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    MIT community in 2022: A year in review

    In 2022, MIT returned to a bit of normalcy after the challenge of Covid-19 began to subside. The Institute prepared to bid farewell to its president and later announced his successor; announced five flagship projects in a new competition aimed at tackling climate’s greatest challenges; made new commitments toward ensuring support for diverse voices; and celebrated the reopening of a reimagined MIT Museum — as well as a Hollywood blockbuster featuring scenes from campus. Here are some of the top stories in the MIT community this year.

    Presidential transition

    In February, MIT President L. Rafael Reif announced that he planned to step down at the end of 2022. In more than 10 years as president, Reif guided MIT through a period of dynamic growth, greatly enhancing its global stature and magnetism. At the conclusion of his term at the end of this month, Reif will take a sabbatical, then return to the faculty of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. In September, Reif expressed his gratitude to the MIT community at an Institute-wide dance celebration, and he was honored with a special MIT Dome lighting earlier this month.

    After an extensive presidential search, Sally Kornbluth, a cell biologist and the current provost of Duke University, was announced in October as MIT’s 18th president. Following an introduction to MIT that included a press conference, welcoming event, and community celebration, Kornbluth will assume the MIT presidency on Jan. 1, 2023.

    In other administrative transitions: Cynthia Barnhart was appointed provost after Martin Schmidt stepped down to become president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; Sanjay Sarma stepped down as vice president for open learning after nine years in the role; professors Brent Ryan and Anne White were named associate provosts, while White was also named associate vice president for research administration; and Agustín Rayo was named dean of the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences.

    Climate Grand Challenges

    MIT announced five flagship projects in its first-ever Climate Grand Challenges competition. These multiyear projects focus on unraveling some of the toughest unsolved climate problems and bringing high-impact, science-based solutions to the world on an accelerated basis. Representing the most promising concepts to emerge from the two-year competition that yielded 27 finalist projects, the five flagship projects will receive additional funding and resources from MIT and others to develop their ideas and swiftly transform them into practical solutions at scale.

    CHIPS and Science Act

    President Reif and Vice President for Research Maria Zuber were among several MIT representatives to witness President Biden’s signing of the $52 billion “CHIPS and Science” bill into law in August. Reif helped shape aspects of the bill and was a vocal advocate for it among university and government officials, while Zuber served on two government science advisory boards during the bill’s gestation and consideration. Earlier in the year, MIT.nano hosted U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, while MIT researchers released a key report on U.S. microelectronics research and manufacturing.

    MIT Morningside Academy for Design

    Supported by a $100 million founding gift, the MIT Morningside Academy for Design launched as a major interdisciplinary center that aims to build on the Institute’s leadership in design-focused education. Housed in the School of Architecture and Planning, the academy provides a hub that will encourage design work at MIT to grow and cross disciplines among engineering, science, management, computing, architecture, urban planning, and the arts.

    Reports of the Institute

    A number of key Institute reports and announcements were released in 2022. They include: an announcement of the future of gift acceptance for MIT: an announcement of priority MIT investments; a new MIT Values Statement; a renewed commitment to Indigenous scholarship and community; the Strategic Action Plan for Belonging, Achievement, and Composition; a report on MIT’s engagement with China; a report of the Working Group on Reimagining Public Safety at MIT; a report of the Indigenous Working Group; and a report of the Ad Hoc Committee on Arts, Culture, and DEI.

    Nobel Prizes

    MIT affiliates were well-represented among new and recent Nobel laureates who took part in the first in-person Nobel Prize ceremony since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. MIT-affiliated winners for 2022 included Ben Bernanke PhD ’79, K. Barry Sharpless, and Carolyn Bertozzi. Winners in attendance from 2020 and 2021 included Professor Joshua Angrist, David Julius ’77, and Andrea Ghez ’87.

    New MIT Museum

    A reimagined MIT Museum opened this fall in a new 56,000-square-foot space in the heart of Cambridge’s Kendall Square. The museum invites visitors to explore the Institute’s innovations in science, technology, engineering, arts, and math — and to take part in that work with hands-on learning labs and maker spaces, interactive exhibits, and venues to discuss the impact of science and technology on society.

    “Wakanda Forever”

    In November, the Institute Office of Communications and the Division of Student Life hosted a special screening of Marvel Studios’ “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.” The MIT campus had been used as a filming location in summer 2021, as one of the film’s characters, Riri Williams (also known as Ironheart), is portrayed as a student at the Institute.

    In-person Commencement returns

    After two years of online celebrations due to Covid-19, MIT Commencement returned to Killian Court at the end of May. World Trade Organization Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala MCP ’78, PhD ’81 delivered the Commencement address, while poet Kealoha Wong ’99 spoke at a special ceremony for the classes of 2020 and 2021.

    Students win distinguished fellowships

    As in previous years, MIT students continued to shine. This year, exceptional undergraduates were awarded Fulbright, Marshall, Mitchell, Rhodes, and Schwarzman scholarships.

    Remembering those we’ve lost

    Among MIT community members who died this year were Robert Balluffi, Louis Braida, Ashton Carter, Tom Eagar, Dick Eckaus, Octavian-Eugen Ganea, Peter Griffith, Patrick Hale, Frank Sidney Jones, Nonabah Lane, Leo Marx, Bruce Montgomery, Joel Moses, Brian Sousa Jr., Mohamed Magdi Taha, John Tirman, Richard Wurtman, and Markus Zahn.

