Nancy DuVergne Smith

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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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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Instructables offers myriad valentine do-it-yourself projects.

Instructables offers do-it-yourself valentines.

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day—have you made your token of love? Don’t despair–it’s not too late for your MIT mind-and-hand training to kick in. Here are some ideas brought to you by alumni working in the maker zone.

Check out the Valentine’s Gift Guide for makers, hackers, artists, and engineers at Adafruit Industries, founded by Limor Fried ’03, MEng ’05.

You could buy cool gifts—like the full color MiniPOV that would let you project your sweetheart’s name in light—or make your own gift using tutorials in the Adafruit Learning System. You can create a light-up heart display or a Ringly, a bluetooth notification device build into a metal and stone cocktail ring, with a few Adafruit components.

Make a lighted heart with Adafruit instructions.

Make a lighted heart with Adafruit instructions.

Popular Mechanics named Limor among the “25 Makers Who Are Reinventing the American Dream” along with Eric Wilhelm ’99, SM ’01, PhD ’04 and Christy Canida ’99, who launched the how-to company, Instructables.

Instructables has its own maker Valentine options. For a last-minute option, grab a dollar bill and watch the video to make a Dollar Bill Origami Heart. And with scissors, straws, and colored paper plus a few drink ingredients, you can still toast your love with Cheers to Valentine’s recipes and tokens.

To make a wooden cartouche, get out your woodworking tools and craft a chunk of hardwood into a polished heart. For a more electronically attuned Valentine, try making a Steampunked Heart-Beat-Box, which will provide a personal light show.

Another option is to visit the Makeymakey website, created by Media Lab colleagues Jay Silver SM ’08, PhD ’14, founder/CEO of JoyLabz/MakeyMakey, and Eric Rosenbaum SM ’09, a doctoral student in the Lifelong Kindergarten group. Makeymakey invention kits can be transformed into interactive projects such as Sketch It, Play It, which connects a simple drawing to a jam station with lights and sounds, and Interactive ‘Zine, make a ‘zine that triggers soundscapes and animations programmed in Scratch.

And, as long as you are working in Scratch, a free programming language and community based in the Lifelong Kindergarten group, you could try the Valentine poem maker and the Valentine’s card maker.

More MIT-style Valentines:

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Taylor’s photograph on the stamp was taken circa 1890, when he was an MIT student. Photo: MIT Museum.

Taylor’s photograph on the stamp was taken circa 1890, when he was an MIT student. Photo: MIT Museum.

The United States Post Office is honoring one of MIT’s own today, issuing a stamp to honor architect and educator Robert Robinson Taylor. He is MIT’s first African-American graduate and is believed to be the country’s first academically trained black architect.

Taylor’s lifework included supervising the design and construction of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama while also overseeing the school’s programs in industrial education and the building trades.

MIT President L. Rafael Reif addressed Taylor’s contributions at the dedication ceremony at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum in Washington, DC, on Feb. 12.

“As we honor the legacy of Robert Taylor, today’s ceremony reminds us that he was a builder…not only of structures, but of communities…and an architect who designed not only a campus of national importance…but a more promising future for generations to come,” said President Reif. “Robert Robinson Taylor truly represents the best of MIT.”

Taylor, who was born in North Carolina in 1868, learned carpentry and construction from his father, a former slave. After working as a construction foreman a few years, he moved to Boston in 1888, and threw himself into his MIT studies. He took as many as ten courses per semester, earning honors in trigonometry, architectural history, differential calculus, and applied mechanics.

After graduating from MIT’s architecture school, the first in the US, he accepted an offer from educator and activist Booker T. Washington to work at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.

At Tuskegee, he had an enormous impact—first by establishing a beginning architecture curriculum, which helped graduates enter collegiate architecture programs or win entry-level positions in architectural offices. He raised the sights of African-American students to look beyond working as builders and carpenters to taking on professional roles as designers and architects. His second major contribution at Tuskegee was designing and building major campus structures over a 30-year period, creating state-of-the-art buildings where cabins once stood.

