Slice of MIT sports storiesThe number of MIT alumni involved in professional sports grows each year. Thanks to these alumni, plus events like the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference (SSAC), which begins today, the Institute’s imprint on the sports landscape is increasing.

To celebrate this growing connection, the Alumni Association has spotlighted alumni working in sports fields all week. The sports-themed week was highlighted by a Twitter chat on Tuesday, Feb. 24 that featured Jyoti Agarwal ’03, a senior director at the NBA; Brian Bilello ’97, New England Revolution president; and Mike Fitzgerald ’11, Pittsburgh Pirates quantitative analyst.

To culminate the week, scan Slice‘s archive of more than 50 sports-related stories below. As you’ll read, the Slice archives feature some surprising MIT connections in some offbeat athletics, including tug of war, ballroom dancing, weightlifting, and even professional wrestling.

 

 

 

 

 

Analytics

Auto Racing

Ballroom Dancing

Baseball

Basketball

Cheerleading

Cricket

Football

Golf

Hockey

Martial Arts

Professional Wrestling

Rowing and Sailing

Running

Skydiving

Tug of War

Olympics

Weightlifting

More Sports Stories

Have we missed any MIT-related sports connections? Let us now in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter.

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Update: Dartmouth College named Linda Muri ’85 head coach of women’s rowing in August 2014. 

Linda Muri, Harvard, Dartmouth, MIT, rowing

Linda Muri ’85

Harvard rowing coach Linda Muri is the only woman to have led a Division I men’s boat to a collegiate national championship. In fact, for 15 years she was the only female coach of a Division I men’s team. But Muri’s next challenge requires a different sort of leadership. Muri cochairs the MIT Crew Alumni Association’s boathouse committee, which is conducting a feasibility study on renovating the Harold W. Pierce Boathouse because, she says, “it’s not really serving everyone well enough.”

Muri enrolled at MIT hoping to become an astronaut. An astronautics and aeronautics major, she played varsity field hockey and basketball and ran track her first year before dipping an oar in a Class Day race for her living group, pika. “I got hooked and that was that,” she says. She rowed varsity through her undergraduate years, serving as captain for the final two.

After graduating, she did design and engineering work for boat builder Composite Engineering in Concord before focusing on making the national team herself. She rowed on that team for nine years, capturing 18 national championships and three world titles. In 1994, she set a world record rowing in a lightweight fours race at the World Rowing Championships.

Muri earned a teaching degree at Harvard in 1997 and then moved to Ithaca, New York, when her husband, Mattison Crowe, started business school. Cornell was short one coach after the semester began, and she gave it a try. “I was teaching, but it was rowing! I thought it was remarkable that that could be a job,” she says. She’s now in her 13th season coaching at Harvard, and her grateful student rowers benefit from her expertise. In fact, the MIT and Radcliffe lightweight women’s crews have named their annual series the Muri Cup in her honor.

As a board member of the MIT Crew Alumni Association, Muri supports rowing by raising money, leading projects like the boathouse renovation, and more. “We make sure the opportunity is there for students to learn about rowing and complement their studies at MIT,” she says.

And she still rows in a few races a year. Last year she won the Head of the Charles in the Women’s Senior Masters division, setting a new record. She and her husband, a marketing director for a sports and rescue rope company, live in Watertown with their French bulldog, Max.

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2014 issue of MIT Technology Review magazine.

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The United States Postal Service recently unveiled a new stamp commemorating the work of MIT alumnus Robert Robinson Taylor, considered the nation’s first academically trained African-American architect and the great-grandfather of Valerie Jarrett of the Obama Administration. Read more in a Slice post on Taylor.

