Student Engagement

Note: This page is heavily under construction

CoLab offers a variety of opportunities for students to engage with real world problems through practice and study -- from informal gatherings and speaking engagements to skill-based workshops, research, reading groups, courses, and internships, both paid and unpaid. CoLab Radio also welcomes contributions from students around the world who are interested in sharing their stories of innovative projects and research in urban planning with an international audience dedicated to improving cities.



CoLab Supported Courses

Every year, CoLab supports one or more courses offered in the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning. CoLab staff support the course development and execution and connect enrolled students to community partners. CoLab is working to support at least one Practicum course each academic year, guiding students in reflective practice in the field and providing students with opportunities to support social innovation in marginalized communities. 

Current & upcoming CoLab Courses: 


Fall 2017: 11.236 Participatory Action Research (PAR) 1

Course Description: Introduces students to participatory action research (PAR), an approach to research and inquiry that enables communities to examine and address consequential societal problems. Explores theoretical and practical questions at the heart of partnerships between applied social scientists and community partners. Focus includes the history of PAR and action research; debates regarding PAR as a form of applied social science; and practical, political, and ethical questions in the practice of PAR. Guides students through an iterative process for developing their own personal theories of practice.

Instructors: Dayna Cunningham, Executive Director, and Alison Coffey, Research Associate 
Dates: September 7 - October 19


Spring 2018: 11.237 Participatory Action Research (PAR) 2

Course Description: Builds on Participatory Action Research (PAR) 1 to deepen focus on knowledge co-production with communities. Explores co-designing and co-conducting research with community partners at various stages of the research process; actual cases in which PAR-like methods have been used; and interaction with community members, organizations, and individuals who have been involved in PAR collaborations. Students will be expected to produce a PAR research proposal, as well as content that can be added to the website.

Instructors: TBD
Dates: February 6 - March 22


Past courses:

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Community Engagement Opportunities

CoLab strives to connect students with community partners in the field where students can learn directly from the experience of community leaders and apply the knowledge, skills, and resources they have gained through their studies. These opportunities are dependent on funding availability and the needs and capacities of the center’s community partners. Opportunities take a variety of forms including

Work-study internships with partner organizations:

  • 2015 Project Row Houses: Strategic Planning for Cultural Development without Displacement
  • 2014 Healthy Homes Collaborative: Lead Poisoning Prevention Advocacy & Awareness
  • 2013 Community Labor United: Working Families in Greater Boston
  • 2013 OneVoice: Mississippi Transportation Infrastructure Project
  • 2013 City of Las Vegas: Green Economic Development
  • 2011 Tougaloo College: Sustainability Planning Project
  • 2009 Leveraging the Stimulus project


Ongoing project support

  • 2013 Developing Community Tourism Strategies in Castañer, Puerto Rico
  • 2013 Community Innovation Curriculum Development for the Bronx and the Pacific Region of Colombia
  • 2013 GIS Analysis of SEIU 1199 Bronx members
  • 2013 Asset mapping with Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition
  • 2013 Program development and coordinating Mel King Community Fellows - Labor and Worker Center Leaders
  • 2013 CoLab Radio Guest Editors
  • 2012-2013 Developing the BCDI Economic Democracy Training Series
  • 2012 Participatory Planning and Evaluation in San Juan, Puerto Rico
  • 2012 Assessing Community Interests among Immigrant Communities in Greater Boston
  • 2010 Greening Historically Black Colleges and Universities
  • 2009-2010 Emerald Cities Project consultation


IDEAS competition project teams

CoLab affiliated entries to the IDEAS competition have been relatively successful. Affilated projects include: 

  • 2011 Global Challenge Award: Maa Bara, a locally sourced aquaponics project ($10,000)
  • 2010 Ideas Competition Award: Grease Project, a project to reduce operational costs and increase income of wastepickers in Sao Paulo, while reducing the negative environmental impact of improper disposal of waste vegetable oil ($3,000)

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Reading/Study Groups

CoLab uses study groups to help prepare for and expand the knowledge base and uncover innovative approaches for new areas of work. Participants read key articles and chapters, share individual projects and participate in weekly discussion. Participation in these groups is voluntary, but often acts as a stepping-stone to more extensive involvement in CoLab projects. Examples of past reading/study groups include:

  • Spring 2016: Oppositional Consciousness
  • Spring 2013: Water Management Study Group
  • Spring 2012: Capacity Building Study Group
  • 2009-2012 Energy Efficiency Strategy Project
  • 2010-2011 Cooperatives Study Group
  • 2010 Waste Management in Low Income Countries Study Group and IAP Residency in Nicaragua
  • 2009 Leveraging the Stimulus Study Group

