Erica Dhawan MBA '12 connectional intelligence MIT Sloan

Erica Dhawan MBA ’12. Image via ericadhawan.com

More than 100 million adults in the U.S. regularly used two or more social media sites in 2014. And for many, connecting online has eclipsed the telephone and face-to-face as a primary form of communication. But how effective is digital communication, especially when it comes to solving real-world problems?

Not as effective as it can be, says Erica Dhawan MBA ’12, who argues that these platforms need to better harness the “connectional intelligence” of its users and turn collective brainpower into meaningful actions.

“Connectional intelligence is the ability to combine knowledge into value and meaning,” Dhawan says. “It shifts the conversation around online engagement from quantity of connections to quality of connections.”

It’s an easy process to make “connections” online. Click here and get a new “friend;” click here to give a virtual thumb’s up. But the process lacks collaborative interaction, and as a result, makes no deep connection.

In a recent interview with Forbes, Dhawan cited examples such as Quirky, a New York startup that shortened the manufacturing process for new inventions from nearly three years to two months, and Martha Payne, a 9-year-old Scottish girl whose photography website launched a national debate about food quality in UK schools.

How Connectional Intelligence Can Make You Successful,” Forbes:
“A lot of how we measure success in the digital world is about quantity.  How many Facebook likes? How many clicks? how many Linkedin connections,” Dhawan says. “Don’t get too obsessed with how many Twitter followers you have or how many views a video gets. Connectional intelligence is about making the quality connections that translate into outcomes.”

“I worked on Wall St. during the financial crisis,” she says. “I was trying to find meaning in my own work, and when I looked around, there was a rising generation that wanted to use new forms of connectivity to truly solve problems.”

Dhawan spoke to Slice of MIT at the 2015 South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive festival, where discussed her book, Get Big Things Done: The Power of Connectional Intelligence, co-authored with Saj-nicole A. Joni. She is the founder and CEO or Cotential, a company that accelerates connectedness for businesses.

“Connectional intelligence is one of the most important skills to have in the 21st century,” Dhawan says. “It pools human wisdom and data and moves forward to solve real problems in areas like science, agriculture, and healthcare.”

Her connectional intelligence research has also helped dispel misconceptions about millennials, a burgeoning part of the U.S. workforce that see online connectivity as a native way of life.

“Millennials are not an age, they’re a mindset, and they’re a mindset that’s here to stay,” Dhawan says. “The rising generation of millennials has been raised in the age of connectivity. They’re a manifestation of the way that the world is changing, and part of a mindset shift of thinking in revolutionary ways.”

Dhawan was one of more than 100 MIT alumni who presented at the SXSW festival.

“MIT is a place where innovation is spawned,” she says. “There’s no doubt that MIT is the epicenter for innovation.  And when we go out, we create in radical new ways. MIT’s amazing connectional intelligence leads to the creation of innovative ideas in radical new ways.”

{ 1 comment }

Carl Schoellhammer

Carl Schoellhammer won for a capsule that delivers GI medicine painlessly.

Two MIT graduate students each won $15,000 prizes in a national invention competition that honored new ideas in healthcare, transportation, food and agriculture, and consumer devices.

In the “Cure it!” category, Carl Schoellhammer won a $15,000 award from Lemelson-MIT National Collegiate Student Prize Competition for his inventions that use the gastrointestinal (GI) tract to deliver medicines pain-free to patients.

In the “Drive it!” category, Josh Siegel ’11, SM ’13 won for his innovative hardware device that enables users to access real-time data from all their cars’ sensors and actuators to use in practical applications.

Schoellhammer, a doctoral candidate in the MIT lab of Professor Robert Langer and Daniel Blankschtein, submitted two inventions. The Microneedle Pill (mPill) is an ingestible capsule that introduces a drug directly into the GI tissue painlessly despite the small, protruding micron-scale needles. His second invention, the Ultrasound Probe (uProbe), enables the fast, local delivery of therapeutics to the GI tract by using low-frequency ultrasound to physically drive medication into tissue painlessly.

Josh Siegel ’11, SM ’13 won for a device that taps car data to boost safety.

Josh Siegel ’11, SM ’13 won for a device that taps car data to boost safety.

Siegel, a PhD candidate in the MIT Field Intelligence Lab, focuses on the use of automotive data to optimize vehicle efficiency, performance, and reliability. His invention, Carduino, collects data from car systems to predict vehicle failures, provide remote control of vehicle functions, and crowdsource information like traffic data and road conditions. He founded CarKnow, a startup focused on using vehicle data in new ways, and he holds a patent for a road-condition smart messaging system.

The competition, supported by the Lemelson-MIT Program, builds on the legacy of the Lemelson-MIT Student Prize. The annual $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize was awarded to MIT Professor Sangeeta Bhatia in 2014 for her work on miniaturized technologies with health applications.

{ 0 comments }

Payal Kadakia ’05 grew up dancing. When she came to MIT, her dancing became an ideal retreat from her studies. “I found a lot of solace finding time to dance,” Kadakia remembers.

Finding time for her hobby at MIT was challenging, but became even more difficult after graduation. The Course 15 alumna followed what she called a “safe path” and took a job at a consulting firm, but the long hours left no time for dance and made her feel disconnected. “I began to wonder how many people felt like this,” she says.

Photo: ClassPass

Payal Kadakia ’05 Photo: ClassPass

Kadakia left her job in consulting for a job with more regular hours, but soon left that job too. She then gave herself a month to figure out what she wanted to do next. Inspired by her own struggle for balance, Kadakia came up with the idea for her company, ClassPass. Kadakia admits that while she never thought of launching her own business while at MIT, the idea felt right.

ClassPass first launched as a service called Passport that allowed users to try out a new fitness studio at a discounted rate before registering as a full member. But Kadakia saw that people weren’t using Passport as intended—users were attempting to try several new studios as opposed to just one.

“We realized people didn’t want to be restricted to just one studio,” she says and then she decided to change her business plan. “Whenever people want to give you money and you want to turn them away, it’s always a good moment to think,” she says.

Kadakia refined Passport into ClassPass, a service that allows members pay a flat monthly fee to access classes at any fitness studio in the ClassPass network up to three times per month. This open access lets users take classes at times that work for them, rather than be restricted to one studio’s schedule.

As Kadakia suspected, ClassPass is hit a nerve with users who want flexibility in their fitness and hobbies. ClassPass now operates in over two dozen cities. Exercisers aren’t the only ones who enjoy the service—fitness studios often operate with fixed costs, so the more people joining in for a class, the better financially.

As ClassPass takes off, Kadakia feels she finally found balance and the right career path. “At MIT, I never thought about starting business,” she says, “but I wanted to change the world and get people to live better lives.” With ClassPass, she feels she is doing just that.

{ 2 comments }

Mariano Ospina Hernandez, South American Waterway Systems, Colombia

Mariano Ospina Hernandez ’49 is leading the proposed South American Waterway Systems, which will link South America’s major rivers into a transportation network.

Civil engineers are trained to think big, and in his 87th year, Mariano Ospina Hernandez ’49 is doing just that. After a distinguished career in Colombian business, politics, and diplomacy, he is leading an international initiative to link South America’s major rivers into a transportation network running from Venezuela to Buenos Aires.

The proposed South American Waterway System (SAWS) would open new connections for a continent that has struggled with economic integration and development. In addition to boosting exports and intracontinental trade and travel, it would be far more fuel-efficient than road or rail transport.

“The U.S. has about five million kilometers of highways; all of South America has about 400,000,” explains Ospina. “By linking six major rivers—Amazon, Orinoco, Putumayo, Paraguay, Paraná, and La Plata—we can create 40,000 kilometers of navigable waterways that can carry as much as a four-million-kilometer highway network.”

The project requires extensive civil engineering work, notes Ospina, plus “political engineering, obtaining agreement of all these countries to work together, and financial engineering, to arrange the necessary $50 billion to $60 billion and ensure ROI.”

Ecological and social questions also abound. Ospina has enlisted MIT and Harvard faculty—including his mentor, MIT professor of civil and environmental engineering Fred Moavenzadeh—for analytical and planning assistance. The work dates to 1994, when Ospina lived in Cambridge, researching protection and development of South American jungles and rivers.

SAWS has won widespread interest, and the Colombian government is reviewing a report and proposal that would open the door to a formal feasibility study. Ospina is uniquely prepared for the project. In addition to earning a Course 1 SB, a biology degree from the University of Bogotá, and a Harvard master’s in city planning, he has run several construction firms and a coffee company, been CEO of the Agricultural Bank of Colombia, held local and national elected office, and served as Colombia’s ambassador to West Germany. Today he heads the Fundación Mariano Ospina Pérez, which carries on rural and social development work in the name of his father, Colombia’s president from 1946 to 1950.

