For this FIU student, summer at MIT Media Lab yields ‘community of purpose’

By FIU News – Guest Contributor

When junior Lina Henriquez was accepted into the prestigious MIT Summer Research Program, she wasn’t sure what to expect.

Lina Henriquez

“I’m always ready for new and exciting things,” says Henriquez, who emigrated from the Dominican Republic six years ago. “But I had no idea how life-changing this experience would be!”

A College of Business student majoring in business analytics and in marketing, Henriquez was first introduced to The MIT Media Lab through fellow StartUP FIU student Lara Garcia Padron. Henriquez then connected with FIU alumna and current MIT researcher and Ph.D. candidate Francesca Riccio-Ackerman.

Working closely with Robert Hacker, director and co-founder of StartUP FIU, a university-wide innovation hub that fosters and develops entrepreneurship and innovation, Riccio-Ackerman helped Henriquez discover the world of research and apply to the nine-week program, knowing it could strengthen Henriquez’s research skills and connect her to some of the nation’s brightest academics tackling the toughest challenges of our time.

“Having coached Lina for the last two years, I knew she’d make an excellent candidate for this MIT opportunity,” says Hacker. “The work she engaged in and researchers she met this summer will help shape the rest of her career.”

Founded in 1986, the MIT Summer Research Program identifies diverse, talented underclass students and invites them to conduct research under MIT faculty. The goal is to better prepare and motivate students to pursue advanced degrees and become researchers themselves.

“Lina’s passion for using research and data to help others made her the ideal fit for this opportunity,” says Gustavo Grande, director of Venture Ready Programs at StartUp FIU.

As one of 85 cohort members that were placed in different labs throughout MIT, Henriquez designed a two-day workshop for high school students on the issue of women in entrepreneurship.

This curriculum took students through the process of learning – which involves understanding and analyzing a problem before creating a solution – and establishing a framework Henriquez has coined “Systemic Justice.”

“It was great being able to expose these students to new ways of thinking and connect with them on a deeper level,” Henriquez says.


The MIT Summer Research Program, which has an acceptance rate of less than 10 percent, also requires members to conduct at least 40 hours of research a week, attend research seminars and take additional workshops. Henriquez was amazed to learn about the incredible things MIT researchers were working on – from black holes to quantum physics; historical discoveries to cutting-edge medical breakthroughs.

“It seemed everyone was tackling issues that will one day save the world,” Henriquez says. “Being at MIT was like being in a community of purpose.”

Henriquez credits the success she found at MSRP this summer to the unique set of skills she learned at StartUP FIU. After serving as the Hult Prize campus director from 2020 to 2021 and working as the entrepreneurial lead for the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Berkeley and Stanford I-Corps, Henriquez knew all about how social impact, systems thinking and an entrepreneurial mindset can work together to tackle the challenges of the modern world.

“Between the guidance provided by StartUP FIU and the work I have done at The MIT Media Lab, I feel prepared for whatever comes next,” Henriquez says. “These experiences have given me the confidence to chase my dreams and continue to make a positive impact in the world.”

This story was first published by FIU News here and is being reposted with permission.