    In case you missed it:

    Additional top community stories of 2022 included MIT students dominating the 82nd Putnam Mathematical Competition, an update on MIT’s reinstating the SAT/ACT requirement for admissions, a new mathematics program for Ukrainian students and refugees, a roundup of new books from MIT authors, the renaming of the MIT.nano building, an announcement of winners of this year’s MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition, the new MIT Wright Brothers Wind Tunnel, and MIT students winning the 45th International Collegiate Programming Contest for the first time in 44 years. More

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    Energy, war, and the crisis in Ukraine

    Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is having a global impact on many areas of the world today, affecting the balance of power among states and creating a contest between democratic and authoritarian alliances. It is also having a major impact on the global energy supply. European states have scrambled to reorient their consumption away from Russian natural gas, while Russia has used its energy assets as political leverage while finding new economic partners.

    In short, there is also a battle over energy surrounding the invasion, as a panel of experts analyzed at a public MIT event on Friday. The online discussion, “Energy As a Weapon of War,” was the latest Starr Forum, MIT’s prominent event series on foreign policy and international relations.

    The forum’s two featured speakers both discussed energy issues as well as the larger course of the war. Margarita Balmaceda, a professor of diplomacy and international relations at Seton Hall University and an associate of the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute, listed three key aspects of the energy issue implicated in the invasion.

    In the first place, she noted, European reliance on Russian natural gas is a long-term issue that also existed with the Russian occupation of Crimea in 2014, but is only now being managed differently.

    “If we look at the case of Germany … you can see that the temptation of this reliance in particular on Russian natural gas was not simply something that you could ascribe to one or two corrupt politicians,” said Balmaceda, author of the book “Russian Energy Chains: The Remaking of Technopolitics from Siberia to Ukraine to the European Union.” Instead, she said, “it’s something that went to all levels of economic life,” including industrial consumers of natural gas, regional governments, and other stakeholders. 

    Secondly, Balmaceda observed, many core manufacturing industries, especially in Germany, have been particularly dependent on Russian energy, making the need for alternatives something that has direct effects in key production sectors.

    “In my view, the real story, and the story we have to pay much more attention to, has to do with … industrial users of natural gas,” Balmaceda said. In fact, she noted, gas consumption is a major part of the production cycle in Europe’s chemical, cement, steel, and paper industries, supporting about 8 million jobs.

    Finally, Balmaceda observed, European boycotts of Russian energy may have temporarily stymied Russia, but the regime has subsequently found new markets in China, India, and elsewhere.

    “It’s very important to understand that this story does not end in the European Union and North America, and if we don’t deal with the real energy concerns of global South countries, we will not get very far in trying to reduce Russia’s energy power moving forward,” she said.

    Constanze Steinmuller, director and Fritz Stern Chair of the Center on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution, offered some political context as well as her own perspective on paths forward in the war.

    While policymakers in Europe frequently praise the response of the Biden administration in the U.S., in support of Ukraine, “It’s also remarkable how steadfast the European response has been,” Steinmuller said. She added, “It’s something I was very worried about.” She also praised the German government for “decoupling German dependence from Russian gas and oil imports in ways I honestly would not have thought possible.”

    While the alliance supporting Ukraine has been valuable, Steinmuller said, she believes the U.S. and Europe need to give Ukraine even more backing in terms of weaponry in particular. “It is unclear, at this point still, whether Ukraine will have the means to retain full control over its territory.”

    Meanwhile, Russia’s relationship with China, she added, is profoundly consequential for the long-term trajectory of the war. So far, China has been nominally pledging broad support of Russia while publicly de-escalating the nuclear rhetoric arising from the war. However, Steinmuller added, if China decides to “actively support” Russia militarily, “That would be, I think, the worst game-changer of all, and one that … would be the single greatest challenge that I can envision to our ability to help Ukraine win, and to maintain our own security in Europe.”

    The Starr Forum is organized by MIT’s Center for International Studies (CIS). Friday’s event was co-sponsored by MIT’s Security Studies Program and the MIT-Eurasia program, in addition to CIS.

    The event’s moderators were Elizabeth Wood, a professor of history at MIT, author of the 2016 book “Roots of Russia’s War in Ukraine,” and co-director of the MISTI MIT-Eurasia Program; and Carol Saivetz, a senior advisor in MIT’s Security Studies Program and expert on Soviet and Russian foreign policy. Wood and Saivetz have helped host a series of Starr Forum events over the last year scrutinizing several aspects of Russia’s invasion and Ukraine’s defense.  

    Understanding the role of energy in the war “is obviously of critical importance today,” Wood said in her opening remarks. That includes, she noted, “How energy is being used by Russia as a tool of aggression, how Ukraine is suffering from attacks upon its critical infrastructure, and how the alliance of European [states] and the U.S. is responding.” 

    In response to audience questions, the scholars outlined multiple scenarios in which the war could end, either on more favorable terms for Ukraine or in ways that strengthen Russia. One audience member also queried about the extent to which the current war could also be thought of as a “carbon war, or climate war,” in which a move toward clean energy also lessens global dependence on large gas and oil suppliers, such as Russia.

    In response, Balmaceda noted that the ongoing infrastructure development in Ukraine might, in theory, leave it with no choice but to modernize its energy infrastructure (though its own orientation toward fossil fuels represents just a small portion of global demand). Steinmuller added that “Ukraine will need much more than just to reorient its energy [demand]. … It will have to change its role in the global economy,” given its own industrial reliance on coal and other fossil fuels.

    Overall, Balmaceda added, “Regardless of whether Russia wins this conflict or loses, the rottenness within Russia is deep enough to be bad news for all of us for a long time.” For her part, Steinmuller underscored again how vital increased alliance support would be.

    “We should show that we are willing and able to defend not just a country that has been attacked by a great power, but willing to defend ourselves,” Steinmuller said. Otherwise, she added, “If we didn’t do that, we would have set for all the world to see a precedent of giving in to blackmail, including nuclear blackmail, and allowing this to happen without us being willing to see the defense of Ukraine through to the end.” More

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    Using game engines and “twins” to co-create stories of climate futures

    Imagine entering a 3D virtual story world that’s a digital twin of an existing physical space but also doubles as a vessel to dream up speculative climate stories and collective designs. Then, those imagined worlds are translated back into concrete plans for our physical spaces.

