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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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USA Lab: Bridging the Divide

USA Lab is MIT Sloan's US-focused Action Learning Lab. This course, whose formal name is "Bridging the American Divides: Work, Community and Culture — USA Lab," 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 on-site in rural regions and small cities across the US, working with community partners who are dynamic and effective local leaders. Student teams work both on-site and in-class on well-defined projects that contribute to strengthening the social and economic fabric of the host communities. The host organizations are nonprofits selected because they are poised to change the trajectory of their communities. 

WATCH: Good Companies, Good Jobs Initiative Executive Director Barbara Dyer on USA Lab



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In 2019, a team of USA Lab students (above) worked with the South Carolina Association for Community Economic Development (SCACED) to study the feasibility of a museum to commemorate the Orangeburg Massacre, an important event in the U.S. Civil Rights movement.

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: 

  • Assessing models for expanding high-quality, affordable childcare in Iowa in rural and mid-sized urban areas and developing an investment case for it. 
  • On the coast of Oregon, identifying a method for disposing of fish waste to support new and existing businesses in the region and promote job and environmental quality simultaneously. 
  • In rural Maine, developing economic and employment opportunities using Maine's agricultural food and beverage products, with a focus on supply and distribution systems throughout the Northeast. 
  • Creating tools and frameworks to enhance utilization of financial products and services offered by a community credit organization in support of economic opportunity among residents of the Mississippi Delta region.
  • Developing recommendations for core practices, appropriate scale and data collection as part of a business plan for an employer resource network being created through a collaborative process involving local companies and a community foundation in Michigan. 

Info for Students

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15.S02 Bridging the American Divides: Work, Community and Culture - USA Lab

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 dynamic nonprofit leaders in small towns and rural regions across the United States; they are local leaders who play a catalytic role in their regions. Teams 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


Bid for 15.S02 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. 
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