Alumni Life

Kira Kopacz '15

Kira Kopacz ’15

The way Kira Kopacz ’15 sees it, there are no two groups more typecast than MIT students and pageant contestants. So why not dispel stereotypes about both—at the same time?

“There are definitely misconceptions about both groups,” Kopacz says. “Pageant contestants aren’t dumb blondes. And MIT students aren’t anti-social—they’re actually pretty outgoing.”

Kopacz is one of 14 contestants who will compete for the titles of Miss Boston and Miss Cambridge on Sunday, February 8. The winners receive a $1,500 academic scholarship, a $1,995 public speaking scholarship, and are eligible to compete in the Miss Massachusetts pageant this summer.

Kopacz, a Course 9 major, entered her first pageant in high school and has competed for Miss Cambridge since 2013. She finished as third runner-up and won a STEM-related scholarship in last year’s competition.

“I get backhanded compliments all the time,” she says. “People at MIT ask, ‘Aren’t there better things for you to do?’ But it’s helped me build confidence, break stereotypes, and take a break from the MIT academia.”

Kira Kopacz (right) won the Miss Middleboro crown in 2014.

Kira Kopacz (right) won the Miss Middleboro crown in 2014.

And much like MIT, pageants competition—Kopacz was named Miss Central Massachusetts in 2013 and Miss Middleboro in 2014—can be more practice and preparation than fun and games.

“Pageant season is basically January to June,” she says. “During that time, my schedule is schoolwork until 5 p.m., rehearsal until midnight, and then I just crash. But it doesn’t feel like work—I love it.”

The Miss Boston/Miss Cambridge pageant is divided into five phases, including a talent program. Kopacz will perform the song “I What I Am” from the 1973 French musical La Cage aux Folles.

“Luckily I live in Burton Connors,” she says. “So I can use the music room to practice instead of my dorm.”

The pageant’s other phases include interviews, on-stage questions, and the evening wear and swimsuit competitions.

“The swimsuit competition is about being comfortable in your own skin,” she says. “The judges are looking for self-confidence. It’s about being able to handle any situation you’re thrown into.”

Kopacz’s journey to Miss Massachusetts isn’t unprecedented. Erika Ebbel Angle ’04 was named Miss Massachusetts in 2004 (Joanne Chang ’03 was fourth runner-up) and Jacqueline “Chacha” Durazo ’14 competed in Miss Cambridge in 2013.

Kopacz will graduate from MIT in June and plans to attend medical school. She hopes to stay involved in pageant competitions and help her sorority, Kappa Alpha Theta, raise awareness for the Boston chapter of CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), a community program that advocates for abused and neglected children in courtrooms and communities.

The Miss Boston and Miss Cambridge pageant takes place on Sunday, February 8, 5:00 p.m., at Boston’s Park Plaza Hotel. Tickets are still available.

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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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Ben Bernanke MIT Business Insider Most Successful?

Ben Bernanke PhD ’79 spoke at MIT’s 2006 Commencement ceremony.

Determining one’s level of success is entirely subjective. And determining the most successful MIT alumni seems impossible.

But, according to the news site Business Insider, 21 MITers stand out in a field of more than 130,000 alumni. The site’s list, which was released last week, includes architects, CEOs, and scientists but gives no defined method for determining success.

While it’s an impressive list, we’ll let you decide if the ranking truly constitutes MIT’s most successful. (“Most well-known” may be a better descriptor.)

The 21-person list, which actually features 22 alumni, list is below. Click on each name to jump to Business Insider for more info.

Let us know your take—and which other alumni merit mention—in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter.

