Amidst the sounds of a tolling bell and the applause of students, faculty, staff and administrators, the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology (Skoltech) launched its first classes on its suburban Moscow campus last week, marking a pivotal new phase in the innovative university’s evolution.
The two-year-old school — founded as part of the Skolkovo Innovation Center — welcomed a new class of 52 graduate students from more than eight different countries on Sept. 2. The students joined Skoltech President Edward Crawley, and other Skoltech leaders, in the university’s futuristic “Hypercube” building to mark the occasion.
“This is a new generation, not just a new group of students,” said President Crawley, who was formerly the Ford Professor of Engineering in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics at MIT. “It’s a time of transformation and transition in Russia and around the world and we want to prepare you to be agents of change in that transition. We don’t want you to be pushed along with the world. We want you to be leading the world.”
The aspiring engineers, researchers and scientists are the school’s second cohort of students. But they will be the first to attend lectures on the Skoltech campus, which is being built on the southwestern outskirts of the Russian capital. Since the 2.1-million-square-foot development is still under construction, the inaugural class of 20 students last year studied abroad at partner schools around the world — including 12 who studied at MIT.
"I think the government decided to seriously invest and sponsor technology and science development in Russia," MIT alumnus Timur Balbekov ’13, a first-year Skoltech graduate student, said in a Moscow newspaper. "I found it attractive and, for the first time, it gave me faith that Russia can develop and lift itself up."
Founded in 2011 as a private graduate research university, Skoltech is one of the central pillars of the Skolkovo Innovation Center, a 100-acre industrial park and business incubator billed as “Russia’s version of Silicon Valley.” The university’s aim is to catalyze research, teaching and innovation around pressing global issues, focusing primarily on biomedicine, energy, information technology, nuclear science and space, as well as entrepreneurship.
MIT’s collaboration with Skoltech and the Skolkovo Foundation — the Russian organization overseeing the entire project — has generated a variety of opportunities for faculty, researchers and students.
MIT faculty involved with Skoltech classes this fall include:
- Brian Anthony, a research scientist at the Laboratory for Manufacturing and Productivity, and co-lead for education of the MIT Skoltech Initiative;
- Regina Barzilay, an associate professor of computer science;
- Amy Glasmeier, a professor of urban studies and planning
- Doug Hart, a professor of mechanical engineering;
- Tommy Jaakkola, a professor of computer science;
- Luis Perez-Breva, a research scientist in the Department of Chemical Engineering;
- Ed Roberts, the David Sarnoff Professor of Management of Technology at the MIT Sloan School of Management;
- Warren Seering, a professor of mechanical engineering;
- Kostya Turitsyn, the Esther and Harold E. Edgerton Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering; and
- Jacob White, the Cecil H. Green Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
According to administrators, Skoltech aims to build on Russia’s legacy as a leader in fundamental scientific research, and incorporate that tradition with the elements of MIT’s renowned “innovation ecosystem.” Students at Skoltech will study and research basic scientific principles related to their specialized fields and learn concepts of entrepreneurship, such as turning a scientific idea into a commercial product.
“The launch of Skoltech classes is an amazing accomplishment, and brings to life this new university in a way that nothing else can. Because students are the life blood of the university and here they are in place, learning from MIT and Skoltech professors,” said Robin Lemp, executive director of the MIT Skoltech Initiative, based in Cambridge. “MIT’s role in making this exciting come-to-life moment happen was fundamental and it is a demonstration of the depth and intensity of our commitment.”
By 2020, Skoltech plans to have its own campus completed, which will host 1,200 students, 200 faculty, 15 research centers and 400 postdocs.