RealTalk Community Fellows Program

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The MIT Center for Constructive Communication (MIT CCC) has launched the RealTalk Community Fellows Program, a one-year, non-degree program that brings together community leaders — staff, board members or resident volunteers of community-based organizations to collaborate with students, researchers, and faculty at MIT CCC.

The program recognizes that Boston residents with extensive experience in addressing community issues have unique knowledge and insights key to understanding those issues and designing innovative solutions.

Program Overview >
Program Activities >
Eligibility >
How to Apply >
Meet the Alumni >


Program Overview

The RealTalk Community Fellows Program is part of CCC’s effort to extend the scope of RealTalk Boston, a civic dialogue network of local community-based organizations.As part of this growing network, RealTalk Fellows will co-design, build, and test a social dialogue system that:

  • enables communities to conduct authentic, nuanced conversations across the full diversity of their communities; 
  • surfaces stories of people’s life experiences; 
  • makes meaning of these stories, and shares what has been learned across divides; and
  • channels these stories into more constructive public dialogue and more grounded policy making.

The RealTalk Fellows will participate in an experimental, hands-on and immersive training program. The model focuses on knowledge and skills transfer with overlapping cohorts so that current Fellows support the onboarding and training of the next group. The goal is for the Fellows to develop their scholarly competence in a nontraditional way by leveraging applied research opportunities offered by MIT CCC and building upon their skill set to design and build interventions to bring back to their own communities and professional ecosystems. 

The Fellows Program awards a maximum of three one-year fellowships every six months (up to six within a calendar year). Fellows will receive a monthly stipend of $3,000 for the year, with the option to apply for additional project funding. This includes – but is not limited to – funds for organizing and facilitating conversations, planning and organizing community events, and creating and distributing publicity or policy-related materials to share the results of their work. 

Program Activities

Through the program, Fellows are encouraged and supported to:

  • Co-design the development of community engagement strategies, and where appropriate, cultivate relationships within their communities. 
  • Work with CCC researchers on sensemaking activities, including analysis of conversations and design of materials for dissemination and engagement purposes.
  • Support MIT CCC to ground its design and practice in community-level interests, particularly within the principles of Participatory Action Research (PAR).
  • Leverage their deep knowledge, networks, and relationships with Boston-based grassroots-level stakeholders to ensure that CCC’’s expanded RealTalk efforts accurately reflect the concerns and goals of the local communities with which it works.  


Applicants should be Boston residents whose work focuses on lifting up the voices of marginalized and underheard communities. While applicants can be affiliated with a community-based organization, it is not a requirement. They will be asked to identify a community organization, network, or a particular community/neighborhood they would prioritize for their work during and beyond their fellowship year while demonstrating a strong and trusted relationship with their community. 

The program seeks individuals who have the ability to bring community/residents together, a strong drive to help others succeed, and  the potential to take the skills acquired through the Fellows Program and apply them to work within their communities. It is important to note that the Fellows Program is not an academic/research/sabbatical program. We value a creative and motivated work history and a demonstrated community commitment. A degree in higher education is not a requirement, and we welcome applications with knowledge in a wide range of areas: practitioners, community leaders, organizers, designers, or artists. 

Applicants may apply as individuals or in a group of two to three people working in/affiliated with the same community organization. We seek diversity along many dimensions, including disciplines, career stages, race and ethnicity, country of origin, gender and sexual orientation, and ideological perspective. If you are interested in applying as part of a group, please reach out to our team to learn more about group applications.

How to apply

Please read the following information carefully before considering submitting an application. If your questions are not answered in our materials, feel free to contact us at  If you are applying as part of a group, please contact our team to learn more about group applications.

Application Process

We have an online application process. The application for the 2023-2024 Fellows Program is open until November 14th, 2022. Please answer all questions on the application form, taking notice of the suggested length for answers.  

To apply to be a RealTalk Community Fellow, please go HERE or click the button below.

Letters of Recommendation

During the online application, you will be asked to give the names and contact information for two (2) individuals who will provide letters of recommendation. As soon as an application process begins, a request for the recommendations will be sent directly to the recommenders. Letters from colleagues, community members, collaborators and individuals who are knowledgeable about your work will carry the most weight. Letters are confidential and are not available to the applicant. Please note that the deadline for the two letters of recommendation is the same as the application due date.


Please be sure that your attached résumé includes dates for your work (paid or unpaid) history. While the Fellows Program does not have any educational or degree requirements for admission, if you have earned degrees, please include the name of the educational institution, degree granted, and the year you received the degree.

