MindHandHeart has announced its newest Innovation Fund winners, tapping into the MIT community’s passionate hearts, dedicated hands, and talented minds. Sponsored by the Office of the Chancellor and MIT Medical, this was the fifth round of the Innovation Fund, which provides grants to projects championing wellness, community, and mental health awareness on campus.
The fund has awarded $33,581 to 11 new proposals selected from a pool of 29 applicants. Applications were reviewed by MindHandHeart’s working group members as well as a selection committee comprised of representatives from the Undergraduate Association and Graduate Student Council. Awarded projects will focus on a range of topics from suicide prevention to a 24-hour community building challenge to a video series profiling faculty members.
“The newest round of Innovation Fund winners speaks to the creativity and entrepreneurial spirit of the MIT community,” said MindHandHeart Executive Administrator Maryanne Kirkbride. “I was moved by each of the applications and their dedication to advancing well-being, and I was thrilled to see that over half of the awarded projects were student-driven.”
First-year student Rosanna Zhang was awarded funding to spearhead “Project 24,” a grassroots challenge encouraging MIT students to initiate conversations with six people in 24 hours. Zhang describes her motivation for starting the project saying: “Spontaneous conversations give people the opportunity to connect with others on campus and be exposed to different perspectives. They can also help to normalize discussing challenges and show students that help-seeking is not as difficult as they had imagined. I hope “Project 24” will help to create a friendly and compassionate community where people don’t lose sight of their dreams and feelings.”
Another student-led Innovation Fund winner, “We are MIT,” consists of a video platform where students can submit short videos on a particular theme and compete for prizes. “We are MIT” founder Katrine Tjoelsen, a grad student in electrical engineering and computer science, says: “The project will provide a counter narrative to the idea of the ‘MIT bubble’ and show that our community is full of interesting people with unique intellectual interests, political perspectives, and crazy hobbies. We hope students will create and share videos full of positive emotion that will contribute to a cultural shift towards valuing joy and well-being.”
Director of physical education Carrie Sampson Moore was awarded a grant to pilot two classes addressing the holistic health needs of MIT undergraduate students. The “Healthy Relationships and Healthy Body Fitness Course” is designed to make students better informed about the differences between healthy and abusive relationships, and reduce risky sexual behavior. The “Meditation/Fitness” course will promote wellness through meditation and other techniques proven to reduce stress and build resiliency.
Rheinila Fernandes, a psychiatrist in MIT Medical’s Mental Health and Counseling department, and Naomi Carton, associate dean of Residential Life and Dining, were awarded a grant to pilot “Wellness Buddies.” The program consists of a weekly dinner seminar where students are provided with life skills instruction and paired with a “wellness buddy” whom they can meet with to set goals and gauge progress. Each session is part of a neuroscience-based curriculum designed to educate students about how healthy nutrition, exercise, sleep hygiene, mindfulness, and growth mindset can improve academic performance.
“Often students will let self-care fall by the wayside during busy times,” says Fernandes. “It is our hope that creating a community and structure around self-care activities will help students cope with stress and function more effectively throughout the semester.”
Other projects funded this cycle include: “Neurodiversity at MIT and Design for Everyone,” a panel discussion exploring the experiences of neuroatypical students and barriers to inclusion; “Post-MIT: An MIT Story of Sticky Situations and the Stickies that Helped us Stick it Out,” an event showcasing how two graduate students used friendship, humor, and sticky notes to overcome adversity; “Pre-finals Care Packages,” the distribution of care packages during finals period; “The S Word,” a film screening about individuals impacted by suicide and a group discussion moderated by staff from Mental Health and Counseling; “American Sign Language (ASL) and Deaf Culture Classes for MIT,” classes and social events related to ASL; and “Tea with Teachers,” a student-led video series aiming to bridge the gap between students and professors.
To date, the fund has awarded over $130,000 to 40 projects that have impacted the MIT community in countless ways. 11 projects have become self-sustaining and have found a permanent home on campus, like My Sister’s Keeper and the Puppy Lab, and 16 are ongoing with support from MindHandHeart.
Previous projects funded through the Innovation Fund include: You Belong @ MIT, a three-phase initiative promoting academic belonging organized by the Teaching and Learning Lab; the OpenMind::OpenArt project, an art studio and public gallery raising awareness of mental health issues on campus; MIT Connect, a digital platform pairing like-minded members of the MIT community for platonic, one-on-one lunches; and “Portraits of Resilience,” a book capturing MIT community members’ personal stories of overcoming adversity, curated by Professor Daniel Jackson.
To learn more about how MIT faculty, students, and staff members can apply for grants of up to $10,000, visit the MindHandHeart Innovation Fund page. For more information on upcoming events organized by Innovation Fund winners, visit the MindHandHeart events calendar.
Maisie O’Brien | MindHandHeart Initiative