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Students mull dialogue with President Clinton

Several MIT students in leadership positions were selected to meet briefly with President Clinton before last Friday's Commencement exercises. Before the meeting, MIT Tech Talk asked each for their thoughts on meeting the President and what they would like to say to him. Here are their answers.

Dedric A. Carter of Clinton, SC. 1997-98 president of the Undergraduate Association; SB in electrical engineering and computer science and in mechanical engineering. Plans to attend graduate school.

"I am extremely pleased to be a part of history at MIT. It is, in many ways, the completion of a circle for me. I met Vice President Gore two years ago, and it was definitely a thrill. Now I have the honor and privilege of meeting the sitting President of the United States of America before he makes the first speech by a sitting president at the premier institution of technology and science in the world. This doesn't happen every day to a small-town gentleman from South Carolina. I am definitely pleased."

Geoffrey J. Coram of Reston, VA. 1997-98 president of the Graduate Student Council; PhD candidate in electrical engineering.

"I would want to point out the level of student debt and the importance of continued funding for graduate education to maintain US competitiveness in science and technology. I would discuss the importance of foreign exchange programs such as Rhodes and Fulbright. I would also probably want to mention Lori Berenson's situation [jailed in Peru].

Hans Jacob Sverdrup Feder of Oslo, Norway. 1998-99 vice president of the Graduate Student Council; PhD candidate in mechanical engineering.

"Could he could find the time to visit Norway? Does he believe in the importance of diversity in educational institutions? What role should education play in improving the conditions of the poor?"

Iddo Gilon of Framingham, MA. 1997-98 president of the Interfraternity Council; SB in electrical engineering and computer science with a minor in economics. Plans: business school in financial engineering, work ethics or strategic management.

"Do you think that the government/cabinet should have a department of science and technology to help understand social and technological trends and their implications? Would this help the government to anticipate change and prevent mishaps and disasters? Evidence from the media and from personal experience suggests that more and more of today's children and teens are brought up and educated with fewer and fewer ethical and moral values. As more families become two-income families with working mothers and fathers, it seems that what was once left in the domain of the family is getting less 'air time.' How can society and our educational communities bring ethics and values back to this generation? Is it possible to integrate those educational lessons in the K-12 curriculum? Could government play a role?"

Jennifer A. Kelly of New Rochelle, NY. 1998-99 vice president of the Undergraduate Association; 1999 SB candidate in brain and cognitive sciences.

"First, I would like to ask what will happen to funding for scientific research now that the need for the war industry is dwindling. Second, does he feel that new programs meant to help children learn to read have been successful up to this point?"

Salman A. Khan of New Orleans, LA. President of the Class of 1998; SB in mathematics and in electrical engineering and computer science, SM in EECS. Plans: product manager for Oracle; later, possibly starting a company, going to law school and dabbling in politics.

"I would most like to discuss Lori Berenson, the MIT [former student] and American citizen who has been imprisoned for life in Peru. She was detained without a public trial. I know that the President has many concerns that involve issues on a much grander scale, but I feel that the wrongful imprisonment of a young American citizen is something that deserves more attention than it has been getting.

Regarding affirmative action, I have always felt that both sides of the argument have avoided the main issue -- namely, improving the conditions of the underprivileged. How does increasing the number of minority students at Harvard benefit a welfare recipient in South Central L.A.? All it does is create a stigma against minority students who have done well. People say or think, 'They got in only because they are black (or Hispanic),' and it provides a false sense of equality. Quotas in industry or academia mean nothing when there are students in New Orleans who are afraid of getting shot at school. Clearly, this is a very touchy and complicated issue, but the discussion should go beyond whether or not to have quotas (since I don't think having them or not would significantly affect most underrepresented minorities)."

Samantha L. Lavery of Livonia, MI. Vice president of the Class of 1998; SB in chemical Engineering with a minor in Spanish. Plans: process engineering at Proctor and Gamble.

"I would enjoy talking about how he feels the United States should be involved in less fortunate countries and how his visits to other countries have affected his outlook and decision making. This year I had an amazing opportunity to spend a month in La Paz, Bolivia, where I worked with other team members to care for abandoned and runaway children living in orphanages and on the streets. Experiencing a completely different culture, economy and language has had an enormous impact on my life. I would also like to hear from President Clinton about the things he most likes and dislikes about his job and how he views the role that we -- the class of 1998 -- will play in our community.

Manju V. Madhavan������������������of Pittsburgh, PA. 1998-99 president of the Dormitory Council. 1999 SB candidate in political science. Plans: graduate degree in public policy, medical school, politics.

"Given that many of the same political constraints currently exist as in 1993 when the President introduced the national health insurance initiative, how does he intend to depoliticize this issue, and what incentives does he intend to provide to the public so that the proposals defined by his 'health care board' will achieve national consensus and eventually be passed into law (assuming that he agrees with its findings)? With the recent nuclear tests conducted by India and Pakistan, does he feel that the United States should revise the post-Cold War policy of placing economic interests ahead of social, strategic and human rights concerns to place more emphasis on those issues and commit itself to greater involvement in the affairs of foreign governments, or does he think it is wiser for us to display leadership by constraining ourselves to resolving domestic concerns first? Has his time in office been gratifying even though he has not been able to put into effect everything he sought for the American people?

Michelle K. McDonough of Chantilly, VA. 1997-98 vice president of the Graduate Student Council; SM in city planning. Plans: public service.

"I would ask him what he would have done differently in terms of domestic policy if Congress had been Democratic rather than Republican during the last few years. I'm also curious what he will do after his term is complete, since he will still have many years left in his career."

Sandra C. Sandoval of Manitou Springs, CO. 1997-98 vice president of the Undergraduate Association; 2000 SB candidate in brain and cognitive sciences and in chemistry. Plans: medical school, public health in US or Latin America.

"I want to talk about what efforts are being made to put more funding toward AIDS and cancer research and his views on what can be done to lessen racial tension and bridge the socioeconomic gap between minorities and Caucasians. Also, I would like to know what tangible advice he has for leaders of our generation, including how he thinks we should begin to combat the ever-growing problem of violence in the United States."

Brian J. Schneider of Collegeville, PA. 1998-99 president of the Graduate Student Council; PhD candidate in biology.

"I would like to thank President Clinton for his continuing support of basic science and graduate education. His administration has been instrumental in increasing funds for the NIH. Many biomedical science grants are administered through the NIH, and the Clinton administration was instrumental in making increases in research a priority in the fiscal budget. His open discussions on race relations and support for affirmative action are to be commended. The administration seemed to play a quiet yet important role convincing conservative Democrats to vote against the Riggs and Campbell amendment to the Higher Education Act. This amendment was originally proposed to eliminate race-based admission strategies throughout the nation, much as Proposition 209 did for California."

Ashesh P. Shah of Huntington, IN. 1997-98 president of the Dormitory Council; SB in economics and mathematics. Plans: medical school.

"Is it worth it? In terms of major changes, the President is in office for a relatively short period of time. How does that affect your vision and your ability to institute major change? Also, tell me about Air Force One, and may I take it for a spin?"

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on June 10, 1998.

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