21. Lorenzo Mendoza SM ’93, CEO, Empresas Polar
20. I.M. Pei ’40, architect
19. Drew Houston ’05 and Arash Ferdowsi ’08, founders, Dropbox
18. William Hewlett SM ’36, co-founder, Hewlett-Packard (HP) Company
17. Jonah Peretti SM ’01, founder, BuzzFeed and Huffington Post
16. Brian Halligan MBA ’05, CEO and co-founder, HubSpot
15. John W. Thompson SM ’83, chair, Microsoft
14. William Porter SM ’67, founder, E-Trade
13. Robin Chase SM ’86, co-founder, Zipcar
12. Ivan Getting ’33, engineer, co-credited with development of GPS
11. Shirley Ann Jackson ’68, PhD ’73, president, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
10. James Woods ’69, actor
9. John Potter SM ’95, former United States Postmaster General
8. Benjamin Netanyahu ’75, SM ‘76, prime minister, Israel
7. Amar Bose ’51, SM ’52, ScD ’56, founder, Bose Corporation
6. Andrea Wong ’88, president of international, Sony Pictures Entertainment
5. John Thain ’77, chair and CEO, CIT Group
4. Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin ScD ’63, astronaut
3. Salman Khan ’98, MEng ’98, founder Khan Academy
2. Kofi Annan SM ’72, former secretary-general, United Nations
1. Ben Bernanke PhD ’79, former chair, Federal Reserve

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How do you transition from being an engineering graduate student at MIT to training individuals  to survive in the wild with very limited gear? That’s a question that Cliff Hodges ’02, MEng ’04, survival expert on gets all the time. “It’s something I’ve always been interested in. I would often wonder how I would survive outdoors if I didn’t have all my gear,” Hodges explains. But that’s not the whole story.

Hodges (in the red jacket) leading a 2003 IAP course on wilderness survival.

Hodges (in the red jacket) leading a 2003 IAP course on wilderness survival.

While at MIT, Hodges used his breaks to attend survival training camps and even taught a survivalist class during IAP 2003. “We built shelters and started fire by friction right in front of the dome,” he remembers. After Hodges graduated from MIT, he took a tech job in California, but quickly changed his mind about his career path. “It was just a bad starter job for me,” he says. And, at that job, Hodges began wondering what it would be like to work in his passion.

After a few months in the tech world, Hodges set out to launch his company, Adventure Out in Santa Cruz, CA, where he offers survivalist classes and training. In the early days of his business, Hodges says it was hard to fill the survival training classes.  But in recent years as survival shows like Man vs. Wild and Naked and Afraid, have become popular, his business started booming. “It’s hard to say which came first. I think the shows are increasing demand, but that demand may be increasing interest in the shows,” he explains.

DeadlyDessert_023_RemoteSurvivor

Hodges is a survival expert for Remote Survival. Photo: NatGeo

Hodges recently joined the fray of survival shows after NatGeo asked him to be a survival expert for their new show Remote Survival. On the show, untrained campers are dropped into the wild with limited gear. Hodges helps these campers survive by offering them instructions through radio communication.  The job is especially difficult , he says, because the campers are constantly on the move, the worst option for survival. “Unless you’re in imminent danger, you stay put,” he explains.

These difficult situations are when Hodges makes use of his MIT background. “A degree in engineering is a degree in problem solving,” he says. “I can take these situations that seem insurmountable and break them down piece by piece.”

Remote Survival’s first mini season is on NatGeo now.  Hodges is hoping to be renewed for a full season.

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An average of seven million cats and dogs enter animal shelters each year, and 2.7 million are euthanized, according to the US Humane Society. In Silicon Valley, 40 percent of adoptable shelter pets were euthanized in 2013.

AdoptMeApp

AdoptMeApp’s CynthiaTypaldos (right) with mobile app developer Helena Merk and their dogs Lucky, Bunny, and Tiki.

Meet Cynthia Typaldos SM ’81, founder of a number of Silicon Valley tech startups and a pet owner to three shelter dogs and six cockatiels. With her full house, she was unable to keep Bronco, a gray pit bull that had wandered into her yard. So she dropped him off at her local municipal animal shelter. When he was still there a couple months later, she fliered her region with hundreds of posters to find him a home.

The idea for AdoptMeApp was born.

“A lot of the municipal and county shelters are run by police. They do a great job of getting animals off the street, but a poor job at getting the word out about adoptable pets,” said Typaldos. She adds that shelters are often hindered by archaic client-server technology and dependent on volunteers with varying levels of communications expertise to spread the word about adoptable pets.

She and her team developed AdoptMeApp, a smartphone app that shelter volunteers can easily use to post stories about shelter pets complete with video and photos to tell an animal’s story from his or her point of view. It’s already having a positive impact on adoption at Humane Society Silicon Valley. “What our app does is say these are great pets…they just happen to be homeless,” she said.

