Campus Culture

Pins passed out at Nerd Nite. Photo: Mary Lewey

Pins passed out at Nerd Nite. Photo: Mary Lewey

Can robots learn to bake cookies? Can ceramic filters make water drinkable in the developing world? MIT alumni Mario Bollini ’09, SM ’12 and Amelia Servi ’10, SM ‘13 shared insights on these topics at recent Nerd Nites, a popular event that showcases new research from MIT and other area universities.

The bonus? You can drink beer while you learn.

Over the past 10 years, Nerd Nite has grown from one grad student presenting evolutionary biology research at a Boston pub to monthly events in 80 cities around the world. There are Nerd Nites in Milan, Liberia, Detroit, Amsterdam, and Auckland. And if it’s not in your city, you can start one.

Typical Nites include a mix of hard science talks like membrane desalinization, social science presentations, such as the history of cycling in New England, and the (fake) history of Godzilla monsters.

Adrian Ward speaks at a special Nerd Nite held at the Oberon Theater on how the Internet is reshaping our lives. Photo: Mary Lewey

Adrian Ward speaks at a special Nerd Nite held at the Oberon Theater on the impact of the Internet. Photo: Mary Lewey

“People have always been interested in science, technology, and the humanities,” explained Boston Nerd Nite co-organizer Tim Sullivan. “They’ve also always been interested in bars and beer. Nerd Nite just puts those two things together.”

Boston’s Nerd Nite is held monthly at Middlesex Bar, located a stone’s throw away from MIT campus. The event usually attracts upwards of 200 people, many affiliated with MIT. “It’s a format that lends itself to the MIT community really well,” said Mary Lewey, Boston Nerd Nite co-organizer. “The intention is to learn from people rather than judge or criticize,” said Lewey.

Amelia Servi presents at Nerd Nite Boston. Photo: Mary Lewey

Amelia Servi presents at Nerd Nite Boston.
Photo: Mary Lewey

MIT alumni are frequent speakers both in Boston and Nites worldwide. “Presentations to people outside of my field, like my recent one at Nerd Nite, make me take a step back to look at my motivation for the work and all of the foundational work that went before mine,” said Amelia Servi ’10, SM ’13, who first attended a similar event in Phnom Penh. “I felt like people were interested and learned something, which is a very satisfying feeling as a speaker.”

In Boston, Maxim Lobovsky SM ’11, co-founder of Formlabs, walked Nerd Niters through his company’s process of inventing one of the first affordable 3D printers.

At a New York City Nerd Nite, Hesky Fisher ’02 talked about developing Plover, an open source stenography application.

And in Seattle, Liang Sim SM ’06 made the unlikely connection between salsa dancing and theories of engineering and management consulting. Any good salsa dancing presentation includes actual dancing, and Sim did not disappoint, dancing with wife, Eliza.

Does the popularity of this Boston-born event demonstrate an upsurge in nerd pride? Perhaps, but Sullivan argues that Boston has always been a hotbed for nerds. “If you are passionate about a topic and you take the time to learn more about it, you are a nerd,” explains Sullivan. “You are a geek.”

But there’s a difference between a geek and a nerd. You guessed it—that was a topic at a Nerd Nite event too.

Find the Nerd Nite in your area, present, or start your own. 



The temporary memorial to MIT Police Officer Sean Collier HM. Photo by Joe McGonegal.

MIT will mark the first anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings and the death of MIT Police Officer Sean Collier HM in a ceremony of remembrance on Friday, April 18—one year to the day that Collier was killed in active duty by the alleged marathon bombing suspects.

The one-hour ceremony will take place at 9:30 a.m. at MIT’s North Court and is open to the Institute community. The ceremony will include remarks from Senator Elizabeth Warren, Cambridge Mayor David Maher, MIT Executive Vice President and Treasurer Israel Ruiz, members of the MIT Police Department, graduate student Sara E. Ferry, and Associate Professor J. Meejin Yoon, who is designing a permanent memorial to Collier and will share a rendering of the memorial following the ceremony.