Taylor is not the first alumnus to be honored as the face of American postage. Here’s a list of other alumni and MIT-affiliated notables that have also decorated our mail:

Credit: National Postal Museum

Buzz Aldrin ScD ’63: While the first stamp celebrating the Apollo 11 moon landing only featured Neil Armstrong, a 20-year anniversary stamp issued in 1989 honors both Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin ScD ’63, the second man to walk on the moon. Prior to Apollo 11, Aldrin served on the Gemini 12 mission and as a US Air Force jet fighter pilot during the Korean War. Aldrin ranks fourth in a recent Business Insider article highlighting MIT’s most successful alumni.

Credit: National Postal Museum

Credit: National Postal Museum

 

George Eastman: While not an alumnus, Eastman was a great benefactor of MIT having donated $7.5 million to the Institute in the early 1900s. He founded Eastman Kodak Company and invented the Kodak camera, widely credited with ushering in a new age of amateur photography. Visit a plaque celebrating Eastman in front of Room 6-120 to take part in an 80-year MIT tradition—rubbing his nose for good luck.

Credit: National Postal Museum

Credit: National Postal Museum

 

Richard Feynman ’39: As the 1965 Nobel Prize recipient in physics, Richard Feynman ‘39 is called a pioneer in Quantum Electrodynamics. His invention of the Feynman Diagrams revolutionized theoretical physics and were celebrated on the pop television show Big Bang Theory. Check out Slice next month for a larger story on Feynman’s quest to visit Tannu Tuva and his love of stamps.

Credit: National Postal Museum

Credit: National Postal Museum

I.M. Pei ’40: The Louvre Glass Pyramid and Entrance, Qatar’s Museum of Islamic Art, and Boston’s Hancock Tower all have been designed by I.M. Pei ‘40. His work on the East Building of the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., was commemorated as part of a 2005 stamp collection titled the “12 Masterworks of Modern American Architecture.” On MIT’s campus, his firm is responsible for the Green Building (54), as well as Landau (66), Dreyfuss (18), and Wiesner (E15) Buildings.

The Postal Service rolls out upwards of 30 new stamps each year, and the public can petition a subject to be considered. The Citizen’s Stamp Advisory Committee, appointed by the Postmaster General, reviews stamp ideas and recommends which subjects to consider. All subjects must be of Americans that have made contributions to society or events or themes of “widespread national appeal and significance that showcase our nation’s inclusiveness,” according to the US Postal Service site.

What alumnus or alumna would you like to see on your mail? Tell us in the comments below or share on our Facebook page.

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Guest blogger: Maggy Bruzelius, MITAA

View the Antarctica: Journey in Pictures by scrolling on the right. Do not click on the Menu button. 

A few weeks ago, during Antarctica’s summer, I joined the MIT Alumni Travel Program and a group of 38 MIT alumni and guests for a two-week expedition to the last great wilderness on Earth, Antarctica. I was impressed with the whole program—gliding around enormous tabular icebergs by Zodiac, walking along beaches covered with thousands of penguins, and kayaking among whales and sea birds. You can see a dynamic collection of photos from the trip Antarctica: Journey in Pictures.

Lectures by MIT Professor Susan Solomon, who spoke about the early Antarctic explorers’ experiences, were a particular highlight. After our return, I asked her for an environmental perspective since she is the leading atmospheric chemist who discovered the cause of the Antarctic ozone hole.

Why do you think past environmental problems have something to teach us about climate change?

First and foremost, it’s a source of inspiration. There are a slew of environmental problems where we’ve been remarkably successful at making progress in the past—just to name a few, managing the challenges of ozone depletion, smog, acid rain, and lead in gasoline were each once thought to be impossible but people found ways to protect the environment and ourselves, usually at lower costs than originally feared. It’s important for people to remember that, and for younger people who didn’t live through the controversies over these things, to realize that such problems can be managed, if not solved. Younger people are usually very surprised to realize this, and it’s important to look at where we have been in the past to see where we might be able to get in the future.

