MIT’s D-Lab: Promoting Sustainable Development through Technology and Education

Last week I stumbled across the website for a program at MIT called D-Lab (the “D” is for “Development”). According to their website “D-Lab’s mission is to improve the quality of life of low-income households through the creation and implementation of low cost technologies. D-Lab’s portfolio of technologies also serves as an educational vehicle that allows students to gain an optimistic and practical understanding of their roles in alleviating poverty.”

The program is structured into courses, and the two that caught my eye in particular were those focused on Energy (think small-scale hydro projects, cheaper solar technology, wind generators, etc.) and Developing World Prosthetics (a topic which as always interested me as a Mechatronics Engineer). An overview of some of the projects that have evolved from these courses has been provided, and they are pretty impressive accomplishments, particularly for a group largely comprised of undergraduate students.

Providing a course environment like D-Lab takes the initiative of groups like Engineers Without Borders to a whole new level. The university encourages students to have a positive impact on alleviating poverty through technology (with a focus on sustainable development and environmental responsibility nonetheless), and actually provides credits for doing so! And if there is any doubt that there is an interest in this kind of learning environment it is quickly suppressed by the fact that there has consistently been over 200% enrollment in the program. This allure is likely due, in part, to the fact exchange opportunities exist for students to actually implement their ideas abroad.

It is surprising that this kind of program is not more prevalent in our colleges and universities, particularly those with a focus on engineering. In previous posts I have described the need for a shift in social values, and what better place to start than our higher-education institutions?

Engineering, science and international development students everywhere – talk to your deans, show them the D-Lab site, and advocate for the potential enrollment they are missing! This is an opportunity for change that shouldn’t be overlooked.