Recent CSF Grant Recipients

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

Our number one goal is to feed the hungry who come in to see us every Wednesday night. This Soup Kitchen was started by MIT students and has been directed and expanded by students for over two years now. We are hosted and mostly funded by St. Bartholomew's church in Central Square and our student volunteers work alongside local church members who also donate their time in service. The overall hope is to serve the community and make Cambridge a better place because of it. The CSF funding helped us provide this service better than expected this past spring. With support from CSF we were able to order more food for our weekly dinners, restock important paper products we use to serve the meals, and purchase new kitchen equipment to better prepare future food for our guests.  
"There is a lot that happens around the world we cannot control. We cannot stop earthquakes, we cannot prevent droughts, and we cannot prevent all conflict, but when we know where the hungry, the homeless and the sick exist, then we can help." 

We established a D-lab like class (focused on energy and water) for late high school and early undergraduate students. The goal of the project was to work with the participants to creatively solve energy and water problems in their communities by using local resources. A few days and some training later, the students had formed teams that came up with six innovative projects that will serve their communities.

The CSF funding enabled us to buy materials to build devices we designed, create online lessons and buy souvenirs for the students. More information about the inaugural edition is here: 

The CSF funding helped us finance part of the “Club de Ciencias” in Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico.

I graduated from MIT this September with a PhD in Geophysics, and thanks to the funds provided by CSF I could finish my education experience in a very high note by starting to provide mentoring for younger students interested in science.

Club de Ciencias (CdeC) is an organization comprised of grad students of different universities (MIT, Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, among others) and we had other sources of funding to provide for airfare and accommodation for all instructors.

CdeC has designed a blended model for science education, combining ex- periential and digital learning. The main building block of our program is the “Clubes de Ciencia“: Intensive Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) workshops delivered to high school and college students.

 The workshops were 1 week long from July 27 to August 2nd in Ensenada and in Guanajuato.

The funds from CdeC were used to help several clubs, and in particular the workshop that I organized: “How do rocks flow?”

 ‘’How do rocks flow?” was a weeklong (5 hours a day) workshop for undergraduate and high-school students. The workshop was focused on experiments on analog materials to understand the rheology of the Earth and its implications for natural hazards and industrial applications.

 The students learned about plate tectonics, the cycle of rocks, stress and strain, viscoelastic and viscoplastic rheology and brittle and ductile behaviors.  All the material for this workshop was bought with the CSF fund: projector, laser pointers for the workshops in general, poster printing at MIT copytech for a plate tectonics activity, chocolate and loupe set for the rock cycle, silly putty, modeling clay and corn starch (bought in mexico) for the rheology studies, amplifier, subwoofers and RCA cables to study non Newtonian rheology, and slinky to study wave propagation. My lab provided the material for a photoelastic set-up to illustrate stress concentration along cracks. Other funding from CdeC provided the transportation to a field area where we saw some fossils (Rudists from the late Cretaceous).

Open Style Lab is a summer educational program dedicated to creating innovative clothing solutions for people with disabilities, who often have difficulty dressing independently. Launched for the first time in Summer 2014 on MIT campus, we brought together engineers, designers and occupational therapy students to form interdisciplinary teams. The teams were matched with a client with unique clothing challenges, whose conditions varied from amputations, paraplegia and arthiritis. To emphasize interdisciplianry perspective each team consisted of one design student, one engineering student and one occupational therapy student. There was a total of eight teams. Open Style Lab sessions were held every Saturday, for 10 weeks.

In addition to benefiting from each others' professional skill sets, the student teams were exposed to exceptional mentors and speakers from industry and academia, such as Eileen Fisher, Rhode Island School of Design and Spaulding Rehabilitation Network in Boston. Students were not only introduced to various technologies that they could employ to make their products, but they were also introduced to panel discussions and industry speakers who shared their diverse experiences related to the filed of disability. The organization of these various speakes and panels as well as providing various basic prototype materials for students would not have been possible without the help of CSF funding. 

Our community offering made possible through the help of CSF funding is twofold:

The first is the individual products that we were able to create for the clients. Ranging from a more easily wearable pair of pants with magnetic seams to a shirt that incorporates thermodynamic feature activated by voice command, to name just a couple, the students engineered products that had an immediate impact upon the clients' lives. Our goal was to create products that went beyond the scope of pure functionality. Understanding clothing as a pervasive form of social currency, we felt that there was an uneven distribution of this currency for the disability population. There are a lot of clothing for the disaiblity population, but few, if any, ever take into account the wearer's personal sense of aesthetics. By emphasizing both the design and the engineering aspect of the endeavor, we hoped to contribute toward diversifying the clothing, and therefore, a social interactive option for our clients. 

