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Marshall winner has dual focus: technology and altruism

Tendonitis inspired MIT grad student
Marshall winner Finale Doshi sits beside a wheelchair equipped with a voice-activated command system she designed.
Marshall winner Finale Doshi sits beside a wheelchair equipped with a voice-activated command system she designed.
Photo / Jason Dorfman

Graduate student Finale Doshi, a campus leader with an extensive record of service to the Institute and the world, has been awarded a Marshall Scholarship for study at the University of Cambridge for 2007.

Doshi said she plans to use her scholarship and research time to develop "intelligent machines that will improve people's lives."

Marshall Scholars must demonstrate outstanding academic achievement and a capacity to make a significant contribution to society. The scholarships, given every year since 1953, are awarded by the United Kingdom as a national gesture of thanks to the United States for aid received under the post-World War II Marshall Plan. Winners may attend any British university. Forty Marshall Scholars are chosen each year from more than 1,000 applicants.

Doshi, a native of Richmond, Va., graduated from MIT in June 2005 with dual bachelor's degrees in aerospace engineering and physics, as well as a minor in creative writing. She is now a graduate student in electrical engineering and computer science.

Doshi's passion for using technology to improve lives was sparked early in her MIT career when she was diagnosed with severe tendonitis, which made typing virtually impossible. Doshi worked with the Edgerton Center to develop a prototype ergonomic keyboard that would help herself and other people who were suffering.

"While young, Finale struggled with her dual passions of technology and altruism; she saw them as mutually exclusive, and even failed to recognize her own selfless acts of volunteerism as anything but ordinary," wrote Professor Linn Hobbs of material science and nuclear engineering, the chair of the MIT Foreign Scholarships Committee, in his endorsement letter for Doshi.

"While she still remains modest about her own valuable contributions to others, she deliberately chose to pursue graduate work in computer science, reasoning that it would allow her to effect more good for society than if she pursued aerospace engineering or physics or dedicated all her spare time to volunteerism," Hobbs said.

Throughout her time at MIT, Doshi has continued to shine, serving as the leader and principal organizer of the mobile autonomous system laboratory course, a robotics competition at MIT, during her first year of graduate school.

Currently, she is designing a wheelchair with a voice-activated command system that she hopes will give "the same freedom of movement to the severely handicapped as people with full mobility."

Doshi says she plans to continue what she has started at MIT during her time at Cambridge. "The Marshall is an opportunity for me to experience a different culture (and their perspectives on useful and responsible technology) while furthering my own research goals," Doshi said.

"The University of Cambridge has some excellent programs in statistical machine learning. Beyond the research objectives, I also look forward to meeting new friends and researchers both at Cambridge and through the Marshall community."

Notable Marshall Scholars include Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, electronics entrepreneur Ray Dolby, New York Times Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Thomas Friedman, more than 100 chaired professors at U.S. universities and the presidents of five major U.S. universities.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on December 6, 2006 (download PDF).

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