public service

Not for me.

I’m taking two classes at Harvard this semester: one is an Organic Chemistry II class with lab component (MIT doesn’t offer Organic II in the Spring) and the other is a Neurological Diseases class at Harvard Med. The first class is interesting but Organic Chemistry and I don’t exactly get along…the second is extremely cool and features awesome weekly patient presentations. However, one drawback to taking classes at Harvard is travel time. I need to go back and forth to Harvard’s main campus 4x per week and Longwood 2x per week.

But perhaps the worst feature of this arrangement is that MIT and Harvard’s Spring Breaks didn’t happen to coincide this year. So while I am in dreary Cambridge on this lovely Monday night…

sixteen of my friends are in Cancun. I’m a little heartbroken, but I digress.

Funny story: a few weeks ago MIT’s Camp Kesem coordinators traveled to LA for a national conference.

We had a blast meeting the 20+ other college teams, but perhaps my favorite part of the conference was the very first night. Each school had to prepare a skit for a giant talent show, and we decided to do a parody of what attending Camp Kesem at MIT is like. We pretended that we taught the kids Bernoulli’s equation before they could swim in the lake, weeded out camper applicants based on their 4th-grade GPAs, separated into teams named “the enzymes” and “the substrates” and sang the MIT fight song instead of traditional camp songs. The 200+ crowd roared and cheered at the end, the judges said that it was “too hard to choose a winner but…MIT, you guys were hysterical.” For the rest of the conference, we were repeatedly approached about the hilarity of our skit. We felt like rock stars, and so at our first CK MIT training session back in Cambridge, the coordinators decided to perform our skit for the MIT counselors, anticipating an even better result.

No one laughed.

At first, we were confused and dejected. Then, we realized what had happened. The counselors found Bernoulli’s equation, slide rule quips, enzyme/substrate teams…

entirely normal.    …

I love MIT.

High School Quiz Show, hosted by Lakshminarayanan (center), will present students from 20 schools, including Hingham.

High School Quiz Show, hosted by Lakshminarayanan (center), will feature 20 schools, including Hingham.

Dhaya Lakshminarayanan ’96, ’99, MCP ’99 earned three degrees in urban studies and planning then embarked upon careers including business consultant and stand-up comedian. Now she’s adding a new gig as host of WGBH’s High School Quiz Show, which premieres Monday, March 22.

“As a former smart kid, I have a lot of ‘nerd pride,’” says Lakshminarayanan, a native Tamil-speaker who learned English watching Sesame Street and other PBS shows. “I love that this show celebrates brainy students. There’s already a lot of emphasis on the competitive nature of sports; now smart kids will have their moment. And the approach to High School Quiz Show’s competition is fun, entertaining, and supportive.”

Are you as smart as a high school student? Find out by watching High School Quiz Show on Monday nights, March 22-June 16, at 7:30 p.m. Watch on WGBH 2, on the live stream at, or after the broadcast on Comcast On Demand. You can also follow live tweets at @HS_QuizShow and @WGBHboston. On the show site, you can take a quiz to see your own grade level, read about the schools, and check the broadcast schedule.


Patrick Henry Winston 65, SM 67, PhD 70

Earthquake destruction in Haiti.

Damage in Haiti.

I experienced an earthquake once, high up in a Tokyo hotel. It scared me—really, really scared me—but the next morning, when I expected everyone to be talking about the earthquake, I heard not a word. Frightening as it was to me, the magnitude was too small be a topic worth raising.

So I should have thought more about the horror of Tuesday, 12 January 2010, when a real earthquake, magnitude 7.0, hit near Port-Au-Prince, Haiti. Then, less than two months later, 27 February 2010, a magnitude 8.8 earthquake hit near Concepcion, Chile,

It becomes terrifyingly real when you realize you have colleagues and students from those places, and you learn you can’t be from there without having lost somebody.

My good friend and colleague, Michel DeGraff is from Haiti. My good friend and student, Daniel Rosenberg, is from Chile. So I sent a little money to MIT sites set up for Haitian and Chilean donations. I sent small amounts, but I know about superposition, and I know a lot of small amounts can make a big pile.

