MIT Sloan’s EMBA students provide career advice, network with future scientists and engineers

This summer, experienced professionals from industry and academia in the MIT Sloan School of Management’s Executive MBA program contributed their time and career wisdom to rising high school seniors from across the country participating in programs offered by the MIT Office of Engineering Outreach Programs. The EMBA students served on panels and networked with the high school students in three programs.

MITES

The Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science (MITES) program hosted science- and engineering-inclined rising seniors from across the country for six weeks, teaching them college-level coursework and life skills to prepare them for college. Eight EMBA panelists attended a MITES dinner on July 22, during which they met with 72 high-performing high school students to network and share advice on a discussion-based panel. MIT Sloan guests included Neerja Bharti (Teleios International), Thomas Horstmann (Eisai Inc.), Karen Edwards (Biogen Idec), Laurel Taylor (Google), Hong Chen (Sanofi Oncology), Adel Malek (Tufts Medical Center), Thomas Stephens (Trinity Partners) and Jonathan Lehrich (MIT Sloan School of Management).

MITES students shared dinner with and sought career advice from EMBA members during an event on July 22.

MITES students shared dinner with and sought career advice from EMBA members during an event on July 22.

MOSTEC

Another group of EMBA members participated in a professional mixer on July 31 for the MIT Online Science, Technology and Engineering Community (MOSTEC), which provides students with six months of online coursework, admissions support and mentorship. The Alumni and Professional Mixer combined dinner with casual networking and opportunities for mentorship. EMBA participants included Tim Piccirilli (American Tower Corporation), Hasshi Sudler (Internet Think Tank, Inc.), Stuart Hart (University of South Florida) and Dan Cosgrove (DuPont Pioneer).

MOSTEC students practice their networking skills with EMBA student Dan Cosgrove at the professional mixer on July 31.

MOSTEC students practice their networking skills with EMBA student Dan Cosgrove at the professional mixer on July 31.

E2@MIT

The MIT Office of Engineering Programs also welcomed EMBA students on August 5 for a dinner and discussion with the 109 students participating in the Engineering Experience at MIT (E2@MIT) program, a one-week project-based prorgam. EMBA members involved in the panel were Charlie Maher (Naval Undersea Warfare Center), Alvero Diez (Corporacion Multifranquicias), Cheryl Campbell (MA Department of Public Health), Ken Bobu (Safe-T Discs, LLC), Joe Schloesser (Iron Mountain Data Solutions), Bill Van Schalkwyk (MIT) and Kamran Hameed (Panera Bread).

EMBA members share career wisdom at a panel and dinner with E2 students on August 5.

EMBA members share career wisdom at a panel and dinner with E2 students on August 5.

—Sydney Lester

Dreams took flight during MITES for NASA technologist

Dr. Aprille Ericcson, a 1980 alumnae of MITES, is Deputy to the Chief Technologist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

Dr. Aprille Ericcson, a 1980 alumna of MITES, is Deputy to the Chief Technologist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

Seventeen-year-old Aprille Ericsson strapped into the flight simulator at Hanscom Air Force Base in Bedford, Massachusetts, while taking part in MIT’s Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science (MITES) in 1980 during the summer before her senior year. A talented student from Brooklyn expecting to pursue a law degree, this was her closest experience to piloting an aircraft. An affinity for aerospace was born when she stepped out of the simulator and saw her score –103, just three points from perfect. “That was my first real interest in aeronautics and astronautics,” she says. Since taking part in MITES, Ericsson has held several positions in the aerospace industry, including her current job as Deputy to the Chief Technologist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Now, she works to identify gaps in technology and enable researchers to fulfill those future technological needs.

Ericsson’s high school algebra teacher, also an MIT alum, recommended the MITES program, formerly UNITE, which she later attended. The program today runs for six weeks in June and July and gives engineering and science-inclined students the chance to experience life and college-level courses at MIT during the summer between their junior and senior years. While on campus, MITES students create meaningful networks of friends and staff, and most MITES alumni go on to study science and engineering at top universities. Ericsson pursued her undergraduate degree at MIT and her graduate study at Howard, where she became the first African American woman to receive a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering at the university.