Each of these past cases has something different to teach us about ways that things can happen—through factors including consumer engagement, technological advances, great science, smart policies, and combinations of all of these. Once we have thought deeply about the things that were done to advance progress on other environmental issues, I think it helps us understand the climate change challenge better and paths forward. Climate change is the toughest environmental issue people have ever faced in my opinion, but I also believe we will make more and more progress at dealing with it.

What do you hope to accomplish as the founding director of the MIT Environmental Solutions Initiative?

I think the way we make the most progress on environmental issues almost always involves working across disciplinary lines. MIT has so much to offer—we have fantastic researchers spanning engineering, the physical and social sciences, management, and humanities, and I think it’s clear that we could contribute even more to environmental progress if we worked together more effectively.

The key goal of the environmental solutions initiative research is to foster that kind of interaction. We also have some exciting educational goals—we’d like to strengthen learning at MIT around environment and sustainability, and one thing we’re looking at is the development of a minor as well as targeted courses.

How can alumni help?

Alumni are a great source of ideas as well as support. We would love to hear from them.

To learn more, visit the MIT Environmental Solutions Initiative and use the contact page for responses. Check out the MITAA Antarctica: Journey in Pictures photo gallery from the trip. 


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While some MIT alumni transition to professional sports after they leave the Institute, they’re not getting drafted by the MLB or NBA. They are bringing critical thinking and data analysis to the world of professional sports. Alumni work in every professional sports league in America and events like the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference demonstrate the impact that MIT-style thinking now has on professional sports.

To highlight alumni working in sports we’re hosting an #MITAlum Twitter chat on Tuesday, February 24. at noon EST with off-the-field sports pros Jyoti Agarwal ‘03, Brian Bilello ’97, and Mike Fitzgerald ’11. Agarwal, Bilello, Fitzgerald will take questions on Twitter about their time at MIT, what it’s like working in sports, and the role data and analytics play in their jobs. Learn more about these alumni and bring your questions on Tuesday at noon EST. Tweet your questions and follow the conversation with #MITAlum.

Jyoti-2Jyoti Agarwal Senior Director—Marketing and Media Planning, NBA

As Course 7 major and Course 5 minor, Agarwal left MIT with plans to become a doctor. Agarwal followed a career path that that wound through PUMA sportswear, Harvard Business School, Bain Capital, eventually landing at the NBA. Agarwal says she first fell in love with sports while attending MIT and living in Boston. “I still maintain that there is no better sports city in the world,” she says.

Bilello_BrianBrian Bilello President, New England Revolution

Bilello began working for the Kraft Sports Group in 2003 and was named president of the Revolution in 2011. While at MIT, Bilello played varsity soccer and studied chemical engineering. He recently shared with Slice, “I studied chemical engineering but MIT didn’t necessarily train me to be a chemical engineer. They trained me to solve chemical engineering problems, and I can apply that perspective to my job with the Revolution.”

Mike-FitzMike Fitzgerald Quantitative Analyst, Pittsburgh Pirates

An athlete at MIT, Course 8 major Fitzgerald transitioned from playing wider-receiver for MIT football to working behind the scenes in professional baseball. After graduation Fitzgerald found he missed the team atmosphere that sports had always provided him. Fortunately, Fitzgerald soon joined the Pittsburgh Pirates as a quantitative analyst—a role that has contributed the Pirates’ first playoff appearance in 20 years.

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Balloon launch Kenya, Africa (© Shelley Lake).

Balloon launch Kenya, Africa (© Shelley Lake).

Shelley Lake SM ’79 is a photographer in Florida. View more of her work on her website. View other alumni photos of the week.

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Brint Markle, AvaTech, MIT Alumnus

Photo credit: Philipp Becker

An increase in avalanche deaths has paralleled the rise in recreational backcountry activities in recent decades. Although avalanches can happen unexpectedly, many of the warning signs can be detected. Key risk factors include recent rain or snowfall, visible cracking and sounds of shifting terrain, extreme temperature changes, and weak layers of snow in the snowpack. These weak layers can often cause an avalanche when no other signs are present and they are the most difficult to detect with basic manual tests, such as digging snow pits and feeling layers, which offer only subjective insight.

