Working with purpose

October 24, 2016

Working with purpose

by 

Natalie Britton | Priscilla King Gray Public Service Center

Science writing graduate student Eben Bein spent the summer of 2016 in a community service work-study position at NOVA, the prime-time science television series produced by WGBH Boston.

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Work-study program creates priceless relationships between MIT students and the local community.

Students gain many valuable experiences through their time at MIT, but not many can say they've produced a video that “marries the exciting grossness of listeria with cool cell biology.” Eben Bein, who will be receiving a master of science degree in science writing from MIT this fall, worked on such a video as part of his internship with NOVA, the PBS science series that reaches an average of 5 million viewers a week.

Normally, internships with NOVA are unpaid. But Bein learned from his program administrator that he was eligible to participate in MIT’s Community Service Work-Study program. The work-study program, run by the Priscilla King Gray Public Service Center (PKG Center), connects students to meaningful — and paid — off-campus community service experiences with local nonprofit, governmental, and community-based organizations.

“NOVA was always a dream, and the fact that I would be compensated for my work made it possible,” Bein says. “Working at NOVA was hugely enriching for someone who wants to be involved in science education and writing. It was, as I imagined, perfect.”

Balancing part-time employment with an MIT course load is not easy. In many cases, however, that part-time work can benefit both the student, by advancing their skills and career goals, and the greater Cambridge community, by enabling non-profit organizations to hire talented MIT students.

Bein worked with the online team at NOVA as a digital video editor, creating education materials. He also worked with Gross Science, a YouTube channel affiliated with NOVA. Through this experience, Bein gained practical skills, learned new software, and honed his writing skills by working with professional and experienced editors. “There’s no question that working at NOVA will help my career as a science writer — it already has,” Bein notes.

NOVA also benefited from the arrangement by working with a talented MIT student who has a background in science education. As part of his work, Bein produced a full-length article, two videos, and developed the script for a third video. He also provided a “fresh brain” for his colleagues at NOVA. In turn, the scientific and educational materials Bein produced will benefit the community. “The lack of science literacy is at the heart of a host of environmental and health problems,” Bein says. “Producing materials to counteract that is, therefore, priceless.”

Helping people regain their lives

The First Church Shelter in Harvard Square, which offers a temporary home to 14 men at a time, is another nonprofit that has been able to work with MIT students through the work-study program. For the past year, Lisa Lozano, and MIT senior in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, has been working at the shelter, helping out with clerical work, checking in residents, cleaning, and other tasks. The experience has had a tremendous impact on Lisa, and significantly shaped her career goals. 

“I entered MIT with the intention of going to medical school one day, but my experiences in the work-study program showed me that I didn’t want to be a doctor — I just wanted to help people regain their lives in some way,” Lozano says. “Because of the work-study program, I’ve realized that I want to work head-on with others and help people regain their lives through a social work or public health career.”  

Lozano also works with first-generation college students at Class Action, a nonprofit organization in Jamaica Plain. Her work to help these students and university staff network and connect with others has benefited the community. “It was extremely rewarding to see students and staff from various universities sharing ideas, thoughts, and opinions to better the college experience for first generation students,” Lozano says.

In turn, these experiences helped Lozano learn about nonprofit work, hone her communication and interpersonal skills, and improve her practical skills in design software and WordPress. They have also imparted more intangible benefits, such as getting to know the residents at the First Church Shelter and seeing them improve their lives. As Lozano describes one resident, “He had such a kind heart and wanted to hear about my college experience to make sure I wasn’t overly stressed or anxious even though he had more to worry about. I was extremely happy to see this individual had broken out of the cycle of homelessness and was now living comfortably in the city he was raised in.”

Paying for community work-study

During the 2015-2016 academic year, MIT students earned almost $200,000 through work-study jobs, which helps them pay for their educations. “The work-study program offers many so benefits to students and our community employers,” says Chiara Magini, the PKG Center’s community employment administrator. “It is a flexible time commitment for students and they receive competitive incomes, with rates averaging $17 an hour. On the career side, the program helps students build their skills, professional references, and networks. On the personal side, students can make a valuable difference in our community while exploring their interests.”

Employers also highly value the MIT students, often using words like superb, resourceful, instrumental, and integral to describe their work. Jim Stewart, director of the First Church Shelter, who supervised Lozano’s work, praised her efforts and wished for more MIT students like her. “Lisa has communicated deep concern to shelter guests. She knows how to put folks at ease and offer encouragement, which is really appreciated. Send us more like Lisa!"

Both Bein and Lozano encourage their fellow classmates to consider the work-study program. “It is so convenient — why not participate?” Bein says. “I would not have been able to do this internship for free, so I am very grateful for the program.”

Lozano notes that students can work with the PKG Center to learn about different opportunities and explore whether an organization would be interested in hiring a work-study student. “I really wish I had started in my freshman or sophomore year, but I had no idea I would enjoy the work-study experience as much as I do now.”

MIT undergraduate and graduate students can learn about their eligibility by emailing studentworker@mit.edu