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Alumni/ae couple creates new fund for excellence in MIT education

Alex d'Arbeloff and his wife, Brit d'Arbeloff, have given $10 million to establish the Alex and Brit d'Arbeloff Fund for Excellence in MIT Education. Theirs is the fifth-largest gift to MIT in the past 10 years. Unique in its focus on the process of education itself, the d'Arbeloff fund will support innovations by MIT faculty in teaching science and engineering.

President Charles M. Vest made the announcement at the meeting of the MIT Corporation on Friday, March 5. Mr. D'Arbeloff (SB 1949) is chair of the Corporation.

"The establishment of the d'Arbeloff fund comes at just the right moment," President Vest said. "Educational change is in the wind at MIT and throughout academia. In the past, MIT built a foundation of 'learning by doing.' We pioneered the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program to enrich undergraduate education within a research-intensive university. Today, new styles of learning are needed. New technologies and new connections with the world beyond the classroom create new teaching opportunities. This magnificent gift will enable our faculty to translate into action the wealth of new pedagogical ideas welling up throughout MIT."

"MIT is already known for innovation and for new ideas in how to educate scientists and engineers. In the light of new technology, we have a tremendous opportunity to go further. We can add value to the residential experience by stimulating innovation in teaching. The Institute is already churning with new ideas. This is a chance to bring them into the light of day," said Mr. d'Arbeloff just hours after his gift was announced to the Corporation.

Brit d'Arbeloff (SM 1961, mechanical engineering) expressed her enthusiasm about the Fund for Excellence and confidence in the MIT community's ability to generate "whole new ways of looking at teaching and whole new ways of looking at learning. At MIT, we're particularly blessed when it comes to creating more efficient delivery systems: we have the brightest students in the world right here," she said.


Alex and Brit d'Arbeloff have been consistent supporters of education at MIT. Before establishing their Fund for Excellence, they endowed a chair in mechanical engineering, and they contributed to the renovation of the Alex and Brit d'Arbeloff Laboratory in Mechanical Engineering.

Each has a strong individual voice, yet they speak as one on the topic of the Fund for Excellence.

"I hope the Fund will stimulate new ideas. We need to add value and excitement for the extraordinary students who come here. I hope that we generate proposals that start with education and then determine how technology can be applied to support those educational goals," said Mr. d'Arbeloff.

As an engineer and a writer, Ms. d'Arbeloff appreciated the "staggeringly effective and exciting" Shake- speare Electronic Archive Project, directed by Professor Peter S. Donaldson, head of the literature section, as proof that "great technology already exists." (The Archive is an electronic environment for teaching and research based on digital copies of primary documents in all media by and about Shakespeare.)

The Fund for Excellence "provides an opportunity to accelerate our efforts to provide world leadership in engineering and science education. We can build on our core competence in residential education and amplify it with MIT's great strength -- our innovative spirit," Mr. d'Arbeloff concluded.


Mr. d'Arbeloff became chairman of the Corporation in July 1997. He was elected a member of the Corporation in 1989, becoming a life member in 1994. "This is a great institution. MIT has a great impact on the United States and the world," he said on becoming Chairman.

He has served on the Corporation Development Committee and on the visiting committees for the Departments of Economics and of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and he has served as chair of the visiting committee for the Department of Mechanical Engineering.

Mr. d'Arbeloff has taught at the Sloan School of Management and teaches a course he developed on management and entrepreneurship in Professor Jung-Hoon Chun's subject in mechanical engineering.

Mr. d'Arbeloff co-founded Tera-dyne, now the world's largest producer of automatic test equipment for the electronics industry, with MIT classmate Nicholas DeWolf in 1960. He became Teradyne's CEO in 1971 and served in that position until 1997; he remains chairman. Under his leadership, the company's annual sales increased from $13 million to $1.2 billion.

Ms. d'Arbeloff, an ardent supporter of women in engineering, raised four children before returning to professional work at firms including Digital Equipment Corp. and Teradyne. She also had experience in the retail industry as an owner of Charles Sumner, a clothing store on Newbury Street in Boston. She has also written five novels.

At MIT, Ms. d'Arbeloff is a member of the Council on the Arts and serves on Visiting Committees in the Departments of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Linguistics and Philosophy, and Humanities.

Mr. d'Arbeloff said his own business experience and his experience at MIT revealed the necessity -- and the excitement -- of supporting the people who will implement new practices.

"In a university, it's the faculty whose support is the key to any change in educational methodology. It is similar in a business where support of engineers is essential to developing world-class new products," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the March 10, 1999 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 43, Number 22).

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