The ceremony will also include a singing of the national anthem by Cambridge Police Lt. Pauline Wells, a performance from Professor John Harbison and the MIT Vocal Jazz Ensemble, and a benediction from MIT chaplain Robert M. Randolph.

At 1 p.m. on April 18, Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart will host an MIT community picnic on the North Court that will cheer on the MIT Strong marathon team, the group of faculty, staff, and alumni who are running the 2014 Boston Marathon to raise funds for the Sean A. Collier Memorial Fund.

According to the Boston Globe, the Collier Fund—which has already raised more than $500,000 from nearly 2,000 individuals—will be used for annual scholarships at MIT and the Massachusetts Police Academy, a memorial medal fund that honor’s Collier’s legacy, and the Yoon-designed permanent memorial at the corner of Vassar St. and Main St. on MIT campus.


Photo by Joe McGonegal

A year later, MIT keeps Sean Collier’s memory alive,” Boston Globe:

“He touched so many lives around campus; people knew him directly or indirectly,” said Kris Brewer, the webmaster for MIT’s School of Engineering, who met Collier when he joined MIT’s Outing Club, a group of outdoor enthusiasts. “He was a bit of a techno geek, too. . . . He fit into [MIT’s] technology culture. He was working on websites.”

The April 18 ceremony and picnic crowns a year-long remembrance Collier’s of legacy at MIT.

On June 8, 2013, Collier was posthumously inducted as a member of the MIT Alumni Association at MIT’s Technology Day.

On Oct. 18—exactly six months to the day of Collier’s death—MIT Police and the Department Facilities unveiled a temporary memorial, made from a piece of the Great Dome, bearing an MIT police badge and Collier’s badge number, 179, at the corner of Main St. and Vassar St.

And earlier this year, a group of MIT alumni, students, faculty, and staff formed MIT Strong, a 40-person contingent that has raised more than $142,000 in support of the Collier Fund. According to its website, MIT Strong was formed to honor the life, sacrifice, and legacy of Collier; celebrate the spirit and strength of the MIT community; and to offer a visible MIT presence at the 2014 marathon.



Images via Humans of MIT

In summer 2010, photographer Brandon Stanton created Humans of New York, a photography blog that has since catalogued more than 6,000 New Yorkers and become a best-selling book.

The blog’s success spawned spinoffs in locations all over the world, and earlier this year, four current MIT students created Humans of MIT, a Facebook page that profiles MIT community members through a single photo and the subject’s own words.

Zachary Abel G

Zachary Abel G

Some portraits discuss the ordinary aspects of MIT life while others veer towards the random, like wearing stilts for the first time.

Some lean towards the inimitable: Health Gould ’14 ponders trying out for the Olympic bobsled team and Lena Yang ’16 describes her custom MIT-themed brass knuckles.

“We created this page to dispel some of the myths about MIT,” says Emad Taliep ’14. “We hope that someone might read it say, ‘I guess I’m not the only one who feels that way.’”

The page, which began on February 17 and now has nearly 2,000 likes, was created by Taliep, Abra Shen ’16, Jenny Wu ’14, and Lawrence Wong G, who are members of Students at MIT Allied for Student Health (SMASH).

“There’s a perception that engineers and scientists are introverts and anti-social—they just go to their room and study,” says Wong. “That’s not true. There’s something unique and special about everyone and that’s reflected here.”

Taliep says the most popular posts have described the stressful aspects of the MIT life, and the perseverance that goes with it.

Lauren Jefferson '14. Image via Humans of MIT.

Lauren Jefferson ’14

Lauren Jefferson ’14:

“It took me a very long time to get to the point where I was comfortable setting my own expectations and following those, instead of following all the other expectations that other people have…But try to set your own expectations. When you have so much pressure around you, follow your own standards. That’s probably the best thing I’ve taken away from MIT.”

New subjects are posted three times per week and future profiles will include members of the MIT administration.

“We hope this really connects with the people of MIT,” Shen says. “We’re showing that you can have a conversation with anyone and everyone has a story.”

