WiderNet Volunteer Spotlight: Mitali Lebeck - Database Programmer

Mitali Lebeck has been a volunteer at the WiderNet Project since June 11th, 2013, dedicating her time to database programming. She has worked on installing software and updating existing software with Jay Clelland, the WiderNet Project’s lead programmer.  After receiving her BS and MS in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, she worked at the University of Wisconsin and Duke University. She has also volunteered with the Chapel Hill City Schools and Caring House in Durham, North Carolina.

Mitali is an important part of our volunteer program, and I am lucky to have recently talked with her about her job, as well as her past in Kolkata, India and current life in the United States.

WiderNet: What is your position at the WiderNet Project and what are you currently working on individually?
Mitali Lebeck: I am a volunteer programmer. I'm working on the part of eGranary called the Community Information Platform (CIP). The CIP allows users to create and edit their own content to add to their eGranary. I’m helping to improve the interfaces that make up the CIP.

WN: How did you first hear about the WiderNet Project?
ML: I learned about the WiderNet Project through volunteermatch.org, a website that helps find local volunteer opportunities. I wanted to volunteer in the education field, but I also wanted to do some computer programming. After reading the description of the opportunities at The WiderNet Project and visiting the project’s website, I realized that it was exactly the type of opportunity that I was looking for.

WN: What do you like to do in your spare time when you aren’t volunteering at the Project?
ML: I really enjoy dedicating time to my hobbies: reading, knitting and hiking. I love the mild climate that we have in NC. It makes for great year-round hiking.

WN: Have you ever lived in or visited a developing nation? Has anyone in your family visited a developing nation?
ML: Yes, actually I was born in Kolkata, India. I have gone back and forth to India many times.

WN: What were the differences you observed in Kolkata compared to life in the United States?
ML: The differences I notice have changed over the years. When I was younger, I remember there were daily electricity shortages, so the power would go out in the house for hours at a time and several times a day. We take many things for granted here [in the United States], like electricity and access to water — things are not available to many people in developing nations. But, things have improved [in Kolkata] over the years. In my recent visits, I was struck with how everyone, no matter how rich or poor, seemed to have a cell phone. I think cell phones have had a great impact in developing nations and have dramatically improved the lives for many.

WN: What has been your favorite memory or accomplishment as a WiderNet volunteer?
ML: I don’t know that I have any one favorite memory — I just really enjoy the atmosphere at WiderNet and seeing everyone’s dedication to their work. This is a very engaging and energizing work environment. Everyone is friendly, helpful and extremely focused.

WN: What is your favorite thing about working with the Project?
ML: I really believe in the mission here. I believe that education and access to knowledge are the keys to improving life and to developing a better society. Just to be able to work on something like that is so satisfying and rewarding. At the same time, I feel like I’m also getting the opportunity to learn new skills in computer programming and to learn a bit about the field of library sciences. I feel very fortunate to have found an organization with such a great cause where I can volunteer and learn at the same time.

WN: How have you seen the Project grow since you first volunteered? Has it been positive?
ML: It’s been great to see all of the new staff and volunteers that have joined since I’ve been here. It’s so neat to look at our internal staff page and see it getting larger and larger!