Making the Most of Your Education

By: Anthony McHugh

You’re 70 years old sitting in a rocking chair on the beach with a piña colada and a newspaper. You look at the headline and a feeling of pride washes over you as you realize your life’s work has been accomplished. What does the headline read?

I asked my students this question yesterday to prepare them for next week when we will develop the personal educational goals that will make those headlines reality. This spring I am teaching Making the Most of Your Education as part of MIT’s High School Studies Program, which brings students from all over New England to MIT every Saturday for 7 weeks. Each week I get 90 minutes to share with them as we explore theories and experiences with education.

On week 1, I introduced my thoughts about the direction of the class, did a little teaching, got to know my students, and had them tell me what we would learn the next week. In my lesson I lectured on how mental models can be used for scientific concepts such as the atom, or less tangible ideas such as leadership.  Then, I changed things up by introducing the socratic method as an opposing educational theory. One of my students shared an experience where he was unimpressed by the leader elected by his boy scout troop, and I asked him question after question guiding him towards acknowledging his role as a follower-leader who took ownership, despite not being given public authority.

On week 2, my students had asked to learn about the history of the American public school system. In response I did a literature search and found the most diverse set of information on the topic that I could find. These articles included Gallup polls of the views of superintendents, academic articles describing the historiography of studying public education, and Jonathan Kozol’s manifesto about Boston’s segregated schools, Death at an Early Age. I may have frustrated my student’s desire to find clarity, but my goal was to demonstrate how interpreting history is not as simple as finding the information.

On week 3, we delved into standardized testing by having a discussion and writing a fable as a class. Our moral was that standardized testing needs to be presented in a way that does not encourage students to equate their own identity and sense of self-worth with the evaluation of their academic skills.

On week 4, I wrote out a task, left my computer open, and walked away. The task was to create an educational model that incorporated power, agency, discipline, and a student-teacher contract. When they finished and presented their work, I described how Sugata Mitra’s TED Talk about the role of discovery was my inspiration for the lesson.

On week 5, I allowed the class to interview me. I challenged them to come up with an educational objective and then use me as an expert to gather the information that they needed. The activity forced them to work together as a group and decide what they were all interested in learning.

Finally this week I asked the question that started this post. My students were paired up during the class and asked to share one lesson that their parents had intentionally taught them. The educational method was to think, share, hear feedback, and then revise their answer. The purpose of the question to explore their personal values, which would help in the visioning and goal-setting process to follow.

I want to acknowledge the incredible students who have joined me in this exploration of education. They have been amazing in humoring my strange style of teaching and thinking, and they continue to show a commitment to learning and developing, which inspires me. I also want to thank everyone who makes ESP happen. ESP is an incredible club, with a fantastic mission to change how people perceive education.

I can’t wait for the 7th and final class next Saturday!


Connecting with Angie Mjojo

The EWB bridge team came to iHouse early one morning to have a phone call with our community partner, Mike. As I listened to Mike explain how he viewed Chrystal’s purpose in traveling to Malawi, I became slightly concerned that he did not value the educational component of the trip. I followed up later with Chrystal, and found out that our team lead had not been able to contact the primary school where she had taught the past summer. There was no contact with the school and Chrystal was traveling in a month!

What we needed was someone in Malawi that we could rely on to understand our objectives, and advocate for us.  Angie Mjojo was that person. A SPURS-Humphrey Fellow spends one year immersed in the engineering culture of MIT. They also invariably leave impressed by the potential of MIT undergraduates. Angie Mjojo may not have met Chrystal when she came to MIT 8 years ago, but she knew that hosting an undergraduate from MIT, even for a month, would be valuable for her country. Angie understood our motivation, advised us on our plan, and advocated on our behalf to make Chrystal’s trip as productive and educational as possible.

I was put into contact with Angie by Nimfa de Leon, assistant director of the SPURS/Humphrey program, when I stopped by her office one day. I provided Nimfa with a few details from the project, easily accessible in Chrystal’s grant proposal to the UGC, and she sent an e-mail introduction.The whole process took 10 minutes. Angie responded two days later with an apology for not responding sooner. We informed her in greater detail about the project, and provided Chrystal’s itinerary. Despite Angie’s busy schedule at the Reserve Bank of Malawi, she was able to meet up with Chrystal after she arrived. Angie and Chrystal were able to discuss general thoughts about development in Malawi, as well as the specific projects that both were working on. Angie share with Chrystal her intentions to assist students performing ID projects in Malawi, and to ask those students to teach students in secondary school in the capital of Lilongwe, as an addition to their travel plans

My Arrival To India

Pretty much everything started going wrong. It could have been worse, but it definitely was a real introduction.

