Dreaming big in a small country

MIT students teach machine learning and entrepreneurship in Uruguay through MIT Global Startup Labs.

(Left to right:) MIT students Kenny Li, Maya Murad, Devin Zhang, Tiffany Fung, Eduardo Rivera, Evan Pu, Taylor Baum, Julian Alverio, and Madhav Kumar participated in this year's MISTI Global Startup Labs program.

(Left to right:) MIT students Kenny Li, Maya Murad, Devin Zhang, Tiffany Fung, Eduardo Rivera, Evan Pu, Taylor Baum, Julian Alverio, and Madhav Kumar participated in this year’s MISTI Global Startup Labs program.

When Miguel Brechner started planning a new ambitious plan to foster a new generation of data scientists in Uruguay and Latin America, he immediately thought of MIT. “There is no question that MIT is a world leader in science and technology. In Uruguay we are a small country, but we dream big.” Brechner is president of Plan Ceibal, an internationally awarded public initiative that has as main goals to distribute technology, promote knowledge, and generate social equity by widening access to digital technologies.

In 2019, Uruguayan public institutions like Plan Ceibal, ANII (Agencia Nacional de Investigación e Innovación), and UTEC (Universidad Tecnológica del Uruguay) began collaborating with MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI) and the Abdul Latif Jameel World Education Lab (J-WEL). The partnership supports 60 Latin American students that are part of the Program in Data Science, a program which includes online courses from MITx and on-site workshops run by J-WEL and MISTI. Local students include CEOs, entrepreneurs, engineers, economists, medical professionals, and senior administrators.

The MISTI Global Startup Labs (GSL) program, now in its 20th year, has expanded its partnerships to include Uruguayan institutions to promote entrepreneurship and data science across Latin America. GSL is a unique program designed to offer the opportunity to blend digital technologies and entrepreneurship in emerging regions in the world. Since 1998, hundreds of MIT students have traveled to more than 15 countries to be part of the program that has benefited thousands of technology entrepreneurs around the world. GSL instructors are MIT graduate and undergraduate students, selected among many applicants from all over the institute. GSL programs in different countries are uniquely crafted based on the needs of the local partners, and MIT student instructors take the lead teaching app and web development, coding, data science, entrepreneurship, and intrapreneurship.

The new GSL, one of the first to be run over Independent Acitivities Period, took place during January in Montevideo. The Uruguay program focused specifically on machine learning and the business opportunities of the technology. The local student participants had previously taken courses from the MITx MicroMasters in Data Science, and the GSL workshop gave them the opportunity to experience project-based learning in data science. This hands-on experiential immersion in the subject matter is the core methodology of the GSL program.

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