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Olin/Babson/Wellesley Student Team Wins $25,000 Grant from Ford Motor Company Fund for Community Project

A team of Olin, Babson and Wellesley College students in Olin’s Affordable Design and Entrepreneurship (ADE) class has won a $25,000 Grant from the Ford Motor Company Fund’s Community College Challenge to support efforts to create a mobile educational unit for use in rural communities in the Mississippi Delta.

The project is part of a multi-year collaboration between ADE community teams and partners in Coahoma County, Mississippi to build skills and create economic opportunities for local youth through curriculum that centers on exposure to technology, arts and entrepreneurship. The pilot curriculum focuses on making electric guitars from scratch using traditional and digital fabrication techniques. The lessons are designed to be taught in a mobile space such as a trailer or bus.  

The project takes advantage of the rich musical culture and large potential market for guitars in the Mississippi Delta region, the home of a distinctive style of blues music and host to three annual international music festivals.

The grant will be used to help pilot the program for 3-6 months in Coahoma County with five after-school programs, enabling the project team to test out its business model and work out the kinks of operating the mobile educational unit.

“We are very pleased to receive this grant on behalf of our partners in Mississippi, which include The Carnegie Library, The Clarksdale Boys & Girls Club, and Higher Purpose Co.,” said Ben Linder, Director and Founder of ADE. “We believe that this project, integrating technology, arts and entrepreneurship, will expose local young people to a whole new world of possibilities through design while offering them the opportunity to practice teamwork, communication and planning. The simple fact is that every middle and high school student in the country doesn’t get the same chance to practice these critically important skills, so we are excited to see this pilot project in Coahoma County get a chance to get off the ground.”

Amon Millner, an Olin faculty member and angel advisor to the team, added, “The project’s emphasis on skills-acquisition alongside creative self-expression is intended to build self-motivation, self-confidence, and self-efficacy so that Delta youth will be better prepared to make creative thinking and expression open new opportunities for career and personal development. We also hope the focus on entrepreneurship will lead to the creation of sustainable enterprises that will help improve the economy of the region as a whole.”

All of ADE’s community project teams are made up of Olin, Babson and Wellesley students who work collaboratively with partners in low-income communities, both domestic and international, to learn about local challenges and find sustainable technical solutions that increase income, opportunity or quality of life. As new students join the class, they continue the work of student teams from the previous semester, staff the ongoing projects, many of which span several years. Ultimately, the projects are designed to completely exit the ADE project pipeline for local partners to own, operate and develop according to community needs.

The Community Development Team co-advised by Millner and Kofi Taha, a visiting designer at Olin and staff member at MIT’s D-Lab, has been working with partners in Mississippi on this project for five semesters. In addition, the last semester’s team worked closely on the development of the guitar-making curriculum with students from a course called Making Music, also co-taught by Linder, which is a collaboration between Olin and Massachusetts College of Art and Design supported by the Autodesk Foundation.

The Spring 2017 project team that wrote the grant application to Ford Motor Company and produced the accompanying video consists of Cecelia Auerswald, Aditi Joshi, Anne Loverso, Alisha Pegan and Jiaying Wei, all 2017 graduates of Olin, and Irene Laochaisri, a 2017 Babson graduate.

“Receiving this grant makes me feel really good and really proud of what the team has done,” said Pegan. “I think it shows how cool this project is, and it’s really great to see that other people are inspired by it as well and are excited to see it grow and thrive through the work of the next team of ADE students.”

Ford Motor Company Fund is the philanthropic arm of Ford Motor Company. It works with community and global partners to advance education, safe driving and community life. The grant to the ADE Community Development team was received through the Ford College Community Challenge, a program of the Ford Motor Company Fund that aims to support colleges and universities as they work with students to design and develop tangible community projects that address critical local needs in new ways.

The Fall 2017 Community Development Team will be focused on the execution of the pilot supported by this grant as well as an opportunity to win an additional $10,000 from Ford Motor Company as part of a photo contest about the Ford Community College Challenge projects in February 2018. The winners will be determined by a public vote, so stay tuned!