Beyond the Bench: Preparing MIT Students for the Challenges of Global Leadership

moderator: James A. Champy, Perot Systems Corporation
author: Richard J. Samuels, Center for Future Civic Media, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT
author: Subra Suresh, Department of Materials Science and Engineering (DMSE), Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT
author: Marc A. Kastner, Department of Physics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT
author: Deborah Fitzgerald, School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT
author: David Schmittlein, Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT
author: Adele Naude Santos, School of Architecture + Planning, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT
published: June 4, 2013,   recorded: October 2008,   views: 2993

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MIT produces students who are “deep, entrepreneurial, passionate, diverse and active,” says Phillip Clay, the kind of talented individuals who should play major parts on the world stage. MIT has begun a drive to ensure that its students fulfill their promise. Central to this mission, Richard Samuels says, is the kind of education that steeps students in the realities of globalization. In a world that’s not so much flat as converging and increasingly complex and diverse, students must “step boldly and intelligently into the global market of ideas and commerce,” says Samuels, lest they “become cogs in a global machine.” MIT hopes “to create the people who design and operate those machines.”

This means making international studies a core part of the MIT experience, and establishing MIT in an international context. At a time when MIT faces increased global competition, Subra Suresh worries that flat and reduced federal research funding will cut into MIT’s research preeminence. So the School of Engineering is seeking out partnerships around the world for faculty, and looking to provide its undergraduates with exchange and practicum opportunities abroad.

All over the world, “countries want to reproduce MIT,” says Marc Kastner. But MIT’s unique culture is difficult to replicate: the Institute pours resources into the youngest students and faculty; promotes an egalitarian atmosphere; draws instructors from an international talent pool; and is “great in everything” -- science, engineering, liberal arts and business. As MIT seeks out international alliances, “We must think about how to communicate to our partners what’s important about our culture,” he says.

The “crown jewel” of MIT’s international programs is the MIT International Science and Technology Initiative (MISTI), says Deborah Fitzgerald. More than 300 MIT students each year get to spend time working in a company in another country, at no expense to them. A program that often requires two years of language, history and culture study, MISTI boosts confidence, says Fitzgerald, allowing students to see themselves “as people who can solve any kind of problem, anywhere, in a foreign language” -- a “great vindication of all they’ve worked so hard for.” Fitzgerald’s wish is to make MISTI possible for every student.

MIT Sloan is committed to developing principled and innovative leaders who can improve the world, says Dave Schmittlein. The school has developed a Center for Leadership that emphasizes “values, transparency, consistency in decision making,” and provides its budding leaders with international experience through a global entrepreneurship lab that operates in 17 different countries.

Adele Naudé Santos declares herself “passionately opposed to outposts” in foreign lands, because it would be impossible to clone MIT’s collaborative, multidisciplinary, nonhierarchical ethos. Instead, “we partner,” she says. Students and faculty work and study with colleagues abroad in projects like the Urbanization Laboratory, which develops sustainable designs for new cities in such nations as India, China and Japan. Graduates in architecture and planning migrate to all corners of the globe, carrying their unique experience and MIT’s culture with them.

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