“When you ask alumni about their most transformative experiences as students, they often tell you about an experiential learning opportunity that they had. MIT is a remarkable, one-of-a-kind place for this kind of educational approach. Philanthropy is the engine of experiential learning at MIT.”
Senior Associate Dean and Director, MIT Office of Experiential Learning
It’s no secret that MIT students like to get their hands dirty—not just in the classroom or lab, but out in the world, making a difference during and after their time as students.
Recognizing overwhelming student interest in these learning opportunities and the opportunity to better connect and support MIT’s myriad experiential learning programs, MIT formed the Office of Experiential Learning (OEL) in 2018—a central resource to help the MIT community spend less time promoting or searching for these learning opportunities and more time doing them.
Experiential learning is woven into all disciplines and academic programs at the Institute, but the following programs provide opportunities outside the classroom that are uniquely MIT—and could not function in the same way without the broad support of the MIT community through the MIT Campaign for a Better World.
UROP | SuperUROP | MISTI | Sandbox | PKG Center | Project Manus | Edgerton Center | NEET | Terrascope
Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP)
UROP, MIT’s most popular experiential learning program, provides paid or credit-bearing opportunities for undergraduates to dive into faculty research projects as soon as they enter MIT. One of the earliest programs of its kind in the United States, UROP celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2019, receiving an outpouring of memories from alumni and faculty members who can trace UROP’s impact on their life and career. Philanthropic funds comprise more than 60% of the UROP Office’s annual budget, supporting students’ direct impact on research breakthroughs across disciplines at MIT and their own academic and professional development. “There are so many basic ideas or concepts we take for granted. In my UROP, I learned to question more about the world around me and always work to develop my own criteria,” says Amanda Vanegas ’24, who participated in a UROP in Daniel Rothman’s lab in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences.
“UROP changed my life—and now it’s recognized as an essential part of MIT’s education.”
—Andrew Lippman ’71, SM ’77
Associate Director, MIT Media Lab; Co-Director, MIT Communications Futures Program
Launched in 2012, the Advanced Undergraduate Opportunities Program, more commonly known as SuperUROP, is an expanded version of UROP in the School of Engineering. The yearlong experience, which includes the class 6.UAR Preparation for Undergraduate Research, gives juniors and seniors the time, resources, and guidance necessary to perform research that is on par with that of a graduate student or industry professional. Supported through a named scholars program, SuperUROP offers research opportunities across the Institute, including projects that bring together the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences with computer science.
Since 2012, 1,050 students have participated in the Advanced Undergraduate Opportunities Program (SuperUROP).
MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI)
Since its first program with Japan started in 1983, MISTI has offered students a global perspective by creating applied international learning opportunities that increase their ability to understand and address real-world problems. MISTI’s programs are designed to ensure that students have a rich experience that broadens their academic, professional, and personal horizons and prepares them to be global leaders in their field of study. MISTI has continued to grow over the course of the Campaign, expanding into Denmark and the United Kingdom, creating new ways for MIT students to learn abroad, and winning the 2013 Senator Paul Simon Spotlight Award, which is granted to innovative university programs that make a significant contribution to campus internationalization.
MISTI partnerships with international hosts and partners: 450+
Over the past five years, with the broad philanthropic support, the MIT Sandbox Innovation Fund Program has become an integral part of the entrepreneurial ecosystem at the Institute.
Each semester, MIT Sandbox supports more than 350 diverse, student-led teams and provides them with the knowledge, skills, and support to transform a nascent idea into a successful startup. Many teams spend 12-18 months in the Sandbox developing into viable startups by leveraging guidance from mentors, insights from startup-related experts, and seed funding. Sandbox also facilitates undergraduate internships with startups that have emerged from the program.
“It gives students freedom to explore any idea … and funds and mentorship and a bunch of resources to work with. If someone wants to pursue something, there’s no reason they can’t do it,” says Ross Finman SM ’13, who was one of the first student participants in Sandbox. His augmented reality startup Escher Reality was purchased by the game developer Niantic in 2018.
Priscilla King Gray Public Service Center (PKG Center)
The PKG Center has been the epicenter of public service at MIT for more than 30 years. Each year, the center brings together hundreds of undergraduate and graduate students from across disciplines to engage with nonprofits, government agencies, and companies tackling social and environmental challenges locally and around the world.
