How CoLab Works with Students

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. Examples of CoLab supported courses include:

Fall 2016: 11.S944: The Theory of Participatory Action Research (PAR)

Course Description:  Introduction to the theory of action research and more generally to competing ideas about the uses of social research to promote social change.  Focus will be on the epistemological foundations for action research, knowledge generation in action research, the role of the “friendly outsider,” action science and organizational learning, participatory evaluation and arguments for and against phronetic social science.  Students will be expected to complete a careful analysis of actual PAR cases.

Faculty: Prof. Dayna Cunningham, Executive Director, CoLab
Dates: October 9th - November 13th
Web link:


Spring 2016: 11.304J: Project Row Houses Workshop: Planning for Cultural Preservation in Houston’s Third Ward

Course Description: This practicum course was set in the historically black Third Ward neighborhood of Houston, Texas, which was experiencing rapid transformation. Students worked with Project Row Houses, a twenty-year old arts-based community organization, and the newly formed Emancipation Economic Development Council (EEDC) to explore how planners can develop new tools to identify, reinforce and preserve the neighborhood’s cultural heritage in the face of community change.

Faculty: Professors Mary Anne Ocampo (CDD) and Jim Buckley (HCED)
Dates: January 31st – May 5th
Web link:


Fall 2013: “In This Building”: Multimedia and Collaborative Storytelling in Urban Planning

Course description: The purpose of this half-semester course is to produce media about life in cities. Each student will work in a small group to create a multimedia portrait of one multi-family residential building in Boston or Cambridge. The physical buildings, its history, the land under it, and the people who live inside will be considered as part of the story. Students should think of the subjects of their stories as media makers, too. We will design media collection strategies that enable building residents to document their own lives and neighborhoods. Students will prepare their final media deliverables with a general public audience in mind. This course will be taught in partnership with The Boston Globe.

Every person has a story worth hearing, an idea worth examining, and knowledge worth sharing. In that spirit, this course will be as participatory as possible for students and teachers both inside and outside of the classroom. By the end of the course, we will have published a record that enables anyone to replicate the experience. Portions of the course will be open to the public in real time.

Instructors: Prof J. Philip Thompson & Alexa Mills, Program Director, CoLab Media Projects
Time: Thursdays, 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
Dates: September 12 – October 24, plus a final presentation
Web link:


Fall 2013: EC.716/EC.786(G): D-Lab Waste

Course Description: Waste provides a multi-disciplinary approach to managing waste in low-and–middle-income countries with strategies that diminish greenhouse gas emissions and provide enterprise opportunities for marginalized communities. The course, comprised of lectures, fieldtrips, and guest speakers, studies waste management strategies in cities in Africa, India, and Latin America.  It examines case studies of collection, recycling, and waste-to-energy businesses developed in low-income settings; and researches public policy that supports sustainable, integrated, solid waste management systems.  Student teams develop waste management strategies that culminate in a two-week IAP trip to Nicaragua where students will work with a local NGO and municipality, to assist in the implementation of waste management initiatives.

Instructor: Libby McDonald, Program Director, Global Sustainability Partnerships, CoLab
Time: Monday & Wednesday 10-11:30; Friday 2-4
Dates: Fall term (full)
Location: N51-310 (MW), 7-307 (F)
Web link:


Other past courses include:

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, for example:
    • 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. Affiliated 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)

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

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:

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