Perhaps the best indicator of the page’s success: a parody. The Facebook page Robots of MIT aims to tell the Institute’s stories through the eyes of its robots, “one robot at a time.”

According to its Facebook description, the page (which is not affiliated with Humans of MIT) paints intimate pictures that capture the beauty and vibrancy in every robot’s personal narrative, which includes robot marriage and antagonism from humans.

While the robots depicted are only loosely affiliated with MIT, at least one, CSAIL’s Domo, can be found on campus.


Slide background L-R: Brian Mulcahy '86, Jeremy Rishel '94, Mike Gerhardt '12, Professor Alex Slocum ’82, SM ’83, PhD ’85
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L-R: Ryan Borker, Adam McCready, Thomas Brand, Jean-Paul Lauture

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L-R: Chad Galts, John Cunniffe, Samantha Carney

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L-R: Jim DiCarlo, Kris Brewer, Dan Oliver '60, Domingo Godoy

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L-R: Sally Miller, Jess Rooney Gallagher, Jenn Gagner, Maddie Hickman '11

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L-R: Madeline Pascolini-Campbell, Bill King, Joseph Azzarelli, Maggie Lloyd '12

Slide background L-R: Professor Nader Tehrani, Stephen Shum SM '11, Charlie Maher, Christina Meagher
Slide background L-R: Professor Dava Newman, Julie Pryor, Rachel DeLucas
Slide background L-R: Stephanie Kloos, Sam Shames, Jonathan Runstadler, Sarah Lewis
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L-R: Gordon Wintrob '12, Tim Mertz, Peter Whincop, Tom Gearty


Maggie Lloyd ’12 has dreamed of running the Boston Marathon for years. Since she qualified last fall, she has thought about crossing the finish line every day and what it will mean for her college and her college town, after last year’s violence.

Now, she’ll be making that run with nearly 40 fellow alumni, students, faculty, and friends on the MIT Strong Boston Marathon team in the race’s 118th running.

Maggie Lloyd '12.

Maggie Lloyd ’12.

“I am constantly reminded that this year’s Boston marathon isn’t going to be just another race,” Lloyd says. “I felt helpless after the marathon last year, but I don’t feel that way anymore. What this team is doing is casting aside doubt and fear and showing up in Hopkinton to take back the finish line.”

The team, which formed in January, began with 25 runners committed to raising $4,000 or more. Since then, it has grown to include runners with existing entries who will raise at least $1,000 toward the team’s goals: to honor Officer Collier, celebrate the spirit of the MIT community’s response to the crisis, stand in solidarity with the city of Boston, and support the Collier Fund at MIT.

The runners have no shortage of inspiration. Despite injuries, bad weather, and the typical anxieties of distance running, they are feeling the groundswell of enthusiasm from their peers, family, and alma mater.

Like Lloyd, Mike Gerhardt ’12 has run down Boylston Street before. Last year, however, he was running away from the finish line, amid the chaos, to find safety. Gerhardt and his mother had been there waiting for his father, who was one of the thousands of runners held up on Commonwealth Avenue after the bombs went off.

Later that week, Gerhardt was studying in his room at Zeta Psi when he heard news of an “officer down.” He immediately phoned his dad, a state trooper. “I called him, and he answered, and I just started crying.”

After the bombing, manhunt, and lockdown that week, Gerhardt thought ahead to this year’s race. He grew determined to run. “When I heard about this team, I thought, ‘this is awesome and exactly what I want to do,’” he says.

Brian Mulcahey ’86 has been haunted by memories of the attacks and the stories of Officer Collier and the survivors who continue to struggle to recover.

“Why do I want to do this?  What motivates me to arise at 4:20 a.m. to train in this dark and bitterly cold New England winter?  In a word: passion,” Mulcahey says. “Passion for my alma mater and the amazing spirit it embodies. Passion for honoring Sean’s life and that of the other victims.  Passion for celebrating the progress that hundreds of victims have made since last April.  And passion for showing the world that freedom and compassion will always overcome tyranny and hatred.”

