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Globe-trotting for Good: A Sampling of D-Lab Students’ IAP Fieldwork Projects

D-Lab students in Bostwana

D-Lab students and local community members test a bean thresher in Botswana during IAP. Photo: Thabiso Blak Mashaba, These Hands

Fieldwork is at the heart of the MIT D-Lab educational experience. Our students come to our classrooms to learn about the principles of participatory design and poverty alleviation, but their classroom learnings are only the beginning.

MIT’s Independent Activities Period (IAP) is a valuable time to send our students abroad, so they can immerse themselves in another culture and sink their teeth into a design or research problem with field partners and community members for a month. Every year, students come back saying their lives have been changed by their experience.

This year, 40 students from five D-Lab classes  (Application of Energy in Global Development; D-Lab: Development, D-Lab: Gender and Development, D-Lab: Supply Chains, D-Lab: Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene, and a special IAP class – Technology Design for Coffee Production in Colombia, A Co-Design Experience, worked in eight countries with longtime D-Lab friends and collaborators. Here’s a snapshot of their fieldwork projects.


  • Community partner: These Hands GSSE
  • Projects: Work on bean threshing device, evaporative cooling devices, and hydroponic fodder growing devices, and teaching o STEM activities at a primary school.


  • Community partners: C-Innova, Colorado School of Mines
  • Projects: Coffee growing, drying, and roasting processes; teaching the co-design process to small-scale artisan miners.


  • Community partners: Multiple Pick-It! partners
  • Project: Co-design summit with wastepickers associated with the Pick-It!


  • Community partner: Faros
  • Project: Continued engagement with long-term D-Lab Humanitarian Innovation project providing creative capacity-building workshops with unaccompanied refugee youth in Athens.


  • Community Partners: Kathmandu University (Nepal), People’s Science Institute (India)
  • Project: Work with local residents to install and test insulation and performance-monitoring sensors in homes (India and Nepal; work on Lecturer Susan Murcott’s innovative “EC-Kit” portable E.coli testing kit (Nepal).

South Africa

  • Community partner: Equality Water, a startup created by Priyanka Chatterjee ’15 focused on small-scale desalination in water-scarce communities.
  • Project: Interviewing residents of a small community to understand their needs and decide how test devices could be deployed.


It is always exciting to see the diversity and richness of the activities our students engage in. Stay tuned for stories from these students soon!

Thanks to MISTI for travel support to the Nepal/India and Ghana trips and to MIT Global Education Office for Global Classrooms funding for travel to Greece.

—Nancy Adams, D-Lab