PKG Academic Courses

Spring 2024

11.S943 Bills and Billions: Policymaking and Planning in an New Era of Transformation in US Cities and States

This course will engage with the theory and practice of planning and public policy making, examining how these two fields intersect and are evolving in the context of current national and global priorities including challenges to the dominant paradigms of neoliberalism and globalization as well as the passage of historic legislation in the U.S. in the past year. The course will bring in speakers across these topics in the form of policymakers and planners from cities and states across the US as well as in the federal government to learn how they are planning and implementing new policies, how this has changed if at all compared to the past, and how they are positioned to potentially access and invest the unprecedented new federal funding that will be coming to cities and states in the next 5-10 years.

Mondays, 2-5pm in 9-255

Taught by: J. P. Thompson, E. Reynolds

*The following Freedom Summer Fellowships are a great complement to the Bills and Billions class but students are not required to take the class in order to apply for the Freedom Summer Fellowships.

Freedom Summer Fellowships 2024

The Freedom Summer Fellowship provides MIT graduate students with a unique opportunity to work on the frontlines of transformational change in U.S. cities. Students will be part of a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform economically disadvantaged U.S. cities through recent federal legislation focused on rebuilding U.S. infrastructure including transitioning to a clean energy economy. The Fellowship was inspired by the incredible mobilization of more than a thousand college students in the Summer of 1964 by the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) to register African American voters in Mississippi, and was named in honor of Freedom Summer to ground the critical work in racial justice.

SP.251 How to Change the World

Every week, students meet a new role model who demonstrates what it means to change the world through social entrepreneurship. Students meet individual entrepreneurs, get immersed in the ecosystem that supports them, and visit MIT labs and startups in the Cambridge innovation community. Each session covers an aspect of social entrepreneurship, from identifying opportunities for change to market fit to planning for scale. Through these speakers and field trips, students gain a greater understanding of how technology-based, impactful solutions can address global challenges. Students learn to identify and address social and environmental problems and understand the relevance of this work for their time at MIT. They will see how to bring their ideas to fruition and extend their ties with the Solve community. Subject can count toward the 9-unit discovery-focused credit limit for first year-students. Limited to 25; preference to first-year students.

Tuesdays, 3-4:30pm in 1-132

Taught by: A. Dale

1.063/1.631/HST.537/2.25 Fluids and Diseases

Designed for students with quantitative training who are interested to explore applications of mathematics, physics and fluid dynamics to infectious diseases and health; and for students in epidemiology, environmental health, ecology, medicine, and systems modeling seeking to understand physical and spatial modeling, and the role of fluid dynamics and physical constraints on infectious diseases and pathologies. The first part of the class reviews modeling in epidemiology and highlights concepts of spatial modeling and heterogeneity. The remainder highlights multi-scale dynamics, the role of fluids and fluid physics in physiology and pathology in the context of infectious diseases. The class activities entail activities aimed at integrating applied learning with theoretical concepts discussed in lectures and covered in problem sets. Students taking graduate version complete additional assignments.

Within this course, students collaborate with community partners in the Boston area, engaging in student-led projects centered on themes such as education accessibility, sustainability, food security, healthcare access, and additional areas of focus. Moreover, the PKG Public Service Center provides opportunities for students to extend their project involvement into the summer through PKG fellowships.

Tuesdays and Thursdays, 7-8:30pm in 1-246

Taught by: L. Bourouiba

6.9000 Engineering for Impact (Ongoing)

A collaboration with the PKG Center in partnership with Miami-Dade County Department of Transportation and Public Works.

In this class we’ll integrate our EECS knowledge from core subjects to design complete systems that incorporate hardware and software. So we’ll learn, in the EECS context, how to develop requirements and specifications for a system, then use those specifications to partitions systems into subsystems, how to assign functionality to hardware or software, how to manage data and energy, and so on.

To guide our learning, we’ll undertake a large-scale group project to develop a complete system to meet the needs of a partner institution (we’ll reveal the partner once the class starts). We expect to design and build real systems that really encompass the full stack: from sensors and electronics, to microcontrollers with embedded firmware, to a server system that integrates data across multiple sensor systems, to a data dashboard to visualize the data.

We’ll also use a guided project — where we’ll design/build a HW/SW system — in the first half of the term to learn about many of the fundamentals and skills that we’ll apply to the group project.