In the aftermath of the bombings, Rich Whalley ’10 saw his parents on live news coverage from the finish line; both had suffered injuries. Whalley’s friend, Gordon Wintrob ‘12, is running the race to support both the Whalleys recovery fund and MIT Strong. “Boston is a magical city and running from Hopkinton to Wellesley to Kenmore Square is an ideal way to experience that magic,” he says.

The team is co-organized by Stephanie Kloos, sophomore Sally Miller, and three staff members: Tom Gearty, editorial director in MIT’s Office of Resource Development, Chad Galts, director of communications for the MIT School of Engineering, and Kris Brewer, webmaster for the School of Engineering. Other alums on the team include Jeremy Rishel ’94, Stephen Shum SM ’11, and Dan Oliver ’60.

Five MIT faculty are on the team, including two alumni. Mechanical engineering professor Alex Slocum ’82, SM ’83, PhD ’85 has already hit his fundraising goal of $5,000 but wants to raise more. “I’m humbled and honored,” says Slocum, “to run for others who cannot. Last year, I felt shock, anger, and sadness. As I run, I’ll be thinking of those killed and hurt last year.”

Professor Alex Slocum '82, SM '83, PhD '85, pictured at the Memorial for Officer Collier. Photo: Reuters.

Professor Alex Slocum ’82, SM ’83, PhD ’85, pictured at the Memorial for Officer Collier. Photo: Reuters.

When she crosses the starting line on April 21 in Hopkinton, Maddie Hickman ’11 will no doubt have last year’s events in mind. As an undergraduate, Hickman met Sean Collier on the MIT Outing Club and they became friends. “We always meant to go jogging together,” says Hickman. “This seems like a fitting tribute.”

For her first marathon, Hickman’s goal is simply to finish. “I will run as slowly as possible,” she says. “I’ll think a lot about Sean along the way.”

Support MIT Strong:


Update: Happy April Fools’ Day! Currently, there are no plans for a moving walkway in the Infinite Corridor. Walk safely! 

The Infinite Corridor may soon seem much less infinite. Beginning in 2015, portions of the corridor will include a moving walkway, called Zero Footprint, which will allow members of the MIT community to safely text, read a book, or study as they travel through the corridor.

The proposed walkway—similar to the slow-moving conveyors commonly seen in airports—was designed by researchers at MIT’s Historical Edifice Innovation Center and will have a dual purpose of safety and sustainability. According to a new MIT study, 30 percent of MIT students reported injuries related to texting or reading while walking within the Infinite Corridor or other busy MIT pathways in the past school year.

Fran Swanson, Hayden S. Finch Professor of Building Theory, says the walkway will add another layer of safety to campus while also being mindful of MIT’s commitment to sustainability. Zero Footprint will be a first-of-its-kind carbon-neutral moving walkway.

A mockup of Zero Footprint. Credit: Alan Scott

A mockup of Zero Footprint. Credit: Alan Scott

“It’s called Zero Footprint because it will create nearly 95 percent of the power required to operate,” explains Swanson. “The most important issue is student safety, but the name is a nice tie-in with the Infinite Corridor. It explains just how sustainable this new installation is.”

Based on research from MIT’s Urban Re:Construction Lab, Zero Footprint will be powered almost entirely by piezoelectric tiles that will frame the walkway. Those who choose to walk outside of Zero Footprint will generate energy with each step on the tiles.

To allow for maximum mobility within the corridor and easy on/off access, Zero Footprint will consist of five short moving walkways.

Additionally, to mitigate traffic congestion in the corridor, Zero Footprint has been designed as a one way walkway that will change direction depending on traffic flow. For example, as students rush to campus for morning classes, Zero Footprint will move away from Lobby 7 towards Bldg. 4. The walkway will then reverse directions in the late afternoon as students return home.

Plans for Zero Footprint are pending final review by the Cambridge Historical Commission. Currently, construction on the walkway is slated to begin April 1, 2015.


Clemmie Mitchell from Scotland taught English in a Tanzanian village school.

Clemmie Mitchell from Scotland taught English in a Tanzanian village school.

