Recent CSF Grant Recipients

PHA Thrive is a food program aimed at eliminating hunger in an extremely diverse urban K-12 school in which 71% of the children qualify for the federally funded free and reduced cost lunch program. PHA, short for Prospect Hill Academy, consists of 3 campuses spread across Somerville and Cambridge, Massachusetts. Through providing weekend food backpacks to children whose guardians sign them up, healthy fresh fruit snacks during the school day, and monthly community suppers with leftovers to take home, we hope to eliminate hunger in this population. We are currently serving 57 children in grades K-3, and 41 children in grades 4-6.

MIT INSPIRE is a student group that organizes a national research competition for high school students pursuing inquiry in the humanities, arts, and social sciences (HASS). This is the only competition of such scale in the country. Since our first competition in 2015, we have grown to reach over 1700 students nationwide, encompassing 45 states, 75 Title I schools designated to help communities with low income levels, and nearly 1000 mentors and educators. We hope to continue this growth with the support of the Community Service Fund.

This was our third year of the competition. INSPIRE 2017 welcomed over a hundred high school students to MIT’s campus for the final round from April 10-12. In addition to participating in the judging rounds with 50 experts, student finalists heard from such speakers as Dean Agustín Rayo of the School of HASS, who spoke about MIT INSPIRE and its impact on the HASS fields; Prof. Bengt Holmstrom, 2016 Nobel Laureate in Economics and a long-time supporter of MIT INSPIRE, who spoke about innovation; Dr. Lynn Pasquerella, President of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, who spoke about the importance of the HASS fields in the 21st century; and Ms. Lillian Chin, an MIT senior better known as the “spiciest memelord” for her performance on Jeopardy!, who spoke about the impact that the humanities have had on her technical education. Finalists additionally posed questions of our panelists regarding the role of HASS fields in careers. The panel included Dr. Chris Bourg (Director of MIT Libraries), Dr. Charles Theuer (MIT Alum & CEO of Tracon Pharma), and Mr. Keith Murphy (MIT Alum & CEO of Organovo), and was moderated by Prof. Ed Schiappa (head of MIT Comparative Media Studies).

We are very grateful to the MIT Community Service Fund. Thanks to generous funding from the MIT Community Service Fund, we were delighted to host, for the first time, a mentor development workshop at INSPIRE 2017. During the workshop, educators from across the country discussed how they incorporated MIT INSPIRE into their classroom settings and provided valuable feedback that we hope to incorporate in the years to come.

Thanks to CSF’s support, we were also able to present the $3,000 Lincoln Award based on community choice this year to Jia Zhang from Belmont, Massachusetts for her research project entitled “The Theory of Revolution: Impact of Nationalistic vs. Ethnocentric Revolutionary Rhetoric on the Ethnic Relations of Post-Revolutionary Nations.” Other top projects included “Mitigating Congestion through Map Design: A Case Study of Washington DC Subway,” for which John Xu won the Aristotle Award for best in competition, and “Project Mercury: An Accurate Edge Detection and Character Recognition Tool for Analyzing Ancient Classical Inscriptions,” for which Prathik Naidu won the Mozart Award for most original research. CSF support also enabled travel grants for several underprivileged students and mentors from around the country to attend the final round of the competition at MIT.

INSPIRE 2017’s public viewing session attracted members of MIT’s community as well as community members of Cambridge and Boston. Over 100 votes were cast over the course of the session. During this part of the event, finalists interacted directly with visitors and answered questions about their projects. The next day, finalists spoke to a panel of 50 judges featuring experts from the MIT and Harvard communities.

Through discussion with mentors that attended the mentor development workshop and administrators here at MIT, our team has thought about various ways to expand the competition over the next few years. We hope to expand INSPIRE’s reach to include more students, both from more varied geographical regions and from more diverse socioeconomic backgrounds. CSF’s support has proven invaluable for this goal by supporting travel grants that enable more students to participate as finalists in MIT INSPIRE. In MIT INSPIRE’s 2018 competition, we hope to continue working with the MIT CSF in our efforts to improve and expand the competition, through support of community engagement with research in the HASS fields and participation of finalists who would otherwise be unable to have such an authentic research experience.

Alpha Phi's Heartthrob, formerly known as King of Hearts, is Alpha Phi's largest annual spring philanthropy event. 11 contestants representing different communities on campus competed for the title of "Heartthrob" by showcasing their sparkling personalities and hidden talents in swimwear, talent, and formal wear portions. With the help of CSF who subsidized the stage that the contestants were able to dance and even jump rope on and with ticket sales, baked good sales, and individual contestant gofundme's, we were able to raise over $7,000. Half of the proceeds will be donated to the Alpha Phi Foundation for women's heart health, and the other half will go to Dysautonomia International. We are extremely grateful for CSF's contribution, allowing us to top the funds raised last year and make a generous donation to our philanthropies. 

