Thanks to the skills and financial support of many from the MIT community, SPES (Supplemental Program of Educational Skills), a nonprofit after-school program in Dorchester, has a new computer lab and information technology platform.
Corporation chair Alexander d'Arbeloff (S.B. 1949), who with his wife Brit (S.M. 1961) provided lead funding for development of the new SPES computer platform, was among several from MIT who attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Aug. 30 for the new computer lab. Others at the event included Boston Mayor Thomas Menino.
The lab's web-based information technology (IT) platform, which was created with the help of seven UROP students headed by Assistant Professor John-Paul Barrington Clark of aeronautics and astronautics, will serve as the hub of all communications between SPES students, staff, volunteers, parents and teachers.
SPES is also the Latin word for "hope," which reflects the program's mission of helping urban youth develop their full potential and prepare for college and careers. It provides enrichment activities (including one-on-one mentoring, academic tutoring, sports and music instruction) to more than 220 Dorchester, Hyde Park, Mattapan and Roxbury students in grades five to 12.
The program's board members include Isaac Colbert, dean for graduate education, and MIT Corporation member R. Robert Wickham (S.B. 1993, S.M. 1995), co-director of the computer lab project. Others from MIT involved in the project include project manager Geoff Lee Seyon (S.B. and M.Eng. 1998); Tyrone Sealy, senior computer operator in the Laboratory for Computer Science; and Alan Sun (S.B. 2000).
Eighty-eight professionals and students from MIT, Boston University, Tufts University, Boston College, Harvard University, Harvard Business School and Northeastern University serve as SPES volunteer mentors and tutors. They include about 12 from MIT, primarily from the Leaders for Manufacturing Program.
Wickham got involved with SPES as a volunteer tutor as a freshman. He taught math and science in the first annual SPES Summer Camp, remained a volunteer until graduating in 1995 and was invited to join the board of directors. He recently became president of the SPES Foundation.
"The launch of this computer lab is a momentous occasion for SPES that underscores the desire to continually improve the service we provide to the students. Working with SPES continues to be the single most rewarding thing I do," he said.
"SPES is certainly an exciting program. It was wonderful to see the community come together for this event. Brit and I are delighted to be able to support this exciting new dimension in the students' education," Alexander d'Arbeloff said.
The new computer lab will offer web access and instruction on fundamental computer skills; publish and showcase student products; and help them create essays, rï¿½sumï¿½s, presentations, projects and graphics. The lab will also offer classes to parents and other adults in the community. In addition to off-the-shelf software, customized applications developed by MIT students and faculty will help users gain an advantage in today's increasingly competitive job market.
The lab's IT platform will also allow staff and volunteers to track students' daily progress from the day they enroll in the program until they graduate from high school. Students will use it to complete technology assignments, gaining information-age skills critical to their success in college and beyond.
The UROP students who helped with the IT platform were seniors Jitin Asnaani, William T. Blackwell III and Yogishwar Maharaj, and sophomores Jacqueline Dubrisingh, Sarojani Sammy, Kezia Charles and Aline Lerner.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 24, 2001.