PKG Explore students

Meet the First PKG Explore Cohort

"How is Ghana strategizing to meet changing energy needs?" "What skills do Senegalese communities/farmers need to better manage harvests?" "What reconstruction scenarios in infrastructure could be applied in Puerto Rico, specifically considering preventive strategies?" These are some of the questions members of the first PKG Explore cohort will examine during IAP in 2018. 

PKG Explore allows students to “apprentice” with a problem before diving in with a solution. As students explore and investigate complex social and environmental challenges, the PKG Center provides funding, workshops, and advice so that each develops the skill set needed for fieldwork with communities in context.

We invite you to meet our first cohort of PKG Explore students and check out their projet summaries below. This dynamic group will engage in early-stage fieldwork that may contribute towards applied research and projects based on real community needs and resulting in meaningful impact. 


Akemi Sato

Graduate, DUSP

On September the 6th and 19th Mexico suffered a series of earthquakes. In this context of emergency several digital tools were deployed, such is the case of, which is a crowdsourced Open Data platform to gather and publish information about people’s needs and offerings of help. This tool was initiated by me and other three DUSP students. As a student, I consider crucial to study and evaluate the impact, not only of but of the many other tools that were deployed.

Overall I would like to understand how remote communities responded to the emergency and if digital tools can help local communities obtain aid and/or impact their recovery while respecting their sovereignty. I aim to understand the needs of remote communities in post-disaster situations and to communicate effectively my findings so Government, NGOs and individuals can respond better to this emergency and in future events.

Location: Mexico

Angie Jo

Graduate, DUSP

An issue that interests me is the highly contested nature of private property rights in North Korea, specifically in the city of Pyongyang. It is estimated that nearly 1.2 million South Koreans hold a formal claim to their former homes in the North, which they were forced to abandon as refugees during the Korean War.  For many of these people, this paper deed to their property in the North was one of the few personal belongings they brought with them as they crossed the border, and their descendants today still hold the possibility of reclaiming their ancestral property in the event of reunification or political transition.  Over the last 60 years, however, these lands have been inhabited and farmed by an estimated 25 million North Korean citizens, and is owned in full by the North Korean state.  As I understand it, this is one of the thorniest issues in the stalemate between the two Koreas.  In the event of a potential transition or collapse of the North Korean regime, a new governing body will need to decide on a way to adjudicate these competing ownership claims:  Who should get the land? I would love to take the opportunity to more deeply explore this space, now using the skills I am learning at MIT as an urban planner.

Location: South Korea

Daphne Xu

Graduate, DUSP

I have lived in Beijing for the past two years but I have not spent extensive time elsewhere in China and am very curious about the types of development happening with rural reform that have been pushed by the Chinese government since 2014 in order to even out economic development.

My primary research question is how to define ‘participatory planning’ in Chinese development contexts (including but not limited to rural land reform and urban village renewal). I would like to know the power dynamics between different stakeholder groups and what opportunities there are to create room for community-level planning.

Location: China

Doreen Mashu

Graduate, MBA Sloan Fellow

I lived and worked in Nigeria for almost 3 years prior coming to Sloan. My consulting work took me around West Africa and I got the opportunity to work with farmers - supporting their fundraising activities I was baffled by the amount of post harvest waste I saw in fruits, vegetables and the underutilization of small grains. For certain fruits and vegetables, it is estimated that about 50% of the produce is lost at harvest.

I will be exploring questions around reducing waste through value added processing. My research questions are: What skills do communities/farmers need to better manage harvests? What technologies are needed and how can I help co-create them with MIT and the affected communities? How do we map the supply chain in such a fragmented sector?

Location: Côte d’Ivoire & Senegal 

Gustavo Carlos Casalduc

Graduate, Architecture

Given the current humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico, we seek to conduct a research to understand the magnitude of the devastation caused by the hurricane Maria. What could have been prevented? Could some sort of design have helped? What can we do now? We ask ourselves, what reconstruction scenarios in infrastructure could be applied in Puerto Rico, specifically considering preventive strategies? What are the resources and information necessary for carrying out such a project?

Location: Puerto Rico

K. Erina Keefe

Graduate, DUSP

Green infrastructure (GI) is recognized as an effective strategy to address myriad environmental and social challenges. Beyond stormwater runoff reduction, GI offers health benefits such as relief from urban heat stress, improved air quality, and opportunities for recreation. However, GI has not been successfully scaled due in part to a lack of collaboration between and among city agencies and NGOs. I want to learn how some cities have sought to break down silos and strive toward water management that builds green and resilient communities.

Location: USA

Michelle Xu

Undergraduate, Physics

The issue that I want to tackle is the global refugee crisis, specifically in the social and political contexts of Greece. I find the global refugee crisis both incredibly important to address and fascinating to study. I believe that this issue is possibly one of the most complex social problems we have at the moment and is likely to have one of the deepest and broadest impacts. The potential for terrible suffering in a crisis like this is great, and so I want to investigate, understand, and help the people involved as much as I can.

Location: Greece, Chalkida

Nikayah Etienne

Undergraduate, Mechanical/Biomedical Engineering

My entire family (mother's and father's side) are from the small island of Dominica. I knew from my first trip that my parents gave me a privilege my family did not have when they migrated to the United States where I was born 5 years later. I want to explore to what extent do lack of resources impact teaching in a third world country. Ultimately, I am interested in pursuing this research because it is important to understand, firsthand, the problems of education before trying to solve them. For part of my future career, I want to serve underrepresented minority students where I will be using my privilege of being able to go to and complete MIT to give them the needed resources, advice and assistance to also succeed in the future.

