USA Lab Student Projects Featured in Six Recent Articles
Student projects from this year’s USA Lab course, offered jointly by the MIT Sloan School of Management and the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning, have been featured in six recent articles, most of them in regional and local media outlets serving areas that were the focus of the student projects.
USA Lab aims to explore the sources of resilience and renewal in US communities while deepening students’ understanding of America’s diverse economic, cultural, and social characteristics. As part of this semester-long course, MIT graduate students work closely with local community groups across the US—including economic development organizations, community finance institutions, local government organizations, and community foundations—on projects proposed by the host organizations.
Student projects from the spring 2021 USA Lab course included:
One student team worked with the Hutchinson Community Foundation, based in Hutchinson, Kansas, to study the “cliff effect”—a loss of government assistance that can hinder workers trying to escape poverty—and explore solutions to ameliorate the “cliff effect” in the area. This USA Lab project was profiled in a June article on the website of Kansas Reflector, a nonprofit news organization:
“Hutchinson Working With MIT to Break Poverty Shackles of the ‘Cliff Effect.’”
A second student team worked with the Community Foundation of North Central Massachusetts, based in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, to study the agricultural and food production ecosystem in that region. That project was profiled in three recent local news items:
“MIT and Harvard Graduate Students Research Food and Agricultural Entrepreneurship in North Central Massachusetts” in the Leominster Champion;
“USA Lab: MIT and Harvard Graduate Students Research Food and Agricultural Entrepreneurship in North Central Massachusetts” in the Sentinel & Enterprise;
“Student Researchers at Harvard, MIT Propose Winchendon Food Hub” on the Central Mass Town Square website.
A third group of USA Lab students worked with the Tallahassee-Leon County Office of Economic Vitality in Florida to research how the office might best engage with minority-owned and women-owned small businesses. That team’s project is the subject of a new article by the MIT Sloan Action Learning program:
“Engaging Minority-Owned and Women-Owned Businesses in Florida.”
A fourth student team worked with the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque in Iowa to analyze barriers to employment for formerly incarcerated people in the region. That project was featured in an article by the Dubuque-based Telegraph Herald:
“Students Look at Connecting Formerly Incarcerated to Workforce in Dubuque.”
Two other projects were also the focus of student teams in this year’s USA Lab course:
A study of small businesses in northern Maine for Coastal Enterprises, Inc., a community development finance institution based in Brunswick, Maine; and
An exploration of resources and recommendations for welcoming and inclusion for immigrants and other newcomers to the city of Worthington, Minnesota. This project was conducted for the Southwest Initiative Foundation, a community foundation that is based in Hutchinson, Minnesota and serves southwest Minnesota.
USA Lab, which completed its fourth year in Spring 2021, was developed by the MIT Institute for Work and Employment Research’s Good Companies, Good Jobs Initiative in conjunction with MIT Sloan's Action Learning program and the MIT Mens et Manus America Initiative.
“This class is designed to benefit both MIT students and the community organizations that host them,” said Barbara Dyer, a Research Affiliate at the MIT Institute for Work and Employment Research (IWER) who played a key role in launching USA Lab and was a member of the class’s teaching team throughout its first four years. “The host organizations gain fresh insights on pressing issues facing their communities, and students hone critical skills such as market analysis, strategy development, and impact investing along with empathetic listening, all of which make them better business leaders. Students report that working with these remarkable community leaders is eye-opening and gives them a deeper appreciation for the strengths and challenges that define the American experience.”
In 2019, the “USA Lab: Bridging the American Divides” course won an “Ideas Worth Teaching” award from the Aspen Institute’s Business & Society Program and was recognized as part of a Financial Times report on socially responsible business education.
The ideal USA Lab project leaves a lasting impression on everyone involved, according to MIT Sloan Director of Action Learning Urmi Samadar—both the students who take the course and the nonprofit and local government organizations that host them in rural areas and small and mid-sized cities across America. Host organizations like the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque see such positive outcomes for their communities that they often return to host again.