• Noting that a provost recognizes the "value of resources," Charles Vest, the 15th president of MIT, hands the 16th president, Susan Hockfield, a can of shredded money. Dr. Hockfield is currently the provost of Yale.

    Photo / Donna Coveney

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President-elect displays warmth and crowd-appeal


A standing-room-only crowd in Room 10-250 greeted President-elect Susan Hockfield, her husband Tom, and their daughter Elizabeth with a long and thundering standing ovation at a special community meeting on Aug. 26, the day she was elected the 16th president of the Institute.

"Thank you, everyone, for such a warm, warm welcome to this community," said Hockfield, who drew additional applause throughout her remarks, including when she described her picture of MIT's future.

"I can distill this into a very simple picture. I want MIT to be the dream of every child who wants to make the world a better place. And also the dream of every engineer, every scientist, every scholar and every artist who draws inspiration from the idea of working in a hotbed of innovation in service to humanity," Hockfield said.

President Charles M. Vest also received a standing ovation when Hockfield saluted him "for his extraordinary leadership--both here at MIT and on the national scene.

"He has brought forward a great number of key initiatives and has forged important new directions over the 14 years he has served as MIT's president. For his work, for MIT and for the nation, I extend my personal thanks," she said.

Vest welcomed Hockfield by telling her that There is "no greater privilege or honor that could be given to anyone than to be [named] the president of MIT." He also gave her two items key to the position. First, noting that Room 10-250 is the site for faculty meetings, which she'll soon preside over, Vest handed her a copy of "Roberts' Rules of Order."

"My distinguished predecessor Paul Gray gave me his own personal copy, and today it's my privilege to pass [it] on to you," said Vest, to laughter and applause.

Next, noting that Hockfield--Yale's provost--recognizes the value of resources ("a nice word for money," Vest said), he handed her a decorated coffee can filled with shredded money. Quipped Dana Mead, who also spoke at the meeting, "As chair of the MIT Corporation I hate to see that stuff ground up into dust."

Professor Rafael Bras, chair of the MIT Faculty, also warmly welcomed Hockfield. "It is indeed a very happy and momentous occasion for all of us. With you, once again we get a new president who represents the best in leadership, one who the world will respect."

After the short meeting, the large crowd flowed out into Lobby 10 and onto Killian Court, where Hockfield chatted with small groups of faculty, alumni, staff and students. Laughter and flashbulbs marked the celebratory mood, as people enjoyed the refreshments and waited patiently to be the next to greet the president-elect.

A group of pre-frosh just winding up their seventh week of Interphase courses on campus were among those anxious to meet and greet their incoming president.

"I thought it was interesting from the aspect that it is new leadership so she'll, like, be more interested in hearing new things. She'll be more open to listening to us. She's, like, our class; she's our president; she came here with us," said Jonathan Frazier a freshman from Louisville, Ky.

"I'm just very excited that it's a woman president, because MIT has this image of being all about technology and men. I think she'll do a lot to change that image. Hopefully she'll hire more women faculty to be role models," said Jamira Cotton, a freshman from Longview, Texas.

"She's very nice, too. I talked to her and she said something about us both being freshmen," said Mariela Buchin, a freshman from Half Moon Bay, Calif.

Graduate student, Satwiksai Seshasai, (S.B. 2001, M.Eng.), said, "The community meeting was a great idea to bring the community together, including alumni, and make it clear that this appointment is something that will impact the students as well as the faculty and administration. It's a great start. When I talked to her afterwards, I told her she should loosen up. Well, not in those words, but I told her she should put on some jeans and walk around the dorms and meet some students."

Faculty and staff members also enjoyed the reception, taking advantage of the opportunity to meet their incoming boss.

"She's certainly made an initial impression on me of warmth," said Ayida Mthemba, associate dean for Counseling and Support Services. "It is wonderful to see a woman in this position. The students seem to love her; she's already told them what her e-mail address is. As a counseling dean, I think it's very important to students to know that the senior administration is accessible."

"She seems equally comfortable with students and Corporation members and that's a good sign," said Professor Kip Hodges of earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences. "And I'm delighted she's a scientist. It's valuable to have someone in that office who understands what science is all about. We've been well-served by the past administration, but from what I've read, she really understands the connectivity of these two fields. And coming from Yale as provost, she must be very familiar with bridging the technical with liberal arts.

"I like that she mentioned MIT taking a role in K-12 education. Science and engineering now play such a central role in society, it just makes sense that a place like MIT should play a more central role in K-12 education," said Hodges.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 1, 2004 (download PDF).


Topics: Administration, MIT presidency

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