This past week I started my first real international development research project, arriving in India. I had had two overnight flights with a day layover in Paris finally landing in Mumbai’s international airport. It was especially exciting as this was my first time outside the US, Mexico, and England. I arrived in India thankfully in the morning, and the plan was to catch another flight across India to Chennai to meet up with other MIT students.

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Mind, Hand, and Heart

MIT’s motto Mens et Manus means Mind and Hand, and at first glance this sounds like a good thing. This motto implies that we not only think about great things, but we also do great things. As engineers we build things and as scientists we conduct experiments. However, this past semester showed me that MIT needs a slightly different motto: Mens Manus et Corde or Mind, Hand, and Heart. I think MIT could use a step up, and I think iHouse offers some hope.

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Our September Speaker Series

It was great to have Dr. Sujata K. Bhatia from Harvard join us for our September speaker series this past Tuesday! She shared an interesting way of how she has been involved in international development. She started by explaining how for her work in biomedical engineering she is encouraging the use of biopolymers made from natural (agricultural) materials for medical applications. The rationale is that natural polymers and substances react best with natural people!

So how is this related to international development? Well, one of her *undergraduates* a few years back wrote a thesis about how developing nations are filled with the agricultural potential to be powerhouses for high-end medicine projection. This inspired Dr. Sujata and others at Harvard who are now offering workshops targeted towards the brightest minds in developing countries to realize the potential of natural agricultural products in medicine. Continue reading

Conquering Concrete

In America concrete is an exact science. Every quantity of material is weighed exactly and mixes are specifically designed for certain jobs. When hand-mixing concrete in rural Uganda, concrete is more of an art. We initially planned to make a 1:2:4 mix of concrete with one part cement, two parts sand and four parts aggregate or gravel. However, the gravel we found was too large so we had to adjust the mix to 1:2:2. It worked out well after a bit of trial and error. We also had to compromise between the Ugandan method of making concrete with lots of water and the American method with minimal water. We ended up with a decent mix of concrete that was not too wet or too dry. Mixing the concrete and pouring it was a lot of labor. We were especially sad that Valerie and Lawrence had to leave in the middle of the day so we lost two laborers. Some local teenagers in the village helped out but everyone was exhausted by the end of the day. We did successfully finish one concrete lid! Only four more to go. We will definitely enlist more local labor to help out or bring Ivan, Mrs. Muwanika’s grandson, with us everywhere.


(This blog post is also posted on the EWB-MIT’s blog site:

Also, farewell to Valerie and Lawrence!

We are all sad that two of our teammates had to leave to go back to their jobs. Valerie, our mentor for the first part of the trip, is reluctantly going back to work in Boston. Lawrence, a Ugandan student and friend of EWB-MIT Daphne, heads back to job training in northern Uganda. We are sad to see them go but we are happy that Valerie will finally get to read all about the royal baby and get a real shower.

Lots of Progress!

Sorry for the delay in blogging! We have made good progress despite some minor illnesses and injuries. Noam and Valerie had colds but are feeling much better and Marisa (me) sprained her ankle but it is also much better. Everyone is enjoying the weather and food in Ddegeya.

We are replacing the existing wooden lids with concrete lids and currently most of the formwork, wood to support the concrete, is complete. Many of our team members are now experts with saws. We also worked with the community to clean the tanks before we pour the new lids. Most people were eager to clean out their tanks. A few tanks had lizards but most of the contamination was dirt. Hopefully the concrete lids will be more secure.

We’ve also began work to fix some of the gutters that were placed in the wrong direction. Removing the existing gutters is a lot of work because they are nailed in tightly. Undoing the work from last year has been tough so far since everything is built so solidly. We’ve also put the new pumps together but the small screws went missing so we need to buy more. Scott, Leone and I are in Masaka today to pick up some more materials. Now that everyone is healthy construction should proceed smoothly.


(This blog post is also posted on the EWB-MIT’s blog site: