Serenella Sferza, co-director of the MIT-Italy Program and founder of the MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives Global Teaching Labs (MISTI GTL), was honored with an MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (SHASS) Infinite Mile Award on May 12. SHASS Dean Deborah Fitzgerald presented Sferza with the Great Ideas award, an award that is presented annually to “an individual who expresses ideas that could lead to a positive change […] and articulates and stands for possibilities that enlarge the space for creative action beyond existing practices and routines.”
Sferza’s nominators — both MISTI colleagues and former students — highlighted her impact on international education at MIT through the Global Teaching Labs program. Created by Sferza, the program sends select MIT students to foreign high schools all over the world to teach for three weeks in January. Participants prepare tailored courses on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) subjects that complement the school’s curriculum and highlight MIT’s hands-on approach to education. “A visionary within MISTI, Serenella is very worthy of recognition and praise for her great ideas to develop the Global Teaching Labs and for making the program an integral part of MIT’s Mens et Manus culture,” one nominator wrote, referring to MIT's motto of “mind and hand.”
GTL was first launched in Italy in 2008 as a small pilot program for MIT students to connect with Italian high schools. Convinced that the innovative program was meaningful for both MIT students and international partners, Sferza collected qualitative data, surveyed students, host partners, and began tracking the program’s impact. She found that 82 percent of GTL students felt that the experience greatly impacted their personal growth and confidence, communication skills, cross-cultural understanding, and deeper knowledge of science. Of the host partners in Italy, 97 percent believed that the schools benefited from the program and requested a future MIT student.
Each year MISTI, MIT’s flagship international education program, matches nearly 800 students each year with internship, teaching and research opportunities in over 19 countries. Sferza’s vision of launching teaching internships in Italy has grown from a five-student operation into a robust and annual activity across MISTI programs. Today GTL boasts over 140 MIT students in eight countries: Germany, Korea, Israel, Italy, Mexico, Russia, Spain, and South Africa. This summer a pilot program will be launched in Armenia.