From the very creation of this great institution, the MIT motto, as well as the focus of an MIT education, has been Mens et Manus — mind and hand.

Project-based learning complements classroom learning by offering students an opportunity for real-world educational experiences. With hundreds of hands-on projects now under way across the Institute, students are busy applying their knowledge to solve today’s global challenges. There are hands-on learning projects in every school and nearly every department at MIT.

Real-world experience gives students a chance to travel, opening their minds to various people, cultures, and points of view. It helps them to develop leadership skills and often is a way for young people to discover their life’s work. Hands-on learning makes it possible for students to turn ideas and prototypes into real products and not only helps them to learn better but also gives them the confidence to go out and change the world.

Among our major hands-on initiatives is the MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI), which prepares students to live and work around the globe by offering internships in Japan, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Mexico, Spain, Singapore, Israel, and Africa. After two years of intense instruction in the language and culture of a country, students spend three to 12 months working in labs and offices across the globe. This year MISTI sent 315 students abroad.

Another major experiential learning project is the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP, pronounced yer-op), which pairs students and faculty in research partnerships. This 39-year-old program is exceedingly popular and has been a model for other universities both in the United States and abroad. Not only does UROP allow students to participate in world-changing research, it also allows faculty to get research help from vibrant, creative undergraduates. Students learn teamwork and are treated as professionals; they learn by doing and also receive academic credit or pay.

Another remarkable program recently started at MIT is the Bernard M. Gordon-MIT Engineering Leadership Program, which is expected to become a national model for educating engineering leaders. Launched through a $20 million gift to the MIT School of Engineering by the Gordon Foundation, the program will enhance MIT’s core education program centering on developing new products, materials, processes, and systems; it will incorporate a hands-on learning program in which students, mentored by alumni in industry, will develop leadership skills; and it will spread best practices to other universities.

Now under way at MIT Sloan School of Management is a new initiative called S-Lab (Sloan Laboratory for Sustainable Business). This one-semester class brings student teams together with organizations from the business, nonprofit, and government sectors to create business approaches to social and environmental issues. Teams work on projects with organizations to help create a world that is sustainable ecologically, economically, socially, politically, and personally.

Other MIT programs that offer students real-world and service learning opportunities include the IDEAS Competition, an invention and entrepreneurship competition that benefits people around the world and was created by the MIT Edgerton Center and Public Service Center; the D-Lab, an MIT design class that trains students to deliver technology to the Third World; the Public Service Fellowships, which provide stipends that make it possible for students to work around the world in the summer or on vacations; and the departments, labs, and centers at MIT that run more than 30 K-12 educational outreach programs, including the Edgerton Center, the Center for Environmental Health Sciences, and the MIT Museum.

Also on campus, there are now 20 Student Clubs and Teams that engage students in real-world design projects. Students lead the entire project — from running the group to managing finances to creating project designs. Past teams have built autonomous robots, flown crewless airplanes, and raced solar-powered vehicles.

The students on these pages say that experiential learning complements what they glean from a book and adds a whole new dimension to their experiences inside the classroom. By solving real problems, students are not only motivated to learn but also filled with self-assurance.

Reid Allen, an MIT junior who studies mechanical engineering and interned for a year at BMW Motorsport in Germany, is quoted on these pages as saying, “Going to Munich was enormously confidence-building. I designed 100 parts on BMW racecars that are some of the most successful racecars in the world. I know now that I am a successful engineer.”

Susan Hockfield

Susan Hockfield