The other significant result of the summer was the great amount of public attention that Open Style Lab could bring to the challenges of living with a disability. Our program was featured in Boston Globe, The Christian Science Monitor, NCBS; we also had the exciting opportunity to present at New York Fashion Week's Emerging Trends fashion show, where Open Style Lab was the final closing presentation. These public appearances are metrics of success not only for the Open Style Lab program, but more importantly, for the topic of disability and the way in which the subject can be translated into an area of innovation and creativity. We are greatful to MIT's Community Service Fund for providing a solid foundation for building our program.

This summer, I traveled with a group of fellow MIT students to Kara, Togo, to work with an HIV clinic called AED. AED, which stands for Association Espoir pour Demain (Association of Hope for Tomorrow), provides consultations, medication, education, and family planning services to over 2000 HIV-positive patients in the Kara area. An integral part of patient care at AED is the Community Health Worker (CHW) program; CHWs visit patients at their homes, ensuring they are taking their medications correctly and providing basic HIV education . However, the number of patients receiving visits is limited by the distances CHWs must travel. Nearly all of them walk at least 20 minutes between patients, and those who serve more rural populations can expect close to an hour commute. This means that fewer patients have access to the improved care that the CHWs provide. At the suggestion of a staff member at AED, our team set out to purchase bicycles for all fifteen CHWs to help reduce time spent in transit.

Of course, this was not as straightforward as we expected it to be. At first, several CHWs told me they did not want bikes. During the rainy season, they explained, Togo receives some degree of rainfall every day; sometimes it is heavy enough that CHWs are forced to seek shelter, but often it is just a drizzle and they can continue to walk. But on a bike, they told me, they would be soaked even in light rain because of the way bikes tend to kick water up onto their riders. After some discussion, we decided that rain jackets would solve this problem and make the bikes useful year round. The CSF gave its approval to use some of the grant funding for rain jackets, and ultimately each CHW received a bike, a bike lock, a bike helmet, and a rain jacket. This conversation helped me realize just how important it is to be actively involved with the community I am seeking to serve. Had we simply mailed AED a check with instructions to spend the money on bicycles, several bikes could very well have gone unused. By keeping communication open, I believe that we have ensured these resources will be used effectively.

With a quicker means of transportation, the community health workers are able to visit more patients each day. These patients in turn will benefit from the reminders, educational activities, and emotional support the CHWs bring.

Thank you to the Community Service Fund for helping make this project possible!

This summer with the help of the CSF, I travelled to Togo, West Africa as a member of the Grassroots Onsite Work team of GlobeMed at MIT. GlobeMed at MIT is partnered with Hope Through Health, an NGO that supports a system of HIV/AIDS clinics in the northern region of Togo. GlobeMed at MIT spends each year raising awareness about the HIV/AIDS situation in Togo and running campaigns on campus to raise money for the clinics. My project was to serve as a Documentarian. I spent 4 weeks collecting photographs and videos of the clinics, their staff, their patients, and daily life in Togo. Before, during, and after my trip I collaborated with Hope Through Health to provide them with visual media and development material to help their donors better understand the healthcare situation in Togo, and to help them further connect with the clinics' mission. I am currently working with HTH to make a short film about their impact improving the quality of HIV/AIDS care in Togo over the past 10 years, and the importance of working toward healthcare equity in Togo.

Science is cool. It is fun, it is real, it solves many of our problems today. We thought that more teenagers should be able to appreciate the beauty and relevance of science. 

We traveled to Ghana to work with rural schools and improve science eduation. Our project had three main components:

  • Raspberry Pi: a credit-card sized single-board computer, basically a $25 PC . Students should get their hands dirty with some programming at a younger age!
  • Foldscopes: $5 microscopes that provide 2,000X magnification. Let’s have the kids see with their own eyes that microorganisms exist!
  • Improvised lab equipment: beakers are a must in a lab- but why not cut plastic water bottles into two and use the base as a beaker? Isn’t tissue paper a much cheaper version of filter paper? When we need carbon paper to prevent light from entering, can't we just use aluminium foil from cigarette packets.

During our stay in New Longoro, Ghana we encouraged teachers to include hands-on activities in class by:

a) co-authoring a manual with KNUST students (a local university in Ghana),

b) providing them with cheap technology, and creating equipment, experiments or models with readily-available materials,

c) holding teacher training workshops.

In addition, we attended a conference organized by Ghana Association of Science Teachers and shared our experience and resources with over 300 science teachers.