In the course of doing all this, you’ll learn some practical skills, like how to do PCB design; how to design/draw/3Dprint enclosures, how to set up a server machine, web server, and db from scratch. You’ll also learn how to evaluate different technologies to attain a functional goal, and how to work in teams (we’re partnering with faculty in Sloan on this bit). You’ll have an authentic experience to talk about with potential employers, and confidence that comes from designing & building a real system.

Fall 2023

SP.259 Pathways to Social Justice at MIT and Beyond

Register by Friday, September 8, 2023.

This course explores student pathways to support social change and social justice efforts within the greater Boston region and how students can be agents of change throughout their lives. Students are introduced to ethical, reciprocal, and community-informed approaches to creating social change through readings, lectures, class discussions, critical reflection, and direct service experiences with local community organizations. This course also aims to create a supportive community for undergraduate students to build a network of thoughtful MIT stakeholders dedicated to creating social good in the world. Subject offered by the PKG Public Service Center. Subject can count toward the 6-unit discovery-focused credit limit for first-year students.

Thursdays, 12-1pm in 2-136 (Simons Building)

Taught by: V. Yee

Questions? Feel free to reach out to us at, or connect with one of our friendly team members for more information!

Past Courses

SP.256 Informed Philanthropy in Theory and Action (IAP 2023)

This IAP class can be taken as a not-for-credit experiential learning opportunity by MIT students, alumni, and employees, or as an undergraduate 2-credit class.

Explores the potential and pitfalls of philanthropy as a mechanism for social change, culminating with the class granting $7000 to local community agencies. Students analyze the work of non-profits to address the challenges and opportunities facing MIT’s neighboring communities, with particular focus on community representation, equity, and social justice. We will especially consider organizations that emphasize work with historically marginalized communities. The class culminates with students making a group decision on how the Learning by Giving Foundation (which is partnering with the class) will disperse $7000 to local non-profits. The class is designed to cultivate a sense of community, often over snacks and deliberative dialogue. Each session, we’ll learn and apply group decision making methods that will help in making the final funding allocations. Through class discussion and supporting materials, students examine the interaction between philanthropy and social change, including the role of philanthropists past and present in shaping social change. Subject can count toward the 9-unit discovery-focused credit limit for first-year students.

Intrigued? Use this form to express interest and we’ll follow-up with a registration link closer to IAP.

Taught by: A. Hynd and J. Bassett
No textbook information available
Tuesdays and Thursdays, noon-1:00pm in 8-199.

Student Testimonials:

“This class was a great complement to my other coursework in the sense that we were looking at human-focused issues and bringing emotion and heart into our work rather than just solving equations or writing programs. It brought me back to my community and reminded me why I wanted to come to MIT in the first place: to make a tangible impact on someone’s life. Unlike my other classes, I knew my work was going toward more than tests or essays — I felt I, along with my classmates and instructors, was working toward a real positive difference in my community.

“This class provided a great opportunity to give away [real money] in a thoughtful way. It really embodied ‘mens et manus’ as we learned about different forms of philanthropy and how to go about selecting and evaluating organizations and decision processes. It was a very collaborative and social experience as we worked as a team to make our decisions, learning by doing.”

Read more student testimonials in our recent blog post!

SP.250 Transforming Good Intentions into Good Outcomes

Explores hard choices, ethical dilemmas, and the risk of failure in the humanitarian, tech, climate change, and health sectors. Students examine case studies based on challenges faced by MIT alums, faculty, staff, students or community practitioners, and engage in simulations and facilitated discussions. Exposes students to ethical frameworks and standards for social engagement and intervention. Considers the choices faced, stakeholders involved, possible impact, and relevant MIT resources. Students produce a set of guiding questions to ask of themselves and others as they embark on social change work. Subject can count toward the 9-unit discovery-focused credit limit for first-year students. Limited to 20; preference to first-year students.

Taught by: S. Bouchard, A. Hynd
No textbook information available.
Tuesdays, 2-4 pm, in 8-205

Student Testimonials:

“I always left this class thinking about how I can incorporate social change into my future. It has always been a goal of mine, but dedicating time to actually thinking and discussing it was so helpful in determining my priorities for the future. Loved the speakers, teachers, and peers!” 

“This class has served as an excellent complement to my more technical GIRs. I look forward to participating in vibrant discussion and learning about global challenges, specifically how we as MIT community members can help.” 

“A great class to connect with other students and form a close bond with some of the kindest MIT [instructors]! The speakers are very engaging and you learn something new about the world and even yourself every class. This class really helps you take on a different outlook and the final really made me realize what topics are important to me and what I would like to look into in the future!” 

We asked students to describe the class in three words and this is what they said: