Jill Hecht Maxwell

Katy Croff Bell '00, Exploration Vessel Nautilus, Media Lab, MIT

Katy Croff Bell ’00

Katy Croff Bell ’00 has helped discover dozens of ancient shipwrecks and new species of marine organisms. Now she brings the abyss to your desk, streaming her adventures aboard the Exploration Vessel Nautilus via Nautiluslive.org.

“The most exciting part of what I do is share discoveries in real time with millions of people all over the globe,” Bell says.

At MIT, Bell worked with Professor David Mindell PhD ’96, and his then-new Deep Water Archaeology group. They undertook expeditions to the Black Sea, working off small Turkish fishing boats, checking out features on the seafloor with a side-scan sonar and a remotely operated underwater vehicle.

“It was great experience to apply what I was learning in classes at MIT to a project in the field,” Bell says. It was also a chance to work with underwater archaeologist Robert Ballard, who found the Titanic.

Bell was a leader of several marine and engineering student societies at MIT, and she helped create an umbrella organization called 13SEAs, the Course 13 Student Engineering Association, which lives on as MIT’s ocean engineering, naval architecture, and marine technology student organization.

After graduation, Bell served as a marine policy fellow in NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration in Washington. In 2006, National Geographic Society awarded Bell an Emerging Explorer Award. She earned a master’s degree in maritime archaeology at England’s University of Southampton, and then she joined Ballard’s research group at the University of Rhode Island, where she earned a PhD in geological oceanography in 2011.

She’s now the vice president and chief scientist of Ocean Exploration Trust, leading expeditions on Nautilus in the Black Sea, the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, and the Gulf of Mexico. “We’re going to places that have never been explored to see what’s there,” she says. “There are things we can’t even conceive of out there, and it will take a long, long time to fully understand our own planet.”

In 2014, Joi Ito named Bell an MIT Media Lab Director’s Fellow, a two-year appointment. “It’s been fun to come back and reconnect with incredible people doing groundbreaking research at the Institute,” she says. “I’ve been talking with Professor Ed Boyden, who uses fluorescent proteins to map neuron connections in the brain. There are marine organisms that glow; we can study their genomes and, we hope, identify new proteins and combine what we’re doing, pushing the boundaries of both our fields.”

Bell and her husband, fisheries biologist Rich Bell, live in Narragansett, Rhode Island, and are expecting their first child in April. During her maternity leave, Bell plans to use telepresence technology to participate in the 2015 Nautilus expedition through the Panama Canal to the Galápagos Islands from April through December.

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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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Michael Schlein

Michael Schlein ’84, SM ’84

For Michael Schlein ’84, SM ’84, the best part of his job is meeting clients—people whose lives are changed with a little boost. Recently, in a modest office building in remote northeast India, Schlein met a woman named Radha Devi, who was applying for a loan to buy a second sewing machine.

“She told me the first loan felt like charity, but the second felt like a business transaction,” he says. “She had earned it. She was empowered and proud.”

Schlein is president and CEO of Accion, a nonprofit group providing microloans and other financial services to millions of people living in poverty in 34 countries. His career has taken him through both public service and the private sector.


Schlein outlines the mission of Accion. Video via Accion Global

He earned degrees in economics and political science during five years at MIT, graduating Phi Beta Kappa. After a first job in investment banking, he served as chief of staff to the New York City deputy mayor for finance and economic development and then as chief of staff at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

In 1997 he returned to banking, managing 100 country officers for Citigroup and running communications, philanthropy, and government relations. He first became interested in microfinance through the Citi Foundation’s work with Accion, and he joined the nonprofit in 2009. Under Schlein, Accion has supported a Chilean company that is a pioneer in lending via cell phones and a South African company that brought microinsurance to people with AIDS.

In 2014, he was appointed chair of the New York City Economic Development Corporation, an unpaid position, by a colleague from his days in city government: Mayor Bill de Blasio. “Forty-six percent of people living in New York are at or near the poverty line,” he says. “We want to make sure that the New York City economy works for everyone.”

Both Accion and the NYCEDC run on the same kind of practical idealism that drives MIT, Schlein says: “MIT instills in everyone, including me, a real pragmatism that comes from engineering. Lofty ideas have their place, but getting things to happen is what’s really important.”

Schlein lives in Brooklyn with his wife, Jordan Tamagni, who works at Unicef, and their two young sons. He enjoys speaking and recruiting at MIT. “More and more,” he says, “students want to know how to find work combining their desire to have a good career with their interest in making the world a better place.”

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2015 issue of MIT Technology Review magazine.

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Glen Dash '76, '81

Glen Dash ’75, ’81

Developing an early video game gave Glen Dash ’75, ’81 his start as an inventor, and an archaeological dig unearthed his current passion. Now, with his wife and daughter, he’s closing in on the secrets of the ancient Egyptian pyramids.

When Dash was a kid in suburban Chicago, he idolized the scientists in a Time-Life book series. “In the one called The Engineer, there was a picture of A. P. French teaching in 10-250,” Dash remembers. When Dash got to MIT himself, he studied computer science and engineering and joined Professor Yao Tzu Li’s MIT Innovation Center.

There he and friends created a low-cost home video game, TV Tennis. Executive Games licensed it, and Dash worked as chief engineer for the company until, in 1977, the video game industry briefly collapsed when obsolete games flooded the market. After earning a management degree at Sloan, Dash became an expert in engineering devices—such as early microwaves—so that they would comply with state and federal rules and standards. Eventually he founded three companies that dealt with the testing and certification of electronic devices.

While at MIT, Dash was able to pursue another interest sparked by that Time-Life series—the study of past civilizations. He took an anthropology class and then accompanied a Harvard archaeology research party to a remote valley in Iran, where he lost 15 pounds living on cucumbers, rice, and goat meat slathered in Tabasco sauce. An adventure, Dash says, is “misery recalled fondly.”

At age 43, he was ready for more adventure. He sold his companies and patents, and in 1996 he launched the nonprofit Glen Dash Foundation for Archaeological Research, which applies remote sensing and advanced topographic survey techniques to archaeological problems. His projects have focused on sites in Egypt, Greece, Cyprus, and the United States.

Dash, who usually spends a couple of months each year in the field with magnetometers and ground-penetrating radar equipment in tow, has discovered a lost harbor, which had been concealed as coast-lines changed, and mapped buried cities. His wife, Joan Dash, who has a Harvard PhD in microbiology, is the foundation’s soil scientist. Their 28-year-old daughter, Rebecca, now a physician’s assistant, accompanies her parents every year as a surveyor. Most recently, Dash has been re-surveying the Great Pyramid and its surroundings to test theories of how the ancient Egyptians aligned their massive monuments with the stars.

For the past 40 years, Dash has also traveled from his home in Pomfret, Connecticut, to play softball every summer on MIT’s Briggs Field with his team, the Delta Tau Delta Dawgs. “We’re zero and nine. But these are relationships that go back all these decades,” he says. “Victory or not, I’m there with my bat.”

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2015 issue of MIT Technology Review magazine

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Dr. Meryl Nass on vacation in Thailand

Dr. Meryl Nass ’75 is a small-town doctor concerned with issues of national importance. She’s an internist in Bar Harbor, Maine. At her clinic for complex disorders like chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and Gulf War Syndrome, she sees patients from all over the state plus some who come up from Massachusetts. But her voice is heard as far away as Washington.

Nass has testified before U.S. Congressional committees twice on Gulf War Syndrome and once on the potential dangers of the anthrax vaccine given to all soldiers who ship out; she’s prepared written testimonies for the record about the anthrax vaccine and the prevention of and response to bioterrorism. In 2008 Nass served as a consultant to the federal director of national intelligence on preventing domestic bioterrorism. She is now the chair of the Commission to Protect the Lives and Health of the Maine National Guard.

Nass, who majored in biology, traces her chutzpah at least as far back as her MIT days. Outside the classroom, she protested the Vietnam War. In the lab, she says, “We weren’t pushed into any mold. We were encouraged to think and to question.”

That’s exactly what she did when, in 1989, she was asked by her chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility to look into some anthrax research going on at UMass Amherst. What she found piqued her interest in germ warfare. She went to the library at Harvard and read up on outbreaks from the 1800s. She thus became an expert in anthrax—and a national PSR spokesperson on biological warfare—just as the first Gulf War broke out, and was later in a unique position to weigh in on the 2001 mailing of anthrax-contaminated letters.

Nass wrote journal articles suggesting that we might not want to give the anthrax vaccine to millions of soldiers without a little more data on how safe it is. In 1995, a Congressional committee published a report that linked higher rates of Gulf War syndrome with the anthrax vaccine. “The Army didn’t pay attention,” she says, and vaccines remain mandatory. She has testified in the courts martial of soldiers and sailors who’d refused the vaccine. She still blogs about anthrax vaccine—and any other public health concerns that cross her mind–almost daily. “Some members of Congress have called for further investigation, but nothing’s happening,” she says.

More recently Nass, who says she is in no way anti-vaccine, has spoken out about the safety of the swine flu vaccine. She was gratified when the U.S. government bought shots without squalene, an additive she considers risky. Her biggest concern at the moment, however, is the epidemic of post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic injuries in soldiers coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan. “They’re not necessarily getting any better,” Nass says. “The Army has good programs, but they’re not reaching enough people.”

One of Nass’s two sons is also an alum; Jake Abernethy ’02 is a PhD candidate at Berkeley. She notes that her boys are related to Richard Cockburn Maclaurin—MIT’s president from 1909 to 1920—through their dad.