Beyond Tuskegee, Taylor designed academic and commercial buildings and helped found the Booker Washington Agricultural and Industrial Institute in Liberia. After he retired in 1932, Taylor was involved in public service and advocacy until his death in 1942.

Taylor addressed MIT’s 50th anniversary in 1911, summarizing what his MIT training helped bring to Tuskegee: “the love of doing things correctly, of putting logical ways of thinking into the humblest task, of studying surrounding conditions, of soil, of climate, of materials and of using them to the best advantage in contributing to build up the immediate community in which the persons live, and in this way increasing the power and grandeur of the nation.”

Tuskegee named its architecture school after Taylor in 2010.

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Ice shells become strong and artful objects.

Ice shells become strong and artful objects.

When MIT students are out in freezing weather making things, anything can happen. During Independent Activities Period (IAP), they made structurally complex objects using the power of frozen water-soaked fabric. Watch the video Forces Frozen: Structures made from frozen fabrics.

The three-day workshop drew students from many disciplines.

The three-day workshop drew students from many disciplines.

The IAP workshop, titled Forces Frozen, pushed the boundaries of ice shells through design, experimentation, and fabrication. Led by Assistant Professor Caitlin Mueller ’07, SM ’14, PhD ’14 and post-doc Corentin Fivet, the workshop invited 30 students to research and design ice/fabric forms and the methods for making them on the first day and then spend the second day building formwork and rigging systems.  On the final day, they constructed an outdoor landscape of frozen structures and shared the work in a public exhibition.

The projects focus “on thin shell structures that get their strength not from the materials they are using or a thickness of material, but from the form they are using, just like an eggshell,” says Mueller. “The shells that we are designing are inspired by a twentieth-century Swiss structural designer, Heinz Isler…he was really inspired by nature and the forms that come out naturally through the forces of gravity. This is a really fun opportunity to combine physics, mechanics, and science with creating something that is almost artistic.”

Learn more on the Forces Frozen tumblr and a BetaBoston article.

You can try this at home.

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How can you sharpen your business thinking while connecting with MIT alumni entrepreneurs and leaders in the Institute’s innovation culture? Sign up for Entrepreneurship 101 and 102, the free massive open online courses (MOOCs) created at MIT for edX, the global online learning platform established by Harvard and MIT.

The courses are based on the legendary MIT course 15.390 New Enterprises, which is taught by Bill Aulet SM ’94, the managing director of the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship. New Enterprises has been a cradle to hundreds of MIT startups, such as A123 Systems, Lark, and Okta among others.

Because the courses let you learn at your own pace, you can start as soon as you register—now through the end of March. A bonus: if you register for a verified certificate you can earn $1,000 in Amazon Web Services credit when you complete the course.

What will you learn?

MOOCs, free online courses, link students to MIT entrepreneurial culture.

MOOCs, free online courses, link students to MIT’s entrepreneurial culture.

According to Erdin Beshimov MBA ’11, who leads an MITx group creating these courses, the first class, Entrepreneurship 101: Who is your customer? teaches aspiring entrepreneurs how to find a customer for their idea. “Essentially, the course is about learning to look at the world through the eyes of the customer, an essential learning stage for every entrepreneur,” he says. “The course includes numerous case studies of MIT entrepreneurs from fields as diverse as power electronics, watchmaking, 3D printing, and mobile apps. For example, you’ll meet Hyungsoo Kim MBA ′12 of Eone—and be touched by his inspiring story of making watches, or timepieces as he calls them, for people who are visually impaired.”

In another module, students learn from Hanna Adeyema MBA ’13, who was born in Nigeria, raised in the former Soviet Union, and cofounded Tenacity Health after studying at the MIT Sloan School of Management. In a video interview, she describes challenges facing her startup and what she finds fulfilling.

Learn from Tenacity Health co-founder Hanna Adeyema MBA '13.

Learn from Tenacity Health co-founder Hanna Adeyema.

