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.