together in service


Our history: embodying the essence of MIT’s mission

Launched to fulfill MIT’s core mission

From its founding in 1861 to the present, the mission of the Institute has included the intent to develop in each member of the MIT community the ability to work wisely, creatively, and effectively for the betterment of humankind.

Under the direction of Dean of Student Affairs Shirley McBay in 1988, MIT first lady Priscilla King Gray HM and Professor Robert Mann ’50 conceived a fresh embodiment of these principles in the form of the MIT Public Service Center (PSC). Although humanitarian service activities were widespread across the Institute, MIT needed a central resource to support and expand such efforts.

A twenty-five-year-plus volunteer, advisor, leadership council member, and friend, Priscilla King Gray continues to infuse her wisdom, ethic of service, and humanitarian spirit into the PSC. In 2015, the Center was renamed the Priscilla King Gray Public Service Center in honor of her commitment and achievements.


In its first full decade, the Center helped to organize or support a wide range of opportunities for MIT students, including education programs, mentoring roles, and volunteer work at community service organizations.

  • Fellowships—established to provide stipends that enabled students to perform full-time community service in Cambridge public schools during IAP and in local community agencies during the summer. (1990) Read about the history of the fellowships program.
  • CityDays—launched as a one-day festival at MIT with five hundred elementary school children visiting the campus for a day of sports, crafts, and education. The program evolved to a series of one-day events when MIT students leave the campus to complete service projects at local nonprofit agencies. (1992)
  • LINKS—created as a follow-through component of CityDays to involve MIT students in Cambridge public school math and science classrooms on a weekly basis. (1992)
  • Giving Tree—started by the MIT Panhellenic Association and the Center to gather holiday gifts from MIT students, faculty, and staff for children and families in the Cambridge and Boston areas. (1992)
  • KEYs (Keys to Empowering Women)—initiated and run by an MIT student to match middle-school girls with mentors to build self-esteem and stimulate interest in science and technology careers with oversight from the Center’s staff. (1993)
  • Science Expo—organized by students in MIT’s Educational Studies Program to give seventh- and eighth-graders from Cambridge schools the opportunity to come to MIT, showcase their science projects, and explore the Institute’s departments, labs, and museums. (1993)
  • Volunteer Community Connection—established with support from the Center to facilitate volunteer placements through the United Way. The organization went on to win the prestigious MIT $50K Competition. (1997)
  • ReachOut: Teach A Child to Read—cosponsored by the Center and Student Financial Services as the MIT branch of the national AmericaReads program to recruit, train, and match MIT students with public school children to build reading skills. Read a recent article on ReachOut.


The Center entered the new millennium with a determination to develop the breadth and reach of its programming while improving its volunteer matching infrastructure and outcomes.

  • CommuniTech—launched to gather, refurbish, and distribute computers to individuals without access to them, then expanded to include digital literacy programs staffed by MIT students. (2001)
  • Fellowships—broadened to include international fellowship opportunities. (2001) Read about the history of the fellowships program.
  • Service Learning Initiative—initiated collaboratively with the Edgerton Center with grants from the Massachusetts Campus Compact through the Learn and Serve America Program and the d’Arbeloff Fund for Excellence in Education. (2001)
  • MIT IDEAS Competition—started to inspire public-service-oriented innovation and entrepreneurship with awards of up to $10,000 per team for the best ideas tackling barriers to well-being. (2001)
  • iMath—developed by MIT graduate student John Velasco with our support to increase eighth-graders’ enthusiasm for math using an interactive curriculum. (2003)
  • National Science Foundation $100,000 Grant—awarded jointly to our Center and MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering for service learning research efforts. (2004)
  • Just Deserts: Making Ethical Reflection Palatable at MIT—presented a series of evening events at MIT in partnership with MIT’s Technology and Culture Forum. (2004)
  • The International Development Initiative (IDI)—a collaboration between our Center, the MIT Edgerton Center, and MIT Media Lab programs offering hands-on engineering education and community service experiences through international development. (2005)
  • Four Weeks for America—created to provide MIT students with a one-month teaching immersion experience in conjunction with Teach for America. (2007)
  • Community Service Work-Study—the Center began to administer the program to provide students eligible for federal work-study with opportunities to earn a paycheck and gain valuable employment experience while serving the community. (2007)
  • IDEAS Global Challenge—inspired by MIT’s 150th anniversary celebration, the IDEAS Competition was expanded and re-launched as the MIT IDEAS Global Challenge. (2011)
  • PSC’s 25th Anniversary—celebrated a quarter of a century of student dedication towards the betterment of humankind. (2013)
  • MIT Alternative Spring Break—launched to connect MIT students with service projects during the Institute’s annual spring break. (2014)
  • LEAP Grants—created to support MIT students’ public service activities such as a volunteer day or philanthropic event. (2014)
  • The Priscilla King Gray Public Service Center—PSC renamed in honor of the Center’s cofounder and longtime volunteer, advisor, leadership council member, and friend. (2015)