How would you spend a year between high school graduation and your first year at MIT? Several members of the Class of 2018 took that gap year opportunity and their adventures ranged from teaching in a Tanzanian village to working in a San Francisco startup on the verge of acquisition.

These gap students will join the students admitted on Pi Day, March 14. Only 7.7 of these applicants were invited to join a talented and diverse class hailing from 50 states, with a quarter identifying as members of underrepresented minority groups and 17 percent as the first generation in their family to attend college.

For her gap year, Clementine “Clemmie” Mitchell from Scotland opted for travel.

Mikayla Murphy, who is using her gap year to study Chinese in Taiwan, is learning about local culture.

Mikayla Murphy, who is using her gap year to study Chinese in Taiwan, is learning about local culture.

“Deciding to take a gap year, after having been accepted to MIT, seemed like the perfect scenario for me,” she says. “While intellectual development is undoubtedly essential for a fulfilled existence, the idea of freedom and exploration has always thrilled me.”

Her first stop was living with a Tanzanian family, teaching English to school children and teachers in an impoverished district, and taking part in village life from communions to cooking. “The family, the school children, and the other characters in the village, with whom I became friends, showed me the essence of happiness,” she says. “It does not stem from things but rather from relationships.”

Her next stop was Australia where she backpacked through rugged terrain and worked at a cattle station, tending animals, mending fences, and caring for an elderly woman. “By living entirely within my means, with no more than my back-pack and an open mind, I was able to understand how little was ‘enough.’”

Then she traveled to the French Alps where she focused on improving her skiing and conversational French, doing odd jobs from nannying to selling lift passes. Next, she is working as part of the crew on a sail boat, crossing the Atlantic from the British Virgin Islands to Gibraltar.

Herng Yi Cheng leads an origami math workshop for Grade 8 students in Singapore.

Herng Yi Cheng leads an origami math workshop for Grade 8 students in Singapore.

Herng Yi Cheng, during his gap time, completed the two years of mandatory national service required of male Singaporeans. And, while his days were mostly occupied with clerical work, his nights and weekend have been devoted to his passions—origami and mathematics.

“I’ve been folding origami for about a decade,” Cheng says. “As a math enthusiast I’ve been researching the mathematics behind origami techniques for five years and counting.” Besides his own research, he has conducted workshops on origami and math for elementary school students and helped organize a public exhibition with the origami Singapore group. Since his national service concluded in January, he has more time. “I recently returned from a design workshop in Malmö, Sweden, hosted by Tetra Pak®, where nine other artists and designers from various backgrounds and I brainstormed new designs for paper packaging.”

Cheng knows what he wants to study when he arrives on campus. “MIT has a team at the forefront of research in computational origami, including Professor Erik Demaine, one of the leading origami theorists. Besides learning a solid foundation in math and computer science, I hope I can learn more about origami research from the experts at MIT!”

Peter Downs pictured with the Locu team, cofounded by Rene Reinsberg MBA ’11, Marc Piette MBA ‘11 plus Marek Olszewski and  Stelios Sidiroglou-Douskos, a former graduate student and a post doc.

Peter Downs pictured with the team at Locu, a company  cofounded by Rene Reinsberg MBA ’11, Marc Piette MBA ’11, and other MIT community members.

Peter Downs from Philadelphia says he embarked on his gap experience spontaneously. “The May of my senior year of high school I started interviewing for programming jobs based in San Francisco because I was curious to see if I was good enough to be hired into a full-time software engineering role. It was mostly just for kicks but I received a decent offer and ended up flying out there to start work in June.”

Although this first company quickly failed, he soon joined the San Francisco office of Locu, a company founded by MIT alumni and graduate students. When they were acquired in August 2013, he put off MIT one more time to “ride out the acquisition.”

Downs feels he picked up some important skills that will help his planned computer science studies. “I think that I’ve also gotten much better at working with people and even managing projects: last summer I had an intern of my own, who is currently doing her MEng in CS at MIT. I feel like I’ve been well prepared to apply what I will learn at school to a real-world context.”


