In 1990, the MIT Public Service Center (PSC) began offering fellowships to MIT undergraduate students for intensive summer public-service projects. Fellowship recipients could work on new projects or build on previous volunteer efforts and were required to work with Boston-area public service organizations. That year, five students received fellowships to work on projects at Rosie’s Place, the Margaret Fuller House, and other local agencies, as well as for on-campus awareness and education initiatives for alcohol and AIDS.
David Carroll ’91 was one of those students. As a junior majoring in biology, he joined the inaugural class of PSC fellows to work with Fair Foods, Inc., collecting perishable food from markets and distributing it.
“I was fortunate to be among the first group of PSC fellows, as well as the first student staff at the center. The fellowship helped inspire my commitment to public service,” Carroll says. “For the last 25 years I’ve worked in Central America, as well as in non-profit organizations focused on food security, health, education, public policy and philanthropy. The years I spent focused on service at MIT, combined with the analytical skills MIT helped nurture within me, built a foundation that I rely on to help non-profits meet their missions with a combination of passion and hard thinking.”
In the intervening decades, the PSC Fellowships program has grown significantly and evolved. In addition to supporting undergraduate students, the PSC now awards fellowships to MIT graduate students. PSC fellows can work locally, throughout the United States, and around the world.
This summer, for example, 23 MIT students received fellowships from the PSC, bringing the total number of PSC fellows for the 2014-2015 academic year to 44. The PSC 2015 summer fellows are working on a wide variety of challenges, from climate change and housing policy to sustainable agriculture, to healthcare and more. Their projects will take them to nine countries, four U.S. states, and Washington D.C.
Yet, key aspects of the fellowships program have remained constant, such as requiring students to work with a community partner and encouraging student learning through reflection.
MIT student Julia Heyman is working in Togo this summer at Hope through Health, an organization that works to improve the health of people living with HIV/AIDS. She’s part of the GlobeMed at MIT team, a national organization that builds long-term community partnerships to improve global health and social justice. Heyman will be building on GlobeMed’s data management and computer literacy work with Hope through Health and looks forward to working side-by-side with staff and transferring knowledge and skills. Heyman talked to the PSC about her summer expectations, saying, “I am most excited to have the opportunity to be in Togo to learn the rich culture, and work with the staff as partners, in the hopes that we can help many HIV patients in Kara.”
PSC Fellow Grant Williams, who will work with the organization One Voice in Mississippi, also emphasized the importance of working with and learning from the local community in service projects. “I am really looking forward to the opportunity to spend the summer in Mississippi, working with local communities on issues of economic justice and cooperative development,” Grant says. “This work will be an incredible learning experience and allow me to dive into the culture, politics, and economic complexity of the American South.”
As the PSC has developed and grown its fellowship program over the years, it has partnered with academic departments on campus to co-sponsor fellowships. A collaboration between the Department of Urban Studies and Planning (DUSP) and the PSC, for example, offers DUSP students the opportunity to receive fellowships for international or domestic projects that focus on bringing about positive change in communities.
MIT student Catherine (Catie) Ferrara received a DUSP-PSC Fellowship that enabled her to spend the summer as an intern with the Boston Redevelopment Authority. Expanding on work she started as an undergraduate student, Ferrara is researching ways cities can involve residents in creating redevelopment plans that address public needs. “I’m looking forward to connecting with MIT alumni and others and bringing creative ideas and methods into the city planning process right here in Boston,” Ferrara said. “I’m also excited to meet and learn from South Boston and Jamaica Plain residents and to help create zoning and development guidelines that reflect their visions.”
All three of these examples illustrate the growth of the fellowships program — supporting graduate and undergraduate students in projects from the Boston area to Mississippi to Togo, while underscoring how it has stayed true to its original goal of working with community organizations to serve local needs. All three emphasize the importance working within and learning from communities. And this, in turn, gets at one of the PSC’s core student learning outcomes: that all students develop an understanding of the mutual benefit of service while learning to work wisely, creatively, and effectively for the betterment of humankind.