MechEng senior Rachel Reed spends winters in Korea and learns by teaching
Hugh Day-Williams, '18—left, Rachel Reed, '16—center, and Minsoo Khang, '17—back right, demonstrate a homemade lie-detector during a workshop at an orphanage in South Korea.

This has really helped me become a better engineer and educator.


Spending winters sharing MIT

Each IAP, teams of 3-4 MIT students travel to South Korea to teach 2-3-week science and engineering workshops to increase underserved middle and high school students’ educational motivation and encourage them to explore STEM topics in particular. Rachel Reed (’16 MechEng) spent two winters teaching at three different schools in Korea through the MIT-Korea Program’s Global Teaching Labs (GTL), and she couldn’t imagine the experience the would have. The schools were very different teaching experiences—from an orphanage, to a rural trade-school, to an alternative school for North Korea escapees trying to assimilate to life in South Korea.

The goal of MIT-Korea GTL is to share MIT’s approach to STEM education and introduce hands-on activities to middle and high school students, with focus on underserved students who would otherwise never have such an opportunity. According to Rachel, the workshops—designed and run by MIT students—“give you a chance to stop and think about what future you envision for yourself beyond the confines of MIT.”


Rachel Reed (’16, MechEng), David Sessoms (’15, EECS), Sami Alsheikh (’16, EECS), Feyza Haskaraman (’16, MechEng), and their students talk about their experiences in MIT-Korea’s GTL, in partnership with Korean educational non-profit Dream Touch For All.

Learning through teaching

Although Rachel had previously taught at MIT as a teaching assistant for several years, she was surprised by how different an experience it was. “Teaching in Korea to students with limited English really forced me to learn how to take complex scientific subjects like fluid dynamics and be able to break it down and explain it using as few words as possible in a way that students could understand,” she said. “This has really helped me become a better engineer and educator.”

Working in groups, students learned about concepts before moving on to design their own models. An average day could range from cooking spam in solar cookers that students built in the dead of winter and making lie detector tests to help solve a murder mystery, to soldering student-designed planetariums and using asparagus to determine the most efficient tower design.

The end result was something Rachel didn’t expect. “Students who were usually silent were coming out of their workshops excited about learning and were suddenly interested in science,”  Rachel said. “When we started these workshops, we would ask kids what they wanted to study in college and what they wanted to be when they grew up. In return, we would get these baffled stares. The students told us they weren’t given the opportunity to have dreams because of their circumstances; their “dream” was to work in a factory. But at the end of the month, we had all of these students telling us how they wanted to become PE teachers or businessmen now. Our workshops had given them the space and time to think outside the confines of their situation and realize that they were capable of accomplishing so much more than they thought possible.”

Beyond technical experience and adventure, these teaching expeditions have led Rachel to clarity in her future pursuits. She reflected, “After two visits to Korea, I’ve been able to learn more than I ever could have imagined. More valuable than all the knowledge I’ve acquired from these students is the joy that these experiences have brought me. Getting to watch students grow and blossom into the young adults they are is truly a wonderful experience. They have taught me so much about Korean culture and exposed me to many different viewpoints and styles of living. I am forever grateful for my students and all that they imparted on me."

Rachel—back row, 2nd from right—with her teammates and students at a school for North Korea escapees. (Some student faces obscured to protect identity.)

  • Korea
  • Teaching