    Five multidisciplinary teams recently convened at MIT — virtually — for the inaugural WORLDING workshop. In a weeklong series of research and development gatherings, the teams met with MIT scientists, staff, fellows, students and graduates as well as other leading figures in the field. The theme of the gathering was “story, space, climate, and game engines.”

    “WORLDING illustrates the emergence of an entirely new field that fuses urban planning, climate science, real-time 3D engines, nonfiction storytelling, and speculative fiction,” says Katerina Cizek, lead designer of the workshop at Co-Creation Studio, MIT Open Documentary Lab. “And co-creation is at the core of this field that allows for collective, democratic, scientific and artistic processes.” The research workshop was organized by the studio in partnership with Unity Software.

    The WORLDING teams met with MIT scholars to discuss diverse domains, from the decolonization of board games, to urban planning as acts of democracy, to behind the scenes of a flagship MIT Climate Challenge project.

    “Climate is really a whole-world initiative,” said Noelle Selin, an MIT atmospheric chemistry professor, in a talk at WORLDING. Selin co-leads an MIT initiative that is digitally twinning the Earth to harness enormous volumes of data for improved climate projections and put these models into the hands of diverse communities and stakeholders.

    “Digital twinning” is a growth market for the game engine industry, in verticals such as manufacturing, architecture, finance, and medicine. “Digital twinning gives teams the power to ideate,” said Elizabeth Baron, a senior manager of enterprise solutions at Unity in her talk at WORLDING. “You can look at many things that maybe aren’t even possible to produce. But you’re the resource. Impact is very low, but the creativity aspect is very high.”

    That’s where the story and media experts come in. “Now, more than ever, we need to forge shared narratives about the world that we live in today and the world that we want to build for the future. Technology can help us visualize and communicate those worlds,” says Marina Psaros MCP ’06, head of sustainability at Unity, lead on WORLDING at Unity, and a graduate of the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning.

    In his talk on the short history of WORLDING, media scholar William Uricchio, MIT professor of comparative media studies and founder of the Open Documentary Lab, suggested that story and space come together in these projects that create new ways of knowing. “Story is always a representation,” he says. “It’s got a fixity and coherence to it, and play is — and, I would argue, worlds are —  all about simulation. Simulation in the case of digital twinning is capable of generating countless stories. It’s play as a story-generator, but in the service of envisioning a pluralistic and malleable future.”

    Fixed dominant narratives and game mechanics that underpin board games have been historically violent and unjust, says MIT Game Lab scholar Mikael Jakkobson, who shared findings for his upcoming book on the subject with the cohort. He argues that board games are built on underlying ideas of  “exploration, expansion, exploitation, and extermination. And, as it happens, those are also good ways of thinking about the mechanics of Western colonialism.”

    To counter these hegemonic mechanics and come up with new systems, community is vital, and urban planning is a discipline that plays a huge role in the translation of space, story, and democracy. Ceasar MacDowell, an MIT professor of the practice of civic design, told the WORLDING cohort that urban planning needs to expand its notion of authorship. He is working on systems (from his current position at the Media Lab) that not only engage the community in conversations but also prompt “the people who have been in conversations to actually make sense of them, do the meaning-making themselves, not to have external people interpret them.” These become dynamic layers of both representation and simulation that are not, as Uricchio suggests, fixed. 

    USAID Chief Climate Officer Gillian Calwell visited the group with both sharp warnings and warm enthusiasm: “When it comes to climate, this world isn’t working so well for us; we better start envisioning the new ones, and fast … We don’t have time to convince people that this is happening anymore. Nor do we need to. I think most of the world is having the hands-on, up-close-and-personal experience with the fact that these impacts are coming faster and more furiously than even the scientists had predicted. But one thing we do need help with on a more hopeful note is visualizing how the world could be different.”

    The WORLDING workshop is designed and inspired by the ideas and practices charted in the Co-Creation Studio’s new MIT Press book, “Collective Wisdom: Co-Creation Media for Equity and Justice,” which insists that “No one person, organization, or discipline can determine all the answers alone.”

    The five multidisciplinary teams in this first WORLDING cohort were diverse in approach, technology, and geography. For example, one is an Indigenous-led, land-based, site-specific digital installation that seeks to envision a future in which, once again, the great herds of buffalo walk freely. Another team is creating 3D-modeled biome kits of the water systems in the drought-stricken American West, animated by interviews and data from the communities living there. Yet another team is digitally twinning and then re-imagining a sustainable future in the year 2180 for a multi-player virtual reality game in a Yawanawà Shukuvena Village in the rainforests of Brazil.

    “While our workshop design was focused on developing and researching these incredible, interdisciplinary projects, we also hope that WORLDING can set an example for similar initiatives across global sectors where distances and varied expertise are not limitations but opportunities to learn from one another,” says Srushti Kamat, WORLDING producer and MIT creative media studies/writing grad.

    Most of the talks and presentations from the WORLDING workshop are available as archived videos at cocreationstudio.mit.edu/worlding-videos. More

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    Machinery of the state

    In Mai Hassan’s studies of Kenya, she documented the emergence of a sprawling administrative network officially billed as encouraging economic development, overseeing the population, and bolstering democracy. But Hassan’s field interviews and archival research revealed a more sinister purpose for the hundreds of administrative and security offices dotting the nation: “They were there to do the presidents’ bidding, which often involved coercing their own countrymen.”

    This research served as a catalyst for Hassan, who joined MIT as an associate professor of political science in July, to investigate what she calls the “politicized management of bureaucracy and the state.” She set out to “understand the motivations, capacities, and roles of people administering state programs and social functions,” she says. “I realized the state is not a faceless being, but instead comprised of bureaucrats carrying out functions on behalf of the state and the regime that runs it.”

