A Fenway Vendor (© Forrest Milder).

A Fenway Vendor (© Forrest Milder).

Curious about Forrest Milder? View more of his work via the Photo of the Week category, learn more about him as a lawyer and a photographer, or visit his photo websiteView other alumni photos of the week.

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In 1873, Ellen Swallow Richards was the first woman to graduate from MIT. Since then, undergraduate and graduate women’s enrollment at MIT has grown from 1.3 percent in 1950 to 13.8 percent in 1975. By 2014, women made up nearly 40 percent of the student body.

What was it like to be a woman at MIT then and now? In this Slice of MIT podcast, MIT alumnae share their memories of the Institute.

Margolia Gilson ’56 talks about her desire to go to MIT after reading an article on space in the seventh grade and her active social life when she arrived. Megan Pasquina ’08 and her mom, Fran Brown ’79, recount how a special professor provided much needed perspective at a late-night study group.

Food plays a major role in many alumnae stories. Anne Street ’69, SM ’72 explains why she hasn’t eaten creamed spinach since living at MIT’s all women’s dorm, while Dale Krouse ’71 remembers how a food science lab inspired her to help others.

Subscribe to the Slice of MIT podcast on iTunes and SoundCloud. Listen to past podcasts with novelists, professors, and entrepreneurs by visiting the Alumni Association’s SoundCloud page.

These interviews were recorded as part of the Reunions Access Memories (RAM) Project. Held during Tech Reunions, RAM is a multimedia story booth for alumni to share their stories of MIT. Learn more about how you can share your story for the project.

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Ben Bernanke PhD '79, a Brookings Institute, Distinguished Fellow in Residence.

Ben Bernanke PhD ’79, a Brookings Institute Distinguished Fellow in Residence, delivered MIT’s 2006 Commencement address.

Soon after former Federal Reserve chair Ben Bernanke PhD ′79 took a position at the Brookings Institution, he joined the ranks of bloggers. Since MIT-educated economists hold some of the top positions in the field worldwide, he is certainly not the only economics commentator in the alumni directory. However, his musings on the so-called dismal science are backed by his influential role navigating the Great Recession as head Fed.

Here are a few highlights from recent posts in Ben Bernanke’s Blog:

Earlier this month, Bernanke discussed “Warren-Vitter and the lender of last resort.” He criticized the just-introduced Bailout Prevention Act of 2015, co-sponsored by Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) and David Vitter (R-Louisiana), that would restrict the Federal Reserve’s emergency lending powers in a financial crisis. He argues that the bill would crimp the Fed’s historic role as lender-of-last resort, such as the Fed’s actions during the 2007-2009 crisis to prevent the collapse of Bear Stearns and AIG.

In “Why are interest rates so low, part 4: Term premiums, ” Bernanke traces the 10-year global trend in lower interest rates based, in part, on a key factory in bond yields—expected inflation, expectations about the future path of real short-term interest rates, and a term premium.

Bernanke’s blog draws responses from other top MIT economists, such as former Secretary of the Treasury Larry Summers ′75. In “On secular stagnation: Larry Summers responds to Ben Bernanke,” Summers defines secular stagnation as “chronic excess of saving over investment” and poses related questions: “how can such a chronic excess exist in flexible markets? In particular, shouldn’t interest rates adjust to equate saving and investment at full employment?”

Other MIT voices on Economics and Business

Simon Johnson PhD ′89, MIT Sloan professor, contributes to Baseline Scenario, the New York Times Economix, and the MIT Sloan Experts Blog.

Paul Krugman PhD ′77, professor and winner of the 2008 Nobel Prize in economic sciences, publishes regularly in the New York Times on economics in his blog the Conscience of a Liberal.

Greg Mankiw PhD ′84, chair of Harvard University’s economics department, writes Greg Mankiw’s Blog: Random Observations for Students of Economics.

MIT Economics department home page links to recent journal publications, opinion pieces, and media stories by faculty including “The Economics of Retirement” by Professor James Poterba

Who did we miss? In comments, please add your favorite economics blogger, especially if they have MIT ties.

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In the summer of 2012, Dan Rodriguez ’00 jumped off a bridge in Twin Falls, Idaho…and deployed his parachute. “The first time you jump out and there’s nothing holding you, you literally drop your arms and extend your legs just like superman,” Rodriguez commented in a recent Grantland documentary.

BASE jumping is a daredevil sport that gets its acronym from the four spots enthusiasts choose to make the jump: buildings, antennas, spans (or bridges), and earth (cliffs, gorges and other natural formations).