In honor of Women’s History month, MIT’s Program in Women’s and Gender Studies and the Graduate Consortium in Women’s Studies are co-organizing the fifth annual Women Take the Reel film festival. And there’s still two free screenings to go of the 17 women-directed films shown throughout March showcasing provocative issues like the work of women activists, cyberfeminism, and sexuality, race, and identity.

Upcoming films include Forbidden Voices: How to Start a Revolution with a Laptop to be screened on March 28. The documentary follows the dangerous work of three cyberfeminists—blogging activists using mobile technology, social networks, and the Internet as tools to fight for human rights and gender equality. During the film, Yani Sánchez is badly beaten for criticizing the Cuban government in her blog, which attracts more than 14 million readers each month. Farnaz Seifi of Iran is forced into exile for her outspoken protests online while Chinese blogger Zeng Jinyan is put on house arrest for four years for her blog fighting for freedom of speech and government transparency. “It takes courage to uncover the truth,” said Zeng Jinyan.

Off and Running: A Very American Coming of Age Story, set to be screened on March 31, is the story of a high school track star adopted into a white family and her quest to know her birth parents and understand her racial identity. “Do I feel black? I don’t even know what this is,” she said in the film.

The festival also presented Free Angela and All Political Prisoners, the story of Communist and Black Panthers activist Angela Davis and her sensational trial and eventual acquittal.

American Revolutionary follows the life of 98-year old Grace Lee Boggs, a Chinese American living in Detroit, and her important role in the civil rights, environmental justice, and women’s rights movements. In the movie, Boggs advises viewers to “keep recognizing that reality is changing and your ideas have to change. Don’t get stuck in old ideas.”

This year’s festival “shows figures that are still doing powerful work in the present,” said festival co-organizer Andrea Sutton. “These are voices that we can continue to be inspired by.” For Sutton, the series also gives students and the broader community a taste of what goes on in an MIT women’s studies course. “Film is a low bar of entry for students, and yet it is high content followed by very intellectually rigorous conversation.”

The festival mirrors the broader academic activities of the Graduate Consortium in Women’s Studies, an interdisciplinary collaboration of 11 Boston-area universities that developed the festival. During the festival, members of the consortium will be hosting free film screenings around Boston that conclude with conversation led by film directors, featured activists, or academics.

Visit Women Take the Reel for more information about the series and to attend a free screening. Can’t attend? Visit the site to read more about the individual films and host your own screening event.  

Collaborating institutions for Women Take the Reel include the Graduate Consortium in Women’s Studies and women and gender studies programs at Boston College, Boston University, Brandeis University, Harvard University, Lesley UniversityNortheastern University, Simmons College, Tufts University, and MIT as well as Emerson College’s Visual and Media Arts Program.



MIT Chamber Music Society

Musicians rehearsing Haydn’s Quartett No. 41, Op. 76, No. 2 include Annie Kwon ’11, first violin; Eva Cheung ’11, second violin, Steve Lynch ’10, viola; Minhee Sung ’10, cello, and Marcus Thompson, coach. Photo: Richard West.

Guest blogger: Peter Dunn

Chamber music ensembles are the lean startups of the orchestral world—a handful of colleagues must cover a wide range of situations, without the reinforcement or management hierarchy of a symphony orchestra.

That model creates both transcendent music and teaching opportunities, and it is a primary factor in the enduring success of MIT’s Chamber Music Society, which this year marks its 40th anniversary under the direction of founder Marcus Thompson, the Robert R. Taylor Professor of Music.

“There’s more individual responsibility in a small group—you can’t hide behind other people playing the same part,” says Thompson, an internationally prominent chamber violist who also teaches at New England Conservatory and is artistic director of the Boston Chamber Music Society. “At the same time, four or five people have to work together, giving up something of themselves to the ensemble, just as you do in sports and other collaborative efforts.”

After passing auditions, the society’s 100 student members commit to challenging rehearsal schedules and weekly coaching to prepare for end-of-semester recitals by about 25 ensembles, which range from piano and violin trios and quartets to wind ensembles and small choral groups.