    Today, Hassan’s portfolio encompasses not just the bureaucratic state but democratization efforts in Kenya and elsewhere in the East Africa region, including her native Sudan. Her research highlights the difficulties of democratization. “I’m finding that the conditions under which people come together for overthrowing an autocratic regime really matter, because those conditions may actually impede a nation from achieving democracy,” she says.

    A coordinated bureaucracy

    Hassan’s academic engagement with the state’s administrative machinery began during graduate school at Harvard University, where she earned her master’s and doctorate in government. While working with a community trash and sanitation program in some Kenyan Maasai communities, Hassan recalls “shepherding myself from office to office, meeting different bureaucrats to obtain the same approvals but for different jurisdictions.” The Kenyan state had recently set up hundreds of new local administrative units, motivated by what it claimed was the need for greater efficiency. But to Hassan’s eyes, “the administrative network was not well organized, seemed costly to maintain, and seemed to hinder — not bolster — development,” she says. What then, she wondered, was “the political logic behind such state restructuring?”

    Hassan began researching this bureaucratic transformation of Kenya, speaking with administrators in communities large and small who were charged with handling the business of the state. These studies yielded a wealth of findings for her dissertation, and for multiple journals.

    But upon finishing this tranche of research, Hassan realized that it was insufficient simply to study the structure of the state. “Understanding the role of new administrative structures for politics, development, and governance fundamentally requires that we understand who the government has put in charge of them,” she says. Among her insights:

    “The president’s office knows a lot of these administrators, and thinks about their strengths, limitations, and fit within a community,” says Hassan. Some administrators served the purposes of the central government by setting up water irrigation projects or building a new school. But in other villages, the state chose administrators who could act “much more coercively, ignoring development needs, throwing youth who supported the opposition into jail, and spending resources exclusively on policing.”

    Hassan’s work showed that in communities characterized by strong political opposition, “the local administration was always more coercive, regardless of an elected or autocratic president,” she says. Notably, the tenures of such officials proved shorter than those of their peers. “Once administrators get to know a community — going to church and the market with residents — it’s hard to coerce them,” explains Hassan.

    These short tenures come with costs, she notes: “Spending significant time in a station is useful for development, because you know exactly whom to hire if you want to build a school or get something done efficiently.” Politicizing these assignments undermines efforts at delivery of services and, more broadly, economic improvement nationwide. “Regimes that are more invested in retaining power must devote resources to establishing and maintaining control, resources that could otherwise be used for development and the welfare of citizens,” she says.

    Hassan wove together her research covering three presidents over a 50-year period, in the book, “Regime Threats and State Solutions: Bureaucratic Loyalty and Embeddedness in Kenya” (2020, Cambridge University Press), named a Foreign Affairs Best Book of 2020.

    Sudanese roots

    The role of the state in fulfilling the needs of its citizens has long fascinated Hassan. Her grandfather, who had served as Sudan’s ambassador to the USSR, talked to her about the advantages of a centralized government “that allocated resources to reduce inequality,” she says.

    Politics often dominated the conversation in gatherings of Hassan’s family and friends. Her parents immigrated to northern Virginia when she was very young, and many relatives joined them, part of a steady flow of Sudanese fleeing political turmoil and oppression.

    “A lot of people had expected more from the Sudanese state after independence and didn’t get it,” she says. “People had hopes for what the government could and should do.”

    Hassan’s Sudanese roots and ongoing connection to the Sudanese community have shaped her academic interests and goals. At the University of Virginia, she gravitated toward history and economics classes. But it was her time at the Ralph Bunche Summer institute that perhaps proved most pivotal in her journey. This five-week intensive program is offered by the American Political Science Association to introduce underrepresented undergraduate students to doctoral studies. “It was really compelling in this program to think rigorously about all the political ideas I’d heard as I was growing up, and find ways to challenge some assertions empirically,” she says.

    Regime change and civil society

    At Harvard, Hassan first set out to focus on Sudan for her doctoral program. “There wasn’t much scholarship on the country, and what there was lacked rigor,” she says. “That was something that needed to change.” But she decided to postpone this goal after realizing that she might be vulnerable as a student conducting field research there. She landed instead in Kenya, where she honed her interviewing and data collection skills.

    Today, empowered by her prior work, she has returned to Sudan. “I felt that the popular uprising in Sudan and ousting of the Islamist regime in 2019 should be documented and analyzed,” she says. “It was incredible that hundreds of thousands, if not millions, acted collectively to uproot a dictator, in the face of brutal violence from the state.”But “democracy is still uncertain there,” says Hassan. The broad coalition behind regime change “doesn’t know how to govern because different people and different sectors of society have different ideas about what democratic Sudan should look like,” she says. “Overthrowing an autocratic regime and having civil society come together to figure out what’s going to replace it require different things, and it’s unclear if a movement that accomplishes the first is well-suited to do the second.”

    Hassan believes that in order to create lasting democratization, “you need the hard work of building organizations, developing ways in which members learn to compromise among themselves, and make decisions and rules for how to move forward.”

    Hassan is enjoying the fall semester and teaching courses on autocracy and authoritarian regimes. She is excited as well about developing her work on African efforts at democratic mobilization in a political science department she describes as “policy-forward.”

    Over time, she hopes to connect with Institute scholars in the hard sciences to think about other challenges these nations are facing, such as climate change. “It’s really hot in Sudan, and it may be one of the first countries to become completely uninhabitable,” she says. “I’d like to explore strategies for growing crops differently or managing the exceedingly scarce resource of water, and figure out what kind of political discussions will be necessary to implement any changes. It is really critical to think about these problems in an interdisciplinary way.” More

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    Professor Emeritus Richard “Dick” Eckaus, who specialized in development economics, dies at 96

    Richard “Dick” Eckaus, Ford Foundation International Professor of Economics, emeritus, in the Department of Economics, died on Sept. 11 in Boston. He was 96 years old.