Wed, 03/01/2017

From May 15th - 28th, 2016, i-Trek brought 8 students, from a variety of schools and backgrounds, to Boston to continue a research project the started last summer during their orientation program. During the two week period they met with MIT graduate students, developed their final product and produced posters to present to the community. They plan to present and publish their research, as well as find a way to make their findings public so farmers can take advantage of their optimization methods.

During their orientation the previous summer, our students were exposed the a wide variety of Water and Energy related issues. After learning about the ways they could contribute to these areas they decided on trying to optimize the energy produced from waste on farms. Prior to the two weeks spent in Boston this summer, they met regularly virtually to further discuss and develop their idea. Once together again in the same city they quickly used the time they had to run final calculations on each step of the anaerobic process that occurs on a farm. After verifying their findings with MIT graduate students and getting more tips on how to improve the process further they settled on way to make a contribution to this space. During the final days of the program, they worked in teams to put together a powerpoint and poster presentation for visitors. Each team was judged on their presentation skills and knowledge of the subject.

The two weeks in Boston was not entirely spent on research. The students also donated their time by visiting a Boston Charter School and engaging the students in STEM related hands on activities. The students enjoyed giving back to the community and helping to make STEM fun for younger students.

Overall, the students learned invaluable skills, made a variety of networking contacts, gained a better understanding of what STEM research is, and learned how they can contribute to current STEM issues with their own research. Thanks to support from the MIT Community Service Fund, NSF I-Corps, Accenture, Greystone CO. and donations from several individuals, we were able to provide a very rewarding Trek experience to our students.

MIT INSPIRE is the nation's first and only comprehensive high school research competition in the arts, humanities, and socials sciences. We encourage the next generation of thinkers, leaders and citizens to tackle societal problems of the 21st century through innovative inquiry in areas ranging from political science to history, literature, philosophy, and media studies.

With the generous support of MIT's Community Service Fund and several other MIT departments, INSPIRE had a successful second year. Collectively across two years, INSPIRE has impacted almost 900 students and over 500 educators from 160 schools across 38 states. We received over 400 project submission in our second year (doubling participation from our first year), and invited the top 100 projects to the final round of the competition held from April 3-5 on MIT's campus. 113 high school students, along with their parents and mentors attended our strong lineup of enrichment programs including two panels, several inspirational speeches, an informal mixer, public viewing of projects, sessions hosted by the MIT Libraries, and rigorous judging with MIT experts. Distinguished speakers included Prof. Eran Egozy, Co-founder of Harmonix, Dr. Lawrence Bacow, Tufts President Emeritus, MIT Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart, Dean Melissa Nobles of the MIT School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, and Prof. Alex Pentland of the MIT Media Lab. Mr. Paul Parravano played an active role during INSPIRE 2016's Awards Ceremony, co-announcing winners and presenting the CSF-sponsored Lincoln Community Choice Award to the delighted recipients.

The public viewing session engaged many members of the MIT, Greater Boston and Cambridge community. Visitors interacted with the high school student finalists, learned about their fascinating projects, and voted for the INSPIRE Lincoln Community Choice Award, sponsored by CSF. This year's Lincoln Award went to Jaden Jarmel-Schneider and Natalie Bunimovitz from San Francisco, CA, for their winning Anthropology project entitled, "Revolutionary Medicine: The Culture of Cuban Healthcare Abroad".  Thanks to CSF support, we were also able to fund travel expenses for four students and one teacher, who otherwise would have been unable to attend the final event in April.

INSPIRE has made a profound impact on classrooms nationwide. Students have carried out research in a diverse and relevant set of topics, such as “Carbon Zero: Combating Climate Change through Architecture”, “Academic Apartheid; a Longitudinal Analysis of Educational Output Inequality in Post-Apartheid South Africa”, “Construction vs. Destruction: The implications of Social Media on Adolescents”, “A Robot Recession: The Rise of Technological Unemployment and its Implications on the Future Macroeconomic Landscape”, “Exploration of the use of Children as protagonists to explore issues of racial injustice in society”, “Defining the Virtual Cosmopolitan: the Citizen of Cyberspace” and “The Building Blocks of Rome: Analyzing Women’s Role in the Founding Stories of Ancient Rome”. 