During MITES, Ericsson learned about her growing desire to help people and found fellow students who shared her excitement for learning. The combination of intrinsically motivated students and encouraging instructors and teaching assistants gave her confidence to enter the aerospace field. “The people supporting the Office of Engineering Outreach Programs are really bright people I still admire,” says Ericsson.

MITES also taught Ericsson how to handle crises. During a bridge building competition, she injured her finger while feverishly trying to finish the project. “I learned to work under duress, in short periods of time. I learned to accomplish things and put my mind to it,” says Ericsson. Despite her injury, she was able to return and finish her bridge for the competition. The ability to thrive under strict time constraints and stressful situations was a critical skill she developed at MITES. Under the inspiration of MITES, Ericsson attended MIT a year later.

In July 1980 during MITES, Ericcson learned to work in high pressure scenarios during a bridge building competition.

In July 1980 during MITES, Ericcson learned to work in high pressure scenarios during a bridge building competition.

After MITES and MIT, Ericsson entered the workforce and found a series of fulfilling positions. “I find it particularly enticing to improve people’s lives and make them easier,” says Ericsson. “The projects that I work on have to be impactful in our communities. They have to be positive and not destructive.” Instead of working on missile defense, Ericsson attended graduate school at Howard University, where she developed control algorithms for applications like the International Space Station. While a Ph.D. intern, she joined the ranks of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, creating methods of attitude control simulation and software testing.

Along with creating useful technologies that benefit people on a larger scale, Ericsson enjoys the thrill of solving complex problems. “When you’re trying to obtain a goal, you don’t know how many steps you’ll need to take,” says Ericsson. “Spending an entire lifetime on helping to solve questions and problems is really cool.”

Ericsson has also devoted herself to empowering young women and minorities interested in STEM careers. She has done this though active membership in the NASA GSFC Speakers Bureau as a Mentor and University Professor, and previously as an aerospace teacher for students at Howard University Public Charter Middle School of Math & Science.

Ericsson advises aspiring scientists and engineers to maintain high hopes for the future and seek out opportunities with patience and perseverance. “The prizes of life are at the end of each journey,” she says. “Have lofty goals, believe in them and you will achieve them. You will always get there, but you will achieve a lot more than you thought you would.”

Senior Corning manager speaks to MITES students in career seminar

Dr. Gregory E. Williams, a 25-year-plus veteran of Corning Incorporated, hosted a career seminar on July 15th at MIT for 72 rising high school seniors as part of Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science (MITES). Dr. Williams, who graduated with a degree in physics from MIT in 1983, spoke about his work, the importance of different perspectives in the STEM field, and the value of lifelong friendships and passions the students would develop through MITES.

Dr. Williams talks to the MITES students about the importance of community and passion.

Dr. Williams talks to the MITES students about the importance of community and passion.

“This is the most wonderful experience you’ll ever have in your life: finding gifted, like-minded people,” Dr. Williams said. One of the main goals of the MITES program is to foster a community of motivated individuals who collaborate on projects that interest them in ways that encourage personal development. The students come to MITES from all across the country and from a variety of socio-economic and cultural backgrounds.

“I believe that diversity of thought, mind, religion and gender is important,” said Dr. Williams. He explained that today’s technology is the result of multiple viewpoints coming together to explore ideas that might not otherwise be given a chance. Because of these ideas, innovation is occurring so rapidly that some of today’s developments won’t see widespread adoption for twenty or more years, Dr. Williams said.

Students respond to questions on modern technology and the future of STEM.

Students respond to questions on modern technology and the future of STEM.

One piece of technology that attracted Dr. Williams to Corning is still a cornerstone of the company’s business. “Early in my career, I wanted to do something to further mankind, so I went to Corning, where we built fiber optic cables that stretched from the U.S. to the U.K.,” he said. Because of their high conductivity and strength, fiber optic cables remain a better choice for transmitting information than traditional copper cables.