    Eckaus was born in Kansas City, Missouri on April 30, 1926, the youngest of three children to parents who had emigrated from Lithuania. His father, Julius Eckaus, was a tailor, and his mother, Bessie (Finkelstein) Eckaus helped run the business. The family struggled to make ends meet financially but academic success offered Eckaus a way forward.

    He graduated from Westport High School, joined the United States Navy, and was awarded a college scholarship via the V-12 Navy College Training Program during World War II to study electrical engineering at Iowa State University. After graduating in 1944, Eckaus served on a base in New York State until he was discharged in 1946 as lieutenant junior grade.

    He attended Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, on the GI Bill, graduating in 1948 with a master’s degree in economics, before relocating to Boston and serving as instructor of economics at Babson Institute, and then assistant and associate professor of economics at Brandeis University from 1951 to 1962. He concurrently earned a PhD in economics from MIT in 1954.

    The following year, the American Economic Review published “The Factor Proportions Problem in Economic Development,” a paper written by Eckaus that remained part of the macroeconomics canon for decades. He returned to MIT in 1962 and went on to teach development economics to generations of MIT students, serving as head of the department from 1986 to 1990 and continuing to work there for the remainder of his career.

    The development economist Paul Rosenstein-Rodan (1902-85), Eckaus’ mentor at MIT, took him to live and work first in Italy in 1954 and then in India in 1961. These stints helping governments abroad solidified Eckaus’ commitment to not only excelling in the field, but also creating opportunities for colleagues and students to contribute as well — occasionally in conjunction with the World Bank.

    Longtime colleague Abhijit Banerjee, a Nobel laureate, Ford Foundation International Professor of Economics, and director of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab at MIT, recalls reading a reprint of Eckaus’ 1955 paper as an undergraduate in India. When he subsequently arrived at MIT as a doctoral candidate, he remembers “trying to tread lightly and not to take up too much space,” around the senior economist. “In fact, he made me feel so welcome,” Banerjee says. “He was both an outstanding scholar and someone who had the modesty and generosity to make younger scholars feel valued and heard.”

    The field of development economics provided Eckaus with a broad, powerful platform to work with governments in developing countries — including India, Egypt, Bhutan, Mexico, and Portugal — to set up economic systems. His development planning models helped governments to forecast where their economies were headed and how public policies could be implemented to shift or accelerate the direction.

    The Government of Portugal awarded Eckaus the Great-Cross of the Order of Prince Henry the Navigator after he brought teams from MIT to assist the country in its peaceful transition to democracy following the 1974 Carnation Revolution. Initiated at the request of the Portuguese Central Bank, these graduate students became some of the most prominent economists of their generation in America. They include Paul Krugman, Andrew Abel, Jeremy I. Bulow, and Kenneth Rogoff.

    His colleague for five decades, Paul Joskow, the Elizabeth and James Killian Professor of Economics at MIT, says that’s no surprise. “He was a real rock of the economics department. He deeply cared about the graduate students and younger faculty. He was a very supportive person.”

    Eckaus was also deeply interested in economic aspects of energy and environment, and in 1991 was instrumental in the formation of the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change, a program that integrates the natural and social sciences in analysis of global climate threat. As Joint Program co-founder Henry Jacoby observes, “Dick provided crucial ideas as to how that kind of interdisciplinary work might be done at MIT. He was already 65 at the time, and continued for three decades to be active in guiding the research and analysis.”

    Although Eckaus retired officially in 1996, he continued to attend weekly faculty lunches, conduct research, mentor colleagues, and write papers related to climate change and the energy crisis. He leaves behind a trove of more than 100 published papers and eight authored and co-authored books.

    “He was continuously retooling himself and creating new interests. I was impressed by his agility of mind and his willingness to shift to new areas,” says his oldest living friend and peer, Jagdish Bhagwati, Columbia University professor of economics, law, and international relations, emeritus, and director of the Raj Center on Indian Economic Policies. “In their early career, economists usually write short theoretical articles that make large points, and Dick did that with two seminal articles in the leading professional journals of the time, the Quarterly Journal of Economics and the American Economic Review. Then, he shifted his focus to building large computable models. He also diversified by working in an advisory capacity in countries as diverse as Portugal and India. He was a ‘complete’ economist who straddled all styles of economics with distinction.” 

    Eckaus is survived by his beloved wife of 32 years Patricia Leahy Meaney of Brookline, Massachusetts. The two traveled the world, hiked the Alps, and collected pre-Columbian and contemporary art. He is lovingly remembered by his daughter Susan Miller; his step-son James Meaney (Bruna); step-daughter Caitlin Meaney Burrows (Lee); and four grandchildren, Chloe Burrows, Finley Burrows, Brandon Meaney, and Maria Sophia Meaney.

    In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation in Eckaus’ name to MIT Economics (77 Massachusetts Ave., Building E52-300, Cambridge, MA 02139). A memorial in his honor will be held later this year. More

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    Promoting systemic change in the Middle East, the “MIT way”

    The Middle East is a region that is facing complicated challenges. MIT programs have been committed to building scalable methodologies through which students and the broader MIT community can learn and make an impact. These processes ensure programs work alongside others across cultures to support change aligned with their needs. Through MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI), faculty and staff at the Institute continue to build opportunities to connect with and support the region.

    In this spirit, MISTI launched the Leaders Journey Workshop in 2021. This program partnered MIT students with Palestinian and Israeli alumni from three associate organizations: Middle East Entrepreneurs for Tomorrow (MEET), Our Generation Speaks (OGS), and Tech2Peace. Teams met monthly to engage with speakers and work with one another to explore the best ways to leverage science, technology, and entrepreneurship across borders.

