New development classes inspired by MIT D-Lab to be offered this spring
Wellesley welcomes hands-on learning opportunities
Published: Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, October 17, 2012 23:10
This upcoming spring semester, Amy Banzaert, instructor of D-Lab (Development through Dialogue, Design and Dissemination) Energy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), will join the Wellesley College faculty to offer D-Lab-inspired courses for the first time at Wellesley College. The new course offered this spring will focus on engineering-based sustainable energy. Like D-Lab, the new course entitled “Making a Difference Through Engineering” will feature service-oriented projects in both local and international communities.
“The prospect of having someone from D-Lab come to Wellesley is big,” Daisy Chang ’12, former D-Lab student stated. “There are so many Wellesley students who are interested in [development].”
Although D-Lab at MIT includes courses in a wide variety of fields ranging from public health to communications, the courses at Wellesley are primarily based in engineering—Banzaert’s area of expertise. Banzaert received her PhD in mechanical engineering from MIT, where she worked on the D-Lab “Fuel from the Fields” charcoal project. This initiative offered farmers a way to turn their agricultural waste into charcoal, a cooking fuel alternative that is more affordable and healthy than wood-based fuels. During her time at MIT, Banzaert also created and taught D-Lab Energy.
In January, Banzaert will begin teaching EXTD (Extradepartmental) 160: Introduction to Engineering, a class which was formerly offered by various Wellesley and Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering faculty members. The course will now be taught by Professor Banzaert once a year, and will likely incorporate service projects in the future, although they will not be included this spring.
Dean Stephan and other organizers have submitted a request to the Committee on Curriculum and Academic Policy (CCAP) to change the name of the course to Fundamentals of Engineering. Banzaert recommended EXTD 160 as a prep-class for taking more intensive engineering courses at MIT and Olin.
Banzaert will also offer a new class entitled, “EXTD 120: Making a Difference Through Engineering,” which will be modeled closely off of D-Lab at MIT. EXTD 120 will be less scientifically and mathematically rigorous than EXTD 160 and will be open to any student who has passed the Quantitative Reasoning Assessment. EXTD 160 current satisfies either the Mathematical Modeling distribution or the Natural and Physical Science distribution, and EXTD 120 will satisfy the Mathematical Modeling distribution.
Students in EXTD 120 will work with community partners to develop technological solutions for underserved populations, both locally and abroad. According to Dean Stephan, future projects could be centered around public health and transportation. Students who enroll in the spring semester course will have the opportunity to explore alternative energy solutions such as solar energy, micro-hydro power and fuels made from biomass.
“I think [service projects are] motivational for a lot of women and also a really good teaching method,” Banzaert stated. “It’s satisfying to work on projects where you know there’s going to be a benefit to someone at the end.”
Banzaert will teach both EXTD 120 and EXTD 160 every year, most likely in the spring. After this year, she will offer two more courses which will also incorporate service projects. Banzaert expects that in the coming years projects at Wellesley may be geared toward improving the standard of living for women in underserved populations.
“The burden of poverty is often heavier on women’s shoulders,” Banzaert said. “So coming to an all-women’s college, I think there’s going to be a lot of natural interest in addressing women’s needs.”
Past MIT D-Lab projects aiming to improve women’s livelihoods include a low-cost bicycle-powered laundry machine, a tool to simplify the beading process for women working in cooperatives in China and a cell phone-enabled system for tracking infant health in clinics in Pakistan.
Banzaert’s own work centers on developing safe charcoal from plant waste to use as cooking fuel in developing countries. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 1.5 million people per year die from indoor air pollution associated with traditional cooking fuel. The majority of those affected are women and children who spend more time in the kitchen compared to adult men.
Banzaert will take suggestions for future projects from local community groups and students interested in taking her class. The new development courses have already sparked interest among students at Wellesley, many of whom find the time commitment required for MIT courses a strong reason not to enroll in D-Lab classes.