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Introducing new MLK profs

Nance focuses on urban affairs; Broome works in engineering ethics
Earthea Nance
Earthea Nance
Taft Broome
Taft Broome

Earthea B. Nance and Taft Broome Jr. are new Martin Luther King Jr. Visiting Professors. Sarah H. Wright prepared the story on Nance and Lois Slavin penned the profile of Broome, below.

Earthea B. Nance, a civil and environmental engineer whose research focuses on the ways in which infrastructure, civil society and urban politics intersect, has been named a Martin Luther King Jr. Visiting Professor for 2005-2006.

"Nance is working in an interesting and important field. Her work will combine teaching and writing, as well as leading a research trip to Brazil. Her appointment at MIT should enrich our community and, we hope, provide an environment to further her professional development," said Professor Michael Feld of physics, who is also the director of the George R. Harrison Spectroscopy Laboratory and co-chair of the Martin Luther King Jr. Planning Committee.

An assistant professor of urban affairs and planning in the School of Public and International Affairs at Virginia Tech (Blacksburg campus), Nance focuses her research and teaching on water and sanitation in developing countries, grass-roots organizing and community participation, sustainable urban infrastructure, environmental planning and policy and qualitative research methods.

The majority of Nance's work is in Brazil. She is now expanding her focus to African countries and on the issues and challenges related to the rebuilding of New Orleans, she said.

"I am involved in the environmental justice component of the work being done by urban studies and planning faculty for communities impacted by Hurricane Katrina," she said.

While at MIT, Nance is working on a book about reforms to the water and sanitation sector in Brazil, where officials, engineers and citizens have accepted low-cost sanitation technology and community participation as the new model for expanding sanitation services.

"The depth and breadth of reform in Brazil is unusual, and to understand it requires an understanding of the functional role of myth in development projects.

"In my book, I explain the variety of policy outcomes that were achieved by activist engineers, progressive politicians and organized communities, and I show that the new model of participatory sanitation was established not as the result of empirical evaluation but as part of a larger set of ideologies, or myths, of development," Nance said.

Nance is now teaching an advanced seminar in water and sanitation at MIT. In spring 2006, she will team-teach an introductory course in water and sanitation in developing countries with Susan Murcott, research engineer in civil engineering.

Nance will be directing a research trip to Recife and Natal, Brazil, during MIT's Independent Activities Period (IAP) 2006.

Nance received the B.S. degree and the M.S. degree in civil and environmental engineering from the University of California at Davis in 1985 and 1991, respectively, and the Ph.D. degree in civil and environmental engineering from Stanford University in 2004.

A licensed professional civil engineer, Nance has served as a principal engineer, environmental/chemical engineer and environmental engineer for several private and public sector organizations since 1987.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Visiting Professor Program, established in 1995, has brought more than 30 professors to MIT. MLK visiting professors have been appointed in all of MIT's academic areas -- architecture, engineering, humanities, management and science.

Broome works in engineering ethics

Professor Taft Broome Jr. walks in many worlds.

A faculty member at Howard University in Washington, D.C., Broome is now a Martin Luther King Jr. Visiting Professor in MIT's Engineering Systems Division (ESD). He is a civil engineer whose research focuses on engineering ethics and using personal narrative to find and fulfill one's destiny.

"The difference between 'being successful' and 'fulfilling one's destiny' is that the first could bring only material rewards, but the other can lead to inner satisfaction and harmony with the outer world," Broome said.

Broome works to help engineers articulate the pivotal experiences in their lives and find underlying themes.

Giving an example from his own life, Broome described the first morning of his first job as a "real" engineer.

"I found myself alone in the office trailer of the construction site where I'd been hired," he said. "I was drinking coffee, wondering what it would be like to know what I was doing -- and then it happened."

A huge and seemingly hostile man arrived and told Broome to sign for the delivery of a massive amount of concrete churning in a fleet of trucks outside. He also asked Broome where to pour it. When Broome protested that he was alone on his first day at his first engineering job, the man threatened to have the entire delivery dumped outside the trailer. Broome promised to make a decision quickly, then stepped outside to think.

After some deliberation, he decided to emulate his Uncle Roy, after whom Broome had patterned his career. As he returned to the trailer with this decision in mind, Broome noticed a critical path schedule on a desk. It listed that day's tasks, including "pour concrete into elevator pit." Broome directed the man accordingly.

It was the right thing to do for many reasons, Broome said. Not only were his directions correct, but Broome said he later realized that by deciding to turn within and ask what Roy would do, he had found inspiration, a strong sense of self, and a feeling of being helped by unseen hands. Broome had also completed an important rite of passage: moving from the world of novice engineer to that of professional.

Broome's path from Howard to MIT led through the National Academy of Engineering (NAE), where he worked with Institute Professor Joel Moses and ESD Director Daniel Hastings. According to Hastings, "We invited Taft to help us think about how to integrate engineering ethics into ESD's curriculum."

Broome is teaching Engineering Ethics, ESD.932, in the upcoming semester, and is available to work with all members of the MIT community to help them find and fulfill their personal destinies.

"The privilege of a lifetime is being who you truly are," said Broome, quoting his idol, Joseph Campbell. "The question is whether you can say a hearty 'yes' to the call of your own adventure."

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on December 7, 2005 (download PDF).

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