Freshman Advising Seminars at MIT are academic courses with a twist: Your professor is also your adviser. Courses in digital and darkroom imaging or an immersion into startups and entrepreneurship bring together advisees in one course. Don’t expect to see quizzes or p-sets here (though you do receive college credit). The school says these classes are completely different in “size, style of learning and pace” from other courses at MIT and are meant for adviser and advisees to know each other as people, “not just as student and teacher.” They are also a fantastic way to experiment in a new subject by looking into the intersections between engineering and art (and designing, say, a display in the MIT Museum) or to get a jumpstart on Chemical Engineering with like-minded first-years.
New students may instead opt into one of the first-year Learning Communities, which are a great way to make smaller communities, within the larger campus community, right off the bat. You can choose between four communities, which bring together students of common interests: You’ll take a several classes together, have freshman advising together, and socialize at special programs like pizza parties or weekly lunches. In the Terrascope Community, for example, students are tasked to explore problems related to the environment and sustainability (a recent class worked to design an environmentally friendly plan to feed the planet for a decade.) Students do field work together over spring break (in locales like Sirsi, India), and produce a series of radio programs about the overall experience. And in the Concourse Community, students take small, seminar-style versions of some of their core requirement classes together (in both science and the humanities) as well as Friday seminars that bring guest faculty across the disciplines for a behind-the-scenes look at “how different disciplines think.” Most communities have facilities on campus with study areas, kitchens, and lounges for meeting up between classes. Students often say that these communities are the best part of freshman year.
MIT is positively brimming with opportunity and resources. One student puts it bluntly: “MIT has dough. If you want to do something, there are a million and one ways here to get funding.” But MIT also places a premium on social responsibility, and hosts a few unique spaces on campus doing just that. Housed on MIT’s campus, D-Lab is a global network of innovators “trying to improve the lives of people living in poverty.” D-Lab academic courses and projects are all tied to real-world communities, and students are asked to draw upon their math, science, engineering, social science and business skills to tackle very real global problems. Conceived in 2003 as a research center within the MIT Economics Department, the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab, or J-Pal, has grown into a global network of partners who “are driven by a shared belief in the power of scientific evidence to understand what really helps the poor, and what does not,” according to the Center. J-Pal headquarters still remain on the MIT campus, where researchers work on issues as diverse as “boosting girls’ attendance at school, improving the output of farmers in sub-Saharan Africa, racial bias in employment in the United States, and the role of women political leaders in India.”
The Public Service Center facilitates hands-on service learning opportunities for members of the MIT community through fellowships, grants, internships, and trainings. There are many programs going on at any given time at the PSC, but one of particular interest to incoming first-years may be the Freshman Urban Program. This pre-orientation event acclimates incoming first-years to campus and the surrounding community by giving them of a preview of “who’s who and what’s where” with five days of service projects in Boston and Cambridge. Past projects have included an elementary school clean-up, gardening with CitySprouts, or working with a local rescue mission, all alongside MIT upperclassmen. Participants get a first look at the resources that will help them become leaders on campus as well as the issues affecting the surrounding community. Plus it sets them up for future participation in CityDays of service, CityWeeks, which organizes an Alternative Spring Break event in Cambridge, or Four Weeks for America, a pre-cursor to a Teach for America-like experience. The Public Service Center helps students connect their academic interests and strengths to service opportunities and become leaders no matter their discipline or area of study.
MIT’s approach to entrepreneurship is fresh and inclusive. One way that everyone from freshmen up to graduate students can get involved is through the MIT Global Founder’s Skills Accelerator. If you think you’ve got a great idea, round yourself up a team of MIT talent and apply to be a GFSA founder. Select teams with “an interesting idea or proof of concept focused on creating impactful, innovation-driven startups” are given start-up capital (up to $20,000), office space, and a stipend along with mentorship and other helpful resources, all with an eye to eventually pitching their concept to investors at Demo Days in San Francisco, Boston, and NYC. Other funding streams on campus are the MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Challenge, a series of competitions designed to help students accelerate over the course of an academic year; the MIT Global IDEAS challenge, an invention competition put on by the Public Service Center; or the Legatum Fellowship for incoming or current MIT students “who demonstrate the potential to create innovative, sustainable, and for-profit enterprises that promote prosperity in low-income countries.” Of course, in addition to competitions and the dozen or so student organizations on campus focused on entrepreneurship, there is a top-notch advising network facilitated by the Center for MIT Entrepreneurship. Students meet first with a Peer Advisor (student leaders on campus who hold meetings and office hours), and then have the option to meet with Entrepreneurs in Residence (full-time Center staff with different areas of expertise like business strategy, brand development, or fundraising), as well as Professional Advisors (industry experts across the country who donate their time and know-how to intrepid MIT inventors. An impressive collection of courses complete the picture and are taught by both faculty and practitioners.
Named after beloved MIT professor, engineer, and inventor Harold “Doc” Edgerton, the Edgerton Center is a special space on campus—full of workspaces, machinery, and hands-on training programs—for all kinds of makers. It’s a place to skill-build, create prototypes, or just get advice for self-initiated independent projects (there are lots and lots of curious and motivated students at MIT) or for projects for credit. Here you might find students in one of the three Student Shops learning to fabricate the parts of a flashlight from scratch and working with 3-D printers or over in the Strobe Lab learning the fundamentals of high-speed imaging. Edgerton is also the hub for many of the student teams on campus such as the Solar Electric Vehicle Team, which designs 100 percent solar powered cars to race in long distance competitions, and the MIT Robotics Team, which enters and designs for a variety of competitions in the field of robotics.