MIT’s dynaMIT club sparks interest in STEM for middle schoolers

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Sarah Foote | Division of Student Life

For the past 10 years, MIT students who are members of dynaMIT have taught middle schoolers from under-resourced Boston-area schools vital STEM principles through a variety of games, experiments, and activities. Months of planning by the 24 club members culminate in a two-week learning adventure that involves teaching 40 sixth- and seventh-graders one week, then instructing 40 eighth- and ninth-graders the following week.

In keeping with MIT’s “mens et manus” (“mind and hand”) motto, dynaMIT includes hands-on learning in math, biology, chemistry, mechanical engineering, earth and space, and computer science. The activities vary each year but include things such as bouncy bubbles, bottle rockets, and water balloon slingshots. “We also take our students on a field trip to the Novartis lab for Bio-day, where they get to work in the lab with pipettes,” says Brianna Yao, dynaMIT co-director and a senior majoring in computer science and engineering (Course 6-3).

Attending dynaMIT is free, and the club enrolls students who are not only interested in learning more about STEM but may not have the opportunity to take a deeper dive into these subjects at their school.

“In fun ways, we teach a broad overview of six subject areas each August,” says Jason Li, a senior in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences (Course 9) senior and dynaMIT board member. “This year we even expanded the computer science section to include artificial intelligence and machine learning.”

“We also went a little deeper with the math component this summer — teaching knot theory with a variety of engaging activities, such as folding up pretzel dough and untangling human knots,” says Bryan Wong, a senior majoring in biological engineering (Course 20) and board member. “Last year, we had Doctor Day — where several mentors (MIT student volunteers) dressed up as patients with different diseases. The kids played the role of doctors, asked a lot of questions, and had to figure out what the diseases were.”

Li, Yao, and Wong all agree that the best part of being a member of dynaMIT is watching the students’ curiosity grow as they learn more about STEM and each other throughout the week.

“The kids started out a little shy and quiet,” says Wong. “At first, they think the program is too much like school. But, by the end of the week, they’re very happy to be there and are asking us a lot of great questions. It’s very rewarding to see their curiosity grow, become friends, and even share their phone numbers and Instagram handles.”

Li agrees, “I joined dynaMIT because I wanted to be involved in educational outreach. I was a mentor during my freshman year when we held the program on Zoom and then became a co-director because I enjoyed it so much. It’s rewarding to get to know the kids on a personal level, watch them learn new things, and make new friends. The kids have a lot of energy and that gives me energy, and they inspire me.”

Each spring, dynaMIT hosts a reunion of past participants to get their feedback on the program and see where they are with their studies. “The participants also take a survey at the end of the program and the dynaLegacy Team reaches out to them years later to see where they are. Of the former participants surveyed, 91 percent indicated interest in pursuing STEM and 94 percent said that dynaMIT had an impact on their career aspirations — it’s great to see the positive influence we have,” says Li.

The program is so successful that many participants want to return the following summer, as do their parents. But, to ensure they are casting a wide net and offering the experience to as many students as possible, dynaMIT invites only new students to campus each summer. Even with the help of 20 MIT student mentors, dynaMIT often has a wait list.

“It’s been such an important part of my MIT experience, and I’ve had so much fun getting to be a part of dynaMIT! We’re trying to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers. Throughout the week, our goal is to make STEM as engaging and as fun for the students as possible. I often hear from mentors that they wish they had a program like dynaMIT when they were growing up. This year, we have a former dynaMIT student who is now an MIT undergrad and mentor for the program, which just goes to show how full circle it has come,” says Yao.

Rui Liu participated in dynaMIT seven years ago and is now a sophomore majoring in biological engineering and a club mentor. “I feel like dynaMIT started to really solidify MIT as my top choice, and honestly, that stuck with me until I actually applied to college. Programs like these can really be life-changing and inspire younger students to dream big and help make the world a better place,” he says.

“During the club fair, I stumbled across the dynaMIT booth, and it brought back so many memories that I decided to see how the program was doing. The people at the booth were very surprised when I told them I had actually attended dynaMIT as a student, which was funny, but I didn't really consider joining as a mentor until later on in the school year when applications came out. Seeing that dynaMIT was an unforgettable experience and it had meant so much to me, I thought it would be nice to join the community and give back to it!” Liu said.

Anyone who is interested in learning more about dynaMIT, mentoring, or joining the club, can find more information on their website.

Young scholars have a blast learning on campus from MIT students.