By Sam Daitzman
Each summer, most Olin students pursue internships or research to learn new skills and develop as young professionals. It can be difficult to find opportunities that offer funding and a supportive community, and also feel aligned with public interest values, so we decided to create the PInT Summer Fellowship. The fellowship is an opportunity to do something different during the summer: a fully-funded public interest opportunity specifically for undergraduates, with a cohort of other fellows from Olin.
2021 was the second year of the fellowship, and we decided to make changes based on what we learned in the first fellowship cycle. The program is entirely student-run, and the 2021 organizing team (Sam Daitzman, Ruby Eisenbud, Shreya Chowdhary, and Marion Madanguit) made changes to the application process to help applicants reflect on their public interest journeys. We modified our application questions to be more open-ended, and held three information sessions where applicants talked through their ideas as they applied.
Significantly, this redesign was an entirely student-run process. Students design the fellowship program and selection process each year, advised by Professor Erhardt Graeff. Since we are empowered to run the fellowship program, we are called to consider how we relate to public/private interests and engage our classmates in important conversations. Designing programs with/for other students is an opportunity to imagine how we want to be supported in our public interest journeys, and offer those experiences to other students. We think student autonomy is crucial to making the fellowship process accessible and equitable.
The faculty selection committee, which makes all final selection decisions, chose our five fellows: Arla Sutton '24, Julia Benton '22, Kelly Yen '23, Luke Raus '24, and Trevor Zou '24. These fellows were chosen as a well-matched cohort with different backgrounds, experiences and interests, and we're excited that three of them have returned to PInT as organizers (two working on the next fellowship cycle)!
Arla Sutton (she/her) joined the People’s Collaborative Governance Network to advance civic cooperation by designing trust-building tools that create connections between civic participants. She used design frameworks taught at Olin to gather information, identify stakeholders, and address her problem statement: "civic actors in Boston are isolated and disconnected from potential collaborators across neighborhoods who could share knowledge, resources, and valuable connections."
Julia Benton (she/her) partnered with AccesSOS to work on access to emergency resources for people who can't hear or speak out loud (including people who are Deaf or hard of hearing). Julia designed mockups and prototypes of new services in a design process that considered complex goals for multiple stakeholder groups. She considered the consequences of increasing access to existing 911 services, which are often met exclusively with a police response, and worked to learn more about non-police alternative emergency responses.
Kelly Yen (she/her) and Luke Raus (he/him) traveled to Arusha, Tanzania, to work with Kyaro Assistive Technology, a new nonprofit creating financially accessible assistive devices for people nearby. They were exposed to a completely new context, and took great care to learn from their partners and consider that local context in each decision they made. Kelly designed a new visual identity and website for Kyaro, which included conducting a thorough design process with multiple rounds of feedback from local stakeholders and Olin design faculty. Kyaro's new visual identity and website are now live! Meanwhile, Luke collaborated with Kyaro's mechanical engineering team to streamline manufacturing processes. He worked with the local fabricators to understand their needs and create designs to simplify their assembly process, making it possible to manufacture more affordable assistive devices. At the end of the fellowship, he passed along all of his design documentation, developed with Kyaro, to ensure that the design process could continue.
Trevor Zou (he/him) worked remotely for two separate tech nonprofits: Reach4Help and OpenDrone. Reach4Help is an organization that facilitates mutual aid by connecting volunteers with people who need some form of support or assistance. They operate a global mutual aid map visualizing over 10,000 organizations that support communities in need, and Trevor implemented a database migration to help them improve their infrastructure. At the same time Trevor also worked on the OpenDrone project, which is developing an open medical delivery drone to rapidly provide needed supplies. Trevor modeled the medical drone's flight system so that OpenDrone can optimize its performance and improve its ability to deliver supplies.
Throughout the summer, the fellows met weekly as a cohort with the student organizers and their mentor and advisor, Erhardt. Fellows often used the meetings to discuss accomplishments, challenges, and their personal development through the summer. When any fellow was wrestling with a difficult decision, we supported them by talking through their options and potential approaches to serving the public's interest.
Arla, Julia, Kelly, Luke and Trevor helped their partner organizations serve the public using design justice, mechanical engineering, graphic design, flight modeling, design for manufacturing, community organizing, and stakeholder research. At the end of their fellowships, we hosted a campus wide event where they could share about their experiences with the rest of the Olin community. Each of the fellows talked about how their summers shaped their perception of Public Interest Tech, and helped them grow as technologists. You can watch a recording of their share out here using the passcode 6?t@dN6Z.
Fellows sharing their experiences to Olin students, parents, and staff.
This year, we're so excited to launch the third fellowship, and join our next cohort of fellows. You can apply now using this link. Applications will be open until January 24th, 2022.