Many teachers across the nation have integrated INSPIRE into their classroom curricula in the form of final projects, senior theses, midterm exams, and afterschool activities. According to one student, “INSPIRE motivated me to chase my questions and pursue concrete evidence in non-STEM fields.” Another student told us, "“MIT INSPIRE catapulted me from adolescent obscurity to researching for a nonprofit and presenting at an international academic conference in less than a year.” A teacher from Michigan said, “I want to try to push the kids into real-world, project based thinking -- and these contests really help motivate and situate these moves.” Another educator wrote, “I am designing a course next year that will be modeled after the INSPIRE process.” 

Through MIT INSPIRE, we hope to make a difference in the futures of high-school students around the country - enabling them to expand their horizons, follow their passions and curiosity, develop their interests in key societal topics, cultivate their critical thinking skills, learn the analytical process of inquiry, and exercise their communication skills. Having shared INSPIRE's progress and impact with Dr. William Adams, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, as well as members of the U.S. President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities, we are making major strides towards our vision of making INSPIRE the nation's premier high school competition in the arts, humanities, and social sciences.




The Prospect Hill Academy (PHA) Early Childhood Campus (grades K-3) serves a very diverse population.  85% of the students are non-white – 58% black or African American, 14% Hispanic/Latino, 6% Asian, 1% American Indian or Alaska Native, 1% Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Island, and 5% multi-racial.  52% list a language other than English as their primary/native language.  This diversity of ethnicity, culture, language, and perspective creates a richness in our community that would be hard to find anywhere else.

With this richness comes challenges.  Currently 71% of our students qualify for free or reduced school lunch.  Free breakfast is offered to all, though many students arrive at school too late to receive it.  And many arrive without a morning snack packed in their backpacks.  In 2014, the school nurse estimated that she had 500 visits for head or stomach aches that were resolved by her providing food.

As a community, we decided to take steps to ensure that the children in our school no longer have to struggle to learn on an empty stomach. PHA THRIVE grew out of a grassroots volunteer effort by Prospect Hill Academy parents, staff and friends, and since February 2015 has been providing weekend food backpacks containing 2 meals a day for students who face food insecurity over weekends and school breaks. Prior to starting the backpack program, in October 2014 we started a partnership with Food for Free to provide fresh fruit snacks available throughout the school day. And starting in January 2016 we've added "Third Thursday" monthly community hot suppers through a partnership with Somerville's Community Cooks.

Our success has depended on close partnerships with organizations like Food for Free, Community Cooks, and Amigos, generous donations from parents and friends in the community, and a generous grant from MIT's Community Service Fund. In fact the Community Service Fund grant gave us the seed money that enabled us to raise matching funds, and double our impact. In this coming year, we hope to grow our program to expand into the PHA upper elementary grades (4-6). 

Thu, 01/07/2016

From August 2nd – 8th, 2015, i-Trek brought 15 students, from a variety of schools and backgrounds, to MIT for a week-long STEM experience. The students networked with MIT graduates, students and alumni; toured MIT, Harvard and UMass Amherst; and learned about water and energy related research from graduate student research presentations and visits to the New England Aquarium and Deer Island. At the end of the program, the students worked together to brainstorm a research project that they will complete during their full Trek experience planned for the summer of 2016. 

During the first full day (Monday, August 3rd), students spent most of their time touring prominent schools in the Boston area. They received a campus tour of MIT as well as lab tours in the MIT Media Lab, Drennan Lab and Precision Motion Control Lab. This was followed by a campus tour of Harvard. Later that evening, students spent time with MIT students and alumni playing board games and networking. 

Tuesday, students traveled to UMass Amherst to tour their campus. After the tour, they left directly for a scavenger hunt around Boston. Students enjoyed having the time to explore the city on their own and find historical landmarks. 

The following day, students attended research presentations by three graduate students. Topics included Biofilm structures, neuroimaging, and renewable energy policy. These presentations followed by a STEM scavenger hunt. Students had to solve STEM problems and find the solutions around the MIT campus. 

Thursday featured additional research talks from graduate students on desalination challenges, turning research ideas into a viable business, navigating challenges, and STEM identity. The students also visited the MIT MSRP poster session to learn about current undergraduate research projects. This full day concluded with an evening at the aquarium learning about ecological water issues. 

On the final day, students began the day at Deer Island learning about waste water issues. They were able to tour the facility and speak to some of the facility’s leadership team. The remainder of the day was devoted to brainstorming exercises for individual research projects and then “pitching” those research ideas to a panel of mock research funders in a “shark tank” exercise.  This helped the students practice their negotiation skills and respond in real-time to challenging questions.

