Studying these cells could lead to new treatments for diseases ranging from gastrointestinal disease to diabetes.
About 800 MIT student volunteers -- mostly freshmen -- played host to 450 third- to sixth-graders from Cambridge schools at the sixth annual CityDays Festival on August 29.
The event serves as a springboard for a series of community service events sponsored by the MIT Public Service Center (PSC) throughout the year. Many of the MIT students also participate in the LINKS program, in which they volunteer to work alongside science teachers with elementary school youngsters.
President Charles M. Vest, welcoming the MIT students to the CityDays Festival, admitted that at its inception, he wondered whether undergraduates could maintain their commitment to the LINKS program as academic pressures built during the academic term. But each year, he said, graduating seniors note specifically the satisfaction they derive from their relationships with the Cambridge youngsters. "Let's hope you'll look back at something that happened here today as playing an important part of your life," he said.
The relationships developed through these programs can play an important role in the education of both the MIT students and the children. The day's events included arts and crafts, sports and tours of the Media Laboratory, the MIT Museum and the Edgerton Center. In addition, each youngster received a free lunch, ice cream and a T-shirt.
Micah Gutman, scientific coordinator for Alpha Epsilon Pi's philanthropy program, along with several other members of the fraternity, demonstrated Media Lab research for the children and oversaw their use of some software. "Some created interesting projects," performing simple programming, he said, while others concentrated on painting and drawing.
"The college students came away with a great sense of satisfaction," said Mr. Gutman, a sophomore. "Approximately five of us had all worked in the Media Lab as UROPs and it was great to actually witness the fulfillment of the Lab's goal -- to foster education. The children were also a lot of fun to watch over and spend the day with."
Cambridge City Councilor Michael Sullivan and Paul Parravano, assistant for community relations, evoked themes similar to President Vest's in welcoming the MIT volunteers. "Today's activities will add a special dimension to your life," said Mr. Parravano. Representing the city, Councilor Sullivan thanked the students for their involvement and suggested that when MIT gets them down, they should "look at the joy in the faces" of their elementary school charges.
Liora Faliks, a senior in managment, and Matthew Rechtin, a junior in biology, were student co-directors of CityDays. In her opening remarks, Ms. Faliks thanked PSC program director Emily B. Sandberg and coordinator Monica A. Huggins for the roles they played in making CityDays a memorable event. She also presented a T-shirt and thanked Priscilla K. Gray, a founder of the PSC and co-chair of its steering committee.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 10, 1997.