Dr. Williams encouraged MITES students to search for the things that inspire them just like his work at Corning does. “Many of you will become part of the research and development field, seeing things that have never been seen before,” Dr. Williams said. “I want you to think very carefully about your future. Think hard about why you’re doing the things that you’re doing.”

With the MITES students carefully weighing college and career options, Dr. Williams stressed the importance of getting to know people with similar interests and maintaining those relationships. “When you go back to school, you’re still going to feel like a fish out of water, but now you’ve made friends, maybe friends for life,” he said. “Never stop dreaming.”

Sydney Lester

A different sense of pride

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Stephan Boyer, MITES ’08, is an MIT graduate student and member of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (Photo: Meredith Lawrence).

In 2008, Stephan Boyer was a top student at his California high school. Interested in electrical engineering, Stephan traveled to MIT to enroll in Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science (MITES) during the summer before his senior year. Through six weeks of new challenges and a college-level engineering curriculum at MITES, Stephan discovered there was much to learn from his peers.

“I had no idea what a top-caliber student, an MIT student, looked like,” said Boyer. MITES exposed him to other students who excelled at school and inspired him to pursue his interests in engineering and computer science. “The people I met were passionate and cared about their fields,” Stephan says. “They were independent thinkers.” 

During MITES, Stephan found himself and his peers working harder than they ever had before. “Everyone in the program is united by one thing,” Stephan says. “They have this fire that can’t be put out.” That fire shifted many of Stephan’s preconceived beliefs. “MITES put me in an environment where everyone was passionate,” he says. “They made me more open minded to things I’d never questioned before. I’d never had the opportunity to see things from a different perspective.”

Confident before MITES, Stephan met people who showed him that there was room to grow. “If your ego leads you to believe you’re already at the top, then you don’t have that drive,” he says. “There’s no motivation to push it further. MITES removed that sense of pride and replaced it with a different sense of pride. I come from a family of people who push me every day to be better than I thought I could be.”

As a graduate student at MIT and member of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), Stephan now uses his MITES foundation to move forward in his computer science career. While at MIT, he has taken on a number of challenging projects, which have led him to build a self-balancing unicycle, develop and implement a new computer programming language, and launch an app with 72,000 registered users.

Through his journey, Stephan has found creative motivation in people. “I draw inspiration from my closest friends, mostly at MIT,” he says. After MIT, Stephan hopes to start his own company in order to explore new ideas in a collaborative environment – a dream that started at MITES and continued through his education. “I want to push boundaries and do things that haven’t been done before,” he says. “I want to push the frontier of what’s possible.”

—Sydney Lester 

MIT Aeronautics and Astronautics Professor Wesley Harris speaks to MITES students as part of lecture series

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Professor Harris engages MITES students with modern engineering questions.

Charles Stark Draper Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics Wesley Harris facilitated a lively discussion with the 72 Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science (MITES) students on June 24. Topics included recent technological advances and the intersection of science and ethics.

“Build something, do something, study something,” Professor Harris said. “Get a passion in your heart. Get a passion in your belly.” Professor Harris spoke to the eager group of students about finding their niches in higher education and the greater world, as well as the “wonderful problems” awaiting them.

The following discussion focused on responsible progress, with an emphasis on keeping human interests in mind. In an era of rapid scientific growth, robots have replaced entire populations of workers. While technology can eliminate jobs, it has the ability to cultivate and expand the job market, Professor Harris said.

“Would you build a robot for Ford that eliminates jobs?” Professor Harris asked. The challenge of balancing progress and human interests became obvious to the students: If more jobs are eliminated than created by new technology, the purpose of scientific advancement is defeated.

Professor Harris started his career studying ecology at the University of Virginia and later researched rotorcraft technology, aerodynamics and fluid dynamics, sickle cell pathology, financial management methods, and defense systems acquisition. His lecture incorporated anecdotes from years of research and teaching.

