Letters to MIT Community

Letter to the Community

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Despite the ambient sense of uncertainty around the globe, a very different spirit animates the MIT campus. I felt that spirit at Gray House at the start of the semester, when we hosted the dynamic thinkers and doers new to our faculty this year. I felt it over supper with students in The Howard Dining Hall and from the first-year students I’m advising, who feel enormously privileged to have joined the creative community of MIT. I sensed that same invigorating energy at a recent faculty forum on the future of US manufacturing, and I feel it every time I hear about MIT’s latest discoveries and innovations – from new strategies for killing viruses or storing hydrogen or controlling the motion of autonomous robots, to a space mission that will map the moon’s gravitational fields and reveal its geologic history.

We begin this new academic year with new places, new purpose and new programs, ready to take on the tasks of this difficult moment with MIT’s signature focus, energy and creative brilliance.

Maseeh Hall and The Howard Dining Hall
This fall, our community welcomes more new members than usual, thanks to the remarkable gifts that allowed us to open our newest residence, Fariborz Maseeh Hall. With 462 new undergraduate beds, Maseeh enables us to increase our undergraduate enrollment, an important gain in a world that urgently needs more leaders well educated and well practiced in science and engineering. The Howard Dining Hall, a center of Maseeh activity, has already become a hub of community life. Its central location and amazingly good food draw students, staff and faculty to breakfast, lunch and dinner; I encourage you to drop by for a meal and see for yourself. We are deeply grateful to Fariborz Maseeh ScD ‘90 and a set of visionary donors whose gifts supported the latest transformation of the 1901 Rivercourt Hotel into a magnificent undergraduate residence.

Five years of MITEI
Five years ago this fall we launched another transformative effort -- the MIT Energy Initiative, or MITEI – and it’s impressive to consider how much this community can accomplish when we come together against a daunting challenge. When I arrived at MIT in 2004, I heard from faculty, students, staff and alumni that MIT had both an opportunity and a responsibility to help change the world’s energy equation. Since its founding in 2006, MITEI has built tremendous momentum.  It has engaged nearly 300 faculty and senior research staff and attracted more than $320 million in research funding; produced a series of influential technical reports that are helping to shape US policy on key energy issues, including geothermal, nuclear fuel, natural gas and coal; established a new approach to energy education with a new, five-School-based energy minor; inspired energy efficiencies across campus that are saving millions of dollars; and even precipitated the first visit by a US President to an MIT lab. Needless to say, given the scale of the global energy challenge, MITEI will have interesting and significant work for a long time to come. In this fifth anniversary year, MITEI will welcome the MIT community to a series of forums to help define the most important coming problems in sustainable energy technology and policy.  

Designing a new future for American manufacturing
Today, members of the MIT community are coming together around another serious challenge: the future of US manufacturing. Although many people reflexively believe that “Nothing is ‘Made in America’ anymore,” the truth is that manufacturing still accounts for close to 12% of US GDP and 12 million American jobs (which in turn generate 30 million jobs in manufacturing-dependent sectors). Unfortunately, the trends are worrying: 10 years ago, for example, the US had a trade surplus in advanced technology manufactured goods; today we run an 
$81 billion annual trade deficit in these goods, and often we buy back technologies that Americans invented. A further concern is that outsourcing manufacturing to lower-wage countries may be eroding the innovative capacity of US firms by interrupting the two-way flow of ideas between the factory floor and the drawing board.

Last year, following two campus roundtables on manufacturing, a cross-disciplinary team of MIT faculty came together to carry out a study called Production in the Innovation Economy (PIE), led by Professors Suzanne Berger, Phil Sharp and Oli 
de Weck. And, this past summer, the White House recognized MIT’s longstanding expertise in manufacturing by asking me to join Dow Chemical CEO Andrew Liveris in co-chairing the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership, or AMP.

To determine how the US can seize the opportunities of advanced manufacturing, AMP is calling on leading manufacturers, top research universities and key federal agencies to work together to determine how to build US strength in advanced manufacturing. AMP’s early discussions include the creation of shared facilities to develop new manufacturing technologies and designing curricula to build a ready workforce. Associate Provost and Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Marty Schmidt (an entrepreneur and manufacturer himself), will lead MIT’s AMP efforts. You will hear about further manufacturing activities this fall, including a regional AMP meeting in November here at MIT. We want to draw on the experience and insights of people from across the Institute, so please let us know if you would like to participate.

As we learned during the spring semester’s celebration of MIT’s 150th anniversary, William Barton Rogers launched the Institute in 1861 to accelerate America's industrial development. Today, in another challenging moment of economic transition, we continue our founding project, and I am convinced that MIT will again make important contributions.

*    *    *
With a happy glance back to last semester’s remarkable 150th celebration, we seek your thoughts on the anniversary:  Which events were most engaging and successful? What aspects of the anniversary held the most meaning for you? 
How might we sustain the spirit of community that emerged over the 150 days of celebration? And which of the activities would you like to see repeated (perhaps more frequently than once in 150 years)? I encourage you to contribute your thoughts on the MIT150 Idea Bank.

We emerged from MIT150 with a fresh appreciation for our institutional history, culture and mission – and well primed for the ongoing task of inventing the future. I look forward to exploring that frontier with you.


Susan Hockfield


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