Recent CSF Grant Recipients

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. 

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).