President Charles M. Vest and his wife Rebecca opened their Memorial Drive home last Tuesday for the fifth annual MIT President's Community Service Awards Ceremony. The enthusiastic gathering included members of the MIT community, elected officials and business leaders of Cambridge, and supporters of MIT's partnership with area schools.
The celebration was begun in 1994 and annually honors two people (one each from the MIT and Cambridge communities) who demonstrate a commitment to community service and an exemplary spirit of volunteerism.
The 1998 award recipients were Professor J. Kim Vandiver of ocean engineering, director of the Edgerton Center, and Lisa P. Van Vleck, a Cambridge resident and director of special projects at Cambridge School Volunteers, Inc.
Welcoming remarks by Mrs. Vest and Paul Parravano, co-director of the Office of Government and Community Relations (OGCR) set a warm tone for the gathering, which was co-hosted by the Vests and the OGCR.
"We cherish the unique working relationships that we have established with many people in this room and tonight we highlight the broad good will between MIT and the Cambridge community," said Mr. Parravano, the evening's master of ceremonies.
"MIT culture is so steeped in community service. Thanks for serving as wonderful role models," said Mrs. Vest to the two award recipients.
Mr. Parravano next introduced Cambridge Mayor Frank Duehay, noting the mayor's "compassionate, heartfelt effort" to stimulate a city-wide discussion of the divisive issues of race and class.
"These awards are given to people who help make sure that Cambridge kids are well prepared for the world they will enter," Mayor Duehay said, also noting the positive effects of MIT's undergraduates working in the school system and MIT faculty, personified by Professor Vandiver, welcoming schoolchildren to MIT. "The cities of this country need MIT-style commitments," he said.
"With this week officially celebrated as American Education Week, it is only fitting thatï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ our theme for both awards this year is based on our deeply held view that the strengthening of public school education is a crucial component in the success and vitality of our society," President Vest said in his opening remarks. "To this end, both recipients this year have demonstrated a strong devotion to improving and maintaining the quality and depth of education for our youth."
SCHOOL PROGRAMS LAUDED
Ms. Van Vleck's "outstanding leadership, guidance and enthusiasm have been critical to the achievements of highly regarded programs," said President Vest.
Ms. Van Vleck's programs include three e-mail pen pal programs for sixth- and eighth-graders and employees from local businesses including MIT; the MIT Press/Kennedy School Project, linking MIT Press employees with fifth- and sixth-graders; an after-school homework center, and the Volpe TEAM Effort, linking employees from the Volpe National Transportation Center with seventh-graders.
As Ms. Van Vleck accepted her award, she thanked family, friends and colleagues for their support and welcomed Cambridge teachers in the room for "recognizing the importance of [having] encouraging adults in the lives of children."
EDGERTON CENTER WORK
Introducing Professor Vandiver, President Vest read from the award proclamation. "Professor J. Kim Vandiverï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ serves as a model of good citizenship and dedication to his community.
"Kim created the Edgerton Center, known for its unique learning-by-doing approach to scienceï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ Through Kim's guidance and strong encouragement, the center has become an important resource that teachers look to as a valuable addition to their curriculum."
In accepting the community service award, Professor Vandiver said, "This award is a tribute to Doc and Esther Edgerton. It's not oftenone is given a pot of resources and license to do something with it."
As an example of "doing something positive" with the Edgerton resources, he recalled with evident pleasure the day he appeared in the MITES (MIT's Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science Program) office to say, "You don't know me, but I'd like to help your program."
Professor Vandiver also expressed his delight in learning that a high school student whom he had once helped with her homework had gone on to study engineering at Northeastern.
"It's a wonderful story about the power of having a mentor," he said.
Other MIT and Cambridge community members recognized during the evening included Emily Sandberg, director of the MIT Public Service Center; Roger O'Sullivan, head of the Cambridge Teachers' Union; Cambridge School Committee members Denise Simmons and Alice Turkel; and Bobbie D'Alessandro, Cambridge superintendent of schools.
"As a Florida native, I was always in awe of MIT. I was more in awe of MIT when I got here and you asked, 'What can we do?' Thank you for everything you do to support our schools. We enjoy and love these partnerships," Ms. D'Alessandro said.
Past recipients of the award, including Yvonne L. Gittens of MIT's Student Financial Services and Major Stephen Carroll of the Salvation Army, joined the round of applause.
Mr. Parravano concluded the awards ceremony with comments directing the group to the upcoming holiday season.
"You are both civic treasures," he said, addressing Ms. Van Vleck and Professor Vandiver. To the community celebrating their example, he urged, "Remember Lisa and Kim as you go through Thanksgiving."
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on November 25, 1998.