Public service work can pay tuition at Brown University

When Edward Washburn left Brown University in the middle of his sophomore year to work with troubled teen-age boys at a wilderness camp in the Chattahoochee National Forest, he was looking for experience, not financial rewards. It turns out he got both.

Back at Brown (located in Providence, R.I.), this year, Mr. Washburn is one of the school's first batch of Starr fellows.

Under the new Starr National Service Scholars program at Brown, Mr. Washburn and 12 other students have received cash awards of up to $2,000 in recognition of the public-service work they did away from campus.

The work has varied from giving inoculations and helping deliver babies in Honduras to writing a position paper on acid rain for US Sen. Lowell Weicker.

The program does not require that students volunteer. Some of the Starr fellows were paid. ''The pay was minimal,'' Mr. Washburn said.

And others supported themselves. Sarah Johnson, for example, did housework while working for the American Civil Liberties Union in Portland, Maine.

Nine of the awards went to returning students who had taken time off, and four went to incoming freshmen.

The program not only helps students pay for Brown, which costs about $10,000 a year. It will also help some students get in, according to Karen Romer, associate dean. Public-service work is considered a plus on an application to Brown, she said, where competition is stiff. There are about 10 applicants for each seat.

There is more to being named a Starr fellow than getting cash, Mr. Washburn said.

''It helps the student when he comes back to feel positive about his work. It is knowing the university is behind you,'' he explained. ''A pat on the back from the school is good.''

Brown hopes to continue patting students on the back for public-service work with the help of a $1 million gift from the C. V. Starr Foundation of New York. The program could grow to as many as 100 awards.

The program developed out of the personal interest that Dr. Howard Swearer, the university's president, has had for many years in a national public-service program in which all young people would work in either civilian or military jobs serving the public.

To Dr. Swearer the program is simply a good idea.

''There are a lot of volunteer needs in this society,'' he said, ''and young people who would benefit by filling them.''

Brown itself is a better place for the work its students do outside the school, he said.

''The people who have had some experience working in society make very interesting students,'' Dr. Swearer said.

''We are very interested in the educational effect of identifying a group of people like this on campus,'' Ms. Romer said.

The school hopes the program will make students aware of the importance of public service and nurture in them a sense of social responsibility, she said.

''If you are into baking bread,'' she explained, ''I see them as a kind of leavening.''

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