Recent CSF Grant Recipients

Molecular biology is difficult to teach in schools, since the concepts cannot be seen and are represented with abstract diagrams in textbooks. Some schools have introduced hands-on activities, such as growing cells that glow green, that illustrate these ideas in real life to facilitate learning. However, such activities are limited to schools with resources: expensive equipment is required to handle live microorganisms and biological components, making it prohibitively costly and complicated for many schools. However, we believe that everyone deserves access to quality biology education, to both inspire a new generation of scientists excited about biomedical research and to provide everyone a basic understanding of molecular biology and how that is relevant for our everyday lives. Thus, we aim to provide products that can bridge this gap. The opportunity to get this project funded (with CSF and other funding) was very important to its success – while my lab is able to provide funding/resources for the technical aspects of the project (i.e., the biological components of the kit), I did not have funding for the other kit components, like the boxes and the electronical components, as well as the shipping costs. In order to properly translate my project from the research lab into actual classrooms, I needed external funding and this funding help make this a reality. The schools (teachers and students) were able to benefit by getting to use these educationally useful kits for free, in return for providing my valuable feedback that was beneficial for me to see how useful my kits actually were and giving me ideas of how to improve future kits. I also learned that I was truly interested in pursuing this as a career, but in parallel, I also hope that I inspired interest in biology for some students. In the long term, I hope to continue this mutual impact by scaling up the amount of kits that we produce and distribute.

The MIT BoSTEM Scholars Academy is a full-time summer program in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) that targets high school students who are underrepresented in those fields. During our five weeks with the Scholars, we aimed to instill an internal paradigm of success by providing them with academic enrichment, pre-college resources, and a supportive community. Support from the MIT Community Service Fund helped us: hire knowledgeable and passionate teachers in physics, computer science, and biology; acquire supplies for our Scholars’ final projects; and even purchase budget laptops for the few Scholars who lacked computer access to their homework assignments.

 

The Technology and Policy Student Society (TPSS) is made up of students from the Technology and Policy Program (TPP) at MIT. As a group of students interested in issues ranging from the local to federal to global levels, it is important for us to engage with and try to better understand the communities we live and work in. It is all too easy to get stuck in the "bubble" of academia while at MIT and never have the opportunity to interact with our neighbors in the wider Cambridge community. With the generous funding from the Community Service Fund (CSF), eight TPP students shopped for food, cooked a healthy meal, and served it to the residents of the CASPAR shelter. CASPAR is a shelter a few doors down from MIT grad housing which serves the Cambridge population struggling with substance abuse and homelessness. 

Every week MIT Intervarsity Homeless Outreach goes out and hands out food and clothing to those in need in Central Square. As residents of the city of Cambridge, our community consists of more than just MIT, and our group aims to help local residents who could use some additional supplies, especially during the cold winter months. Thanks to donations and to the CSF, we were able to purchase important food items, such as granola bars and water bottles to hand out, and warm wool socks and hats to hand out during the Boston winter.

 

 

Improv-a-Do! organizes an annual state engineering competition for elementary-middle school kids. MIT student-designed engineering challenges this year ranged from product pitching smart trash cans and newly designed backpacks, to building a device to minimize drink spillage. The participants were then tasked to solve each challenge within a time frame of 5 minutes. As a fast paced way to get kids thinking and on their feet, Improv-a-Do! serves to bridge the gap between those who haven't had much exposure to STEM to experience it without the long project time commitments required by other STEM clubs. With the help of the Community Service Fund Improv-a-Do! has been able to host 150+ students at this half day long competition to spur students into action and allow them to have a taste of what engineering is all about in high pressure situations. 

The Technology and Policy Student Society (TPSS) is made up of students from the Technology and Policy Program (TPP) at MIT. As a group of students interested in issues ranging from the local to federal to global levels, it is important for us to engage with and try to better understand the communities we live and work in. It is all too easy to get stuck in the "bubble" of academia while at MIT and never have the opportunity to interact with neighbors who live different lives than us. With the generous funding from the Community Service Fund (CSF), nine TPP students shopped for food, cooked a healthy meal, and served it to the residents of the CASPAR shelter. CASPAR is a shelter a few doors down from MIT grad housing. It serves the Cambridge population struggling with substance abuse and homelessness. 

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. 

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.