BetterMIT Innovation Week features speakers, community makeathon

Campus map application wins first prize

Last week, students took part in workshops and listened to talks as part of the BetterMIT Innovation Week. These undergraduate-run events included talks from public figures such as NASA’s Acting Chief Technologist Douglas Terrier. Following the Innovation Week was a community makeathon in which teams competed for a $100 prize given for an idea that would impact student life at MIT.

“A friend of mine and I went to TEDx in Cambridge and we came back to our first [BetterMIT] committee meeting, drafting what kind of ideas we can come up with to make MIT better,” Kaila Pfrang ’21, a member of the Undergraduate Association’s Innovation Committee, said in an interview with The Tech. “What if we brought something like a TEDx to campus?”

One event the BetterMIT team planned, called the World Speaker Series, featured Terrier; Linda Foster, head of innovation at Lockheed Martin; Rebecca Hui, founder of Roots Studio; and Reinaldo Normand, from the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship.

During his speech, Terrier talked about NASA’s new endeavors. “All of our exploration is driven by technology,” he said before playing a short video with phrases including “We will return to the moon” and “Working together, we go farther.” Focusing his speech once again on innovation, Terrier said that NASA’s continuing success relies on “maintaining our innovation edge.” Terrier also commented on the fact that four of the twelve people to step on the moon were MIT graduates.

“You guys are kind of a pipeline of innovation,” he said. “By all means, challenge ideas, change processes, challenge tradition.”

The weekend makeathon kicked off Saturday at noon, drawing in students willing to take on the challenge of changing student life at MIT. Mentors from MIT organizations were present to help students achieve this goal. Students worked, aided by free food, through to the evening before retreating to rest for the following day.

With snow on Saturday night, students were reluctant to arrive for the 8 a.m. start, but by Sunday afternoon students began to arrive once again to continue their projects. Giancarlo Delfin ’20, Joaquin Giraldo ’20, and Jackie Lin ’20 worked during the makeathon to produce a map application to help other students find their way around campus and look up nearby events.

“Students will be able to find other students working on psets and be able to set up a time and place to work together,” Delfin said. “We’ll be able to avoid having tourists stopping us for directions every five minutes.”

This team went on to win the $100 makeathon first place prize.

After Innovation Week, The Tech spoke to UA officers Malte Ahrens ’19, Michael Amoako ’19, and William Wu ’19. The group talked about their enjoyment in making the project come together.

Ahrens commented on the difficulties of running the makeathon for the first time. “When something exists it’s easy to keep it in motion … there’s so many unknowns and so many things that are dependent on your own conception,” he said. Ahrens also pointed out the difficulty in gauging student interest and attendance in the first year.

But despite the challenges the team faced, they seemed optimistic for future years. “We had a lot of factors against us,” Amoako said. “Our ultimate goal is to have this be a recurring annual [event] that hopefully can one day reach capacity [similar to] HackMIT.”

Wu explained that BetterMIT’s overall goal is to inspire students to come together not just over psets but also to make life better for one another.

He said, “People ask, what do you think is MIT’s secret sauce, is it the funding, is it the professors, is it the research? But for me, I would say it’s the student community.”