“I feel very happy to have worked in so many areas,” says Ospina, who credits some of his vigor to living in the “eternal springtime” of Bogotá, some 2,600 meters above sea level. He spends
as much time as possible with his wife, Helena, six children, 19 grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2015 issue of MIT Technology Review magazine.

{ 1 comment }

pantelligent1_crop

The Pantelligent pan and app

No matter how many recipes we read, cooking food the right way can take years of practice—with lots of trial, error, and burnt meals—but not with this new device. Pantelligent takes a frying pan, a smartphone app, and the smarts of four MIT alums to help you prepare a perfect meal, every time.

The idea for Pantelligent started as an inside joke. Humberto Evans ’08, whose mother owned her own restaurant, was a whiz in the kitchen and always cooking for his roommate, Mike Robbins ’08, MEng ’09. Evans encouraged Robbins to cook as well, but was only successful when he provided step-by-step instructions. “He behaves like a robot in the kitchen,” says Evans. “If you tell him to chop, he’ll do it but won’t stop until you tell him to. On his own he’s pretty lost.” If only, they would say, you could just build a robot to cook for you.

Six years later, while working in California on their code-based startup, CircuitLab, they began pursuing the cooking idea. Since a full-on robot chef seemed beyond their reach, they conceptualized a frying pan that could sense temperature and give cooking instructions accordingly. “It’s by no means a brand new idea,” says Humberto. “In fact, in the first-ever episode of the Jetsons in the 1960s, their cooking robot breaks and that’s when they have to buy Rosie. This is something that people have been dreaming about for years.”

pantelligent2_crop

Mike Robbins, Kyle Moss, Yuan, Wei and Humberto Evans with their product, the Pantelligent.

Evans, CEO, and Robbins, CTO, were already working on CircuitLab with fellow MIT housemate Yuan Wei ’08, MEng ’09, lead programmer, when they brought on Kyle Moss ’13 as mechanical engineer and industrial designer for the pan. Since their first prototype in early 2014, they have developed a completely functional frying pan, with Bluetooth capability to connect to a smartphone and an app.

For the amateurs in the kitchen, the app walks you through every step after choosing a meat or even a specific recipe, telling you when the pan has reached the right temperature to begin cooking, when to flip the meat, and when it’s done. If you’re cooking a one-inch steak to medium rare, for instance, Pantelligent uses thermal models of the cooking process—plus the live temperature data from the pan—to automatically adjust the cooking instructions.

Even for those who know their way around the kitchen, the pan helps to produce repeatable and reliable recipes. “Some people say, ‘do I really need this to cook an egg?’ says Evans. “Honestly, no, but your egg will be that much better if you do. And to cook amazing food every time the way chefs do, you have to learn the intuition for how long to cook something at the right temperature. We take all that knowledge and package it into our app.”

The alumni ran a successful Kickstarter campaign for Pantelligent at the end of last year and are hard at work bringing it to market. They are working with manufacturers to build the tooling and machinery needed to produce the pans and are on track to ship the advance units to the Kickstarter backers in August.

Prototypes of the product were featured on the NBC TODAY show, live on CBS This Morning, and one of Popular Science‘s “Top 10 Inventions of 2015.”

{ 0 comments }

An egg like Australia (© Owen Franken)

An egg like Australia (© Owen Franken)

Curious about Owen Franken? View more of his work via the Franken Photo of the Week category, learn more in this profile, read a What Matters opinion column he wrote called “Life in Brownian Motion,” or visit his Web site.

{ 0 comments }

Sam Ford, MIT, Peppercomm, Wikipedia, Wrestling,  SXSW Interactive.

Sam Ford SM ’07, who taught MIT’s only course on professional wrestling, spoke to Slice of MIT at SXSW Interactive.

The MIT Alumni Association’s online directory has some pretty distinctive job titles, like Chief Mom Officer and Chief Event Wrangler. But one title has eluded MIT’s 130,000+ alumni: professional wrestler, although Sam Ford SM ’07 comes close.

From 2005–2007, while Ford was a graduate student at MIT, he was also a licensed professional wrestling manager in his home state of Kentucky, where he portrayed the villainous character of an academic aristocrat who feverishly checked his Blackberry and snubbed his nose at the wrestling audience.