During the Campaign for a Better World, the center’s annual IDEAS Social Innovation Challenge celebrated 20 years of enabling students to apply their MIT education to tackle pressing social issues for people and communities around the world. In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the center’s Social Impact Internships and Employment Program also expanded dramatically as students sought out opportunities to make an immediate impact during the crisis. In recent years, the center also responded to growing student interest by launching and expanding its first for-credit courses, developing new programs, and scaling up others to meet the needs of the MIT student community—all of which was made possible by generous donors.
“The challenges that society faces today require collaborative frameworks over competitive ones. It’s a win for the PKG Center when we have the opportunity to support any student along their social change pathway.”
Assistant Dean of Social Innovation, PKG Center; Leader of the IDEAS Team
Project Manus, MIT’s innovative enhancement of campus makerspaces and maker communities initiated in 2015, continues to redefine what a hands-on education looks like at MIT. Initiatives like Mobius—an app that allows the MIT community access to tools and resources related to MIT makerspaces, and MakerLodge, specifically designed to introduce first-year students to MIT makerspaces—have elevated the making experience at MIT. Both initiatives were made possible by donor support.
In a further commitment to making, MIT’s largest-ever campus makerspace is slated to open in the newly renovated Metropolitan Storage Warehouse in 2025. The highly visible space, which will be among the first makerspaces on campus to fully meet the accessibility standards set by the Americans with Disabilities Act, will be the central feature of the building’s first floor.
5,130 MIT users have used the Mobius app to navigate the MIT makersystem. 986 first-year students have gone through the MakerLodge program. 3,963 total makerspace training hours have been offered.
The Edgerton Center
The Edgerton Center, one of MIT’s original makerspaces, celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2017. Created to honor the legacy of inventor, entrepreneur, and MIT Professor Harold “Doc” Edgerton, the Edgerton Center offers subjects in engineering and imaging; supports student clubs and teams; manages student machine shops; and offers a year-round K–12 program.
During the Campaign for a Better World, philanthropy has allowed the Edgerton Center to further advance its mission, particularly through the establishment of an endowed directorship funding for a new electronics lab. Student teams supported by the center have also won international recognition, including the Hyperloop II Team emerging as the first-place US university at the 2019 SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition and placing fifth worldwide.
“We make 85% of what goes into the solar car. It’s rewarding to see the car actually rolling, and you can see little contributions from everyone on the team that result in something going thousands of miles across America. That’s truly amazing. We get a lot of resources and help from the MIT Edgerton Center, and it’s something we’re really grateful for.”
—Minsu Jung ’21
Member of the MIT Solar Electric Vehicle Team
New Engineering Education Transformation (NEET) Program
Launched in 2017, the NEET program reimagines engineering education at MIT, emphasizing interdisciplinary scholarship, project-centric learning, and the “NEET Ways of Thinking”—a set of principles that focus on creative, contextual, and humanistic approaches. The program prepares students to take on major engineering challenges and develop solutions to critical social problems of the 21st century.
NEET students opt in as sophomores and spend three years in one of five “threads.” This structure facilitates their deep dive into a student community bound by an active interest in pursuing projects that cross departmental boundaries. Each student earns a NEET Certificate together with their MIT degree. More than 200 students are enrolled in the program in 2021, making NEET the fourth largest undergraduate academic cohort on campus. The program attracts a diverse array of students, including 68% women.
Terrascope has been providing a distinctive first-year learning experience for students since 2002. Each cohort focuses on a problem related to environmental sustainability, working in teams to develop solutions while drawing on diverse perspectives, interdisciplinary research, and their supportive Terrascope community.
“Part of why Terrascope has been so important to me is it’s a place where there is a lot of great thinking about what makes a meaningful educational experience,” says David McGee, an EAPS associate professor and the director of Terrascope.
In 2016, Terrascope earned national recognition for its programming, including designation as an Exemplar in Engineering Ethics Education by the National Academy of Engineering Center for Engineering Ethics and Society, making it one of 25 programs nationwide to receive this honor.
This article was originally published in July 2021.