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MIT Better World

These standout volunteers explain what drives them.

Inspired by Classmates: Breanna Berry ’12

Throughout my time at MIT, I was able to participate in so many opportunities. MIT Dance Troupe kept me sane. The Electric Vehicle Team taught me important life skills— the willingness to ask for help, the desire to iterate, and how to be involved. However, I need to look no further than Facebook for my inspiration to volunteer. My classmates are my inspiration. To give a few examples that don’t even scratch the surface: Gabe Blanchet ’14 cofounded Grove, which helps teach hydroponic farming and makes it easier to grow your own garden at home. Ashli Davis-Polanco ’12 cofounded Gique, a nonprofit that inspires STEAM education. Many others are influencing their communities and their networks. MIT is amazing because, while you leave the edifices and the grounds, you get to take lifelong connections with you.

Inventing Tradition: Jennifer Yang ’97

I always knew I’d stay involved with MIT, just not to what extent. I was very active as an undergrad—with the Undergraduate Association, Alpha Chi Omega, the track team, even Charm School. During our senior year, a classmate joked, “Why wait five years for a reunion? How about Pi years from now?” Well, the comment stuck, and the class officers thought, “Let’s do it!” I chaired the planning committee, and it turned out to be a bigger event than we set out to do. Keep in mind, when we graduated, social media wasn’t prevalent, the Internet was nascent, and email was a new thing. The Class of 1997 was the first to ever have a Pi Reunion. Thinking about how the Pi Reunion is now an integral part of the young alumni experience is awesome. We didn’t expect this to become a legacy.

The Dynamic Duo: Doug Bailey ’72 and Riccardo Di Capua ’72

Bailey: The friendships I formed in my living group, Sigma Chi, the oldest continuous fraternity at MIT, kindled an enduring appreciation of MIT and its community of exceptional people. Those early fraternity bonds have now lasted for nearly 50 years. My collaborator in all things volunteer, Riccardo, is a friend for life as well. He is a true gentleman, a motivator, and someone who can always be counted on to deliver. I hold him in the same regard as if he were my brother, yet I liken him to my father: the humble skill that they both share is the rare ability, when in conversation, to make you feel that you are the most important person in the room.

Di Capua: Many alums want nothing else to do ever again with their nemesis MIT courses. Instead, I’ve taken some two dozen MOOCs, mostly in math and physics. When I mention this at alumni gatherings, inevitably, the other person is surprised I would choose to voluntarily take on those courses ever again! Doug and I have had the pleasure of working together over the decades on many MIT volunteer projects. We spend considerable time together discussing overall goals and the right strategy. I’ve learned that our minds operate identically; Doug and I being “interchangeable” when it comes to anything to do with MIT. A unique friendship and shared experience that’s grown over the past decades—and more to come in the future!

Breanna Berry ’12
Jennifer Yang ’97
Doug Bailey ’72 and Riccardo Di Capua ’72
Judy Chin Wong ’92
Dennis Womack-Kalla ’67, SM ’69
Bill Thilly ’67, ScD ’71
Carol Martin ’77
Mark Duggan ’92, SM ’94
Tom Gooch ’77

Doors open: Judy Chin Wong ’92

Great and lasting friendships originally developed for me at school. But since then, MIT has opened many doors for me in my career. From the breadth and support of the alumni network, to the external recognition of the hard work required to graduate from MIT, people in almost any workplace are eager to talk to an MIT graduate. Having spent the majority of my career in recruiting and talent acquisition, I am keenly aware of the “currency” of an MIT degree. I feel privileged to give back to MIT through my volunteer efforts, and contribute to keeping up the “value” of that currency.

How things work: Dennis Womack-Kalla ’67, SM ’69

From childhood, I have had an interest in how things work, and my MIT education fueled that interest. I was fortunate to study in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, where we learned about the strength of structures, electronics, aerodynamics, and fluid dynamics. Combined, those areas surely explain a lot of the world. Now, I am co-chairing the 50th Reunion Committee. Each of us on the committee works independently, but we must all follow the same guidelines to ensure that our class members are treated with respect and given proper credit for their support of the Institute. I also look forward to rowing in the Reunion Row. A major non-academic influence on my undergraduate life was crew. It required a lot of time and a lot of work, but it was extremely rewarding.

Our “family”: Bill Thilly ’67, ScD ’71

When Bob Ferrara ’67 asked me to help out on the 50th Reunion Gift Committee, I remembered how important scholarships were for me and many others in our class. It was scholarships that allowed many of us to even be at MIT. Our “family” [the Class of 1967] has tried to “balance the books” with those alums who kicked in for the scholarships of the sixties—the ones that paid our way.

40 years of gratitude: Carol Martin ’77

The generosity of others made it possible for me to attend MIT. On top of that, I am grateful for what MIT has given me in my personal and professional life. For both of these reasons, I feel a deep sense of gratitude. I started volunteering soon after I graduated by participating in telethons for the Annual Fund. It was a great opportunity to support MIT’s commitment to financial aid. I got to talk to inspiring alums and stay connected with my classmates. It was a lot of fun. I enjoyed it so much that I’ve continued as a fundraising volunteer in a variety of positions for the past 40 years! This year I’m happy to be serving as co-chair for my 40th Reunion Gift Committee.

Generous faculty: Mark Duggan ’92, SM ’94

I learned so much during my time at MIT from outstanding faculty and from my fellow students. I formed many of my closest friendships at MIT and actually met my wife (Ava Kuo, fellow Class of 1992) there! And I was consistently amazed by how generous the faculty were with their time. I have done my absolute best to carry that example forward in my work today as a professor at Stanford University. My wife Ava and I are delighted to support the important path-breaking research that is going on at MIT, along with the teaching and advising of thousands of the world’s most talented graduate and undergraduate students each year.

A particular pleasure: Tom Gooch ’77

I feel that I have been fortunate in my life—in my upbringing, my schooling, my family, my career. Volunteering for good causes is one way to repay at least some of that good fortune. Volunteering for MIT is a particular pleasure, because I enjoy working with and spending time with MIT alumni, staff, and students. MIT does so much to make the world better, carrying out vital research and preparing outstanding students for future leadership.

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