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When Eric M. Silberstein '98 became one of the leaders of the Partners for Empowering Neighborhoods (PEN) program, he used that experience as the jumping-off point for creating an entirely new public service opportunity at Harvard, the Fresh Pond Enrichment Program (FPEP), where Harvard students would run their own classes for students at the housing project at Alewife.
Creating something of his own after immersing himself in what's currently out there is a theme Silberstein is continuing. Like many other seniors, after graduation, Silberstein will be entering the corporate world.
But he won't be doing it on someone else's terms. Instead, Silberstein is becoming an entrepreneur, starting a new company, Idiom Technologies, Inc., with several college friends.
The company is designing an effective solution for creating and managing multilingual Web sites, a need which is poorly met by today's technology and translation firms, according to Silberstein.
Silberstein, who spent summers working for Microsoft in Seattle and Beijing, has plenty of experience working with computers, as his front hallway indicates. The entrance to his Adams House room is a foot-wide path, lined with huge computer boxes on both sides.
Silberstein also pioneered the use of computers for sectioning for classes and for Undergraduate Council elections, conceiving the idea and writing the programs as a sophomore, almost single-handedly increasing the voting participation of students, as well as the sanity of many teaching fellows.
Harvard students are not the only ones to benefit from Silberstein's talents, however, as his public service endeavors demonstrate.
Silberstein says his idea for FPEP, which he describes as his most valuable college experience, came when he joined PEN, an adult education program which works in low-income neighborhoods. During his second semester, he became the director of the Alewife site's program.
"I started taking on kids and teaching them because my own interest was more with kids," Silberstein says, and the idea for FPEP was born; he worked to set up classes geared toward children that could also be taught at the Alewife site.
"We wanted to give these kids, who are not exposed to private education, the same types of gifted-and-talented and enrichment classes that the best kids receive in top public and private schools," he says. "While some of the kids may have benefited from remedial work, we wanted to inspire and instill a love of education, not turn them off to it."
The program now has 25 undergraduates as regular teachers. The teachers design the curricula and teach classes on subjects ranging from math and computers to creative writing and music.
"We had about 40 applicants last year," Silberstein says. "We always reject about half of our applicants because we only want to accept teachers who will really dedicate themselves to their students in order to maintain a high-quality program."
Silberstein says that his involvement with the program in the last four years has given him the opportunity to see many of his students grow and learn.
"I absolutely love working with those kids," he says. "I like seeing them engage in creative activities and grow. I love seeing the satisfaction that teachers get out of it and also just the transfer of experience and background that the teachers bring to the students."
Silberstein has a sparkle in his eyes as he describes the tremendous satisfaction he has received from the program.
"I spent far more time down there than on schoolwork," he says. "It was much more of my Harvard experience than anything else. The teachers were very gifted. That exposure and the chance to work with so many people on such a great project was more valuable than any classes I took."
Another experience that classwork could not substitute for was his summer in Beijing.
Silberstein, who is fluent in Mandarin, was the only non-Chinese person in the Microsoft office.
"It was really a great experience. I was communicating with my colleagues about complex computer things in Chinese and we were working on developing the Chinese version of Microsoft Word," he says.
Silberstein hopes to translate his interest in languages into the work his company will perform next year, making the Web multilingual in a way it has never been before.
"The world is going to have to be multilingualized. It's arrogant of a lot of Americans to assume that other people should have to work in English," he says.
Silberstein says he sees his future work as the perfect way to pursue many of his passions. "I love traveling and foreign languages, and this is a great way to combine all of those interests," he says.
Silberstein credits his family with nurturing his interests in computers and traveling at an early age. He learned programming in second grade and has traveled extensively with his family.
"I think people's interests definitely come from their families. My family generally had a lot of practical discussions," he says. "I like to focus on the concrete."
Silberstein says the most valuable component of his experiences at Harvard was meeting people over the last four years.
"For each person there is a different aspect of Harvard that is most meaningful and for me it was definitely my peers," Silberstein says. "Everyone is talented somehow. The environment is amazing. There are so many people from so many different cultures brought together in one place."
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