Rodriguez is not your typical jumper—he was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in April 2012. He decided against invasive surgery and was given six months to live. A couple months later, he took up BASE jumping, a sport that due to its extreme risks is banned in most American cities and national parks except for Twin Falls. To date, more than 225 people have died taking BASE jumps over the last 34 years. Earlier this month, two base jumpers died in Yosemite.

“This isn’t like a videogame, you don’t get a redo…at the same time I have cancer, so how bad could this be?” said Rodriguez. “I could already potentially die.”

Rodriguez BASE jumping in Norway. Photo: Rodriguez

Rodriguez BASE jumping in Norway. Photo: Rodriguez

Rodriguez has completed 119 BASE jumps and 560 sky dives. He has jumped off cliffs and dived from planes in Norway, Switzerland, Italy, and Greece.

He has worn a wing suit for nearly 400 of his jumps and dives. While sky divers free fall for a minute and then descend for two minutes under a parachute, wearing a wing suit can extend a fall’s time by several minutes before the parachute inflates. And the suit propels jumpers forward by upwards of three feet for every foot of drop, so jumpers feel like they are flying.

Upon returning from his European adventure tour in 2013, Rodriguez completed three months of rigorous medical treatment, which forced him to stay on the ground. So instead, he learned how to play the piano.

Rodriguez wingsuiting in Puerto Rico. Photo: Scotty Burns

Rodriguez wingsuiting in Puerto Rico. Photo: Scotty Burns

Most recently Rodriguez has taken another leap. He’s teamed up with two friends that have founded the startup Admit.me, a company that helps aspiring students attend college. They were accepted by the New York City startup incubator DreamIt Ventures and will spend the next several months growing the business.

Rodriguez’s cancer is now in remission. The whole experience has taught him about timing.

“When you have a goal, a lot of times you think you have to hold back and do it at the right time. The thing is there’s never really a right time,” he said. “Sometimes you just have to take your own little leap.”

What leaps have you taken? Tell us your story in the comments below or tweet us at @mit_alumni

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Spoileralert_cropThe issue of food waste is overwhelming, with up to 1.3 billion tons of food wasted annually, according to the United Nations. Equally as problematic, of course, is the issue of food scarcity or food security which affects millions in the US. Soon after starting at Sloan in 2013, Emily Malina MBA ’15 and Ricky Ashenfelter MBA ’15 decided that they wanted to tackle this problem in a way that could benefit businesses while improving food supply chain efficiencies and solving a major social problem.

MITSloan_MBA_SpoilerAlert

Ricky Ashenfelter MBA ’15 and Emily Malina MBA ’15

Their cleverly named solution, Spoiler Alert, is a smartphone app and online marketplace that finds uses—in real time—for healthy surplus food and valuable organic waste. The app provides businesses the ability to cut down on waste management costs and also provides a secondary market for them to sell or donate that food, while in turn allowing food recovery non-profits to claim it.

At the beginning of the year, the alpha pilot of the app launched and currently 10 organizations are taking advantage of the technology, including the Greater Boston Food Bank. They are using their technology to make the relationships that already exist more efficient and are also working to bring in businesses that don’t currently donate surplus product. “There are certain types of food that are harder to get for donations than others,” says Malina. “These are usually very high-quality foods with higher nutritional content like meat and dairy and fresh produce and we’re fortunate that through our pilot, those are the categories that we were able to focus on by working with a meat manufacturer and a produce distributor.”

While continuing to tweak the app and bring in new users, Ashenfelter and Malina are also focused on building out a web version of the software for desktop users. The website, on top of offering all of the same features as the app—posting, claiming, and tracking food use—will also offer analytics about the food exchange process and food waste, allowing the businesses to monitor and adjust their procurement strategies. “We want to help food businesses save money,” says Ashenfelter, “and the data and analytical capabilities stemming from our platform can have hugely powerful implications for an industry with notoriously low margins.”

Both Ashenfelter and Malina will be graduating in a couple of weeks and they are thrilled to be doing exactly what they set out to do when they entered the program. “I knew I wanted to have a real impact in a for-profit business way on a real-world issue, says Malina. “And to make a big impact in an industry where new business models, like the sharing economy, and technology have not been applied before. With Spoiler Alert, we’ve taken on an issue that is significant, hits home with the social and environmental side of things, and it also has a real financial impact for a lot of businesses out there.”

Spoiler Alert was featured in Fortune, Marketplace, The Economist, and Bloomberg Businessweek.

Read more about Spoiler Alert from the Sloan Newsroom.

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Treasure Island Music Festival (© Paige Parsons).

Treasure Island Music Festival (© Paige Parsons).

Paige Parsons is a photographer in San Francisco. View more work on her website. View other alumni photos of the week.

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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.”

sxsw15

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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.

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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.

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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.

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