“My character had great disdain for the state of Kentucky—he was offended to even step foot on bluegrass,” Ford says. “In reality, I grew up there and I raise my family there now. But it was great insight into audience engagement and participatory culture, which I studied at CMS/W.”

Sam Ford, MIT, wrestling, CMS/W, Jim Ross, SXSW

Hall of Fame announcer Jim Ross was a guest speaker in Ford’s 2007 MIT course.

Devious character aside, a shared love of wrestling connected him with former CMS/W co-director Henry Jenkins, and as a CMS/W graduate student, Ford taught MIT’s only course on professional wrestling in 2007.

“One radio host called it a sign of the apocalypse,” Ford says. “In reality, it looked at the cultural and media history of American pro wrestling. The course brought an eclectic mix of students from media studies, humanities, science, and engineering.”

Ford spoke to Slice of MIT at the 2015 South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive festival, where he was part of a four-person panel that discussed the rise of paid editing in Wikipedia and its impact on internet neutrality and transparency in advertising. Ford was one of more than 100 MIT alumni who presented at the festival.

“I’ve always been interested in Wikipedia as a societal endeavor—it’s a collaborative project where people can build on individual expertise,” he says. “Wikipedia has a conflict of interest policy. You shouldn’t directly edit an entry related to a company you work for or with, for instance. Many business executives don’t understand how the Wikipedia project works.”

Ford helps brands better understand Wikipedia, and the importance of editing transparency, through his work as director of audience engagement at Peppercomm, a communications and marketing firm that specializes in audience engagement through new media. (He’s also an adjunct faculty member at Western Kentucky University.)

“Wikipedia is near the top of most organizations’ search engine rankings, and, meanwhile, more and brands are trying to connect with their audience directly,” he says. “There is a growing number of instances of companies getting caught editing their own Wikipedia entries. That’s a big problem, especially when they try to hide what the FTC calls ‘material connections’ that create a conflict of interest.”

Ford’s interest in Wikipedia stemmed from his overall CMS/W research, where he studied participatory cultures, collective intelligence, and the future of storytelling and audience engagement in a digital era. In 2013, he, Jenkins, and former MIT researcher Joshua Green co-authored Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture.

And perhaps no group is more participatory that a professional wrestling audience, who boo and cheer based on choreographed actions in the ring. As for an MIT-educated pro wrestler? Ford doesn’t think it’s that far off.

“We’ll call him the Fighting Beaver,” he says. “Beavers are innovative and focused on a sort of fighting spirit and attitude, just like the MIT ethos. It’s a perfect fit for the wrestling world.”

{ 0 comments }

At the Alumni Leadership Conference, Don Shobrys congratulates a award winner.

At the Alumni Leadership Conference, Don Shobrys, right, congratulates a member of the Senior Class Gift Committee, which achieved a record-breaking participation level. Photo: Melody Ko.

Guest Blogger: Don Shobrys ’75, Association president

Alumni often ask me how to get involved with MIT. Even the longest journey begins with a single step, and the first step is to connect with something that interests you. If you are competent and contribute, that first step will lead to many others.

My first job was in Houston, where I joined the local MIT Club, volunteered for telethons and worked on reunion committees. That led to being the chair of my 25th reunion gift committee. We had a great group of volunteers and our classmates were generous so we set a new record. That got me an invitation to join the MIT Annual Fund Board. A few years later I ended up as the chair, which also gave me an ex officio seat on the Alumni Association Board of Directors. A stint on the Visiting Committee for the Department of Athletics, Physical Education, and Recreation (DAPER) led to my role in creating the Friends of DAPER. After a move to Boston, Annual Fund staff and a fellow visiting committee member pointed me towards the MIT Venture Mentoring Service. During a stint on the Corporate Development Committee, a chance conversation led to my role in creating the Alumni Advisory Council for the Engineering Systems Division. And now I am at the end of my term as president of the Alumni Association.

Alumni volunteers meet over festive meals as well as workshops and faculty talk during ALC.

Alumni volunteers meet over festive meals as well as at workshops and faculty talks during ALC.

So where should you start your journey? A great place is on the Association’s Become a Volunteer web page, where you will find out how to get involved with your class, a regional club, or with students. You can help others with their careers or explore a wide range of specific interests from public service to entrepreneurship to STEM education. A link lets you nominate yourself or others for leadership roles in the Alumni Association, and you can even reach out to Alumni Association staff.