Michel has just returned from Haiti. He has several suggestions for donations. Daniel suggests you give via a site set up by MIT and Harvard students that takes you to site set up by MIT for helping Chile.

Or ask one of your friends where they think your donation can do the most good.


Women have always been a minority at MIT, albeit a growing one, and a new student group, Graduate Women at MIT, seeks to support the personal development, individual growth, and empowerment of all graduate women while enhancing connections among existing women’s services. In 2009, 31% of grad students were female (compared to 45% of undergrads), a number that has increased 55% in the past 15 years. GWAMIT founder Kay Furman wanted to ensure that valuable resources were not underutilized by this growing population and that their needs were addressed Institute-wide.

At the kick-off dinner, sponsored by the MIT police, Sergeant Cheryl Vossmer and Captain Al Pierce spoke on the role of MIT police on campus and legal issues in domestic violence cases.

At the internal kick-off dinner, sponsored by the MIT police, Sergeant Cheryl Vossmer and Captain Al Pierce spoke on the role of MIT police on campus and legal issues in domestic violence cases.

GWAMIT will host a spring kick-off week April 26-30 (coinciding with Sexual Assault Awareness Week) that will include a keynote speaker, negotiation and invention workshops, panel on work-life balance, and more.

Here’s where you can help. The group is currently seeking collaborators, sponsors, and panelists for the week as well as other programs in the works. Are you a successful alumna? Have you studied women’s issues or workplace interactions? Could you lead a workshop on a particular skill set (i.e. leadership, negotiation, etc.)? Contact GWAMIT.

GWAMIT’s upcoming plans for the 2010-11 school year include a mentoring program, fall leadership conference, and spring empowerment conference. Check out the Web site to learn more (some events will be open to all alumni), join the student and alumni membership list, and support GWAMIT.

Some 20 women, representing various schools and departments, attended GWAMIT's internal kick-off dinner. Front row, from right: executive board members Megan Brewster, Kay Furman, and Jean Yang.

Some 20 women, representing various schools and departments, attended GWAMIT's internal kick-off dinner. Front row, from right: executive board members Megan Brewster, Kay Furman, and Jean Yang.

Contestants work a physics problem at the 2008 challenge

Contestants work a physics problem at the 2008 challenge.

Are there just not enough cocktail parties in the world for all the trivia floating around in your head? Don’t let it stagnate, waiting for Jeopardy auditions to circle back to your town or squander it on pub quiz nights. Offer up some of your best science-related gems to the Science Trivia Challenge, an annual competition organized by the MIT Club of Boston for the Cambridge Science Festival. The event will be held April 28, 2010, on campus. Trivia suppliers, however, cannot participate in the event as contestants.

Trivia facts should be geared toward a general audience (no PhDs required) in one of two divisions: Youth (for middle- and high-school students) and Open (for those with introductory college-level science knowledge). Any scientific discipline and topic is fair game, including (but not limited to) biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, astronomy, computer science, earth sciences, inventions, technology, medicine, history of science, and local contributions to science. Questions can be multiple choice, short answer, or matching.

View sample questions from past events then learn more about the requirements and submit your trivia.


Findings from the Lemelson-MIT Invention Index

Findings from the Lemelson-MIT Invention Index. Teachers rank highest, followed by doctors, scientists, military personnel, engineers, and politicians.

If you had to choose, which profession would you say contributes most to society’s well-being? According to the recent Lemelson-MIT Invention Index, an annual survey that gauges kids’ perceptions about invention and innovation, teens rate teachers highest, followed by doctors (see graphic). Less than one-fifth of respondents viewed scientists as having the highest impact on society and only 5 percent chose engineers.

One reason might be because students simply aren’t aware what professionals in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) do and don’t have suitable role models. But the good news is that teens are excited to learn. Indeed, 77 percent were interested in pursuing a STEM career, and 85 percent wish they knew more about STEM in order to create or invent something. The most effective way to engage them is through hands-on activities with enthusiastic mentors and teachers. Passion seems to be essential. More than half of respondents (55 percent) would be more interested in STEM simply by having teachers who enjoy the subjects they teach.

The most inspiring training grounds, teens indicated, were field trips to view STEM in action and places outside the classroom where they can build things and conduct experiments (53 percent).