    Building on the success of this workshop, the program piloted a for-credit course: SP.258 (MISTI: Middle East Cross-Border Development and Leadership) in fall 2021. The course involved engaging with subject matter experts through five mini-consulting projects in collaboration with regional stakeholders. Topics included climate, health care, and economic development. The course was co-instructed by associate director of the MIT Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Program (REAP) Sinan AbuShanab, managing director of MISTI programs in the Middle East David Dolev, and Kathleen Schwind ’19, with MIT CIS/ MISTI Research Affiliate Steven Koltai as lead mentor. The course also drew support from alumni mentors and regional industry partners.

    The course was developed during the height of the pandemic and thus successfully leveraged the intense culture of online engagement prevalent at the time by layering in-person coursework with strategic digital group engagement. Pedagogically, the structure was inspired by multiple MIT methodologies: MISTI preparation and training courses, Sloan Action Learning, REAP/REAL multi-party stakeholder model, the Media Lab Learning Initiative, and the multicultural framework of associate organizations.

    “We worked to develop a series of aims and a methodology that would enrich MIT students and their peers in the region and support the important efforts of Israelis and Palestinians to make systemic change,” said Dolev.

    During the on-campus sessions, MIT students explored the region’s political and historical complexities and the meaning of being a global leader and entrepreneur. Guest presenters included: Boston College Associate Professor Peter Krause (MIT Security Studies Program alumnus), Gilad Rosenzweig (MITdesignX), Ari Jacobovits (MIT-Africa), and Mollie Laffin-Rose Agbiboa (MIT-REAP). Group projects focused on topics that fell under three key regional verticals: water, health care, and economic development. The teams were given a technical or business challenge they were tasked with solving. These challenges were sourced directly from for-profit and nonprofit organizations in the region.

    “This was a unique opportunity for me to learn so much about the area I live in, work on a project together with people from the ‘other side,’ MIT students, and incredible mentors,” shared a participant from the region. “Furthermore, getting a glimpse of the world of MIT was a great experience for me.”

    For their final presentations, teams pitched their solutions, including their methodology for researching/addressing the problem, a description of solutions to be applied, what is needed to execute the idea itself, and potential challenges encountered. Teams received feedback and continued to deepen their experience in cross-cultural teamwork.

    “As an education manager, I needed guidance with these digital tools and how to approach them,” says an EcoPeace representative. “The MIT program provided me with clear deliverables I can now implement in my team’s work.”

    “This course has broadened my knowledge of conflicts, relationships, and how geography plays an important role in the region,” says an MIT student participant. “Moving forward, I feel more confident working with business and organizations to develop solutions for problems in real time, using the skills I have to supplement the project work.”

    Layers of engagement with mentors, facilitators, and whole-team leadership ensured that participants gained project management experience, learning objectives were met, and professional development opportunities were available. Each team was assigned an MIT-MEET alumni mentor with whom they met throughout the course. Mentors coached the teams on methods for managing a client project and how to collaborate for successful completion. Joint sessions with MIT guest speakers deepened participants’ regional understanding of water, health care, economic development, and their importance in the region. Speakers included: Mohamed Aburawi, Phil Budden (MIT-REAP) Steven Koltai, Shari Loessberg, Dina Sherif (MIT Legatum Center, Greg Sixt (J-WAFS), and Shriya Srinivasan.

    “The program is unlike any other I’ve come across,” says one of the alumni mentors. “The chance for MIT students to work directly with peers from the region, to propose and create technical solutions to real problems on the ground, and partner with local organizations is an incredibly meaningful opportunity. I wish I had been able to participate in something like this when I was at MIT.”

    Each team also assigned a fellow group member as a facilitator, who served as the main point of contact for the team and oversaw project management: organizing workstreams, ensuring deadlines were met, and mediating any group disagreements. This model led to successful project outcomes and innovative suggestions.

    “The superb work of the MISTI group gave us a critical eye and made significant headway on a product that can hopefully be a game changer to over 150 Israeli and Palestinian organizations,” says a representative from Alliance for Middle East Peace (ALLMEP).

    Leadership team meetings included MIT staff and Israeli and Palestinian leadership of the partner organizations for discussing process, content, recent geopolitical developments, and how to adapt the class to the ongoing changing situation.

    “The topic of Palestine/Israel is contentious: globally, in the region, and also, at times, on the MIT campus,” says Dolev. “I myself have questioned how we can make a systemic impact with our partners from the region. How can we be side-by-side on that journey for the betterment of all? I have now seen first-hand how this multilayered model can work.”

    MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI) is MIT’s hub for global experiences. MISTI’s unparalleled internship, research, teaching, and study abroad programs offer students unique experiences that bring MIT’s one-of-a-kind education model to life in countries around the world. MISTI programs are carefully designed to complement on-campus course work and research, and rigorous, country-specific preparation enables students to forge cultural connections and play a role in addressing important global challenges while abroad. Students come away from their experiences with invaluable perspectives that inform their education, career, and worldview. MISTI embodies MIT’s commitment to global engagement and prepares students to thrive in an increasingly interconnected world. More

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    Lama Willa Baker challenges MIT audience to look beyond technology to solve the climate crises

    Buddhist teacher Willa Blythe Baker called for an “embodied revolution,” in speaking to an MIT audience on May 5, to create a world in which we realize we are connected and interdependent with each other and with our natural environment. She envisioned a world in which we always ask of every question: “How will this affect our bodies, trees, plants, mosses, water, air around us?”