“I’m incredibly grateful for the society,” says pianist and first-year biological engineering student Connor Duffy. “Setting aside time each week to make music with two of my closest friends is a valuable and irreplaceable part of my life.”

Cellist Emily Mackevicius, a brain and cognitive science PhD student and society member since 2011, agrees. “Chamber music is a refreshing break from lab work, because it requires a totally different type of focus. It’s great to just pay attention to making music and fitting in with the other people in my group while incorporating advice from the coaches.”

Thompson notes that this spirit is prevalent on campus, with 400 students participating in official MIT ensembles like the Symphony Orchestra, Jazz Ensemble and Concert Choir, and about 200 pursuing music majors, minors, or concentrations.

“People come here with all these facets, and MIT’s leadership has recognized for decades that we need be able to teach them through various avenues and challenge them as they move across disciplines,” he explains.

“We’ve gone from being a tech school to being a place that prepares people to take a leadership role in society. To do that, you have to understand the human condition, ambiguity, how peoples’ thoughts and feelings are shaped, communities that are different from your own. These are all part of the discipline of music, and chamber music has a great literature that lets that happen on a small scale.”

Enjoy past performances via the MIT Listening Room.


Chuck Vest, MIT president 1990–2004, interviewed by journalist John Hockenberry for the MIT150 celebration.

Chuck Vest, MIT president 1990–2004, reflects on his presidency during the MIT150 celebration.

The powerful leadership of a humble man was a central theme of the March 6 memorial service for Charles M. Vest, MIT’s 15th president. Vest, who died of pancreatic cancer in December, was praised for influential decisions ranging from supporting gender equity to establishing OpenCourseWare, an idea that has sparked a learning revolution.

His bold decisions provide leadership lessons for many of the speakers including Institute and academic leaders, former Vice President Al Gore, and Raymond S. Stata ’57, SM ’58, founder of Analog Devices.

Former MIT presidents Paul Gray ’54, SM ’55 and Susan Hockfield praised Vest’s tireless advocacy in Washington. “As president of the National Academy of Engineers, he continued his role as advocate in chief for sound federal policy for education and research,” Hockfield said.

Al Gore, commenting via video, called Vest a good friend and a “true visionary” who was instrumental in advising the Clinton-Gore White House on emerging science and technology, environmental policy, the design of the space program, and the development of the information superhighway.

“Chuck Vest changed the lives of women scientists and engineers worldwide,” Professor Emeritus of Biology Nancy Hopkins reminded the audience. In 1999 when he endorsed the findings of the MIT report on the Status of Women Faculty in Science, which documented unequal treatment, he asked to write a note with the report.

“Chuck wrote, ‘I’ve always believed that contemporary gender discrimination within universities is part reality and part perception. True, but I now understand that reality is by far the greater part of the balance.’ With his two sentences, Chuck had reached from MIT into the White House and obtained a national mandate from the president of the United States,” Hopkins said.

Ray Stata said Vest profoundly changed campus life for students—and he stayed calm even when decisions were contentious. “Chuck’s mild manner masked his profound sense of purpose and his determination to leave MIT an even greater place that he found it,” Stata noted.

In Stata’s own undergraduate days, “student life was a grim experience in many ways, but it didn’t have to be that way,” Stata said. Vest’s support for the Presidential Task Force on Student Life and Learning resulted in a new policy that required first-year students to live on campus, a policy shift that generated much discussion along with changes in the living groups. “The culture of community emerged from this task force where learning to live and living to learn became inseparable,” Stata said.

That decision also contributed to a wave of new construction, another signature of Vest’s legacy. Graduate and undergraduate residences, new research facilities, department consolidations, and a spacious recreation facility resulted.

Vest’s leadership was also evident in the quality of the buildings, Stata said. “’Why not hire Frank Gehry to build an iconic building to symbolize MIT’s commitment to innovation?’ Vest asked. ‘Why don’t we build a student street where students could mingle, socialize, learn, and collaborate?’ … Aren’t we grateful today that he had the courage and foresight to make such a bold commitment to MIT’s future?”