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For the past four years, Nitin Sawhney SM ’98, PhD ’03 has traveled to a part of the world most people wouldn’t think of when considering a summer break: Gaza. For Sawhney, a researcher and lecturer in the Program in Art, Culture, and Technology, it’s more rewarding than any trip to the beach. He runs a digital media and storytelling program that engages young Palestinians in refugee camps in producing short films and photography about their everyday lives and aspirations. It’s called Voices Beyond Walls, and this year it was supported in part by the Center for Future Civic Media. Here’s a slideshow from this summer’s project, “Re-imagining Gaza.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1yynGfAGMUQ’

Sawhney was born in India and grew up in Iran and Bahrain. He did his undergraduate work at Georgia Tech. In 2000, Sawhney was pursuing his Ph.D. at the MIT Media Lab when intense violence broke out in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Sawhney was increasingly drawn to the conflict as he tried to come to terms with the needless loss of life and suffering in the region. He found himself regularly attending and organizing many events on campus to make students better informed about the conflict, including dialogue sessions, film screenings, exhibits and a large public lecture on the topic by Noam Chomsky. “The students and faculty at MIT have been incredible about helping me understand and come to grips with these issues,” he says. “For all its technical legacy, I found the MIT community far more socio-politically engaged and open-minded than many other such academic environments.”

After graduating from MIT, Sawhney founded a startup company that developed open source software to support publicly funded biomedical research. But the Middle East conflict continued to weigh upon him. In 2006 he decided he had to stop thinking and do something. That summer, he took an unpaid leave from his firm and traveled to the West Bank with little more than a laptop and some video cameras in a backpack. His plan: develop a youth media program as a pilot project on the ground. Voices Beyond Walls was born out of a collaboration with local community centers in the refugee camps he visited. Through an international and local volunteer team of artists, filmmakers and educators, the program has been expanded to seven refugee camps in the West Bank, with over 60 video shorts produced in the past four years. Many are posted on the Voices Beyond Walls YouTube channel.

This summer, Sawhney and colleagues conducted the program in parallel in the Al Aroub camp in the West Bank and the Jabaliya camp in Gaza. They first trained 50 young Palestinian adults in a three-day training workshop on digital media and storytelling techniques. This is a short film produced during one of these workshops:

Many of these young adults then facilitated month-long workshops with  kids aged 10 to 16 at community centers in the refugee camps. The kids learned photography, neighborhood mapping, script-writing, storyboarding, acting, filming, and video editing. Sawhney regularly blogged about his experiences running the program in Gaza, and the kids interviewed each other as the program came to an end. (“How did you handle the editing software?” one student asked another. “I had some difficulties at first,” came the answer, “but now I feel like a professional.”)

Earlier this month, the kids capped off their program with photo exhibitions, film screenings, and diploma ceremonies. At the end of the final screening in Gaza, Sawhney says, “The young girls on stage were so confident responding to questions from the audience about their films; I can imagine many of them doing the same at an international film festival in a few years.”

Sawhney plans to follow the workshop participants and their families in Gaza this year, collecting data for a pilot study on the role of creative media expression among young children in areas of conflict. He wants to see if the kids regularly engaged in producing their own media-based narratives are coping better than their peers living in the refugee camp without such a creative outlet—Sawhney calls it “participatory media”—to work through the challenges they are confronted with on a regular basis.

Here in Cambridge, Sawhney is working with MIT researchers and local community organizations to jointly develop better ways to empower youth with digital media, as part of an initiative he co-founded called the Department of Play at the Center for Future Civic Media. In the fall semester, Sawhney will teach Networked Cultures and Participatory Media, incorporating many of his experiences and research into the newly-developed curricula. And in late October, he plans to host an exhibition and screening of the youth photography and films from the Re-imagining Gaza program at MIT. Later this year he is also helping to organize a symposium on Gaza with the Center for International Studies and Harvard University’s Middle East Initiative.

In a way, he’s come full circle back to his own struggles with the violence in the Middle East as an MIT student 10 years ago. “Over the years I have realized it’s a far bigger challenge helping Americans understand why the conflict continues,” Sawhney says. “So I feel we should find ways to leverage participatory media both for civic engagement and global awarness. Young voices in the Palestinian Territories are rarely heard but are far more authentic in revealing the context and humanizing the conflict.”

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Art by Lynette May; Click Picture for Prints

Colrika? Erikin? Neither has the ring of Brangelina. Nevertheless, it’s our own celebrity couple. And unlike the famously unmarried Jolie-Pitts, Colin Angle ’89 SM ’91 and Erika Ebbel ’04 are tying the knot today on the Big Island of Hawaii.

The bride is a PhD candidate in analytical biochemistry at Boston University. While an undergrad at MIT, she founded the WhizKids Foundation, a non-profit group in Cambridge that gets school kids more involved in science. She’s also Miss Massachusetts 2004.

