Developing Future Leaders

moderator: Woodie C. Flowers, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT
author: Elizabeth Basha, Department of Mathematics and Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT
author: Timothy Heidel, MIT Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT
author: Anat Binur, Department of Political Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT
author: Harel Williams
published: March 6, 2013,   recorded: October 2005,   views: 2914

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If Woodie Flowers gets his way, students with the vision and initiative to change the world will be commonplace at MIT – rather than the extraordinary exemplars who speak on his panel: Elizabeth Basha, who’s developing an early storm warning system for rural villages in a Honduras river basin prone to flooding; Timothy Heidel, who’s documenting and field testing technological solutions for schools and healthcare centers in Ghanaian villages; Anat Binar, who brings together young Israeli and Palestinian students for a combined computer science and business program, to promote a common language and joint goals; and Harel Williams who broadcasts news of events to computer screens around the MIT campus.

Woodie Flowers believes MIT must be in the business of producing students with far-reaching goals and the skills to attain them: The 21st century demands the “technologically literate and philosophically grounded,” he says. Engineering students who typically ask, “Why don’t you just give us something to analyze?” should instead demand, “Show us someone who needs help.” Though Flowers boasts of having “nerd pride,” he believes MIT must help students acquire the means to solve problems in the real world. But can MIT accomplish this major “cultural shift”? We’re not here “to celebrate the MIT Center for Avoiding Change,” he says. The very successful FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) competitions provide a great model, according to Flowers, of engaging young minds in teamwork and “gracious professionalism,” offering “high tech stretch goals” and “the hardest fun you’ve ever had.” And FIRST alumni are more likely to get involved in public service while at college, says Flowers. Ultimately, he says, “Leadership can be in the water at MIT, but it has to start early and work all the way through.”

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