MIT President L. Rafael Reif said he had come to see Chuck Vest as a teacher and “I have become one of his most committed students.” He quoted Vest’s last president’s report:

“Boldness does not come naturally to me…but there are instances when both institutions and individuals must decide whether or not to strike out in new directions or to seize a moment. Boldness [then]… is a simple application of core values at a critical moment in time.”

Learn more about Vest’s MIT leadership, watch memorial service speakers describe his many contributions to MIT, or view his reflections on his presidency in an MIT150 Infinite History interview by journalist John Hockenberry.


Register for the Mar. 19 webcast.

Update: Watch the March 19 webcast.

Solving the world’s problems is synonymous with MIT. It is a quality that has fired the imaginations of students, faculty, and alumni.

In the March 19 Facutly Forum Online, three current MIT students shared how they are incorporating mens et manus into the 21st century. Public Service Center Dean Sally Susnowitz, alongside current MIT students Laura Stilwell ’14, Sofia Essayan-Perez ’15, and master’s degree candidate Rodrigo Davies, discussed the importance of public service in student life and how their  work is  address crucial global issues. Following their comments, the dean and students took live questions from the worldwide MIT community.

Watch the full webcast then return to Slice and continue the discussion in the comments.

The March 19 webcast is one three special public service-themed Faculty Forums Online, themed “One Community Together in Service,” that coincide with MIT Public Service Center’s 25-year anniversary. The first service-themed webcast, MIT Research at Work in the World, took place on Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013, and featured Chancellor Eric Grimson PhD ’80, Dean Christine Ortiz, and Dean Sally Susnowitz. Watch the archived webcast.

Sally Susnowitz

Sally Susnowitz

Sally Susnowitz

Sally Susnowitz has served as Director of the MIT Public Service Center (PSC) since 2000. She has co-developed many of the Center’s programs and initiatives, including the MIT IDEAS Global Challenge, which involves hundreds of MIT students in innovative social entrepreneurship each year.

Before MIT, Sally served as Director of the Service Learning Program at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and has spent more than 20 years as a scientific and technical writing teacher at several universities including CU-Boulder, CU-Denver, and the Colorado School of Mines.

Rodrigo Davies G

Rodrigo Davies G

Rodrigo Davies G

Rodrigo Davies—a master’s degree candidate and research assistant at the Center for Civic Media—spent a fellowship in Kansas City, MO, helping non-profit organizations develop fundraising strategies for civic projects that benefit the local community. He helped create a crowdfunding campaign that expanded a Kansas City bike-share scheme and hosted a series of interactive open workshops that helped organizations learn more about community-building strategies.

Davies has presented at South by Southwest, the Library of Congress, and the Federal Reserve. Prior to MIT, he was an advisor to the UK crowdfunding platform Spacehive, co-founded Conde Nast’s digital business in India, and worked as a broadcast journalist at the BBC.

Sofia Essayan-Perez

Sofia Essayan-Perez ’15

Sofia Essayan-Perez ’15

Sofia Essayan-Perez is a brain and cognitive sciences major in with a minor in applied international studies. Her public service work focuses on strengthening math and science education in rural Nicaraguan high schools and she helped create a new approach to teaching math and science, grounded in local health and socioeconomic challenges.

Essayan-Perez has also conducted research on autism at MIT’s Picower Institute, and attended University of California Berkeley as an Amgen scholar and the Pasteur Institute in Paris on an MIT-France internship. She is involved with many MIT community initiatives, including the Experimental Studies Group (ESG), the Office of Minority Education, and the Burchard Scholars Program.

Laura Stilwell

Laura Stilwell ’14

Laura Stilwell ’14

Laura Stilwell is an economics major with minors in biology and public policy. Since 2011, Laura has been involved in GlobeMed at MIT, which works to create a better understanding of global health and provide comprehensive health care services to communities in northern Togo.

In 2015, Laura will work at the Jameel Poverty Action Lab and has future aspirations to work at the intersection of global health, public policy, and economics.

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