press room

Beyond the Infinite

Beyond the Infinite, Spring 2009
Interviews

Matt Gethers (’09, Course 20)
David Reshef (G, Course 6)
Matt Zedler ‘07
John Velasco ’06 SM




Matt Gethers

Matt Gethers (’09, Course 20)
2009 Rhodes Scholar

Does winning the award make any difference to your plans?
I applied for a Rhodes Scholarship with the intention of studying Philosophy, Politics, and Economics and specifically social issues surrounding technology. This path contrasts pretty starkly with my current undergraduate major in biological engineering. Winning was a confirmation that I should continue to broaden my perspective as I find my place in the world. While concentrating in political science here at MIT and studying PPE at Oxford will broaden my perspective academically, my work through the PSC has given me a more tangible sense of some of the struggles the world faces and the value of the skills that I bring to the table.

What inspires your public service work?
As hard as we all work, some portion of our success is based on factors outside of our control. I didn't choose to be born an American, or into a family that understood the value of education and could afford to send me to MIT. The fact that there are people who work as hard and harder than I do but will never enjoy the success I've enjoyed for reasons beyond their control bothers me a great deal. In a way it's kind of selfish, but I feel the need eliminate some of the chance in attaining success and happiness as a way of living with that reality.

How do you see public service fitting into your life in the future?
Synthetic Biology (the discipline I've adopted) offers a lot of promise. Designing systems that can operate independently of human handlers in currently inaccessible environments, carry out complex functions, rebuild themselves, and evolve to actually improve performance over time could be used to change some dire realities. My hope in studying PPE over the next two years is to gain a better understanding of how to implement these technical solutions in a socially sustainable way.

How has the PSC helped you?
The PSC helped place me in classrooms and it set up my engineering program partnership with Tutoring Plus here in Cambridge. I've had a lot of fun working with students and trying to show them the fun side of science and engineering and I have no doubt that my ambitions have been molded by my experiences.

 

David Reshef (G, Course 6)
2009 Marshall Awardy

Does winning the award make any difference to your plans?
Winning one of these awards doesn’t change who I am or what I’m passionate about.  MIT really helped me identify and discover these things, and I can’t imagine a more fulfilling undergraduate experience.  At some point around the end of junior year, I started getting a sense of what I thought I wanted to do with my life, I just didn’t know how.  While this award didn’t change my plans, it will materialize them in a way beyond anything I had imagined.

What inspires your public service work?
While working on a health project in rural Zambia, I met Sam Miti.  Sam taught me that the greatest gift that I am capable of giving the children in the village we were working didn’t take the form of a material good; it wasn’t a book, or drugs, or even food.  The greatest gift I could give was a dream.  Anyone could rescind my material contributions, but no one could take away the hope I inspired.  As Sam told a child in my presence, “The only difference between you and me is time.”  These children will shortly stand where I stand today.  I stand, seizing my dreams, but will these children ever come across the chance to clutch theirs?  Will they even consider the possibility, or will the idea of a dream fade into a romantic memory escaping their perceived realm of reality? As one who convinced me of my potential and helped shape my future once told me, “Life is full of missed opportunities.”  As I continue chasing my dreams, I want to forevermore consider those who would never even imagine the opportunities I’ve been given.

How do you see public service fitting into your life in the future?
I’m particularly interested in the interface between computer science, public health, and medicine.  More specifically, there is a fantastic opportunity to apply novel computational methods toward improving public health, particularly in developing regions.  I hope to be able to combine my computational background with a medical degree toward solving large-scale issues in health in the developing world.

How has the PSC helped you?
The PSC has been one of the most available and helpful resources to me as a student.  Sally and the staff have helped me and my collaborators develop ideas anywhere from how to use magic to start a volunteer program in hospitals to how to fund a 1,000+ person conference on global poverty.  It has served as a sounding board for developing ideas as well as a guide for executing them effectively.