Overall, the students learned invaluable skills, made a variety of networking contacts, gained a better understanding of what STEM research is, and learned how they can contribute to current STEM issues with their own research. Thanks to support from the MIT Office of the Dean of Graduate Education, MIT Community Service Fund, NSF I-Corps and donations from several individuals, we were able to provide a very rewarding Trek Bootcamp experience to our students and lay the groundwork for successful completion of their full Trek experience in 2016.

This past year, MIT Design for America was able to work on four impactful projects affecting a diverse set of problems in the community. Team F.R.E.S.H worked on helping low income working families to gain better access to local food pantries who have limited hours of operations. In order to do this, they designed F.R.E.S.H. containers which are similar to vending machines and store fresh food packages that families can pick up from the F.R.E.S.H. receptacle after the food pantry closes. Our education team addressed the problem of teachers having too much trouble designing custom worksheets and finding resources to match their teaching style among all of the online resource clutter. They designed an online platform that allows teachers to drag and drop questions from a bank of crowdsourced problems to easily customize the perfect worksheet that fits their teaching style and their classroom. Booboo Buddy is a doll to help pediatric pain communication both in hospitals and at home. It is a toy and app combo that allows children to visually communicate their pain and help adults track changes in pain over time. And lastly, the Allocator was designed in partnership with the Harvard Homeless Shelters to help homeless shelters everywhere better serve the needs of the homeless population in a more effective manner. It is an app that helps homeless shelter street teams track information about resources used and needed at specific locations so that they can better keep track of the needs of the homeless in different locations and at different times of the year. These projects were made possible only by CSF’s generous funding, and many will be continuing for a second year to expand their impact in the community.

Thu, 04/09/2015

Thanks to CSF i-Trek was able to host a great Trek. Information about the Trek can be found below. The 2014  participants chose to pursue a research project that attempted to define a coral reef health scale, entitled “The i-Trek Global Coral Health Survey”, that can be used by anyone to evaluate and log the health of coral reefs. While other scales require highly qualified users and equipment, only easily obtainable materials would be needed to evaluate health with this scale. To determine the health of coral using the Global Health Survey, a user would only need to collect water samples to be tested with pH meters and salinity meters and observe the coral and its surroundings. The total costs for materials is less that $20.

The data collection portion of the i-Trek pilot program took place during the first two weeks of June 2014. This portion of the program was meant to facilitate the bulk of the research project proposed by the undergraduate student participants, or Trekkers, and engage them in career development, community service and networking opportunities. To see what a Trek is about, check out the video below and read the day to day depiction of the Trek.

Monday, June 2nd 2014:

In order to adequately define the scale and test its effectiveness, the Trekkers needed to collect data on several coral reefs. This is easiest done while diving. Therefore, each Trekker participated in scuba certification classes that would take three to four days.

In conjunction with data collection and preparation, four volunteers facilitated career development sessions, networking sessions and a community outreach activity. These sessions began with a presentation of Grad Catalyst during the evening of the first scuba certification day. The Grad Catalyst is a presentation produced by MIT’s Office of the Dean of Graduate Education to educate underrepresented students on how to increase their chances of being admitted to top tier graduate programs.

Tuesday, June 3rd 2014:

The majority of the day consisted of continued scuba certification training. The next career developing session, held in the evening, involved the Trekkers participating in the first part of a professionalism course. The first part of this course focused on interview skills and conference call etiquette. After receiving a brief explanation of do’s and don’ts for interviews, each Trekker played the role of interviewer and interviewee in a round of mock interviews and graded each other on their etiquette, responses and body language. Afterwards, the Trekkers and 1 i-Trek volunteer went to different parts of the house and participated in a conference call to define research roles. Three of the them played the role of a different disruptive person while the leader of the call, who was one of the Trekkers,  had to manage each person on the call while having a successful conference call.

Wednesday, June 4th 2014:

Two of the four participants passed the scuba certification course and were awarded PADI certifications. After the Trekkers were certified, they started fine tuning their data collection plan and equipment. This included roles for each Trekker, building a plankton net to be use to collect samples on the surface and constructing a rig to hold an underwater camera.

The evening event involved a networking event consisting of a Skype call with a MIT graduate student in a field relevant to the research project. The Trekkers were able to ask relevant questions about their research project and graduate school in general.