Canelo on AdoptMeApp

Canelo on AdoptMeApp

There’s the story of Canelo, a two year-old Chihuahua mix: “I am cautious of strangers initially, but once I warm up with some happy talk and yummy treats, I will dazzle you with my charming smile that goes ear to ear.”

Foxy Cleopatra, a one-year-old domestic short hair cat, shares a bit of her personality in her post: “I know that my jaw-dropping gorgeous eyes and indescribably beautiful coat has struck you like no other feline you’ve ever met. And yes, you are seeing right, I have both brown AND gray markings.”

Can’t adopt a pet? Typaldos and her team have also developed SponsorMeApp, which allows animal lovers to donate money to the shelter on behalf of a specific pet. In return, the sponsor receives updates on and photos of the animal.

The company recently received a Red Cross Technology Hero Award and has joined up with the MIT Club of Northern California’s Bay Area Venture Mentoring Service to expand. The technologies behind AdoptMeApp and SponsorMeApp could extend far beyond just dogs and cats. “It could be for sponsoring a baby elephant…it could be for a fire truck,” she said.

Visit AdoptMeApp’s website or Twitter feed for more information, and follow along on Humane Society Silicon Valley’s AdoptMeApp Twitter feed for tweets linked to the stories of adoptable pets. 

 

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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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On a cold fall day, while waiting for the M2 shuttle back to the MIT campus, Livia Blackburne PhD ’13 passed a window display at the Harvard Coop. It was for a new series of young adult fiction about a girl and her vampire boyfriend.  MidnightThief-cov

“I picked it up, started reading, and got incredibly addicted. I got all four books and read them in three days. That just reminded me how much I loved reading and how I once wanted to be a young adult author,” she recalls.

After she finished her doctoral work in brain and cognitive science, Blackburne spent her nights returning to a craft she was first attracted to in high school. After graduating, she workshopped her first novel, found an agent for it, and sold it to Disney Hyperion books last year.

In this Alumni Books Podcast, Blackburne recounts the story behind Midnight Thief, her debut novel that has attracted widespread attention and enough encouragement to pursue writing full-time. Fans of the MIT Assassins Guild will appreciate Blackburne’s heroine’s journey in this tale, recruited at first by a group of assassins in a revolutionary plot before deciding to pursue her own course.

Asked whether any of her MIT education is at work in this novel of medieval mischief, Blackburne says: “What I found really helpful was the social psychology I learned while studying for my quals. I learned a lot about different cultures and world views. It was really useful to use that knowledge to build different societies.”

Having finished a book tour this fall, Blackburne, now living in Los Angeles, is at work on a sequel. For now, her career in academia is on hold.

Visit the MIT Alumni Association on Soundcloud and listen to past podcasts on architecture, gaming, health care, and oceanography.

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Guest Post by Aaron Johnson from the Ask an Engineer series, published by MIT’s School of Engineering

Because bikers are tougher than meteorologists. Just kidding! Read on…

Phoro: Brent Moore

Photo: Brent Moore

Turn on the news when a hurricane makes landfall and there’s a good chance you’ll see a brave (or foolish) meteorologist reporting live from the scene of the storm. He or she is probably yelling into the microphone about how the wind’s so strong that he or she has to hold onto a tree, traffic sign, or telephone pole to keep from blowing away. But attention-seeking meteorologists are not the only people who have to hang on during very high winds—motorcyclists are, too, every day. They’re also fully exposed, but they can zoom along at very high speeds and not fly off the back of their motorcycles? Why not?

It all comes down to a force called drag, says Richard Perdichizzi, a technical instructor in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics who operates the Wright Brothers Wind Tunnel.“Drag is the force a body produces as the air moves around it,” he explains. The amount of force is a function of two factors—the body’s cross-sectional area, and its shape. The cross-sectional area is simply the size of the object facing the wind. According to Perdichizzi, “the average person presents approximately eight square feet of blockage.” But that’s only if you’re standing perfectly upright. If you stand sideways and suck in your stomach, or if you roll up into a ball, your cross-sectional area decreases and you’ll experience less drag force. This is essentially what a lot of motorcyclists do when they’re zipping down the highway. They put their heads and shoulders down and pull their knees up, minimizing their cross-sectional area.