She is the daughter of Eric and Kathryn Ebbel of Hillsborough, Calif.

The groom is co-founder, CEO, and chairman of the board of directors of iRobot, headquartered in Bedford, Mass.

He is the son of Lisa King of Schenectady, NY and Charles E. Angle of Marblehead, Mass.

The couple met when they were both judges at the Boston FIRST Regional Robotics Competition. “He came and sat next to me on the last day and started up a conversation,” Ms. Ebbel said.

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Solar entrepreneur Marco Ferrara

Marco Ferrara SM ’05, PhD ’09 has been named a top-100 best-dressed Bostonian by Fashion Boston magazine.

When reached at his start-up, Solar Machines, the slightly mortified Ferrara laughed and then plugged his innovative device. “We’re making a water pump that uses solar energy to produce mechanical work,” Ferrara says. “On paper, it looks far cheaper than the technologies that have been available. We’re planning to serve low-income farmers who need to pump water for irrigation.”

Solar Machines is a semifinalist in the Cleantech Open, a business plan competition for energy and environmental startups. The national Cleantech winner, which will be announced in November, will snag a quarter million dollars in cash and services. Ferrara says the competition has netted him great advice from industry rock stars. He points out that last year’s Cleantech winner, IntAct Labs, was an MIT startup. He says he’d like to see the East Coast catch up with California’s dominance of the green technology scene. “The more teams we attract,” he says, “the better we are in trying to solve our problems.”

As for the fashion nod—the freebie magazine calls him “MIT’s Italian stallion of haberdashery”—Ferrara suspects he was nominated by a friend who edits Boldfacers.com.

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Robert R. Taylor in his student days.

Tuskegee University has named its new school of architecture for MIT’s first African-American graduate. Until last month the architecture department was part of the College of Engineering, Architecture and Physical Sciences at Tuskegee; now it’s the Robert R. Taylor School of Architecture. Outgoing Tuskegee president Dr. Benjamin F. Payton made the change his last official act.

Robert R. Taylor graduated from MIT in 1892. That same year, at the invitation of Booker T. Washington, the newly minted brass ratter (OK, this was pre-brass rat) set up an architecture program at the Alabama school. “It was very much based on the positive experiences he had at MIT. In spirit, it is very closely aligned with us here,” says Mark Jarzombek PhD ’86, a professor of the history and theory of architecture and the associate dean of MIT’s School of Architecture and Planning.

Taylor is considered the first professionally educated black architect in America. He was also the only African-American student at MIT at the time he was enrolled. “It’s difficult for us to imagine today what it was like back then,” says Jarzombek. “It speaks to his courage and talent, and also a particular type of personality that saw a need for leadership.”

Though Taylor broke down barriers, only about 1.5 percent of today’s American architects are black. (Ted Landsmark, CEO of the Boston Architectural College delivered this great lecture on race in architecture education and practice in 2007. “MIT is viewed as a leader in the field of architectural education,” he said, “but you’re also taking on an entire profession which has elected to a very large extent to ignore these issues completely.” ) At MIT, a fellowship and a non-profit educational foundation bearing Taylor’s name are both aimed at bringing more underrepresented minorities into the profession.

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This carved mantle caught alum Warren Katz's eye

When Warren Katz ’87 sold the software company he’d founded, he used some of the proceeds to buy an 1875 Back Bay townhouse and set about fixing it up to its former glory. At Restoration Resources he discovered an ornately carved mantlepiece that was perfect for the old Victorian. Examining the intricate coat-of-arms design, Katz was suprised to see the words “By the Name of Warren” carved into a wooden ribbon. “Of course I had to have it,” he says.

Katz bought the mantle as well as some wainscoting. The people at the shop told him that both had come from a Commonwealth Avenue home gutted for condos. The home turned out to be around the corner from Katz’s townhouse at 20 Fairfield Street. “I was happy to keep architectural treasures like this in the neighborhood,” he says.

Curious about the name on the mantle, he started digging for information. What he found furnishes a nice bookend for the history of his house.

The house that the mantle came from had belonged to a paper-company owner called Mortimer B. Mason, whose mom was a Warren (hence the carving). Mason’s partner in the paper business was a Warren cousin who also shared a law practice with future Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis.

Delving deeper, Katz discovered that the architect who designed Mason’s Comm. Ave. digs, a Francis Richmond Allen, lived at 20 Fairfield Street—the very house that Katz had bought and decorated with the Comm. Ave. mantle.

“Did Allen invite Mason, Warren, and Brandeis over to 20 Fairfield in 1888 to go over some last minute details on the mantle drawing over a glass of port?” Warren Katz wonders. Anything’s possible in this tale of forensic architecture. One hundred and ten years before Katz graduated, Allen was studying architecture—at MIT.

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