Fall 2018 UROP Projects

The Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) provides experiential learning opportunities by cultivating and supporting research partnerships between MIT undergraduates and faculty. UROP began in 1969, under the leadership of the late Professor Margaret L. A. MacVicar, who was inspired by Edwin Land’s emphasis on development of individual students in his 1957 speech, Generation of Greatness: the Idea of a University in an Age of Science. Today, over 91% of MIT undergraduates participate in at least one UROP during their undergraduate education. UROPs in DUSP leverage the technical skills and dexterity of the undergraduate population with real-world, complex, challenging, and rewarding applications. Below are a selection of the fall 2018 UROP projects.

Using Augmented and Virtual Reality Data Visualizations for Social Change.
Nailah Smith (class of ’22) is working with Sultan Sharrief and Ceasar McDowell to empower marginalized youth in America by uncovering and generating missing or hidden data and gaps in existing research. Utilizing the MOVE digital platform to increase impact, the project seeks to close achievement gaps in education through conversations. “Although I had not originally planned to participate in a UROP first semester, I'm glad I stumbled upon McDowell and Sharrief's UROP and was able to work on this project with them. I'm collaborating with a very talented and determined team, and I really appreciate that Sharrief gives us the freedom to take the lead on certain projects as well. Learning about his Take A Stand Portal (TASP) and how he plans to implement it, I think that the future we're working towards is more attainable than it seems,” said Smith.

Modeling and Visualizing Urban Data for Social Innovation
Noah McDaniel (class of ’20), Linh Nguyen (class of ’21), and Brandon Wang (class of ’19) are working with Fabio Duarte, Kevin O’Keefe, and Carlo Ratti at the MIT Senseable City Lab to explore the flow of information in the built environment and model dynamic changes in cities through multi-disciplinary approaches. From exposing gender gaps in STEM to optimizing taxi fleets and developing mobile infrastructure that can monitor environmental conditions McDaniel, Nguyen, and Wang are leveraging data to define and address structural and social challenges of the cities of today and the future.

The West Philadelphia Landscape Project Historical Database
Alexander Boccon-Gilbod (class of ’21) and Sarah Pohorecky (class of ’19) are collaborating with Anne Whiston Spirn, to restore natural habitat and rebuild local community through strategic design, planning, and education in West Philadelphia. Utilizing geographic information systems (GIS), Boccon-Gilbod and Pohorecky are constructing digital datasets that will be open, accessible, interactive, and a resource for those championing environmental justice in West Philadelphia."Data can only be useful if it is accessible, so I'm glad to be helping create improved, open datasets that will become a useful tool for the West Philidelphia Landscape Project and its participants,"” said Pohorecky.

Furthering Fair Housing and Examining the Legacies of Racial Segregation Ordinances
Hayley Flores (class of ’20) and Miriam Wahid (class of ’21). Wahid is continuing a summer UROP with Steil; "This summer, I created a database of acts of racial violence occurring between 1909 and 1918," noted Wahid. "This semester, I'm focusing on activist responses to white supremacist violence and segregation. My personal goal for this project is to gain a more thorough understanding of the United States' racial history - my course of study in DUSP centers around environmental justice, a topic of which race and segregation are essential components. This project also gives me the chance to learn about the larger activist movements in the US, which interest and inspire me." Flores is working with Kelly and Steil to gather and make publicly available the Assessments of Fair Housing that 49 different municipalities filed over the past two years pursuant to the new federal Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule.

Using ChatBots and Machine Learning to Understand How Low-Income Bostonians Use Public Transit
Brendon Ashworth (class of ’22) and Lucy Zhang (class of ’21) are helping Jinhua Zhao and Jeffrey Rosenblum better understand the travel behavior of low-income transit riders in Boston. The two are coding and implementing an automated texting ChatBot tool to gather real-time travel diary information from participants in a 2-month research study. In addition, Ashworth is using machine learning techniques to try to identify low-income riders from the billions of smartcard transaction data available through the MBTA’s data warehouse. Zhang said she got involved because, “I wanted to use my Course 6 skills to help better understand a real public policy issue that is important to me.” Rosenblum, PhD Candidate, reported that agency partners and transportation advocates focusing on equity struggle with the lack of data on how low-income transit riders use the system and react to fare increases. “All the UROPS I have worked with come to DUSP craving more relevance for their work and are excited to engage the political dimensions of social problems.” said Rosenblum. Professor Zhao has been impressed with the results from collaboration with UROPS. “The level of intellectual contribution from mixing disciplines is exciting to be a part of,” he said.