“Being an entrepreneur is very exciting because every day you are making decisions that impact the development of a new product that never existed and that maybe, in the distant future, is going to change someone’s life,” she says. “To know that you are directly responsible for this is pretty powerful.”

In the second course, Entrepreneurship 102: What can you do for your customer?, students use their knowledge of the customer to understand how they will solve the customer’s problem and, ultimately, what product or service they would build. Entrepreneurship 102 is also based on case studies of MIT entrepreneurs, such as Sandra Richter of Soofa and Max Faingezicht and Adam Blake of ThriveHive.

Alumni Connections

Beshimov says the two courses have already enrolled more than 120,000 students worldwide. And, he says, his group at MIT would welcome input from alumni on how to make the courses better. You can write to him at beshimov@mit.edu or tweet them at @erdinb or @mit15390x.

“What we are doing is making the entrepreneurial magic of MIT open to anyone in the world for the betterment of the world,” says Beshimov, “and we want MIT alumni to be involved in that process.”

Find out more about the impact of MIT’s entrepreneurial culture in a short video and explore other edX courses.

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Guest blogger: Zach Church, MIT Sloan

The NHL last month named energy company Constellation the official preferred energy provider of the league, a deal that will find Constellation providing energy efficiency analysis for the league and offsetting the carbon footprint of its 2014-2015 season.

The 2014 NHL Winter Classic in Ann Arbor, Mich. Photo: Dave Sanford, Getty Images

The 2014 NHL Winter Classic in Ann Arbor, Mich. Photo: Dave Sanford, Getty Images

The Dec. 18 announcement was a big one for the hockey league, which since 2010 has been touting its NHL Green initiative and which in July released a massive sustainability report chronicling the environmental impact of its games, its arenas, its corporate partners, and even the travel of its fans.

The report is the work of Omar Mitchell MBA ’12, who joined the NHL in 2012 as director of sustainability. Add in accompanying projects like a push to introduce energy- and heat-saving LED lighting in hockey arenas, and Mitchell has had a busy three years.

The sustainability report—a “tome,” Mitchell only half-jokes—was never a given. Though all of North America’s major sports leagues have some type of sustainability initiative, none has taken on such a hefty task, especially one not required of them. By voluntarily reporting its carbon footprint, the NHL is putting a stake in the ground and publically challenging itself to improve, Mitchell said.

For a sport whose greatest players learned the game on frozen ponds, there is an existential element to the threat of climate change. The report notes that NHL fans are more likely to recycle, support environmental causes, and buy eco-friendly products than the average U.S. adult….

Producing such an extensive report and using it to identify and drive sustainability initiatives required significant buy-in and partnership not only at the league offices in New York City, but among its 30 teams. Mitchell gained that support with the help of only one full-time staffer and an intern. To develop the report, he worked with the National Resources Defense Council, a climate change advocacy group and NHL Green’s primary advisor….

“We think of the report as ‘This is where we are,’” Mitchell said. “And then, once we know where we are, both quantitatively and qualitatively, where do we want to go?”

Jason Jay, a senior lecturer and the director of the MIT Sloan Sustainability Initiative, said corporate sustainability leaders like Mitchell must demonstrate the value of sustainability work to the business at large.

“The biggest challenge is one of translation of sustainability into the language, values, and goals of the people you need to engage,” Jay said. “People don’t understand terms like C02e or disability-adjusted life years, and they certainly haven’t been incentivized to improve them.”

Read the complete story for details.

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The Swarmcreativity session examines what your social network tells you.

Sloan’s Swarmcreativity session examines what your social network reveals about you.

Warm up in January beside an intellectual campfire—that is, the many creative and learning opportunities available through Independent Activities Period (IAP). On campus, you can choose from an array of mostly free non-credit sessions from a film viewing to a multi-part programming course. IAP activities, which run through January 30, are open to MIT alumni and the campus community.

You can also stay cozy at home and tap into online course materials through MIT OpenCourseWare. Try out Transmedia Storytelling: Modern Science Fiction, a spring 2014 course, or select a Highlights for High School selection such as the Chandra Astrophysics Institute video course. OCW and the more structured courses on edX are available free to the public as well.