If you are considering serious involvement with a nonprofit, or even starting your own, you can learn a lot by serving on your reunion gift committee, as a class or William Barton Rogers Society agent, or on the Annual Fund Board. Years ago the head development officer for a nonprofit in New Jersey told me that the elite academic institutions are the gold standard for nonprofit fundraising. My involvement with MIT has been a wonderful education in that area.

If you are adventurous, go to mit.edu and search for a specific interest plus the words “alumni volunteer.” Be persistent. At MIT anything worth doing is worth doing at least a dozen different ways, so there are many potential points of contact around any specific interest.

A final, terrific option is to go to the Alumni Leadership Conference on September 25−26. You get to catch up with what is going at MIT, meet a lot of wonderful people, and learn what volunteers do at MIT. MIT folks are a fascinating, friendly bunch. For me, the joy in getting involved comes from the people you meet, the friends you make, and the knowledge that you are helping one of the world’s great educational institutions move forward.

Maya Angelou once said “we find our path by walking it.” So start your journey today. Do some homework, ask some questions, and find something you want to pursue. Like me, you may be amazed at where your path takes you.

{ 0 comments }

Watch winners of this year's CEE video contest, including to top choice Research for a Thirsty World.

Watch winners of this year’s CEE video contest, including top choice: Research for a Thirsty World.

Ask your questions about Civil and Environmental Engineering discoveries during a live interview with department head Markus Buehler at the May 19 Faculty Forum Online. Alumni can register now, get a reminder email Tuesday morning, and then submit questions starting at noon with a special online link.

Professor Markus Buehler will highlight the research of Course 1 faculty and students, share his vision for education and student leadership, and describe research initiatives that cut across the Institute. In his own research, Buehler pursues new modeling, design, and manufacturing approaches to build materials and structures that offer greater resilience and a wide range of controllable properties from the nano to the macroscale.

So what’s up at CEE?

  • Professor Buehler and a CEE colleague shared their work at a recent Active Matter Summit where the discussed a new frontier of civil engineering.
  • CEE Professor David Simchi-Levi with students and colleagues won the Ford 2015 Engineering Excellence Award for a three-year supply chain study.
  • MIT’s Terrascope learning community presented energy-saving projects such as a vertical wind turbine, built partially from urban trash, for use in poor Cairo neighborhoods.
  • MIT’s CEE department ranked first place in the civil engineering subject and sixth place in the environmental subject in the 2015 QS World University Rankings.

Register today to participate in the Tuesday, May 19, webcast from noon‒12:45 p.m. EDT. Or you can submit a question now by emailing alumnilearn@mit.edu.

{ 0 comments }

Mathematicians build upon proofs in advancing their craft. So do cooks, who often use ingredients made of ingredients—ketchup, for instance, or condensed soup.

For Jim Henle PhD ’76, the beauty of both practices is in understanding from where those basics come and being able to make them oneself.

In a new book, The Proof and the Pudding, Henle, a professor of mathematics at Smith College, lays out equal parts math and cooking in a reflection on their similarities, their contributions to one another, and their continuing enigmatic puzzles. Listen to the interview with Henle.

Part cookbook and part textbook, Henle delights readers with countless stories of trial and error in the classroom and kitchen. But there are serious points to be made in The Proof and the Pudding too.

“I’m always thinking about how to bring mathematics to people and what is it that gets in the way of students connecting with mathematics,” Henle says. “In some sense this book is an answer to that, or one answer to that.”

“This is my serious point here: you have to have fun. IF you don’t have fun, you’re going to stay in math as long as people make you, and no longer,” he says.

Sprinkled among these arguments are Henle’s near-perfect recipes for breakfasts, breads, and sumptuous feasts. Ever the student of the kitchen, Henle shares his lifelong search for the perfect pizza dough and the quest to make desserts for dinner guests with high standards.

henle puzzle

To solve this puzzle, you must put the digits 1, 2, 3, 4 in the squares so that a) no digit appears twice in any row or column, and b) the sums of the digits in the two regions are the same.

In this podcast, Henle also shares his love of simple puzzles like the clueless Sudoku.

“I like the elegance of not seeing numbers in the puzzle but numbers appear in the answer. And my favorite of these is a little four by four, there are just two regions and the sum of the numbers in each region comes out the same,” he says. (Pictured right.)

Listen to the complete podcast here. Listen to past books podcasts with novelists, professors, and entrepreneurs by visiting MITAA on Soundcloud.

{ 2 comments }