Massachusetts Institute of Technology sophomore Cheng Dai, junior Yasmin Inam, alumna Ruth Miller and junior Anthony Thomas sit around one of the many planning tables at The Center for Preservation and Planning in Covington. Miller is currently overseeing the MIT interns under The Center’s director Kay Lee. The students stay in host homes around Covington during the month-long internship. (Staff photo: Jessicah Peters)
COVINGTON – For the month of January, Massachusetts Institute for Technology student Cheng Dai is making Newton County his home.
The 19-year-old, who is majoring in material science and engineering, received the opportunity to intern at The Center for Community Preservation and Planning through the MIT alumni program.
Dai and two other MIT students, Anthony Thomas and Yasmin Inam, connected with Eastside High graduate and MIT alumna Ruth Miller to start projects at The Center for their January internship.
Miller started interning with The Center in 2003. She graduated from MIT in 2008 and then moved to Oakland, Calif., to earn her master’s in planning from University of California, Berkeley.
Overseeing the interns, Miller said she’s developing her management skills.
“The interns are applying what they’ve learned in the classroom into the real world and since there’s very few internships available in Newton County it’s a great opportunity to work in a small town,” Miller said. “It’s exciting to bring in new eyes into The Center to validate that yes, this is a great idea and yes, it’s working.”
The Center was created in 2002 by Newton residents who were concerned about the growth spreading from Atlanta. It offers a neutral place for collaborative planning.
One of Dai’s projects during his internship is analyzing how Newton County communicates decision- and policy-making to the public.
Dai said he’s learned Newton County is ahead of the curve when it comes to having this planning center, which worked with the five municipalities and the county to create a 2050 plan.
“The Center uses numbers and facts which allows the people and county to avoid issues economically and geographically,” Dai said. “When growth comes, it won’t take people by surprise. The Center wants to make sure everyone is able to live cohesively at everyone’s preference. The urban planning helps make it a place to live rather than just a place to sleep at night.”
While he’s just a sophomore, Dai said he’d like to focus on policy-making or be an advisor for a think-tank that leans toward helping the country as a whole.
“The Center is very unique, it’s a local think-tank,” Dai said. “It’s unique because it’s a nonpartisan think-tank and you don’t really see that in rural areas.”
Dai said he decided to major in material science and engineering because of his mother, who is a material science engineer working for Dart Container Corporation, which makes Solo cups as well as the cups for Starbucks and and Dunkin Donuts.
“College is the door that leads to all the other doors, and I didn’t want to have a major that narrowed the doors down for me,” Dai said.
After finishing up the various projects at The Center, Dai and the other students will return to MIT for classes on Feb. 1.