Motorcyclists need to be able to see and steer their bikes, so there’s a limit to how small they can make their cross-sectional areas. This is where the shape of the motorcycle becomes important. The fairing—the contoured piece of metal or plastic covering the front of the motorcycle—and the windshield are specially designed to be as aerodynamic as possible. They smoothly deflect the air instead of stopping it or creating turbulence like a flat, boxy surface would. Stopped and turbulent air lead to more drag. Read more

Visit the MIT School of Engineering’s Ask an Engineer site for answers to more of your questions.

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Taking part in a combined 22 missions, the six alumni astronauts interviewed by Slice of MIT are no strangers to space. Yet John Grunsfeld ’80, Dominic Antonelli ’89, Mike Fincke ’89, Franklin Chang-Diaz ScD ’77, Chris Cassidy SM ’00, and Mike Massimino SM ’88, ENG ’90, ME ’90, PhD ’92 are still in awe of the experience of looking back on Earth. “It’s so hard to put it in words,” shared Chris Cassidy.

In fact this group of MIT alumni astronauts hold a common memory—how moving it is to see your home planet in a new way. “The Earth…I think it might actually be paradise,” Massimino remembered. “It is very much the most beautiful thing you ever saw,” Chang-Diaz recalled in the video. The astronauts also discussed the thrill of takeoff, including last minute fears that they might not be headed to space after all. “All the way up to the final countdown, I thought they were going to open the hatch and say ‘Hey, we made a mistake, get out,’” Fincke recalled.

The six astronauts cover nearly 30 years of space missions. Chang-Diaz, who leads the group with seven missions, took his first space flight in 1986 as a member of STS 61-C (1986) aboard Space Shuttle Columbia. Cassidy bookends the group’s collection of missions with his 2013 trip to the International Space Station as part of Expedition 36.  Many of the astronauts said that whether it’s your first or seventh visit, the experience of space is spectacular each time.

Hear what each astronaut had to say about their missions and what it’s like to look back home from hundreds of miles away.

The video was produced by Alumni Association videographer Brielle Domings. 

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Update: Watch the archived broadcast.

Noam Chomsky interview webcast MIT

MIT alumni can ask live questions during the Jan. 20 webcast.

On January 20, 2015, at noon EST, Institute Professor Emeritus Noam Chomsky—the longtime political activist and founder the field of modern linguistics—discussed his career and took live questions from the MIT community in a Faculty Forum Online webcast. Chomsky also discussed the Chomsky Archive, an MIT Libraries project to preserve and digitize the lectures, personal papers, and materials he has donated to the Institute Archives and Special Collections.

Known as the “father of modern linguistics,” Chomsky shaped the linguistics field around the profound question, “What does language reveal about the nature of knowledge?” One of the world’s most-cited living scholars, he has authored more than 100 books and his political commentaries have sparked controversy and conversation for more than 50 years.

About Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky interview webcast MIT

Noam Chomsky

Known as the “father of modern linguistics,” Institute Professor Emeritus Noam Chomsky shaped the linguistics field around the profound question, “What does language reveal about the nature of knowledge?” Chomsky joined the MIT faculty in 1955 and was appointed Institute Professor in 1976.

Chomsky has authored more than 100 books on language and politics and is one of the world’s most-cited living scholars.

His well-known political beliefs have made him a significant figure in public activism, particularly on issues like capitalism and foreign policy.

Chomsky in the Press

The Chomsky Videos, YouTube
Noam Chomsky Official Website
The Chomsky Archives, MIT Libraries
MIT Libraries receive papers of distinguished linguist, philosopher and activist Noam Chomsky,” MIT News
Unboxing the Chomsky Archive,” MIT News
Chomsky on Russia: ‘The worst-case scenario, of course, would be a nuclear war,’” Salon
Interview with Noam Chomsky on the Crisis in Central America and Mexico,” The Nation
@chomsky_quotes, a collection of Noam Chomsky quotes on Twitter

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