hands-on science activities and engineering challenges, tours of MIT laboratories, and opportunities to interface with MIT students as mentors. As a result of the program's success at MIT, KEYs has been adopted at other universities throughout the country.

Bryan Adams '99, MEng '00, PhD '06, realized that excess computer equipment at MIT could be distributed to people in need. In 1997, Adams worked through the PKG Center to create CommuniTech, a program that enables MIT students to teach basic computer skills to local community members. At the completion of the training, the program provides participants with a refurbished computer.

"The direct impact – helping families get computers and training – speaks for itself," says Adams. "The indirect impact – getting young MIT students out of the Institute bubble and reminding them that there's another world where technology is not ubiquitous – is harder to measure, but I think it can ultimately be just as important."

Wanting to apply their experiences in crew and swimming through public service, Noam Angrist '13 and Ron Rosenberg '13 founded Amphibious Achievement, a dual athletic and academic mentorship program for inner-city Boston Public School students. The PKG Center provided early support to this program, which brings Boston high school students to MIT every Sunday as they learn the techniques of rowing and swimming in addition to critical reading, grammar, and math.

"The PKG Center enabled us to launch Amphibious Achievement," says Shilpa Agrawal '15, who now serves as co-president of Amphibious Achievement with Alice Huang '15. "When Noam and Ron came up with the idea for the organization, they brought it to the PKG Center to seek advice about how to take the next steps. PKG Center staff played a huge role in advising them on what steps to take and providing them with seed funding to launch the program."

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