Q&A with Anantha Chandrakasan
Anantha P. Chandrakasan, the Vannevar Bush Professor and former head of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS), began his new role as dean of MIT’s School of Engineering on July 1.
You have mentioned your desire to connect directly with the students and to enhance their experience. What are your thoughts about outreach to engineering alumni?
I have been overwhelmed by the number of alumni who have reached out after hearing I’d been named dean. Many shared their thoughts and ideas about how to contribute to the success of the next generation of students.
As I did while department head of EECS, I plan to have alumni serve in various advisory roles as we develop and implement the school’s strategic priorities. I want alumni to become engaged in mentoring students for research, innovation, and entrepreneurship programs such as SuperUROP, the Sandbox Innovation Fund Program, and UPOP. In addition, there are plenty of opportunities, such as StartMIT, to invite alumni to share practical perspectives and career choices with our students. In the other direction, I know alumni will continue to serve as mentors for many of our students interning in a growing variety of settings, both in the United States and abroad.
I hope to maintain strong lines of communication with our alumni, providing many forums to solicit feedback and suggestions. In particular, we plan to build up a richer digital presence and connect with alumni online. This will provide opportunities for feedback and will make it easier for our global alumni to feel more engaged with MIT.
How do you plan to engage specifically with graduate alumni?
First, I hope to do even more to promote a welcoming and supportive culture for our graduate students while they are here on campus. Working with the departments and programs in the school, we can, for example, support more opportunities for career and leadership development. I plan to create a student advisory group that can help me prioritize and support these ideas and others.
We already engage our graduate students in a number of broader-impact activities outside their own research labs, such as mentoring undergraduate research (UROP and SuperUROP) and helping as advisors in communications labs offered through multiple departments. Our students can really help us decide what else we can do.
Our graduate alumni can play a key role in mentoring our students facing career choices, helping them connect with resources that might aid their research or entrepreneurship activities, providing support for international students, and, most important, helping our students build confidence. We need to work on enhancing mechanisms for such engagement.
It is important to provide continuing support for our graduate alumni. We can do this through professional development and lifelong education; by creating opportunities to stay connected to on-campus research and educational activities; by networking with current graduate students and expanding access to MIT resources. The Engine [MIT’s new accelerator for STEM startups] presents our alumni with a unique opportunity to create exciting startups, perhaps collaborating with campus researchers.
Finally, as we do for undergraduates, proudly sharing the stories of what our graduate alumni go on and accomplish after they leave MIT is a vital way to deepen connections and inspire our current students.
During your time as department head of EECS, you spearheaded the Rising Stars program, which convenes graduate and postdoc women as they contemplate careers in academia. How should the school connect with its alumnae during their careers, both in academia and in industry?
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Like a lot of things that started at MIT and spread, Rising Stars is a mission-driven program, and it focuses on strengthening the academic pipeline for women. We aim to be a lifelong learning institution for all of our alumni, and we believe that offering additional support, programming, and resources—particularly for alumni who are underrepresented in the STEM community—is part of our mission. We do an excellent job in getting younger students excited about STEM through programs like the Office of Engineering Outreach Programs and the Women’s Technology Program. We need to find ways to extend the connection beyond graduation from MIT.
It is important that we continue to support our alumnae at various stages of their careers—in academia or industry. Whether that is through continued mentorship or initiatives to recognize and highlight their accomplishments and leadership in their fields, it is important here to celebrate the achievements of our alumnae and to provide them with a wide variety of options for engaging with MIT after they have completed their degrees.
You played a major role as faculty lead in last year’s launch of The Engine. How can MIT alumni get involved?
The Engine is an exciting opportunity to connect alumni from all over the world with entrepreneurship activities in Cambridge and to help realize life-changing technologies.
MIT alumni are ideally suited for being involved with The Engine, as its focus is on translating technology-based innovations to startups that can have an impact on society. There will be many opportunities for alumni to engage—getting involved as founding members or on advisory boards of startups, serving as mentors, participating in and contributing to the Engine Room (equipment or domain expertise), or helping companies take the next steps as they graduate from the accelerator.
What makes MIT’s engineering alumni distinct?
MIT alumni are extraordinarily passionate about helping shape the future, and they have a profound interest in the next generation of MIT students. They care deeply about issues on campus, and they are willing to share their insights and perspectives. Most important, they are willing to invest their most valuable resources—their time, expertise, and experience—to make MIT a better place.
We are truly fortunate to have amazing alumni. I will count on them to help shape the future of engineering education, scholarship, research, innovation, leadership, and entrepreneurship.