After Brint Markle MBA ’14 had a close call in 2010 while skiing with friends in Switzerland, he wanted to know much more than the surface characteristics of snow. With this goal in mind, he enrolled in the Sloan School of Management.

SP1 Probe, AvaTech

The SP1 Probe, created by MIT alumni

While at MIT, Markle teamed up with Jim Christian SM ’14 and Sam Whittemore ’14 to form AvaTech, a company focused on proactive avalanche safety that starts with a better understanding of snow. Their first product is the SP1 probe, which was launched in September and was recognized as a National Geographic Gear of the Year for 2014 and one of the Top 100 Innovations of the Year by Popular Science. The probe is inserted into snowpack and reads the characteristics of the layers through numerous sensors—determining hardness, resistance, slope angle, aspect, GPS orientation, and ultimately detecting weak layers that could cause slides. Along with the SP1 probe, they also launched AvaNet, a cloud platform that helps backcountry travelers share critical snowpack and avalanche safety data all across the world.

The product is being marketed to professionals and forecasters, helping to make their evaluations of snow safety more informed. “The snowpack is really complex,” says Whittemore, “and we want the SP1 to make it much easier for the people out there in the backcountry to assess how the snow changes in space and time.”

Brint Markle, AvaTech, SP 1 Probe, Himalayas

Markle (right) tests the SP1 in the Himalayas, Feb. 2015. Photo credit: Brennan Lagasse.

Today Markle, who is AvaTech’s CEO, Christian, the lead product designer, and Whittemore, the lead engineer, are based in Park City, Utah, the most popular backcountry locale in the US. From there, they travel around the world demonstrating their product. For much of February, Markle has been working with the SP1 and AvaNet in the Alps and the Himalayas. “We’ve spent the last two years validating our technology with leading industry professionals,” says Markle. “Today, we have more than 400 organizations from 35 countries sharing data on the platform, spanning ski patrol, guiding companies, forecast centers, departments of transportation, snow scientists, and other snow professionals.”

Up to this point, most research and development in the avalanche field has been focused on equipment and devices to save individuals already caught in an avalanche, but a more technical understanding of avalanche prevention could truly revolutionize the industry.

Originally, the vision of the company was focused on developing the first proactive avalanche safety technology in the world, says Markle. But they have come to realize that the SP1 is the cornerstone of a much broader information sharing platform. “We talk about building a global mountain community that can share information in real time to benefit the safety of all mountain travelers. That to us, is extremely powerful.”

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New robot adds two useful fingers to your hand.

New robot adds two useful fingers to your hand.

MIT is full of invention. One quick way to tap into the riches on campus is to browse the MIT Video collection, curated by the MIT News Office to bring highlights of research and campus culture into view. Whether you have just a minute—or an hour—you can learn something fun, intriguing, or maybe life changing. Here are a few suggestions:

Learn how to don the mascot costume.

Learn how to don the mascot costume.

If you browse by types, do venture into the Demonstrations section. Upwrap one of the mysteries of campus culture by watching Tim the Beaver: Putting on the Mascot Costume. First rule: do not try to put on the costume by yourself. Did you know ice packs are involved? Time: 00:03:54

Need an extra hand—or at least a couple of extra digits? Watch 7 Finger Robot, a 0:58 second spotlight on a new robotic device, worn on the wrist, that acts like two extra fingers adjacent to the pinky and thumb.

Learn how materials science is changing energy resources.

Learn how materials science is changing energy resources.

How are materials-driven advances transforming energy and economics worldwide? Watch Hey, Atoms: What Have You Done for Me Lately?: The age of materials design and how it will change the energy world. After an eight-minute introduction, hear Jeffrey C. Grossman, MIT professor of materials science and engineering, present the Wulff lecture. First, he lights things on fire, the way most energy is currently produced. And then it really gets interesting. Time: 58:12.

