Engineering Design Workshops Provide a Taste of MIT

Ed Moriarty outside working on project with students
The Edgerton Center offered the MIT experience remotely
Sonny Oram

When Campus Preview Weekend (CPW) at MIT was canceled last spring due to Covid-19, the Admissions Office looked to the Edgerton Center for creative ways to provide admitted students a taste of MIT remotely.

Ed Moriarty, an instructor at the Edgerton Center, suggested mailing out kits students could put together over Zoom, which materialized as the Aurora Beaveralis: a light kit that projects an aurora borealis with MIT’s mascot.

The CPW Zoom build sessions facilitated the types of interactions students look for during Campus Preview Weekend to help them determine whether MIT is the right environment for them. The students asked Moriarty questions about the Edgerton Center and its high school Engineering Design Workshop (EDW). Excited by the vision of EDW, Ed and the pre-frosh they ideated a program for admitted MIT students to lead a summer workshop at their high school before entering MIT. Twelve students signed up for the summer program and Chris Mayer, Technical Instructor, came on board to co-run the course.

After months of remote planning, these pre-frosh students were ready to launch their own Summer 2021 EDW programs in California, Texas, Louisiana, and Florida. Leading workshops presented many challenges that helped students build problem-solving skills — a must-have for MIT. “It was our first time running anything like this on our own so there were a lot of things we had to think about like finding a location that we weren’t expecting,” workshop leader Grace Jau ‘25 said, noting that she wasn’t able to host it at the school and had to find a supportive library to loan them space instead. During the ice breaker activity of launching rockets made of empty soda bottles and corrugated plastic. “I was afraid of blowing something up, but that never happened,” workshop leader Grace recalled with a smile on her face. 

Workshop leader Sarah Lu ‘25 said that the program helped her learn how to cope with challenges and work through issues without getting frustrated. Going from high school to MIT, she went from being relatively comfortable in her environment to being extremely challenged and at times feeling completely lost. Getting used to problem-solving in the program made her feel more confident at MIT.

Students also had the challenge of simply finishing projects in just four weeks. Many of the high school students had bold ideas that needed to be paired down to a minimal viable product — the simplest product you can make for the first round of investments. For example, the electric skateboard was not yet foldable as students hoped, and a group working on assisted technology focused exclusively on sensor research rather than trying to finish building the assisted equipment.

The group of workshop leaders formed a bond while working together, forming friendships before getting to campus. “If one of us had an issue we’d write in the group chat, situation over in Texas!” Victoria Velazquez ’25 reported.  Victoria recounted that the program made them feel a sense of community at MIT right from the beginning. “Ed and Chris from the Edgerton Center were the first people we met from MIT. It helped us build a sense of community before getting there.” When these prefrosh arrived at MIT this fall they were excited to have the Edgerton Center as a hands-on home.