On July 1, Stephen D. Baker ’84, MArch ’88, begins his one-year term as president of the MIT Alumni Association, succeeding Annalisa Weigel ’94, ’95, SM ’00, PhD ’02. Baker’s long history with MIT began with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in architecture. He is currently president and senior principal of BWA Architecture, a 27-person firm he cofounded in Boston in 1994 with Margaret (Garet) Wohl, MArch ’86.
A longtime volunteer, Baker is a 2017 recipient of the Bronze Beaver, the highest award bestowed by the MIT Alumni Association for service to the Institute and the Association. He also received a Lobdell Distinguished Service Award in 2013. He served on the Alumni Association’s board of directors from 2013 to 2017 and was later a member of the Association’s Corporation Nominating Committee. From 2009 to 2017, Baker served as a member of the MIT Corporation’s Visiting Committee for the Division of Student Life, which provided advice to the Institute’s senior leadership on matters including student counseling, extracurricular activities, residence life, and fraternities, sororities, and independent living groups. Baker has served on the board of his fraternity, Theta Xi, since 1984 and was a board member of the Association of Independent Living Groups, which he chaired for many years. He also helped found the Graduate Alumni Council in 2016.
You’ve maintained a strong connection with MIT over the years, particularly as
a volunteer. What inspires you to stay involved?
Partly what inspires me is just a desire to give back. To step out of our own individual
roles and do something that helps a larger community is valuable and rewarding in
its own right. Also, I benefited greatly from interacting with alumni both as an undergraduate (working with alumni volunteers at my fraternity) and as a graduate student (when alumni came back for visiting reviews and critiques in the Department of Architecture). I wanted to do the same. I also remain connected to the Institute for the people. The people at MIT are really remarkable—the alumni, students, faculty, and staff. It’s incredibly valuable to work with people who are not exactly like you, but with whom you have shared values. Although we come from many diverse backgrounds and experiences, and have diverse views, as alumni we have this common thread of having been students at MIT. It’s rewarding to work with people who have that shared experience.
As you start your term, we are more than two years into a pandemic. How does this affect the way you approach this role?
We’re still in the midst of recovering from a really unprecedented period of disruption, not just as an MIT community but as a global community. I would like to try to understand the way the pandemic has changed how we engage as an alumni community and how we relate to one another. We have had some positive takeaways from this experience, in that we’ve discovered that not everything has to be face to face and that there are strengths sometimes in meeting virtually, especially for alumni who live far from campus and can’t easily return. There are also some challenges coming out of this time, one being for recent MIT alumni and soon-to-be alumni who have had very different experiences as undergraduates and graduate students during this time and therefore may not be feeling as connected leaving the Institute. I’d like to try to understand as a community what kinds of challenges those factors impose and how the pandemic has changed us and changed our community.
What are your priorities in your role as MITAA president?
As someone who has always held service as an essential element in my own life, I
feel very strongly about carrying through on the Association’s MIT Alumni Better World Service Initiative, which launched in 2021. This is an important new opportunity for the Association, and it’s something I really want to help continue the momentum for. I also want to continue to enhance the work that the Association is doing for graduate alumni. As a dual-degree alumnus with both undergrad and grad degrees, I feel strongly about helping to understand the needs of graduate alumni and ensuring that graduate-focused programming, benefits, and opportunities are at the forefront of our offerings. Finally, I plan to help oversee updating the Association’s strategic plan, with the help of the MITAA staff and my fellow alumni community. Led by past president Hyun-A Park ’83, MCP ’85, the strategic plan was developed five years ago and is reaching the end of its proposed timeline. I hope to do a refresh on the plan to apply what we have learned in the past five years as we establish our next set of strategic goals.
How did the MIT experience affect your career?
At my firm, BWA, our work focuses principally on civic buildings, affordable housing, and transit, and the vision has always been to do work that benefits ordinary people. That mindset very much came out of the philosophy of MIT. The MIT Department of Architecture had a belief in egalitarianism and emphasized that architecture should serve people and not merely be a tool for aggrandizing ego. That ethos very much rubbed off on me, and the belief that, as architects, we have a responsibility to make the built world and environment better for everyone and not just the select few.
This article also appears in the July/August 2022 issue of MIT News magazine, published by MIT Technology Review.
Photo: Ken Richardson.