    Authorized as a dharma teacher and lineage holder (lama) in the Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, Baker holds a PhD in religion form Harvard University and is founder and spiritual co-director of the Natural Dharma Fellowship in Boston. As experts warn of warming oceans, rising sea levels, turbulent weather, mass extinctions, droughts, hunger, and global pandemics, she said, “Much is made of what we must do, but little is made of how we must live and who we must become”

    The climate crisis has been “framed as a set of problems that need to be solved through intellectual ingenuity, engineering, and technology. These solutions are critical, but they do not require grappling with the underlying issue … They do not look beyond doing, to being.’“

    Part of the problem, Baker pointed out, is that in discussing climate change, we frequently approach it in terms of what we must give up to live more sustainably — but not in terms of what we gain by living simply and mindfully.

    Disembodiment

    Baker outlined her view that “disembodiment” is a key underlying cause of the global environmental crisis. This disembodied state causes us to feel separate from our ecosystem, and from one another, and from our own bodies, leading to a state of constant worry about the past or the future, and to a constant desire or ambition for more. Disembodiment  is the state of being “up in the head” and out of touch with the body, and being disconnected from the here and now.

    The climate crisis, Baker put forward, is in part a result of society’s long journey away from the embodied ways of being in earlier agrarian societies in which there was a more intimate relationship between humans and their natural world.

    The contemplative tradition

    Baker said the contemplative perspective, and the practices of meditation and mindfulness, have much to offer climate activists. Rather than viewing meditation, prayer, or contemplation as passive acts, these practices are active pursuits, according to Baker, as “engagements of attention and embodiment that steward novel ways of knowing and being.”

    She explained further how an “embodied contemplative perspective” re-frames the climate crisis. Instead of viewing the crisis as external, the climate crisis calls for us to look inward to our motivations and values. “It is asking us to inquire into who and what we are, not just what we do.” Rather than seeing ourselves as “stewards” of the planet, we should see ourselves as part of the planet.

    “The idea of embodiment gets us to explore who we are in the deepest sense … Embodiment is a journey from our isolated sense of separateness, our sense of limited cognitive identity, back to the body and senses, back to our animal wisdom, back to the earthly organic identity of being bound by gravity.”

    Baker pointed to the central Buddhist tenet that we live with the illusion of separateness, and, she said, “the task of this human life is to see beyond the veil of that illusion.”

    Embodiment will bring us “back to the body and senses; back to our animal wisdom; back to the earthly organic identity of being bound by gravity. These wisdoms remind us of who we are — that we are of the Earth.”

    How much is enough?

    A lively discussion was held following the presentation. One audience member asked how to reconcile the idea of looking to the body for wisdom, when some of the climate crisis is fueled by our need for bodily comfort. Baker replied, “We have started to associate comfort with plenty … That’s a point of reflection. How much is enough?” She said that part of the Buddhist path is the cultivation of knowing that whatever you have is enough.

    One MIT student studying mechanical engineering asked how to reconcile these ideas with a capitalistic society. He pointed out that “a lot of industry is driven by the need to accumulate more capital … Every year, you want to increase your balance sheet … How do you tell companies that what you have is enough?”

    Baker agreed that that our current economic system constantly encourages us to want “more.” “Human happiness is at stake, in addition to our planet’s survival. If we’re told that the ‘next thing’ will make us happy, we will be seeking happiness externally. I think the system will change eventually. I don’t think we have any choice. The planet cannot sustain a world where we’re producing and producing more and more stuff for us to need and want.”

    One audience member asked how to meet the challenge of being embodied in our busy world. Baker said that “embodiment and disembodiment is a continuum. Sometimes we have to be in our head. We’re taking a test, or writing a paper. But we can get ‘up there’ so much that we forget we have a body.” She called for ‘bringing your attention down. Pausing and bring attention all the way down, and feeling the Earth below your feet … There’s a calming and centering that comes with coming down and connecting with the Earth below. Being present and grounded and in tune.”

    Baker said the body can show us, “Just here. Just now. Just this.”

    The speaker was introduced by Professor Emma J. Teng, the T.T. and Wei Fong Chao Professor of Asian Civilizations at MIT. This spring, Teng introduced a new class 21G.015 (Introduction to Buddhism, Mindfulness, and Meditation), a half-term subject that met with the class PE.0534 (Fitness and Meditation), taught by Sarah Johnson, so that students learned basic ideas of Buddhism and its history while having a chance to learn and practice mindfulness and meditation techniques.

    This event was the latest in the T.T. and W.F. Chao Distinguished Buddhist Lecture Series. This series engages the rich history of Buddhist thought and ethical action to advance critical dialogues on ethics, humanity, and MIT’s mission “to develop in each member of the MIT community the ability and passion to work wisely, creatively, and effectively for the betterment of humankind.”

    Baker’s books include “Essence of Ambrosia” (2005), “Everyday Dharma”(2009), “The Arts of Contemplative Care” (2012) and “The Wakeful Body” (2021). Her guided meditations can be found here. More

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    Living Climate Futures initiative showcases holistic approach to the climate crisis

    The sun shone bright and warm on the Dertouzos Amphitheater at the Stata Center this past Earth Day as a panel of Indigenous leaders from across the country talked about their experiences with climate activism and shared their natural world philosophies — a worldview that sees humanity as one with the rest of the Earth.

    “I was taught the natural world philosophies by those raised by precolonial individuals,” said Jay Julius W’tot Lhem of the Lummi tribe of the Pacific Northwest and founder and president of Se’Si’Le, an organization dedicated to reintroducing Indigenous spiritual law into the mainstream conversation about climate. Since his great-grandmother was born in 1888, he grew up “one hug away from pre-contact,” as he put it.

    Natural world philosophiesNatural world philosophies sit at the center of the Indigenous activism taking place all over the country, and they were a highlight of the Indigenous Earth Day panel — one part of a two-day symposium called Living Climate Futures. The events were hosted by the Anthropology and History sections and the Program on Science, Technology, and Society in MIT’s School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (SHASS), in collaboration with the MIT Office of Sustainability and Project Indigenous MIT.

