The federal government and several U.S. telecommunications firms are reaching out to touch someone -- in this case, students from developing countries.

The U.S. Telecommunications Training Institute packages technical know-how using American telecommunications products, and offers it to students from developing countries through free technical-training courses.

USTTI has no classrooms or campuses. Instead, selected students are flown to the United States to begin their studies at companies participating in the program. Courses are taught by corporate trainers.

USTTI's 17-member board of directors includes Mark Fowler, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Charles Z. Wick, director of the U.S. Information Agency, and executives from U.S. telecommuncations firms. Each representative has contributed between $10,0000 and $20,000 to the program.

USTTI founder Michael Gardner said the institute hopes to help lesser-developed countries, such as India and those in Africa, by supplying them with the know-how to improve their phone systems and broadcast communications. He added that the program would open markets to the American telecommunications industry.

Gardner said he came up with the idea for the program while serving as an ambassador to Kenya under President Reagan. He said a familiar complaint he heard in Kenya was that the United States and other industrialized nations were not offering enough assistance to lesser-developed areas.

When Gardner left Kenya in 1982, he approached American companies and the federal government with his idea.

Since then, USTTI has helped train more than 500 students from 82 developing countries, including Hong Kong, India, Botswana, and nations in Latin America and the Middle East. The program has been applauded by participating countries and companies.

"USTTI represents one of the true do-good programs around," said Seth Blumenthal, president of MCI International and a USTTI board member.

Fowler described the program as a neutral island in Washington where competing companies and government officials work together to "do good and help the needy."

The program is attracting lesser-developed nations. This year, USTTI received more than 800 applications for 400 slots. The Institute also received a $500,000 contract from the Agency for International Development.

Educational training similar to that being offered by USTTI is frequently only made available if the participating country agrees to buy the equipment, Gardner said.