To identify interesting IAP sessions, search the options by date or sponsor or you can browse the 48 non-credit categories. IAP also offers intensive academic and physical education courses for students.

In the Computers: Web Design and Development category, you can sign up for a three-session class that includes Swarmcreativity—Introduction to Collaboration Science, Coolhunting, and Virtual Mirroring and Coolfarming. Sign up for Coolfarming – How to Create Collaborative Innovation Networks (COINs) by Jan. 12, first class is Jan. 14. You can also learn about the Sloan course through the OpenCourseware version or the COINs2013 seminar website.

Forces Frozen, an Art and Architecture (A&A) workshop, explores the world of structural ice shells, inspired by Swiss engineer and designer Heinz Isler. You begin by researching and designing ice/fabric forms, learn to build formwork and rigging systems, and on the final day, construct an outdoor landscape of frozen structures. Sign up for Forces Frozen by Jan. 9, first of five classes is Jan. 12.

Also in A&S, you can hear a Jan. 21 campus talk and tour of the LEED Platinum Certified Artists For Humanity EpiCenter to discover how they are employing energy-efficiency and renewable-energy systems. Sign up for the MIT Energy Initiative-sponsored event by Jan. 14.

Join staff from the List Visual Arts Center on Jan. 21, 2:00-4:00 p.m., to check out Boston’s most important contemporary art galleries and learn how institutions like the List collect contemporary art. The Boston Contemporary Art Gallery Crawl begins at 450 Harrison Avenue, Boston; no sign up required.

Film lovers can view the Best of the European Short Film Festival 2014 on Jan. 26, 7:00-9:00 p.m., in 32-123. View a full listing of the films, which include prize-winning entries and a selection of audience and jury favorites. No sign up necessary.

In Educational Technology, you can take a one-session course titled Introduction to Making at MIT and Beyond. You can learn more about 3D printing, rapid fabrication, and maker spaces at MIT and how alumni are using these techniques in the world. Overview, presentations, and a panel discussion is scheduled Jan. 27, 4:00-5:15 p.m. in 32-155. No signup required.

Or bring your Apple mobile device to Siri and Beyond: Using Speech and More to Control Your iOS Device. Technical consultant Kim Patch will demonstrate how to use the native speech control on the iPhone and iPad efficiently. Set for Jan. 14, 1:00-2:30 p.m. in E17-121. No signup required for this Educational Technology session.

In a Careers session, you can find out how to Get a Patent on Your Invention and Turn It into a Startup! An MIT technology licensing officer will describe when and how to file a patent and how to get the coveted exclusive license. Sign up by emailing kmkhalil@mit.edu by Jan. 15 for this session set for the same day, Jan. 15, from 12:30-2:00 p.m. in 3-133.

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Newly certified swimmer Lita Nelsen ’64, SM ’66, SM ’79 with her instructor Betty Lou McClanahan.

Newly certified swimmer Lita Nelsen ’64, SM ’66, SM ’79, left, with her instructor Betty Lou McClanahan.

Guest Blogger: Sarah Goodman, DAPER

“Can you teach an uncoordinated old lady to swim?”

“I can teach anyone to swim.”

This was the question and answer, respectively, from Lita Nelsen ’64, SM ’66, SM ’79 and MIT private swim instructor Betty Lou McClanahan.

And why did she ask? Nelsen was one of only 22 women in her graduating class at MIT and finished as the top student in Course 10. She also earned two master’s degrees at MIT, one in chemical engineering and the other through the Sloan Fellows program. Nelsen spent two decades working on biotechnology for several prominent companies. In 1986, she joined MIT’s Technology Licensing Office and has served as director there since 1993 and she is a highly-regarded expert in the field.

Despite these accomplishments, she still joshes that she is an illegal graduate of MIT. Why? Nelsen never passed her student swim requirement.