Location: Dominica, Pointe Michel

Nitah Onsongo

Undergraduate, EECS

I am a Kenyan native and I am looking to study and understand why consumer access to financial services is low in Kenya. From my past finance internships, I have learnt that financial literacy is generally a big challenge in Africa. Due to widespread financial illiteracy, majority of Kenyans lack an understanding of available financial products from banks, pension funds, insurance providers, and quasi-banking institutions like Savings and Credits Co-operatives Societies. As a result, consumers lack knowledge crucial to evaluating financial products, making informed decisions, and most importantly building financial well-being and credit worth. With my background in finance and computer Science, I would like to undertake this research to understand the root cause to financial illiteracy in East Africa and hopefully build a fin-tech solution that will create better financial awareness and improve access to financial services particularly saving and investing.

Location: Kenya

Pitchapa Jular

Graduate, DUSP

Born and raised in the floodplain of Bangkok, the image of the city with branches of rivers and canals (khlong) are deeply tied to my perception and the sense of place. Water is more than a resource. It speaks for our culture, the livelihood of the people, the history of Thailand which sustains the development of the agro-rural and urban landscape both formally and informally. Despite this rooted relationship between land, water and people, Thailand had experienced the world’s fourth costliest urban flood in 2011 in the Chao Phraya River Basin and continues to face exacerbating flood issues in the past half-decade. The fragmented coordination of agencies in the water resource management measures and policy framework has demonstrated a serious barrier to an adaptive management for flood events.

Provided with architectural education and professional experiences as an architect with current master of city planning degree at MIT, I deeply felt the need to reconnect design and management at the local level. My interests in water has extended beyond the physical design to engage with real-world community participation in the planning ecosystem. All of these have molded my passion to conduct an action thesis research on the local water resource management capacity with regards to flood-risks in an urban community as well as its impact on the regional watershed management.

Location: Thailand

Reed Jordan

Graduate, DUSP

Spatial inequality within cities in the United States has increased precipitously since the Great Recession. Whether measured by life expectancy, economic mobility, or educational achievement, the implication is clear: the neighborhood environments where people live greatly affect their life outcomes. As a consequence of racial segregation, these “neighborhood effects” are highly racialized, a major driver of racial inequality, and are key racial and social justice issue in the United States.

Policy to responses to spatial inequality in the US are currently at a standstill. They are often small scale, ineffective, or articulated without serious assessment of their underlying assumptions of how society should address segregation. PKG Explore funding will support my masters urban planning thesis on an international comparison of the causes, consequences, and policy responses to racial residential segregation. I will conduct fieldwork in the EU cities (Brussels, Rotterdam, Amsterdam, and Cologne) where I will study the factors in each city that impact spatial inequality and segregation, and specific recent planning and policy initiatives to address these issues. This research will inject new understanding into the social, political, and economic underpinnings of spatial inequality, and how policy responses should be designed within varied contexts. This project is especially urgent in the current political climate. Both the US and EU  are undergoing a profound resurgences of white nationalism in response to immigration of racial minorities, job loss from globalization, and threats to white supremacy. This dynamic is clearly playing out in cities (e.g. far-right marches in Charlottesville, Dresden, Paris) and threatens welfare regimes, efforts to address racial and spatial inequality, undermines political support for urban policy initiatives, and ultimately, is destabilizing Western democracy

Location: Netherlands. Belgium, and Germany

René Andrés García Franceschini

Undergraduate, Civil & Environmental Engineering

I propose researching ways for Puerto Rico, particularly the more affected rural areas, to both recover from the recent hurricane and to become more resilient to strengthening hurricanes in the era of global warming. This is an issue quite literally close to home: I am a native Puerto Rican, and lived there all my life before coming to MIT.

On a professional level, I wish to apply my skills in systems engineering and leadership to help create a solution to a highly volatile, high impact situation. There is a lot of professional and academic development that I can achieve by putting to work these skills that I have gained at MIT on real problems with real people at hand.

Location: Puerto Rico

Sika Gadzanku

Graduate, Technology & Policy Program

How is Ghana strategizing to meet changing energy needs? Born and raised in Ghana, I became intrigued with the electricity sector after experiencing consistent power outages, which could last up to 24 hours. It has led to my interest in discovering the reasons for the shortfall and developing strategies to prevent future occurrences.

Many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa are scrambling to develop robust, efficient and affordable energy infrastructure. While some countries are heavily investing in renewable energy resources, others, such as Ghana, are generally sticking to traditional power sources.

I am applying to PKG Explore to gain a deeper understanding of efforts to modernize and improve Ghana’s electricity sector.

Location: Ghana

Sruthi Davuluri

Graduate, TPP

My passion to solve energy access issues in developing countries can be traced back to a vacation I took to Andhra Pradesh, a Southern state of India, to visit my family. That was the first time I realized that other parts of the world, even urban areas, experience long periods of time without electricity and/or water. After noticing this disparity, I realized that I wanted to shape my life-long mission around ensuring energy and water security across the world. Now, my next step is to conduct research on access to electricity in Ghana in order to work towards this goal.

By combining my technical background and business acumen, I would like to work with local community members to make sustainable energy solutions in Ghana. My experience working with solar energy has taught me how to ask the right questions and identify potential hurdles for implementing entrepreneurial solar businesses in different regional and economic environments. I would like to focus on energy access in Sub-Saharan Africa because it is the region with the lowest access to electricity in the world, according to International Energy Agency. I am planning on traveling to Ghana with Libby MacDonald as a part of a D-lab course for about a week, and I would like to learn more about Ghana’s energy outlook during the rest of IAP.

Location: Ghana