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Motivated by concern about America’s deep divides – economic, cultural, social and geographic – and a determination to better understand the issues and uncover solutions

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15.679 USA Lab: Bridging the American Divides

USA Lab is MIT Sloan's US-focused Action Learning lab. This course, whose formal name is "USA Lab: Bridging the American Divides," is motivated by concern about America's deep divides and a determination to better understand the issues and uncover solutions. The United States provides a focal point for the course, but as students grapple with the complexities of this country's challenges, they will find universal themes that resonate across the globe. 

In this course, students address contemporary issues, seeing them through the prism of history as well as through the on-the-ground experiences of people at work in America's small cities and rural regions. History reminds us that these issues are not new, and conflict is an inherent characteristic of the American experiment. The lenses of place, work, and community enable us to gain a textured perspective as we unpack the underlying causes of conflicts as well as the potential for shaping solutions to them. Students examine new perspectives, challenge assumptions, and place current tensions in the larger context of America's ongoing struggle to balance divergent interests with the common good. Students experience the diversity of America's communities as they conduct fieldwork with organizations in rural regions and small cities across the US, working with community partners who are dynamic and effective local leaders. Both in class and through fieldwork, student teams work on well-defined projects that contribute to strengthening the social and economic fabric of the host communities. The host organizations are innovative local nonprofit and government organizations. 

In 2019,  the USA Lab “Bridging the American Divides” class won an “Ideas Worth Teaching” award from the Aspen Institute’s Business & Society Program and was recognized as part of a Financial Times report on socially responsible business education.

WATCH: Good Companies, Good Jobs Initiative executive director Barbara Dyer on USA Lab



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USA Lab impact stories

Lifting up communities

USA Lab projects help local organizations in rural American towns and small cities support their communities. Here are some examples of the work our students have done: 

  • Researching the impact of COVID-19 on immigrants in northeast Iowa
  • Exploring economic and employment opportunities for Maine's agricultural food and beverage products
  • Analyzing the feasibility of a museum commemorating an important event in the US Civil Rights movement in a South Carolina community
  • On the Oregon coast, identifying a method for disposing of fish waste that could support both local businesses and environmental quality
  • Analyzing the viability of refurbishing dilapidated housing in Central Appalachia
  • Researching innovative approaches to improving outcomes for formerly incarcerated people in the Florida Panhandle 
  • Developing recommendations for an employer resource network being created by a local foundation and business in a Michigan community
  • Creating tools and frameworks for a community credit organization in the Mississippi Delta
  • Assessing models for expanding high-quality, affordable childcare in Iowa in rural and mid-sized urban areas and developing an investment case for it


Info for students

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The class

Through faculty and student-led discussions, guest speakers, workshops, and project-related activities, students learn the complexities of the cultural and economic divides that America faces. During the semester, students work in 3-5 person teams on projects that amplify the themes of the course while addressing a specific problem that is material to the success of the people in their project location. 

Project hosts are local nonprofit or government organizations seeking to innovate in their regions. Teams usually travel to their project sites for two weeks during SIP and spring break. 


USA Lab is a 9 credit Spring semester course, including both HI and H2, meaning that students must commit to the full semester for the course. It is open to any MIT graduate student and is offered jointly by the MIT Sloan School and the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning (DUSP). 


Bid for 15.679 USA Lab through the MIT Sloan bidding system starting the first week of December. 


There are three kinds of assignments for this course:

  • PARTICIPATION: Attending and participating actively in the class sessions and team project, as well as engaging reflectively with the ideas, materials, and your classmates is what we will be looking for, rather than the quantity of comments (35% of grade). 
  • REFLECTION MEMOS: The course is divided into three modules. After completing each module, students write an approximately two-page memo (15% of grade). 
  • TEAM PROJECT: Students conduct a field project with a host organization. Project deliverables include: a refined project design; a final written report; a poster session presentation for the Action Learning Poster Day, and a presentation to the class and community host about the final project results. 
3 USA Lab students walking along a sidewalk in Charleston, SC.

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