More observations…
I’ve been incredibly lucky to have grown up between Israel, Kenya, and the US, and to have been able to work and travel in a number of other countries.  Engaging with the people of these various regions has really made me appreciate both their lifestyles, as well as my own.  However, there have been multiple occasions when I’ve realized that I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t been given all the opportunities I’ve been given, and that so many don’t get opportunities like I’ve been given.

I suppose the most fundamental thing that inspires my public service work is the desire to try to help others …

 

Matt Zedler

Matt Zedler ‘07
2006 Truman Scholar

Does winning the award make any difference to your plans…
Winning the award itself did not, but meeting the fellow Trumans has. The Truman scholarships not only provides money for graduate school but also provides a support network of individuals who are passionate about public service. For example, I spent this past New Year's in NYC with a buddy who is working for the NYPD's counterterrorism unit, a friend who is teaching for Teach for America in Harlem, and others who are actively engages in service-related roles. Though I am currently working in the private sector, their altruism and dedication continues to serve as an inspiration and reminder for me of where I want to be in the long run. 

What inspires public service…
So many people in this world are need so little to improve their lives. If those of us who have been blessed with talents and riches turn our skills to helping those who are in a much worse position, we can create real change (might have borrowed that one from Obama...). In reality, its the smiles and the stories of individuals who have been impacted. Though I want to change the world for the betterment of mankind, changing one person's world for the better is a very satisfying accomplishment.

Public service and future…
Future is very cloudy right now, but the end goal is to combine public service and energy technology in a way that makes the world a better place. Whether this goal involves public, private, non-profit, start-up is still to be determined. 

PSC helped me…
Let me list the ways:

  1. Provided inspiration in a similar way to the Truman Foundation
  2. Let me reach out and connect with others who are wanting to make a difference
  3. Given me the opportunity to lead a service project and program
  4. Introduced me to such great people as Sally Susnowitz, Jill Soucy, and Camilla Brinkman (among others)
  5. Provided a home on campus

 

John Velasco

John Velasco ’06 SM
2006 Mitchell Scholar

Does winning the award make any difference to your plans?
My selection as a George J. Mitchell Scholar had a profound impact on my plans and reinforced a long held belief of the importance of understanding different cultures and appreciating unique traditions. As a scholar, I had the opportunity to interact with high-level government officials from Ireland and Northern Ireland, to befriend students from across Europe, and to immerse myself in a culture quite distinct from America. My year in Ireland broadened my horizons and inspired me to take my passion for governing and public policy beyond the shores of the United States - to think globally about the challenges that face our generation and how we can work across borders to work on some of these monumental tasks. In short, being a Mitchell Scholar transformed me into a global citizen inspired to work on issues that transcend borders and impact all mankind: education, energy, healthcare, justice.

What inspires your public service work?
I'm inspired on a daily basis by the genuine kindness, generosity, and compassion of average Americans - people I interact with on the bus, at the lunch counter, or in the supermarket. In addition, I'm reminded constantly how fortunate I am to have all of the opportunities that I do in my life. This two factors greatly influence my perspective on life and ignite in me a deep passion for giving back to my community, my country, and the world at every opportunity that is presented.

How do you see public service fitting into your life in the future?
I see public service as a centerpiece of my personal and professional life influencing nearly everything I do on a daily basis in the future. Public service has been an integral part of my life since I was a freshman in high school, it reshaped my path at MIT steering me from an engineering discipline to one focused on public policy and education.

How has the PSC helped you?
The MIT Public Service Center was instrumental in developing me into a leader with a passion for public service. Although I had served as a volunteer throughout high school, up until my tenure as a PSC Fellow, I had never lead a significant public service project. Through three PSC fellowships and two years as Coordinator of iMath - an interactive math mentoring program for 8th graders - I was trained in grassroots organizing, community relations, and logistics and program planning - skills that have served as an essential foundation for my work since graduating from MIT, most notably my work as an education policy fellow in the Office of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in California. The PSC enabled me to develop into a public service leader equip with the tools and the skills to enact positive change in Ireland, in Sacramento, and now in Washington, DC.