    “The Living Climate Futures initiative began from the recognition that the people who are living most closely with climate and environmental struggles and injustices are especially equipped to lead the way toward other ways of living in the world,” says Briana Meier, ACLS Emerging Voices Postdoctoral Fellow in Anthropology and an organizer of the event. “While much climate action is based in technology-driven policy, we recognize that solutions to climate change are often embedded within and produced in response to existing social systems of injustice and inequity.”

    On-the-ground experts from around the country spoke in a series of panels and discussions over the two days, sharing their stories and inspiring attendees to think differently about how to address the environmental crisis.

    Gathering experts

    The hope, according to faculty organizers, was that an event centered on such voices could create connections among activists and open the eyes of many to the human element of climate solutions.

    Over the years, many such solutions have overlooked the needs of the communities they are designed to help. Streams in the Pacific Northwest, for example, have been dammed to generate hydroelectric power — promoted as a green alternative to fossil fuel. But these same locations have long been sacred spots for Indigenous swimming rituals, said Ryan Emanuel (Lumbee), associate professor of hydrology at Duke University and a panelist in the Indigenous Earth Day event. Mitigating the environmental damage does not make up for the loss of sacred connection, he emphasized.

    To dig into such nuances, the organizers invited an intergenerational group of panelists to share successes with attendees.

    Transforming urban spaces

    In one panel, for example, urban farmers from Mansfield, Ohio, and Chelsea, Massachusetts, discussed the benefits of growing vegetables in cities.

    “Transforming urban spaces into farms provides not just healthy food, but a visible symbol of hope, a way for people to connect and grow food that reflects their cultures and homes, an economic development opportunity, and even a safe space for teens to hang out,” said Susy Jones, senior sustainability project manager in the MIT Office of Sustainability and an event organizer. “We also heard about the challenges — like the cost of real estate in Massachusetts.”

    Another panel highlighted the determined efforts of a group of students from George Washington High School in Southeast Chicago to derail a project to build a scrap metal recycling plant across the street from their school. “We’re at school eight hours a day,” said Gregory Miller, a junior at the school. “We refuse to live next door to a metals scrapyard.”

    The proposed plant was intended to replace something similar that had been shut down in a predominantly white neighborhood due to its many environmental violations. Southeast Chicago is more culturally diverse and has long suffered from industrial pollution and economic hardship, but the students fought the effort to further pollute their home — and won.

    “It was hard, the campaign,” said Destiny Vasquez. “But it was beautiful because the community came together. There is unity in our struggle.”

    Recovering a common heritage 

    Unity was also at the forefront of the discussion for the Indigenous Earth Day panel in the Stata Amphitheater. This portion of the Living Climate Futures event began with a greeting in the Navajo language from Alvin Harvey, PhD candidate in aeronautics and astronautics (Aero/Astro) and representative of the MIT American Indian Science and Engineering Society and the MIT Native American Student Association. The greeting identified all who came to the event as relatives.

    “Look at the relatives next to you, especially those trees,” he said, gesturing to the budding branches around the amphitheater. “They give you shelter, love … few other beings are willing to do that.”

    According to Julius, such reverence for nature is part of the Indigenous way of life, common across tribal backgrounds — and something all of humanity once had in common. “Somewhere along the line we all had Indigenous philosophies,” he said. “We all need an invitation back to that to understand we’re all part of the whole.”

    Understanding the oneness of all living things on earth helps people of Indigenous nations feel the distress of the earth when it is under attack, speakers said. Donna Chavis, senior climate campaigner for Friends of the Earth and an elder of the Lumbee tribe, discussed the trauma of having forests near her home in the southeastern United States clear-cut to provide wood chips to Europe.

    “They are devastating the lungs of the earth in North Carolina at a rate faster than in the Amazon,” she said. “You can almost hear the pain of the forest.”

    Small pictures of everyday life

    “People are experiencing a climate crisis that is global in really different ways in different places,” says Heather Paxson, head of MIT Anthropology and an event organizer. “What came out of these two days is a real, palpable sense of the power of listening to individual experience. Not because it gives us the big picture, but because it gives us the small picture.”

    Trinity Colón, one of the leaders of the group from George Washington High School, impressed on attendees that environmental justice is much more than an academic pursuit. “We’re not talking about climate change in the sense of statistics, infographics,” she said. “For us this is everyday life … [Future engineers and others training at MIT] should definitely take that into perspective, that these are real people really being affected by these injustices.”

    That call to action has already been felt by many at MIT.

    “I’ve been hearing from grad students lately, in engineering, saying, ‘I like thinking about these problems, but I don’t like where I’m being directed to use my intellectual capital, toward building more corporate wealth,’” said Kate Brown, professor of STS and an event organizer. “As an institution, we could move toward working not for, not to correct, but working with communities.”

    The world is what we’ve gotMIT senior Abdulazeez Mohammed Salim, an Aero/Astro major, says he was inspired by these conversations to get involved in urban farming initiatives in Baltimore, Maryland, where he plans to move after graduation.

    “We have a responsibility as part of the world around us, not as external observers, not as people removed and displaced from the world. And the world is not an experiment or a lab,” he says. “It’s what we’ve got. It’s who we are. It’s all that we’ve been and all we will be. That stuck with me; it resonated very deeply.”

    Salim also appreciated the reality check given by Bianca Bowman from GreenRoots Chelsea, who pointed out that success will not come quickly, and that sustained advocacy is critical.

    “Real, valuable change will not happen overnight, will not happen by just getting together a critical mass of people who are upset and concerned,” he said. “Because what we’re dealing with are large, interconnected, messy systems that will try to fight back and survive regardless of how we force them to adapt. And so, long term is really the only way forward. That’s the way we need to think of these struggles.” More