Becoming a D-Lab groupie
I first experienced D-Lab in the D-Lab: Development course my sophomore year—back in 2008, when D-Lab was a single classroom in the basement of the Infinite, and the machine shop was hidden in the adjacent loading dock. Since then, D-Lab has grown impressively, and I’ve tried my best to become and stay a D-Lab groupie.
My time in D-Lab taught me a lot: how to weld and use a hacksaw, how to travel and make the most of new experiences, (how to gumboot dance), and how to design and fail and try again. D-Lab also showed me the value of project-based learning, and in doing work that is personally meaningful.
Travels to Ghana, Kenya, and India
The trip to Ghana with Amy and D-Lab: Development was my first time traveling overseas, and I immediately fell in love with traveling, with people, and with D-Lab. After that, I took D-Lab: Cycle Ventures, and then Wheelchair Design in Developing Countries (now D-Lab: Mobility). I spent the summer working at the Association for the Physically Disabled of Kenya (APDK) in Nairobi with two other students, trying to integrate a petrol engine into a hand-cycle wheelchair. From there, I traveled to India to join D-Lab: Cycle Venturesinstructor Gwyn Jones at the Rickshaw Bank in Guwahati, India, where we worked on bicycle rickshaws and a cargo bike. In my last year at MIT, I did my senior thesis with Gwyn, developing an electric assist for bicycle rickshaws in India.
Co-founding an educational venture teaching hands-on learning
In my senior year, I joined up with a team of like-minded students to found the Practical Education Network (PEN), with the goal of sharing the “D-Lab-style” love of learning and tinkering through hands-on teaching. PEN hosts teacher training workshops, primarily in Ghana, to explore hands-on STEM activities that use low-cost, locally available materials. After graduating, I continued working with PEN for a year, traveling to teach in Ghana and Peru, and in Boston.
Since graduating in 2011, I’ve been lucky enough to stay involved in D-Lab: I’ve done contract work and engineering for D-Lab: Health and the D-Lab Scale-Ups program, worked in the D-Lab workshop with shop manager Jack Whipple, built bicycle rickshaws, co-led a D-Lab: Development trip to Botswana with Amy in 2014, followed Amy to Ghana for a Creative Capacity Building training, taken D-Lab: Earth, and hung around the D-Lab workshop to learn and continue to work on new projects (a small-scale D-Lab Aquaponics system, and SurgiBox, most recently).
Outside of D-Lab, I’ve followed a bit of a haphazard path since college: I taught high school physics in a "flipped classroom" for a year, biked cross-country teaching engineering/tinkering workshops, worked as an engineer for an astrophysics lab, and just started working full-time at Harvard in undergraduate engineering education—running part of a machine shop, helping students with their capstone projects, and supporting hands-on projects both in and out of the classroom.
Continued influence of D-Lab
D-Lab continues to have a huge influence on how I work and how I approach life. It’s given me an ongoing community of friends and mentors to whom I regularly go for advice, and connected me to all sorts of interesting projects, inspiring people, and ongoing learning. Amy once told me that D-Lab has the tendency to “derail” students from traditional employment (sometimes to the chagrin of their parents); this has definitely been the case for me, in a way that I’m extremely thankful for.
D-Lab has made me better at seeking out new experiences, better at hands-on design and engineering, and better at thinking intentionally about what I’m doing in the world—although I still haven’t quite figured that out!