Important Dates

  • October 17th, 2022: Applications are open.
  • November 14th, 2022: Deadline to submit full applications.
  • January 1, 2023: Program’s start date.


What is RealTalk Boston?

RealTalk Boston was launched by the MIT Center for Constructive Communication (CCC) together with a group of community organizations in 2021 in an effort to address a persistent problem in American civic life: the inability of our current civic processes to ensure that marginalized people have the means and opportunity to shape decisions and policies that directly impact their lives. In recognition of this problem, RealTalk Boston aims to enable communities and organizations to conduct authentic, nuanced conversations across the full diversity of their population, identify patterns of what people share across these conversations, and channel these voices into decision-making processes that are more grounded and more responsive to community concerns than ever before. 

How is the Fellows Program structured?

The Fellows Program is structured into three phases:

  1. Orientation and onboarding: Fellows will be introduced to MIT CCC’s research agenda, ongoing projects, and initiatives. Specific focus is placed on activities that address team and relationship building as part of RealTalk initiatives.
  2. Staggered workshops in conversation design, facilitation, and sensemaking: Fellows will have the opportunity to learn and experiment with the processes and the tools designed and advanced by MIT CCC’s research team and engage in hands-on applications of these skills and tools.
  3. Intervention design: During the program, Fellows will start mapping out and designing an intervention to bring back into their communities. Fellows will be offered mentorship and support during the design of the intervention, from the early stages of the ideation phase and all the way through its implementation in the community of their choice.

What is the time commitment required?

Fellows will be required to attend the course “Engaging Community: Models & Methods for Designers and Planners” in the spring semester (February to May 2023), in which they will work together with students and practitioners to help build more inclusive public engagement processes into civic infrastructure. The course will be taught by Prof. Caesar McDowell and Prof. Dimitra Dimitrakopoulou and requires weekly in-person attendance of lectures, seminars, and workshops associated with the course (approx. 3 hours/week). 

Fellows will convene regularly to share their work in progress and will also be required to attend weekly meetings with the RealTalk team, join planned seminar series with distinguished scholars and practitioners and actively take part in group meetings and all-hands sessions hosted by MIT CCC.

What is the selection process?

The Selection Committee is composed of three faculty/staff members from the MIT Center for Constructive Communication, three Fellows/alumni, and two outside practitioners. All applicants will be contacted about interviews by the end of November; those selected  will be notified by early December.

Meet the Alumni

Maridena Rojas

Community Engagement Manager at The Boston Project Ministries and Leadership Team Member for the Talbot–Norfolk Triangle & Community Improvement Association Partnership Civic Group

Community Organizer and advocate working alongside communities of color. Having 15+ of experience managing projects, initiatives, bringing resources into the community for residents of Boston who have often been underserved. Maridena is the Community Engagement Manager at the Boston Project and a part of the leadership team for the Talbot-Norfolk Triangle Neighbors United + Community Improvement Association Partnership civic groups in South Dorchester. Having been recognized by former City Council Andrea Campbell Boston’s City Council and Senator Nick Collins for the The Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative Caucus. As a Community Fellow at MIT CCC, Maridena is working for the Real Talk for Change program and Transforming Narratives of Gun Violence with the Engagement Lab at Emerson. Due to her background of working in and alongside community members she brings with her a level of expertise that is informed by her neighbors, community, grassroot and community based organizations. 

Tibisay Zea

Public Radio Reporter Journalist

Tibisay Zea is a Latina journalist based in Boston. As a news reporter, she has covered a breadth of issues critically important to the Greater Boston area, such as wealth inequities, housing instability, climate change and social determinants of health. She strives to bring diverse voices into much of her work. Tibisay is also the host of a podcast in Spanish called “Salud” that features stories of Latino immigrants and their health challenges in this country. Tibisay is also a classically trained pianist and singer and likes to play music from Latin America. As an MIT Center for Constructive Communication Community Fellow, she’s working on developing a guide for journalists to report on Latinos and immigration. 

Magdalena Ayerra


As a policymaker specializing in social urbanism, Magdalena has ten years of professional experience in managing projects that improve local communities’ economic development, focusing on art and culture as powerful tools of social transformation. She was awarded the Humphrey Fellowship to participate in a non-degree program at MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning. She was the Director of the Arts District of Buenos Aires and the Coordinator of Creative Neighborhoods in the Buenos Aires City Government. As a Center for Constructive Communication Community Fellow, Magdalena is focusing on linking policymaking with RealTalk as the platform to improve participatory governance mechanisms.