Learn more about the Invention Index’s findings and how you can mentor students in STEM subjects.

Kendra Johnson with residents of Santa Ana.

Kendra Johnson with residents of Santa Ana.

Guest blogger: Kendra Johnson ’09

As a Public Service Fellow, Kendra Johnson ’09 undertook a big project—establishing family-size rainwater collection systems in indigenous communities in the rain forest of Ecuador. Today she’s a medical student in San Francisco but she recently revisited the area to check on progress at the original village and nearby sites where MIT students and local residents are installing the system.

Here’s an excerpt from Johnson’s blog about her recent trip back to Ecuador:

“The community water system is still working. It is not textbook perfect, but they know about the problems and how to solve them, and that means my role is to step back and let Santa Ana handle these challenges for themselves….

“We also repeated a house to house health survey and found that the reported number of times a child had diarrhea in a year dropped from an average of 6.9 to 1.9 times per year from before our intervention, which is quite promising….”

“The most exciting part of all is that the new mayor has made water her top priority for the next 5 years. Two communities have asked for Santa Ana’s help to apply to her for funding for the tanks, and they have both gotten tanks and are working with Santa Ana’s water technical team to do the installations. How amazing is that?”

Johnson’s blog, such stuff as dreams are made of, documents the water project,  Sachu Yaku; her semester in Cuba; and her new life in medical school. Or you can read only the Sachu Yaku posts that describe the early stages of the project.

Interested? The Public Service Center is looking for MIT students to continue the project this summer.

This is the first in a series of posts exploring Independent Activities Period (IAP) from students’ perspectives.

Sandra Chen

Sandra mentoring students on their project.

Guest blogger: Sandra Chen ’12

Hello from South Bend, Indiana! My name is Sandra Chen, a sophomore in the mechanical engineering department spending the first week of IAP, Jan 4–8, participating in the MIT Women’s Initiative Program. This is a student-run group whose mission is to encourage more women to pursue degrees and careers in engineering starting at the middle-school level. My partner, Elizabeth Kowalski (grad student, Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science), and I were selected to present about engineering to young girls curious to learn.

South Bend Middle School students having fun building their paper tower

South Bend Middle School students having fun building their paper tower.

Our week consists of visiting seven middle schools, with several presentations in the morning and afternoon. We reached approximately 600 girls to educate them on the following topics:

  • What an engineer does
  • Adjectives to describe an engineer
  • Stereotypes of engineers
  • What engineers design and make
  • Different types of engineering

In addition, we also described our research to the girls to get the students thinking about how engineers contribute to society. In terms of research, Elizabeth works on the U.S.’s contribution to the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) project focusing on fusion energy. I conduct research on drug delivery and development.

Elizabeth Kowalski

Besides presenting, we also explored the scenic campus of Notre Dame, viewed artwork in the Snite Museum, and had delicious bread bowls at the Chocolate Cafe in downtown South Bend. Pictured, Elizabeth in front of the Notre Dame football stadium.

We incorporated an activity in our presentation where the students were assigned to build the tallest free-standing tower without any other materials besides two pieces of newspaper and imagination. The goal was for the students to gain hands-on knowledge on what an engineer, in this case a civil engineer, might do on a daily basis. The students were very curious and asked a variety of questions pertaining to being an engineer and about our research!

Learn more about the MIT Women’s Initiative.

Guest Blogger: Steve Lustig ’93

As they approached graduation, Omprakash Gnawali ’01 , SM ’02 and Hesky Fisher ’02 talked about starting a non-profit organization to help out children in Omprakash’s native Nepal. With the help of a social worker in Nepal and some other interested friends at MIT, the Nepalese Children’s Education Fund (NCEF) was born. As Omprakash explains, “We gathered a group of students who wanted to stop talking and start doing.”

Volunteers distribute educational materials.

Volunteers distribute educational materials.