Talking points

Throughout the discussion, Professor Harris posed the students questions from modern engineering challenges. One of these challenges involved stimulating human sensory responses with mere images and the obstacles associated with this task. “A rose is more than color. It has texture. It has fragrance,” he said. “How do I look at water visually and feel its wetness?”

“Our brains process things differently,” one student responded. “It is not your eyes that see, but your brain.”

Professor Harris also challenged the students to think of creative ways to ensure that space travelers return home with their original features and characteristics. “How does the human body respond to weightlessness? We want people coming back from Mars looking just like they did when they left, with one head, not two,” Professor Harris said.

Questions for the future

At the end of the presentation, students peppered Professor Harris with questions about glacial melting, genocide and efficient energy production without turbines, to name a few.

One student, Fabian Aristizabal of Hialeah, Fla., was concerned with the concept of life after human travel to Mars. “After Mars, what comes next? We’re stuck in our own neighborhood,” he said. Abigail Arnold from Seattle, Wash., asked, “Are humans fixed creatures, or do we move in conjunction with time and space to create our own perceptions of reality?”

Though the lecture focused primarily on engineering, Professor Harris left the MITES students with life advice. Asked to describe the legacy he wished to leave behind, Professor Harris said, “One: That I have been a good father. Two: To understand that I’ve been fair and positive, and that every day I move through this world with no intent to harm anyone. Three: That I’ve had a career in which there was modest success as a teacher and a researcher.”

—Sydney Lester

39th MITES class welcomed to MIT

The MITES class of 2014 met in Simmons Hall for a welcome dinner.

The MITES class of 2014 met in Simmons Hall for a welcome dinner.

On June 13, 72 rising high school seniors from across the country joined instructional staff and administration at MIT’s Simmons Hall for the Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science (MITES) Welcome Dinner. It marked the beginning of the 39th session of MITES, the longest-running offering of the Office of Engineering Outreach Programs.

Yonatan Tekleab, summer program coordinator for MITES, greeted the students and charged them with one task: to change the world. “Changing the world can mean something different for everyone,” he said, while recounting his own academic and career path. He also commented on the social experience of the MITES program. “The bonds you create with one another will be everlasting,” he said.

Through the intensive MITES curriculum, each student will complete courses in calculus, physics, life science and humanities, along with one hands-on engineering elective course. At the welcome dinner, Kathryn Shroyer of the MIT Sea Grant College Program previewed the new Underwater Robotics course, which joins MITES after a successful pilot course in OEOP’s one-week program, Engineering Experience at MIT (E2@MIT), last year.

After dinner, students learned about policies surrounding housing, safety and fitness and recreation. Instructors and teaching assistants introduced themselves and the topics they planned to cover, and Brandon Holloway, head teaching assistant and MITES ’09 alum, revealed this year’s class theme: crafting the pillars of innovation.

MITES Faculty Director and MIT Professor Cardinal Warde stressed the value of good citizenship, striving for excellence and stepping up to take challenges. He reminded students that “someone gave money to give you the chance to be here. Show appreciation. We want you to try really hard.”

The level of excitement in the hall was high among instructors, coordinators, teaching assistants and especially the students. Ahmed Bosier, from Detroit, MI, said he’s excited to collaborate with like-minded people and learn more about engineering.

Abigail Arnold from Des Moines, WA said that aside from the great opportunity of being at a place like MIT, she’s most looking forward to meeting her peers. “We’re already planning a movie night,” she said.

In the closing remarks, Shawna Young, executive director of OEOP, reinforced that students will work harder than they have before, but that the experience will be worth it. “Take in every moment,” she said.  “You won’t get it back, but it’s okay, because you have it now.”

—Alexandra Koktsidis

With MITES ’01 as launching pad, aerospace engineer targets entrepreneurship

Theresa Johnson, MITES ’01, is combining aeronautics and astronautics with entrepreneurship as she works to inspire future scientists and engineers along the way.

