“We are all part of one community here in Cambridge. Many of us are from elsewhere and came here for the nexus of science, medicine, and technology that is so unique in the world.”
So says Robert Majovski , a lead scientific advisor at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. “The NetPals program gives us an opportunity to meet young members of our community and discuss their interests and ours—and simply just get to know each other. As neighbors in Cambridge, this is incredibly important.”
The Broad Institute is entering its fourth year as one of Cambridge School Volunteers’ partners in the NetPals Mentoring Program. The program provides a one-to-one mentor for every seventh-grader in three of Cambridge’s upper schools. CSV invites inquiries from companies or departments in STEM fields who are able to recruit at least 10-15 mentors internally for the seventh-grade cohort at the Putnam Avenue Upper School. The new partner or partners will join Volpe National Transportation Systems Center and the MIT Department of Chemical Engineering as CSV’s partners at that school.
Last year 242 scientists from ten partners volunteered as NetPals, citywide. Through the program, 28 Broad Institute scientists served as NetPals at Cambridge Street Upper School—each mentoring an individual student through regular email correspondence and three site visits. The rest of the 83 seventh-graders at the school were mentored by NetPals from Draper Labs, IBM, and Novartis. Rachel Gesserman, manager of the Broad Institute’s Education and Outreach Program, is the site coordinator for Broad NetPals and also serves on the CSV Board of Directors. We asked her a few questions about the program, and also asked longtime Broad NetPal Robert Majovski to tell us about his experiences. Majovski has a doctorate in biochemistry, and prior to working at the Broad, was an assistant editor at Genome Research, a genomics journal published at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.
Why does the Broad Institute partner with Cambridge School Volunteers’ NetPals Program?
Gesserman: We’re located in the heart of Kendall Square, and we think it is really important to give back to the Cambridge community. We are proud to have a diverse scientific community at the Broad, and we want to be able to support educators to help inspire students in the Cambridge School system and let them know about STEM career paths they should be thinking about.
Scientific research at the Broad requires people with different backgrounds and perspectives to work together to tackle important research problems related to human disease. We think NetPals is a good opportunity to expose students at a young age to the way that scientists approach significant problems and to how they could contribute to research in the future.
How does the opportunity to be a NetPal positively affect the scientific community at the Broad?
Gesserman: There is a lot of interest and energy here to inspire young students. For a partner, NetPals is an easy way to do this. The small time commitment, relative to the high impact of the program, is good for people who might not have a lot of time to volunteer. NetPals introduces students to fields and professions they might not know about. It really doesn’t take much time on the part of a volunteer to do that job.
NetPals is a way to get “Broadies” with similar interests in mentoring in the same room. They benefit from sharing their NetPals experiences with each other and sharing their strategies for making an impact on young students.
How much time does it take for a company or institution to be part of NetPals?
Gesserman: The time commitment is very manageable. Most of what I do, in the role of coordinator of the program on behalf of the Broad Institute, is planning two interactive lunches, when the students come to visit us, which happens twice during a five-month program. My other responsibilities are related to supporting volunteers to ensure they are staying in touch with the students in regular and effective ways. Cambridge School Volunteers remains extremely engaged throughout the program. CSV staff take on the role of making the program run smoothly, so there’s a much lesser commitment on the host coordinator’s part than there would otherwise be.
The NetPal Experience
Why did you become a NetPal, and what has brought you back as a repeat NetPal for the past four years?
Majovski: Many students – especially young people who are growing up just blocks from Kendall Square – are very interested in learning more about what scientists do day-to-day and what their work environment and life is like. NetPals presents an opportunity to have students meet and get to know scientists who work at these world-class institutions and companies, right in their own backyard. The opportunity to interact one-on-one with a student to discuss their interests, my work at the Broad, and our mission as an institute drew me in. Students may not necessarily be interested in pursuing a career in science themselves, but just having an understanding of what goes on behind the scenes at the cutting edge of biomedical research is important, I believe. And with each new school year, it is a new student to communicate with—so it never gets old!
Do you have any specific anecdotes you’d like to share?
Majovski: I had a few wonderful discussions with my NetPal last school year. We had the opportunity to talk about the basics of chemistry, spurred by his project in class, but really driven by his intellectual curiosity about the world around him. It challenged me to explain concepts as best I understood at a middle school level, and also to think of real world examples to help illustrate answers to his questions. On a personal level, that was a lot of fun.
To learn more about having your company or department join the NetPals program to mentor students at the Putnam Avenue Upper School, email CSV NetPals Program Director Analía Ivanier here or call the Cambridge School Volunteers office: (617) 349-6794.
About the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard
Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard was launched in 2004 to empower this generation of creative scientists to transform medicine. The Broad Institute seeks to describe all the molecular components of life and their connections; discover the molecular basis of major human diseases; develop effective new approaches to diagnostics and therapeutics; and disseminate discoveries, tools, methods, and data openly to the entire scientific community.
Founded by MIT, Harvard, Harvard-affiliated hospitals, and the visionary Los Angeles philanthropists Eli and Edythe L. Broad, the Broad Institute includes faculty, professional staff, and students from throughout the MIT and Harvard biomedical research communities and beyond, with collaborations spanning over a hundred private and public institutions in more than 40 countries worldwide. For further information about the Broad Institute, go to http://www.broadinstitute.org.