When Michael Solomon MBA ’20 moved his son Sam Solomon ’20 to MIT’s campus for his first semester as an undergraduate, he didn’t yet know that in two years he too would enroll as a student. On May 29 of this year, father and son both became alumni during MIT’s Virtual Commencement. Shortly before graduation, Michael summed things up for the MIT Sloan media relations team: “Many parents have a desire for their children to attend their alma mater, but we flipped the script when I came to MIT.”
When Michael informed his son he would be joining him on campus as a grad student, Michael says Sam “responded with nervous laughter. Then I remember him saying: ‘We graduate together!’”
Sam recalls his father’s announcement as “a little bit shocking. Part of me thought it was a joke.” However, in the end, he admits that being able to share the MIT experience with his dad was positive for them both. “MIT can be intense. It’s a big community full of a lot of smart people and a lot of pressure, so it was nice to have a family support network on campus.”
When Sam was younger I helped him with his math homework, and now he helps me with mine...I knew that if I had a problem, I could turn to Sam for help.
Michael says the support went both ways: Imposter syndrome hit him hard while working on his degree, but having his son nearby was encouraging whenever he felt he was in over his head. “When Sam was younger I helped him with his math homework, and now he helps me with mine. He has surpassed me. I can barely understand the equations written across his school papers. I knew that if I had a problem, I could turn to Sam for help.”
Their transition to sharing a campus was gradual: When Michael first arrived for orientation, Sam was sealed in a glass cube on MIT’s North Court as part of InCube, a global startup competition. “An innovative way to avoid your graduate-student father,” Michael jokes. “Seal yourself in a glass cube for a few days!”
For the most part, the two led separate lives at MIT, says Michael. Both were engrossed in their studies, and Sam, a varsity diver, was often competing on weekends, which is when Michael was usually on campus for classes.
Michael completed the MIT Executive MBA program while continuing to work full time as a critical care cardiologist at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, while Sam majored in chemistry, biology, and physics. Since the Executive MBA program only brings students to campus for specific modules—ranging from a few days to a week—Michael would let Sam know when he would be there, but there was “no pressure to see each other,” Michael says. As they both had an interest in innovation and entrepreneurship, they did overlap in the campus startup community— where they were part of different teams in the same MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition.
At their family home in May, watching the live stream of Commencement exercises held remotely due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the pair turned their Brass Rats simultaneously. Sam says he already misses MIT, but it will soon be his turn to follow in his dad’s footsteps: Accepted through Sloan’s MBA Early Admissions program, he plans to re-enroll at the Institute after completing a PhD at Caltech in biomedical and medical engineering.
In the meantime, until starting his PhD in the fall, Sam is working as a remote research assistant at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where he is trying to identify different bacteria species on board the International Space Station. “We’re going to hopefully land a person back on the moon in 2024, so my goal is to understand how bacteria survive in this environment and if they’ll pose a threat to the surface of the moon.”
Although Michael did not spend as much time on campus as Sam, he too misses the Institute. The last few months of his MIT experience, as the pandemic hit the US, made him realize the true value of all the new skills he was learning. “If it wasn’t for MIT, I would have probably been overwhelmed,” he reflects, “but I think MIT taught me to stay out of firefighting mode and ahead of the wave.”