As of June 1, 2008 I became President-elect of the MIT Club of Boston. Predictably, this is the largest MIT alumni club in the world and I see this as a serious responsibility and a great opportunity. Vaguely terrifying as well.
MIT Club of Boston, Boston Seminar Series 2006-2007 Season
This is something I've been involved with since roughly January '06 and I enjoy every moment. The Boston Seminar Series is a longstanding tradition at the MIT Club of Boston. Roughly each month during the school year leading MIT faculty are invited to join local area alums for dinner and during the latter portion of the evening they present their latest research and findings to the audience. To put it simply, these speakers are either the very best in the world at what they do or they're among a tiny handful of global leaders in their chosen fields. However you slice it, it makes for a fascinating evening and it's genuinely unique - this kind of event just isn't happening anywhere else (unless it's another MIT club!)
As the chairman of this event, I play a role in organizing the series, selecting and inviting the speakers, serving as master of ceremonies, and then collecting the name tags at the end of the evening so they can be recycled the following month. This activity is easily one of the most satisfying and enjoyable things I've done in quite a while.
The 2006-2007 season has been a smash success (I'm biased, but I think it's a fair statement) and the roster of speakers and topics includes:
Jeff Tester - "Transitioning to a Sustainable Energy Future"
Dan Nocera - "Powering the Planet; On the Global Energy Future"
Bob Desimone - "How the Brain Pays Attention"
Don Sadoway - "High-Performance Rechargeable Batteries for Sustainable Transportation and Large-scale Storage of Electric Power"
Phil Sharp - "Biotechnology of Small RNAs"
Jackie Lees - "Cancer Research at MIT"
MIT Club of Boston, Boston Seminar Series 2007-2008 Season
The hits just keep coming - just like last year, this season's lineup of speakers is amazing:
Matt Wilson - "Hippocampal memory formation, reactivation, and the role of sleep"
Drew Endy - "Technologies for Engineering Biology"
Rebecca Henderson - "Strategic Choices: From Fighting Fires to Lighting the Way"
Ernie Moniz - "The Future of Coal"
Kerry Emmanuel - "Is Global Warming Affecting Hurricanes?"
Michael Greenstone - "The Consequences of Climate Change on Mortality in the US and India"
MIT Club of Boston, Boston Seminar Series 2008-2009 Season
Now in my last season of this event, this year's speakers appear below. What an experience this has been!
Dick Wurtman - "Discovering a Treatment for Alzheimer's Disease"
Bevin Engelward - "Mutations Cause Cancer, What Causes Mutations?"
Daron Acemoglu - "Rethinking the Wealth of Nations"
Yet-Ming Chiang - "Role of Battery Technology in the Electrification of Vehicles"
Peter Fisher - "Dark Matter: Do we need it? What is it? Where is it? How much?"
Jonas Peters - TBA
MIT Has Been a Part of My Entire Life
A big statement, but quite true. If my mother is right, then in 1941 she was the second woman to graduate from Course 1. Regardless, while she wasn't the first woman on campus she certainly was one of the very few. After graduating, she went to work at Budd Aerospace, designing a stainless steel bomber (steel withstands shrapnel & anti-aircraft fire better than aluminum...) The bomber was cancelled (too damn heavy) but I'm told that there may be a piece of the airframe in one of the museums on campus.
Update Jun 16, 2008: My mother has admitted she's slowing down. At 90 years of age I guess that's allowed. Her admission is that when she engages in pewtersmithing she no longer uses a blow torch. Apparently, anything else is fair game.
Personally, I earned a master's degree in the Management of Technology in 2004. The MOT program was a mid-career program focused on teaching an experienced group of professionals how to master the process of innovation and directing these innovations in a way that produces quantifiable business results (as in dollars, yen, euros, yuan, etc.) Without a doubt, the people in my program were some of the most highly qualified and accomplished people I've ever spent time with.
MIT Enterprise Forum
By the mid- to late-1980's it was clear to me that MIT was a juggernaut in my backyard. At the time, not being an alum, there were only a few ways to start learning first hand what was going on around the campus, so after persisting for awhile, I convinced the MIT Enterprise Forum (MITEF) to take me on as a volunteer. They assigned me to the Membership Committee where I confirmed the lessons I learned through the MSRA (see below), the main ones being that it's damn hard to define and articulate the reasons to become a member of these organizations, it's hard to deliver the value that people expect (particularly when they don't know what they want), and that just like sales, the lifeblood of an organization is its members (customers) and getting new ones all the time is absolutely essential.
After two or three years of clutching for answers to growing the membership base I volunteered to analyze the MITEF's membership database - you know, one of those things where it sounds like a good thing to do, but later you realize that doing it right makes keel hauling look like an attractive alternative. I persevered.
To some minds, the analysis I produced was compelling and very valuable. I don't know if it made a difference, but I do know that it provided answers that hadn't existed before and provided at least a modest basis for action. It also reinforced in my mind how much I enjoy solving complex real-world problems.
Ultimately, I spent several years grappling with these issues and probably met with as much success as could be reasonably expected. Today the MITEF is a thriving organization although I'd be overstepping wildly if I thought I deserved any credit. One thing's for sure: Man, it's good to contribute.
My volunteer activities date back to the mid-1980's when I served as Tournament Director for the Massachusetts Squash Racquets Association (MSRA). At the time it was an incredibly conservative and thickly hide-bound organization that regarded minor changes like putting on fresh underwear each day as being radical, wild-eyed, and ill-considered. I chafed.
It was probably because of my discomfiture that after serving three years of a two year term, cleaning up after my predecessors' incompetence and negligence, expanding the activities under my charge and being quite successful in general, that the MSRA chose to not ask me back. I mean there was no discussion, no notice, and even later, no recognition that I wasn't involved, just radio silence. I think by that point the Executive Committee was as tired of me as I was of them.
Nonetheless, I found that my job was very satisfying and brought me into contact with a wide range of very interesting, genuine people.
Since my appetite for organizing and executing had been whetted, when I started hanging out with a couple South Africans they suggested organizing our own league. Here in the US, the sport was transitioning to the International game and it was hard to find a good game, and the MSRA league was no place for good players. So with the help of my new friends we organized the Premier League(!) and attracted the best players pretty much from all over New England. We even had prize money, which was unheard of in those days.
For two years we ran this league from the courts at Brandeis University and it was a massive success. I finally ran out of steam because making it work smoothly required a hellacious amount of time. But I loved it.
And even though I thought I'd put some distance between myself and the MSRA, in its wisdom the MSRA Executive Committee appointed my original predecessor (see above) as a "liaison" to our league. Of course, this happened to be the same guy that had been threatening to sue Brandeis over the public use of its squash courts, but then maybe that's why he was appointed as liaison. When I pointed this out to the two primary decision makers on the Executive Committee, I got the impression they were completely unaware of their "liaison's" intentions. The idea of having any liaison at all to our league died quickly and quietly - the MSRA was very good at radio silence.
Nonetheless, since the mission of the MSRA was to grow and manage the sport, this "liaison" continued to serve as president of the association and was held in the highest regard by these decision makers as well as the rest of the Executive Committee.