Terrascope: Not the Typical First Semester Class

Published in MIT News on March 21, 2013 by Bennett Cyphers '16

Editor's note: Bennett Cyphers is a freshman from Plattsburgh, N.Y. who has taken two Terrascope classes, 12.000 and 1.016. He is majoring in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and enjoys ruminating on the problems of the world.

Sixty people sit in a room. They come from a variety of backgrounds, and few of them know each other. As they watch in silence, a professor in the front of the room lays out their task for the next three months: it will require intense research, a myriad of disciplines, creativity, effective teamwork — and if they are to be successful — a staggering amount of effort. This is no strategic meeting of industry experts, nor is it a graduate or post-graduate seminar. This is 12.000, Solving Complex Problems, and every student seated in the auditorium is a first-semester freshman at MIT.

Each year in 12.000, the flagship course in the Terrascope program and something of an anomaly among freshman-level classes, students are given just one problem. For Mission 2016, as the class was known colloquially (the 2016 refers to the graduation year of participants), the subject was The Future of Strategic Natural Resources... There are no tests or p-sets, and after the first couple of weeks, the professor and teaching staff tries only to facilitate progress and not intervene in the operation of the class. Students are treated as scientists and engineers capable of synthesizing research and formulating solutions — not freshmen...

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