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From Inflatables to the MakerCup, Grad Student Life Grants Build Community

student holding wood guitar he made

Through MakerCup, grad students can work on personal projects, with coaching from other students.

Since 2002, the Graduate Student Life Grants (GSLG) program has enabled creative ideas for community building activities among graduate students. This request-for-proposal process invites graduate students, spouses, faculty, and staff to submit project plans for possible funding. The grants provide a unique opportunity to kick-start projects that will enhance graduate student life with experiences outside the classroom and lab.

Proposals are reviewed by a volunteer panel of five staff members from academic departments and various offices in DSL, as well as graduate students from each of MIT’s five schools, and carefully evaluated to determine the project’s feasibility, potential to positively impact graduate students, and connection to the mission and scope of the GSLG program. A Graduate Community Fellow works closely with the program administrator to handle program logistics and engages with many proposal authors in an iterative process to refine and strengthen elements of their proposals, and to ensure that all activities comply with Institute policies regarding safety and responsible use of funds.

Over the past 16 years, 330 proposals have received funding for a wide range of activities. Both individual grant authors and teams of organizers have executed successful projects that build community by creating a sense of belonging and mattering through shared experiences, particularly among people who rarely congregate. The fall 2018 grants cycle received 35 new proposals and recommended 22 of them for funding, including:

  • How to Inflate Almost Anything: A practical and collaborative workshop series to teach students how to make inflatables, resulting in a public-facing exhibition.
  • MakerCup: Student-to-student teaching events and a personal project competition that encourages new members to get involved in the MIT Maker community.
  • Black Mirror Viewing Parties + Educated Discussions: Evening events for graduate student fans of the popular TV series to watch select episodes and discuss, question, and consider possible directions for their creative technology work.
  • BGSA Community Gatherings: Community-building among MIT Black graduates, their allies, faculty and staff, and local leaders that fosters stimulating discussions about cultural, social, political, and professional topics.

In addition, two renewal grants were approved for successful continuing projects:

  • Russian Connection Cultural Gatherings: Inclusive activities for Russian-speaking graduate students and others in the graduate community with an interest in Russian language and culture.
  • Mutual Pictures Screen & Dine: Film screening and dinner events for the graduate student art and filmmaking community.

— Jessica Landry, Office of Graduate Education