An MIT Alumni Association Publication

New Alumni Association leader helps plot a course for meaningful engagement.

On July 1, Natalie Lorenz Anderson ’84 begins her one-year term as president of the MIT Alumni Association (MITAA). Since graduating from the Institute with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, she has remained active in the life of the MIT community through formal volunteer roles as well as aiding in recruitment efforts and promoting collaboration between Institute departments and industry.

Raised in California, Lorenz Anderson is passionate about addressing climate change, having become aware of climate issues at an early age as she witnessed water shortages, learned about endangered species, and lived through the oil embargo and ensuing long lines at gas pumps in the 1970s. However, it was her other interests—in Star Trek, model airplanes, and space (she had her sights set on becoming an astronaut)—that led her to apply to MIT. Back when she was a student, she notes, the Institute didn’t offer an environmental major.

Lorenz Anderson has come to deeply appreciate MIT’s role at the forefront of efforts to address climate and environmental sustainability issues. As vice president of operations and special projects at MIT spinoff 247Solar—following a 33-year cybersecurity career at Booz Allen Hamilton—she is helping pave the way for the next generation of concentrated solar power.

Natalie has always been a student of life, curious and engaged with the world around her and eager to try new things—and she’s applied this mindset while taking on multiple volunteer roles in the 40 years since her graduation. She has served in leadership positions for the Alumni Association (with the MITAA board, the Alumni Association Selection Committee, and the Annual Giving Leadership Circle); at the club level (as director of the MIT Club of Washington, DC); and for her class (as president, vice president, treasurer, class agent, and reunion committee/gift committee member). Honored with both the Harold E. Lobdell ’17 Distinguished Service Award and the Henry B. Kane ’24 Award, Lorenz Anderson is currently a member of the Corporation Nominating Committee, the Corporation Development Committee, and the Institute for Data, Systems, and Society Visiting Committee.

Natalie, what are some of your big takeaways from your time at MIT?

MIT was a place where you could explore many different paths. I started in chemical engineering because of my environmental interests, but then I ended up switching to electrical engineering to study speech recognition and synthesis. I participated in freshman crew, intramural softball, and Ultimate Frisbee. My first year, I learned that MIT had an amazing ballroom dance club, so I picked up ballroom dancing! Having studied hula since I was seven years old, I loved dance. I ended up going all in. We competed on campus, across New England, and as far away as Kansas. Being on a tight budget, I even made my own ballroom dance costumes.

It’s so interesting to think back on my years at MIT. The academics were really important, and I did love researching and writing my thesis, but MIT was a place where I got to explore my artistic side as well and have some fun. I sang in a band that played at fraternities and dorms and performed hula with a friend from Hawaii, Class of ’86, who is still a best friend. 

Did any particular professors have a big impact on you?
At one point during my second year at MIT, I was feeling overwhelmed. I ran into Doc Edgerton [the late Institute Professor Harold Edgerton, SM ’27, ScD ’31] in the hallway outside the Strobe Lab, and we got to talking. I was going through a phase of questioning the path I was on, and he took the time to talk to me, and listen, and care. I didn’t even appreciate how famous he was until after college—but I ended up getting really influential advice and support from him. 

What made you get involved again with the MIT community after graduating?

I went back to campus for my fifth reunion, and although I had stayed in touch with my closest friends, a lot of those friends were from other classes, so I didn’t feel as connected to my Class of ’84. That reunion in 1989 was a big eye-opener for me. I really enjoyed it! I met so many interesting people and thought, “What a shame I didn’t know you while I was on campus.” I felt good about being surrounded by people who were curious and focused and motivated and doing interesting things in life. I knew I wanted to connect more, so I thought about how to get involved. As a student, I had grants and loans and still needed to work several jobs to pay my way. Once I learned that by helping the MITAA with fundraising efforts I would be helping bolster student financial aid, I knew that I wanted to get involved. At first, I decided to become a class agent, and my volunteer roles grew from there. 

What is one thing you’ve accomplished as a volunteer that you’re proud of?

When I was on the board, I met Bruce N. Anderson ’69—who would later become my husband—and we got to talking about our mutual interest in climate, sustainability, and renewable energy. We ended up recommending that the MITAA consider forming an energy, environment, and sustainability special interest group. We envisioned three parts: inform, connect, and act. Informing and connecting with other alums, connecting to undergrads and grads, and figuring out what this powerful MIT cohort could accomplish through action. The Energy, Environment, and Sustainability Network (EESN) was formed in 2010 and is still alive today.

Given your passion for climate issues, how did you react to the recent announcement of the Climate Project at MIT?

At President Sally Kornbluth’s inaugural address, she mentioned that climate would be a priority, so the Climate Project has been an exciting and welcome follow-up. In the brief about the project, the president talks about partners and partnership, and I can see a lot of potential for alumni engagement. There are significant strengths and perspectives that alumni can bring to the table thanks to their roles in government, academia, and industry—even if they’re not currently deeply affiliated with MIT—that could have a big impact on this project. As a mother and grandmother, I want to leave the world a better place for generations to come.

The Alumni Association offers many ways to connect and engage. How do you see events playing a role in the coming year?

I’m excited about the direction that the MITAA programming has been taking in the last few years, with enriching virtual programming like the MIT Alumni Forum and some novel regional events. I think it’s important to try to understand how best to connect with alumni who can’t return to Cambridge regularly, and in some cases who live places in the world that the time zone creates a challenge, even virtually.

I recently attended the presidential welcome tour event in DC, and it was wonderful to see our local alums come together. The best thing about this event series is having that time with President Kornbluth, whom I have found to be an excellent listener and authentic communicator. I’m most interested in alumni having the opportunity to get to know her and to communicate how they’re feeling to her, and these events are great for that. 

What are you most looking forward to about your role as president of the MITAA?

I was very happy to see SP26, a three-year strategic plan developed in partnership between AA staff and the AA board to inform strategic decisions for the Association. I love the plan, and I’m excited my term will take place during its second year. I view my role as being a steward of that plan. It’s important to me that we continue to ensure that we’re meeting the goals to deliver enriching content and benefits to the MITAA community. I also feel strongly about broadening our reach and strengthening our ties with each other and the Institute. I’m excited that—to use a crew analogy—we’re all in the same boat. We’re rowing together in the same direction, and we’re synchronized. I just don’t think there are any limits to what we can do.

Photo: Melissa Lyttle. 

This story also appears in the July/August issue of MIT Alumni News magazine, published by MIT Technology Review.