Dear MIT Alumni and Friends,
This past spring, at MIT's first online Commencement, Navy Captain Chris Cassidy SM '00, commander aboard the International Space Station, offered a poignant greeting from space. Observing Earth from the ISS, he said, he could see no borders, boundaries or conflict-just a shared common humanity.
Today, as society endures the global crisis of Covid-19, its economic aftershocks and a historic moment of reckoning on economic and racial inequalities, that sense of shared humanity feels more intense and vital than ever. Yet in at least one way, our connections to each other also seem more elusive: As we take steps to protect one another from Covid-19, it can sometimes feel we are as isolated and distant as astronauts.
Certainly, for those of us used to the bustle and buzz of campus life, this period continues to be disorienting; the population back on campus is inching upward, but it will remain at a fraction of normal levels for months to come.
Though our ties to each other must now extend across much greater physical distances, I have immense confidence in our community's cohesive strength.
On campus and off, thanks to your support, MIT people are finding ways to contribute to the common good. Because I hope their stories will lift your spirits as much as they do mine, I share a few examples of students, staff and faculty who have transformed difficult circumstances into opportunities for action:
In March, when classmates needed help packing and storing their belongings, Mathew Ganatra '20, Burton Conner "desk captain," worked 20-hour days-offering advice, reassurance and lots and lots of boxes. Meanwhile, our volunteer student EMTs, led by Alice Lin '20, chose to stay on campus to keep the MIT ambulance service up and running for those who remained.
With partners across the Institute-from health care and housing to research and academic continuity-MIT Emergency Management staff launched a comprehensive Covid-19 preparedness effort that made the greatest public health crisis of our lifetimes a manageable challenge for MIT.
In two hectic spring weeks, our faculty rapidly reinvented their courses to go online, devising creative solutions including video demonstrations, laboratory simulations and pre-assembled lab kits that allowed students to dive into hands-on projects at home. This summer, faculty and staff are refining their efforts to make sure students can count on a fall semester fully worthy of MIT.
Some faculty turned their attention to the needs of our neighbors. At the height of this spring's crisis, MIT Sloan professors Simon Johnson PhD '89 and Retsef Levi applied sophisticated analytics to help Massachusetts nursing homes locate PPE and recruit frontline staff to protect vulnerable residents-strategies that are now being widely shared and making a difference across the country.
And, among many other inspiring efforts to fight the pandemic through advanced research, a team led by Jim Collins in the Department of Biological Engineering is applying machine learning in novel ways that open new possibilities for fighting Covid-19 and other pathogens through diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines.
As you can see, in response to the virus, the Institute mobilized in record time. What's more, the people of MIT continue to pursue world-changing research in a spectrum of other fields too. Biophysicist Ibrahim Cisse is advancing our understanding of what happens inside human cells. Janelle Knox-Hayes, in the School of Architecture and Planning, is examining how sociopolitical and cultural factors inform climate policy. Research fellow Samuel Birch is investigating planets and moons in our outer solar system, while physics professor Erin Kara is tracking dramatic changes to the corona of a black hole.
The knowledge, expertise and dedication of individuals and teams at MIT weave a remarkable tapestry of concerted human effort, all with the aim of advancing knowledge and solving some of the hardest problems we have ever faced.
To quote Elazer Edelman '78, SM '79, PhD '84-a physician, teacher and leader of MIT's PPE task force-this is "classic MIT." It is what we are meant to do. Each of us can find a way to move our community and our society forward, regardless of where we are—a home office or a campus lab, a space station or a kitchen table.
We are deeply grateful for your confidence in MIT, and for standing by us, in this difficult time, as we rededicate ourselves to advancing research, education and innovation to help invent a better, wiser, more humane future for all.
L. Rafael Reif
P.S. Gifts from alumni and friends, like you, are critical to our efforts to meet urgent global challenges through the vision and talent of the people of MIT. I hope we can count on your support this year.