To be fair, at that point in MIT history, women were not required to fulfill the physical education requirements expected of their male peers. Regardless, Nelsen established the goal of passing her MIT swim test before her MIT 50th class reunion in 2014. To do so, Nelsen sought help from McClanahan, an instructor with MIT Recreational Sports, whose approach—breaking the task into discrete parts and doing many repetitions—was especially helpful to Nelsen.

Though she was an avid participant in the MIT Outdoor Club, Nelsen did not feel that PE was important during her tenure as an MIT student. However, in retrospect, she thinks it is very valuable because it promotes skill-set development that extends beyond graduation. Nelsen described how her husband, also an MIT graduate, took up sailing with no prior experience, became a national champion, and sails to this day. Nelsen says the worth of physical education goes beyond learning physical skills. “It’s play. I think the variety of stuff at DAPER [Department of Athletics, Physical Education, and Recreation] allows people to do a lot of experimentation. You don’t have to get an ‘A.’ Try different things. It’s fun.” Nelsen also finds value in doing an activity to simply enjoy the process, and she believes this mindset would benefit the high-achieving, outcome-oriented MIT student, especially at an institution with a history of celebrating and respecting amateurism.

Nelsen offered additional pieces of advice for MIT students, especially women entering a male-dominated profession like engineering:

  • Do what you really like, because if you’re here, you’re certainly smart enough to do whatever you like well. You’re going to do what you really like better.
  • Fear of failure is a handicap. Find a way to get over it.
  • Find a mentor that gives you perspective, not just encouragement, but the perspective that you need to build a career.
  • Yes, you can combine career and family. You’ve just got to do it, and the first step of doing it finding the right partner.”

Nelsen achieved her goal of passing the MIT swim test by her 50th reunion last June. She called up the Office of the Bursar and director of physical education to make sure that her official MIT transcript was updated to “passed swim requirement.”  Now, just like any MIT student, she has already moved on to conquering the next challenge: the flip turn.

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Megan Smith ’86, SM ’88, the 2015 MIT Commencement speaker. Watch the June 5 webcast.

Megan Smith ’86, SM ’88 has been named the 2015 MIT Commencement speaker. Watch the June 5 webcast. Photo: Joi Ito

Megan Smith ’86, SM ’88, the newly installed chief technology officer (CTO) of the United States, is coming home to MIT once again. This time as the June 5, 2015, Commencement speaker. After earning two degrees and serving two stints on the MIT Corporation, she certainly knows the campus layout.

And she knows the issues facing technology creators and entrepreneurs. Until her White House appointment, she served as a VP of New Business Development at Google, initiating partnerships and acquiring the Google Earth, Google Maps, and Picasa platforms.

Smith was on the leadership team of the famously secretive Google[x] project. Many MIT alumni work on that project, including Mike Cassidy ’85, SM ’86 and Rich DeVaul SM ’99, PhD ’04. Their Project Loon aims to use solar- and wind-powered balloons to connect remote areas to the Internet. She also co-created the Solve For <X> project that invites inventors to “accelerate progress on technology moonshots.”

In a 2007 Technology Review profile, Smith noted that as an MIT mechanical-engineering student, she built a solar car and drove it in the first Cross-Continental Solar Car race across the Australian outback. “I loved all my time at MIT,” she said, which included serving as a young alumni member of the MIT Corporation from 1988 to 1993 and later on visiting committees. In 2006 Smith rejoined the MIT Corporation and resigned earlier this year.

Smith arrived at Google from PlanetOut, an interactive media company and series of web sites serving the gay and lesbian community; she was COO and then CEO until 2001. Earlier she worked at Apple Computer Japan in Tokyo, where she developed the multimedia market. She served as product design lead and then as manager of General Magic, an Apple Computer spinoff devoted to developing a PDA precursor.

As CTO, Smith guides the President’s technology policies and initiatives such as using technology to help create jobs, reduce health care costs, keep the nation secure, and increase access to broadband. In her new role, she joins the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, headed by John P. Holdren ’65, SM ‘66.

Learn more about Smith in a MIT News piece. Or about  learn about the history of MIT Commencement speakers.

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