When she arrived on MIT’s campus for the first time in June 2001, Theresa Johnson didn’t know anything about engineering. Her high PSAT scores and academic drive had helped secure her a spot in that year’s Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science (MITES) program, but her primary reason for attending was to enjoy a summer outside of her hometown of St. Louis. Over a decade later, Theresa is a Ph.D. candidate at Stanford University, where she is combining aeronautics and astronautics with entrepreneurship as she works to inspire future scientists and engineers along the way.

Raised in a series of college towns – first Urbana-Champaign, Illinois, then Austin, Texas, and finally St. Louis, Missouri – Theresa experienced deep socio-economic divides. Theresa’s parents did not have college degrees and were looked down upon as “townies” in communities dominated by large universities.

Despite their social status, Theresa’s parents worked hard to thrive and shield her from potentially toxic atmospheres. Theresa recalls her mother taking on a number of projects, including launching her own dog walking service, to provide for her. “I hadn’t heard the word ‘entrepreneur’ until my summer in MITES,” Theresa says. “But I saw it in my parents.”

Through grade school, Theresa’s teachers identified her as an academic star. Theresa remembers taking a liking to math, in particular, as early as second grade. By middle school, her academic talent began to work against her. “In eighth grade, I had a teacher, Mr. Brownfield, who saw that I was getting bored,” Theresa says. “He pushed me to improve my work ethic.”

That increased work ethic would put her into a position to enroll in MITES in summer 2003 after her junior year of high school. During MITES, Theresa faced a number of challenges. Academically, she says, “it was the most rigorous experience I ever had at that point in my life.” She had to put more work into her MITES physics class than she did for any of her high school classes.

Outside of the classroom, Theresa faced challenges as well. It was the first time she had been surrounded by people from such different socio-economic backgrounds. “Some people could just go out to the movies or out for dinner whenever they wanted,” she says. “It was difficult for those like me always budgeting. And we didn’t have the vocabulary to talk about socio-economic disparity.”

Ultimately, her experiences academically and socially gave her new perspective. “It matured me. It grounded me,” Theresa says. Most of all, she appreciated the sense of community that MITES provided, and she still keeps in touch with many of her MITES peers and teaching assistants, especially those now on the west coast.

During her senior year of high school, Theresa gained acceptance to her top three schools – Stanford, MIT and Harvard. Ultimately, she chose to attend Stanford “for its interdisciplinary engineering education, entrepreneurial vibrancy, opportunity for exploration, and cultural groundedness,” she says. Entering Stanford with the insights she gained during MITES, Theresa breezed through her first year in a Science, Technology and Society program. “MITES prepared me for that workload,” she says. “I probably had a 3.8 or 3.9 GPA in my first year of Stanford undergrad, and I certainly have to credit MITES for preparing me for that level of rigor.”

Theresa points out a calibration chamber used for an experiment at the Max Planck Institute in Germany. Theresa managed a team of research scientists and other graduate students for the experiment as part of her work toward a Ph.D. from Stanford.

While excelling academically, Theresa explored the cultural vibrancy that Stanford had to offer by joining Delta Sigma Theta, a historically black public service sorority, studying as an exchange student at Spelman, a top historically black college for women, and studying and working abroad in Japan, Ghana, Ethiopia, Switzerland, Greenland, and Germany, among other places.

Today, Theresa is a fifth year Ph.D. student in aerospace engineering at Stanford. She is working on a number of projects with the Stanford Technology Ventures Program, which develops inventions and ideas in the lab and spins them out into startups. She hopes that one of her projects will become a launching pad for her career out of graduate school, but she is also interested in joining one of the many existing startups in Silicon Valley that are focusing on aerospace or “the internet of things,” which, with its connection to satellites, drones, and high-altitude balloons, she finds deeply interesting.

Ultimately, Theresa says, she has learned and grown with the help of many role models along the way, and she wants to be a role model, herself, to let others know that anything is possible. “Flying cars are possible. Getting us to Mars is possible. It’s all going to happen,” she says. “It just takes the will, intellect, and spunk of a few to light that fire.”

—Nick Holden