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CoLab Sponsored Workshops

CoLab staff members, students, research fellows, and faculty affiliates organize one- or two-day workshops to give students and others in the community additional training in reflective practice, participatory action research, aesthetic methods of inquiry, values-based planning, and other relevant topics. Examples of past workshops include:

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Thesis Research Support

CoLab values knowledge that is derived from direct community experiences and supports students who wish to use community partners’ experiences to advance positive change in urban areas. We also recognize that the thesis writing experience can be very isolating; the best ideas often come from interaction with others. For this reason, CoLab has traditionally hosted self-organized groups of students interested in exploring values of democracy, wealth creation and urban sustainability in their thesis research. CoLab also connects students with community partners interested in pursuing client-based theses. For more information, please email us at

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Hourly Employment

Fall 2017

  • TBD


Summer 2017

Toolkit Research and Development Intern

CoLab's Empathetic Aesthetics Program is seeking a Toolkit Research and Development Intern to support the research, writing and development of a new toolkit, Listening to the City: Engagement, Exploration and Intervention through Sound. The toolkit will draw upon the work of presenters at the 2-day Listening to the City Conference being hosted at MIT on May 25-26, and will also highlight other examples from around the world that utilize sound practice as a creative method of inquiry, a tool for democratic engagement, and a means for social change.  The intern will work with a team of CoLab staff and partners to identify contemporary examples of sound practice in community research and engagement contexts and to solicit information from practitioners of these approaches to incorporate into the toolkit. This project is funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, and interns will work between 10-40 hr/week at $20/hour from June - August. To apply, please send a resume, cover letter and writing sample to Allegra Williams at by April 10th. 

Community-based Research and Evaluation Interns

CoLab's Empathetic Aesthetics Program, which facilitates connections between urban planning resources and expertise and the social justice projects of community-engaged artists, is seeking 3-4 full-time and part-time summer interns to support documentation and evaluation of the Fundred Dollar Bill Project, an initiative led by partnering artist, Mel Chin. In the face of lead poisoning, an invisible, environmental health threat to children, the Fundred Dollar Bill Project is a creative currency that demostrates public will for a healthy, lead safe future for all children. Children and adults alike can draw and donate their Fundred (a hand-drawn interpretation of a $100 bill) as a unique expression to be joined with voices from all across the country. In 2017, the collection of more than 450,000 Fundreds will come to Washington DC to demonstrate our collective investment in the value of the lives of all children and to invite policymakers to invest in policies and actions to realize a lead free future. Research and evaluation efforts will involve interviewing and holding focus groups with teachers, parents, students, policy advocates, and other key partners, as well as analyzing the data collected. Other responsibilities may include documenting the work through CoLab's blog, CoLab Radio, or through the production of other media. Interns will work between 20-40 hours/week at $20/hr. To apply, please submit a resume and cover letter to Allegra Williams at by April 10th. 

Participatory Action Research at Palmas Lab in Fortaleza, Brazil

CoLab is offering a summer opportunity to contribute to a collaboration with PalmasLab, a center for research, technology development and youth leadership in Fortaleza, Brazil. CoLab is seeking a team of students to work with PalmasLab for 10 weeks over the summer on an ongoing Participatory Action Research (PAR) project focused on local socio-economic development. Proficiency in Portuguese is required for this opportunity. CoLab will support students in securing funding through campus resources (ie, MISTI, PKG, etc). The full project description is available here. Please contact Alison Coffey with any questions, or send your resume and cover letter to her at to apply.

Fall 2016

Internship: Transnational Economic Democracy Mel King Community Fellowship

Internship: Participatory Asset Mapping in Panama City


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Ongoing Media Projects

Become a CoLab Radio Contributor

Pitch posts, podcasts, videos, or photo essays that lift up first person experiences of current events in communities globally, or propose a thoughtful reflection on identity and/or social change processes. Write Lawrence Barriner II, Program Director of Community Media ( for more information and to submit your ideas. 

CoLab Radio Office Hours: Thursdays, 3-5p EST. In-person at CoLab on MIT Campus 9-238. Virtual at

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Attend an Event

Check out our events page and watch for us on DUSP Plaza to get updates on future events or contact Allegra Williams, Director of Campus and Community Learning ( for more information. 

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Join our Email List

Sign up for our email list here

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