Jerry D. Burke and George R. Greenidge Jr. were honored last Tuesday with the MIT President's Award for Community Service. Burke, who has set up dozens of computers in science classrooms around the city, and Greenidge, executive director of the National Black College Alliance, were honored at a ceremony hosted by President Charles and Mrs. Rebecca Vest at their home.
The annual award was established in 1994 to recognize the achievements of citizens, elected officials, community organizations, businesses and academic institutions--one each from MIT and from the Cambridge community--that have made community service and volunteerism a priority. They are presented by the Vests in conjunction with the MIT Office of Government and Community Relations.
"The Community Service Awards have now become a part of the rhythm of life at MIT, and their presence serves as a reminder of the ties that bring us together," said President Vest.
Representing the City of Cambridge at the awards were Vice Mayor David Maher; Fred Fantini, head of the Cambridge School Committee; and City Councillors Marjorie Decker, Ken Reeves and Timothy Toomey.
Burke, a retiree from Information Systems, has drawn on the expertise he acquired in 31 years at the Institute to assist community organizations with the hardware and technical assistance they need to enter the information age. Working with undergraduates, he has helped both children and adults to realize the benefits of information technology and to get the exposure and training they need to use it.
Most recently, Burke has taken on an ambitious project, responding the Cambridge Public Schools' need for computer equipment, installation and wiring. Together with a group of MIT students, he has collected, refurbished and installed dozens of computers in science classrooms at the Kennedy, Haggerty, Fletcher-Maynard, Harrington and Cambridgeport schools. The effort involves repairing computer systems, making them compatible with software run by the Cambridge Public Schools, and connecting them to each other and the Internet.
"MIT is a part of the fabric of the City of Cambridge, and the impact of Jerry's work on the school system exemplifies what it is to be a role model," Maher said.
Greenidge, president of the 1988 senior class at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, has consistently found ways to give back to his native community. He has shown resourcefulness and the ability to motivate Cambridge teenagers to pursue their aspirations for higher education, and has served as a coach and role model for the youth of his community.
Greenidge helped found Cambridge's Benjamin Banneker Charter School, which focuses on math and science education for African-American and Latino elementary students. He was co-chair of the Area Four Neighborhood Coalition and the first executive director of the Area Four Youth Center.
In addition to his current activities as executive director of the National Black College Alliance, he founded the State of Young Black Boston, a convening organization of 350 black Bostonians aged 20 to 40, and was recently appointed by the governor of Massachusetts to serve on the Commonwealth's African-American Advisory Commission.
At the awards ceremony, Greenidge talked movingly about how MIT had been a part of his life since he was young. He grew up just down the street from the Institute, played on its athletic fields, and was mentored by MIT faculty and administrators.
One experience helped to give him exposure to the world beyond Cambridge. When he was growing up, his grandparents, who lived near Central Square, would take in a foreign student as a boarder each semester, giving Greenidge the chance to meet people from faraway places like Egypt and Pakistan. "My grandparents were true citizens of the world, and thanks to their efforts, I was always meeting MIT students from exotic locations," he said.
The President's Community Service Award includes a $1,000 donation to a Cambridge-based charity of the recipient's choice. Greenidge will put his check toward sending one Cambridge Rindge and Latin School student on the National Black College Alliance's tour of 20 historically black colleges in the South. Burke will use the money to continue his project of wiring the 16 public schools in Cambridge. s
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on December 5, 2001.