In an eventful three-day visit to Portugal Nov. 24-26, 2009, MIT President Susan Hockfield met with key stakeholders in the three-year-old MIT Portugal Program — from Portugal’s Prime Minister, José Sócrates, and other senior government officials to program partners and MIT Portugal students and faculty.
MIT Portugal — a research and education collaboration with leading Portuguese universities, laboratories and industry launched in October 2006 — is MIT’s largest international collaboration in Europe. Largely as a result of the program, in 2008 Portugal became the first Sustaining Member of the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI).
Honorary degree awarded at Historic Academy of Sciences
An unquestioned highlight of the visit was the awarding on Nov. 25 of an honorary degree — a doctorate honoris causa — to President Hockfield by three leading Portuguese universities: the University of Porto, the Technical University of Lisbon, and the New University of Lisbon. It is the first joint honorary doctorate awarded in Portugal.
The ceremony took place at the august Academy of Sciences of Lisbon, which welcomed the president as a member. (Members of the Academy, which dates back to 1779, have included Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein.) President Hockfield initially sat on the right side of the ornate main hall, with staff and other visitors; after being presented the honorary degree, she sat on the left side, with the faculty of the three degree-granting institutions, signifying her new membership among them.
Launch of new MIT Portugal networks on energy, cities and stem cells
While in Lisbon, President Hockfield also participated in the launch of three new MIT Portugal research and training networks designed to advance new knowledge in sustainable energy systems and electric mobility, the greening of cities, and stem cell engineering. (These areas are central to MIT Portugal’s research efforts.) MITEI is a partner in the first two networks, and the Initiative’s Director Prof. Ernest Moniz also spoke at the forums at which they were announced.
In addition, the president was on hand to congratulate MIT Portugal master’s degree students during the Program’s first graduation ceremony, where the students received another “first” — the first national certificates ever awarded in Portugal. MIT Portugal has established seven PhD and executive master’s programs in bioengineering, sustainable energy and transportation systems, and engineering design and advanced manufacturing; consortia of leading Portuguese universities run each of the programs in coordination with MIT faculty.
MIT Portugal graduates will serve the world “extremely well,” President Hockfield said, given that they are “focused on some of humanity’s greatest challenges,” appreciate “the importance of working with industry,” are “systems thinkers, who are not afraid to cross boundaries between academic disciplines to advance knowledge,” and “know first-hand the value of global partnerships in the pursuit of new ideas and innovative solutions.”
During her visit, President Hockfield also attended a dinner for the MIT Club of Portugal and MIT Portugal alumni, and participated in a roundtable organized by the deans of the Lisbon MBA program.
She said she was “deeply impressed” by Portugal’s “commitment to building the nation’s future through science and technology, education and research, discovery and innovation.” Portugal’s efforts in this area, she added, “are perfectly in tune with the goals, methods and values of the MIT Portugal Program.”
In an interview with the Portuguese weekly Expresso, President Hockfield talked about ways in which MIT Portugal’s efforts are helping to enhance Portugal’s global competitiveness in science and technology, while also benefitting MIT.
Additional details about President Hockfield’s visit to Portugal can be found in the news section of the MIT Portugal website.