MIT is known for offering people the opportunity to develop their full potential and make a positive impact on the world. The Institute has long embraced an organizational strategy of decentralization in support of the intellectual and creative freedom that is so vital to this mission. However, MIT exists within a larger societal ecosystem where access to opportunity is not evenly distributed. With recent events shining a new light on the issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), MIT is seizing this moment to reflect on its past and focus its attention on DEI, on campus and beyond.
In 2021, MIT leadership shared a first draft of a comprehensive, Institute-wide Strategic Action Plan for DEI. The plan focuses on three priorities: the composition of MIT’s community, a sense of belonging fostered by shared purpose and agency, and a commitment to ensuring equity in academic and professional achievement. MIT also hired six new assistant deans, one in each school and in the MIT Stephen A. Schwarzman College of Computing, to serve as DEI professionals. The Institute had previously announced a commitment to raise funds for new endowed graduate fellowships for students from underrepresented groups.
Composition, belonging, and commitment are the three pillars of the MIT Strategic Action Plan for DEI.
Against this backdrop, a vast array of programs and initiatives across the Institute—bolstered by support from the MIT Campaign for a Better World—are helping MIT more fully live up to its mission. Below are just a few examples.
Since 1986, the MIT Summer Research Program (MSRP) has sought to promote the value of graduate education, to improve representation in the research landscape, and to address the underrepresentation of marginalized communities in STEM by preparing and motivating talented students to pursue advanced research. An Institute-wide program, MSRP instills in these emerging investigators a growth mindset and the joy of discovery.
In a recent survey of MSRP alumni, 89% of respondents reported earning or working toward an advanced degree, including 111 from MIT. Further, 36 past participants have gone on to become professors, including Asegun Henry SM ’06, PhD ’09, associate professor of mechanical engineering at MIT.
“Being able to spend time working with an MIT professor for a summer paved the way for me to later be admitted for graduate school at MIT, which then led to many other amazing things.”
—Henry SM ’06, PhD ’09
Now, the School of Engineering is building on the success of MSRP by significantly increasing the number of interns it hosts thanks to philanthropic support from foundations, corporations, and individuals. To support this expansion, the school has developed an alliance with four institutions, including two Historically Black Colleges, to identify a cohort of talented undergraduates who might benefit from spending the summer at MIT and from the continued joint mentoring and research collaborations that will follow them back to their home institutions.
The MIT Department of Biology has its own Summer Research Program, which since 2003 has hosted nearly 400 students from outside MIT interested in a career in the life sciences. With support from Michael Gould and Sara Moss, the program was renamed the Bernard S. and Sophie G. Gould MIT Summer Research Program in Biology, or BSG-MSRP-Bio, in 2021.
“The program catered to our every need, and it’s structured to ensure that someone will always check up on you if you’re feeling alone,” says Toni-Ann Nelson, a 2020 MSRP-Bio participant. “I never expected to get so much from this experience, especially because I’m not physically on campus. But what I learned this summer was so much more than I could ever have anticipated.”
With broad support from foundations, corporations, and individuals, MIT’s Office of Engineering Outreach Programs (OEOP) is committed to providing access to STEM for bright students who are from underrepresented backgrounds or who are experiencing economic hardship.
→ Helping MITES Reach More Students
Since 1975, more than 4,500 middle and high school students have been given the opportunity to explore their passion through programs such as Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science (MITES), MIT Online Science, Technology, and Engineering Community (MOSTEC), and Saturday Engineering Enrichment and Discovery Academy (SEED). During the 2019–20 academic year, more than 134 of OEOP’s alums were enrolled at MIT and roughly 341 at other highly competitive institutions. Nearly all of them will go on to pursue careers in STEM-related fields, including Aisha Wilson, the Lister Brothers Career Development Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT. “MITES was a life-changing experience,” says Wilson. “Being able to explore my love for mathematics with like-minded people in a community-minded way was invaluable.”
In the 2019–2020 academic year, 134 alumni of the Office of Engineering Outreach Programs were enrolled at MIT.
In 2020, the MIT Sloan School of Management established the Endowment for Enduring Diversity and Inclusion—a fellowship program designed to expand opportunities for students from underrepresented populations. Many members of the MIT Sloan community have responded to this imperative.
“We cannot unsee and unlearn what we have learned about our community. It can no longer be business as usual,” says Ray Reagans, associate dean for diversity, equity, and inclusion and the Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management. “So we must build a community with a constructive culture characterized by the conscious inclusion of all dimensions of diversity.”
In summer 2020, the MIT Innovation Initiative (MITii) partnered with the MIT Startup Exchange and The Engine to launch the Summer Startup Match Platform—a place for MIT students to apply for exclusive internships with MIT-affiliated startups. At the same time, the Inclusive Innovation Grant Program launched on the MITii platform provides funding for underrepresented minority students to engage in these internships and helping to close the racial innovation gap by reducing financial barriers.
“During my internship, I learned more about how to source, synthesize, and format information to answer a specific question. I plan to use that more in courses where academic writing is required and in which I must consider, adjust, and pursue my own research question.”
—Delight Nweneka ’24
The Program in Science, Technology, and Society within MIT’s School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences announced the L. Dennis Shapiro (1955) Graduate Fellowship in the History of African American Experience of Technology earlier this year, made possible with an MIT Better World Campaign gift from the late Dennis Shapiro ’55, SM ’57. This fellowship is supporting young scholars in studying the history of African Americans’ engagement with multiple aspects of technology, including invention, use, engineering, cultural innovation, and creativity, as well as in developing and investigating new questions that promote a deeper understanding of technology in America.
In response to a changing health care landscape where artificial intelligence (AI) is being introduced at all levels, researchers at the MIT Abdul Latif Jameel Clinic for Machine Learning in Health (Jameel Clinic) are working to create an infrastructure that will avoid perpetuating existing biases within the health care system and better address the needs of historically underserved populations. Toward this goal, the Jameel Clinic hosted the AI for Health Care Equity Conference in June 2021, which brought nearly 1,400 virtual attendees together to discuss the challenges and opportunities of harnessing diverse data to create more equitable health care and improve the lives of patients worldwide.
Black Alumni of MIT (BAMIT) established the BAMIT Community Advancement Program (BCAP) in 2018 in honor of the 50th anniversary of the MIT Black Students’ Union. The BCAP supports creative and innovative student public-service projects that recognize the needs of underserved communities of color and pairs the students with MIT alumni mentors. Together, MIT students and alumni address the challenges faced by underserved communities of color in the United States and around the globe.
This article was originally published in July 2021.