Today NCEF is a non-profit organization whose mission is to develop the potential of disadvantaged Nepalese children through education. NCEF identifies children unable to pursue education because of the economic situation of their families. Students are provided with tuition, textbooks and supplies to enroll in school. Our dedicated network of volunteers in Nepal meet regularly with the children and their parents to monitor the progress of the student through school. We dedicate our resources to each child until they complete their high school education. NCEF is sponsoring over 60 students this year, making a major impact on their lives and those of their families. Why focus on education, when there are a variety of needs waiting to be met? Omprakash comments, “Most people that I know who have been successful in leading a life with some basic human dignity have been able to do so through education.”

As MIT students, the first thing they did was set up a website for the charity. At the time they laughed that this was a very nerdy way to start a charity. However, it very quickly began to pay off. While they recruited and raised funds among friends and family and even found a board member by posting in the Tech Review, it was through the web site that most people found NCEF. It didn’t take long before they started getting contacted by people across the U.S. and the world wanting to get involved.

As the founding members of NCEF were graduating and moved far from each other, it became clear that the organization existed as a distributed entity with the web site at its center. Most records are kept directly on the web site—transparency is an important aspect. Members collaborate over email and phone conferences as there is no paid staff or office, which allows more of the money to be spent directly on funding the childrens’ education. Many members…

Learn how alumni and students help today…


Drs. Dheera Ananthakrishnan and David Katz in the operating theatre, Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital, Blantyre, Malawi.

From left: Drs. Dheera Ananthakrishnan and David Katz in the operating theatre, Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital, Blantyre, Malawi.

Every day in the U.S. orthopedic surgeons use basic trauma plates and screws to set and repair fractures in patients’ arms, legs, and other bones. But in the developing world, where this equipment is often not available, a broken arm can mean the difference between a family’s breadwinner being able to work or not. And, because surgeries are infrequent, new doctors can’t be adequately trained. When orthopedic surgeon Dheera Ananthakrishnan ’90 learned from company reps that a surplus of first-generation orthopedic implants sat gathering dust in warehouses, she decided to do something to unite obvious demand with abundant supply.

Having studied mechanical engineering at MIT, the logistical problem appealed to Ananthakrishnan. She joined with orthopedist Jim Kercher and his wife, Heather Kercher, both Georgia Tech-trained engineers, to apply supply chain management principles to the problem. Before long, Orthopaedic Link (OL) was born. It’s a nonprofit that uses an online portal to connect idle, usable orthopedic implant surpluses with the surgeons and organizations in the developing world that need them.

Dr. Nyengo Mkandawire, the only Malawian-born orthopedic surgeon operating in Malawi today, with a patient of his who had been treated for four months by a traditional healer for a herniated disc in her low back. She was unable to walk when she came to Queens Hospital. Mkandawire performed a lumbar discectomy surgery on her, and just before this picture was taken, they were dancing together!

Dr. Nyengo Mkandawire, the only Malawian-born orthopedic surgeon operating in Malawi today, with a patient who had been treated for four months by a traditional healer for a herniated disc in her low back. She was unable to walk when she came to Queens Hospital. Mkandawire performed surgery on her using supplies delivered by Orthopaedic Link, and just before this picture was taken, they were dancing together!

Recipient hospitals and doctors, though, are fully evaluated before they can receive supplies. “We’re trying to find surgeons with a good skill set who are limited mainly by a lack of supplies, in developing countries that are politically stable,” Ananthakrishnan explains. She seeks doctors already providing services for free and who are looking to train other doctors and students. She herself personally visits sites to observe surgeries and understand the needs of a hospital. Ananthakrishnan and her team also follow up with the doctors and patients to gather feedback about the efficacy of the donated equipment.

Success story—Philippines
The government hospital Davao Medical Center (DMC), the only hospital in the Philippines that performs charity spinal surgery, houses the best spine surgeons in the region but they lack the implants needed to treat patients. One year after Ananthakrishnan and her partners conceived of OL, in March 2009, patients at DMC were receiving much-needed spinal implants. One patient, Donald Manurong, a 46-year-old coconut picker and sole supporter of nine, fractured his spine after falling out of a tree and was unable to provide for his family. He could have been crippled for life, but after his surgery he is recovering and will soon be back to work. Since OL’s visit, doctors have performed nine other spinal surgeries—valuable training for the next generation of surgeons. See photos of Orthopaedic Link in the Philippines (on Facebook) and read a blog post by a resident training there. (more…)

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