For students or staff members who need help with a personal problem such as housing, finances, child care or legal issues, figuring out whom to contact at the Institute can be a problem in itself. MIT's Human Services Network eases the guesswork.
The Human Services Network (HSN) is an array of people across the Institute that provide assistance of many types and make referrals to other network members. "We work together to solve problems that are complex and need the services of several offices," said A. Rae Simpson, parenting programs administrator and HSN member.
HSN members include individuals in the offices for career services, personnel, ombudspersons, financial aid, international students and scholars, housing, human resources, numerous deans and Campus Police. Also represented are several areas in the Medical Department, administrative organizations (such as the Personnel Administrators Networking Group, the Administrative Officers Advisory Group, Graduate Administrators Roundtable), and student organizations (Graduate Student Council and MIT Association for Postdoctoral Women).
"One doesn't need to be too concerned about which office to go to first. If you have a problem and you're not sure where to go, you can call almost anyone and wind up in the right place," Dr. Simpson said.
For example, a graduate student might contact the Housing Office for help in finding a bigger apartment. It might turn out that the reason for moving is that the student is in financial difficulty and expecting a child, in which case he or she could also quickly be put in touch with the Office of Financial Aid and the Family Resource Center, Dr. Simpson said. Or an employee who is the victim of stalking or domestic abuse might call for counseling, but she could then also get help from Campus Police to change her parking location and obtain a restraining order.
The HSN was officially established two years ago, though there was an informal network of service providers well before then. More recently, HSN members have initiated an e-mail network, mailing list and periodic meetings to strengthen their cooperative efforts. There are also subgroups to examine how MIT deals with certain needs. For example, this spring, members discussed what support is provided to families of staff and students who are newcomers to MIT, and they are producing a flyer outlining available services for those new arrivals.
The HSN receives no funding of its own. "The people involved try to figure out creative ways to get things done within the restraints we all have to live with," said Ronald Fleming, chief of social work services in the Medical Department. "In this era of fiscal constraint, it's a way of stretching dollars."
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 11, 1996.