If you browse by channels, you can zoom in on 133 videos on mathematics including the 18.02 Tutorial Video: Partial Derivatives, which runs 11:59. Or among 261 videos on engineering, you will find Emmy-Award Winning Work on High-Speed Video Cameras by Brian Anthony SM ’98, PhD ’06, an entrepreneur who leads the MIT Medical Electronics Device Realization Center. Time: 02:51

Most visitors to Barcelona visit Antoni Gaudi’s iconic structures that join fanciful decorations with conservative structures—churches and housing. You can understand the subtleties of his work by watching an architecture and urban planning channel video titled the Creative Practices of Antoni Gaudi in Colònia Güell and Sagrada Familia. Time: 01:42:19

You can also explore channels devoted to the arts, student life, and entrepreneurship. Or click types to find history for a video on the Harnessing the Wind at MIT: Wright Brothers Wind Tunnel or the story of the telegraph and its impact in the Whole Wired World. Enjoy!

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Collective-genius

Greg Brandeau ’84 SM ’85 spoke to Slice of MIT about his new book.

In the summer of 2008, Greg Brandeau ’84 SM ’85 faced a serious problem in the office.

As senior vice president of systems technology at Pixar Animation Studios, he had a major release coming out: Up. On the schedule for Pixar’s mammoth rendering computers in the next two weeks, Up was projected to be a $1 billion major movie release. Unfortunately, it was scheduled to render, the process by which each single command of an animator’s directions becomes digital film, at the same time as a new complex experiment in short film, Cars Toons.

Brandeau had personalities to manage, and deadlines with Pixar’s owner Disney, but most of all he had a serious logistics problem on his hand: how to find the computing power to get both projects done on time.

Brandeau collected the happy ending to this story, and other lessons in innovative leadership, in a new book Collective Genius: the Art and Practice of Leading Innovation, published in 2014 and co-authored with Linda Hill, Emily Truelove, and Kent Kineback.

Brandeau joined Pixar in 1996 and most recently served as chief technology officer for Disney Animation Studios, which acquired Pixar. After leaving that post to become a full-time consultant, Brandeau found the idea of a book appealing.

“I was puzzling about how was it that Pixar had made five unbelievable movies in a row,” he says, “and no other major studio had done this? And now Pixar has made 14 blockbusters in a row without one miss. What was causing this? I wondered if it was how we were managing the process that makes what we’re doing better.”

The book examines other major companies transformed by innovative leadership, such as HCL, Volkswagon, Pentagram, and Google. These are idea factories, says Brandeau, where leaders access each employee’s “slice of genius” to move the firm ahead.

“We firmly believe that it’s the context in which people work that allows them to be innovated. Instead of thinking of the role of the leader in the traditional sense…the leader’s role in our view is organizers of a place where people can thrive.”

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

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Photo: Nicole Morell

Photo: Nicole Morell

As the Boston area is blanketed with more than 80 inches of snow, many MIT alumni shared memories from other major snowstorms while students at the ‘tute.

On the Association’s Facebook page, Mike Harlan ’78 recalled Boston being shut down for a full week. “It’s the only time I’ve ever seen or heard of a snowplow being snowed-in, trapped in three to four feet of snow on all sides,” said Harlan.

Rosemary McNaughton ’97 remembers the Tennis Bubble collapsing on April Fool’s Day 1997, the first snow day for MIT since 1978. And Aisha Taylor ’00 added, “We thought it was an April Fool’s Day joke because MIT closed. There’s a snowflake on our Brass Rat because of it.”

Other alumni commented on the challenges of riding a unicycle over snow (Pete LaMaster SM ’79), a dramatic drag race on the Mass Ave bridge (Dan Swanson ’75), and the joys of seeing a Hawaiian roommate playing in the snow for the first time (John Vencill ’64, SM ’65).

Have an MIT snow story to add? Share it on our Facebook page or in the comments below.

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