Thursday, June 5th 2014:

As another Trekker earned his PADI certification, the Trekker’s research plan and equipment were tested with a preliminary dive at two different coral locations. The evening involved dinner with Winston Walters, a neurological researcher at the University of Miami School of Medicine who also manages the lab. This event was very insightful because he shared information about his work and on how to pursue a career as a researcher.

Friday, June 6th 2014:

Samples collected the previous day were evaluated at MarineLab in Key Largo, Florida and adjustments were made to the equipment and plan. For the evening career development session, each student was instructed to prepare an elevator pitch. Each Trekker had to deliver their pitch and was feedback was provided by the i-Trek volunteers.

Saturday, June 7th 2014:

To give back to the local community, the Trekkers participated in a community service activity. Trekkers spent the day restoring the habitat of the endangered Schaus Swallowtail butterfly on Adam’s island which is part of Biscayne National Park.  This activity was organized by Mark Walters, the local Sierra Club Outings Chair of the Miami Group, in conjunction with the National Park Service.  On the way home from this very hot day of physical labor, Mark led them to the famous Robert is Here Fruit Stand where they had smoothies and milkshakes and he introduced them to fruits they had never even heard of before.  All agreed that the visit to this place was worth the hard work earlier.

Sunday, June 8th 2014:

After a full week of activities, the Trekkers were allowed a day to explore Miami on their own. Each Trekker did a different activity ranging from zoo visits to go kart racing.

Monday, June 9th 2014:

Monday was spent finishing the professionalism course that was started on June 2nd. This part of the course focused on presentation skills, research skills, social media, and time management. The course involved creating effective presentations and other activities such as writing an abstract, preparing an e-calendar and developing career-friendly social media profiles. Some of these skills would prove useful to the Trekkers during their final presentations and when drafting the final research document.

Tuesday, June 10th 2014:

The day was spent doing final tests at two different coral reef locations collecting research samples using some newly designed equipment.  This showed promising results and helped define the questions and procedures that should be presented to users.

Wednesday, June 11th 2014:

Samples collected the previous day were evaluated at MarineLab in order to affirm their predictions. The evening was another networking activity, a visit to Florida International University to attend a MIT alumni event. This event was a presentation of Aquarius, the only underwater research center in the world currently in operation. Researchers in Aquarius Skyped in to give a tour of the facility and describe life underwater. A recent MIT graduate, who would be living in the facility, also presented on the research she would be conducting. The event culminated with the Trekkers being able to network with professionals and entrepreneurs.

Thursday, June 12th 2014:

Trekkers were able to spend the day preparing a final research report and presentation that will be given the following day.

Friday, June 13th 2014:

The last career development session was a judged presentation session. Each Trekkerprepared a presentation that will be given at a minimum of two high schools. Their presentations were judged by STEM and non-STEM professionals. After being given feedback, the program ended with a Cuban dinner in Miami which was attended by Warren Marcus, a local MIT alumni bio research professional. This final networking opportunity officially ended the Trek.

Overall, the program proved to be full of learning opportunities. Each Trekker was able to gain new skills and improve on others. They left the program understanding how they can take initiative to find and create opportunities that will help them progress toward their research and professional goals.

I taught a one week, intensive workshop on ocean physics and climate change to a group of 15 students in Ensenada, Mexico. We used tank experiments, computer programs and even some field work to study such subjects as global warming, ocean measurements and the ecological dynamics of phytoplankton. I hope that my workshop sparked some interest in the earth sciences and empowered the students to consider studying science in the future. I know that I learned a lot from the experience, and will stay in touch with my students as a resource and mentor for them.

Isabela LeBlas

Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences - MIT

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The goal of this short course was to learn how to manipulate light with optics, and build a game using what we design in the course. We first learned the basics of optics, and how optical elements can be used to direct and control laser light: Mirrors reflect light, lenses expand or contract light, beam splitters split light, beam dumps absorb light, etc. We worked together to test how each optical element distorts the laser light. We then used these optical elements as “game pieces”:  We learned how to build a simple telescope setup, how to magnify light, and how to control light through a path.

Once we mastered our knowledge of the optical elements, we had a tournament based on the game we designed, with the goal of directing light from one end of a large “chess board” to the opponent team’s target. Players will have to think critically about which of their game pieces to use in order to direct the light correctly, or mis-direct their opponent’s light beam!

Both the students and I learned a great deal about how lasers are useful in modern-day technology, and about the history of lasers in the past 50 years. These discussions often led to broader discussions about how scientific discoveries (such as the laser) start out as curiosity based experiments without many foreseeable applications, and end up changing the course of human development and technology.

Markita del Carpio Landry

Chemical Engineering - MIT