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NSF fellow to appear on 'Dancing with the Stars'

Rhonda Jordan
Rhonda Jordan

MIT Ph.D. student and NSF fellow Rhonda Jordan, whose passions include engineering and rhythm tap, is scheduled to perform Sept. 26 with accomplished tap dancer and choreographer Savion Glover on ABC Television's "Dancing with the Stars." Jordan will appear during the final day of the program's three-day season kickoff.

Jordan has been studying dance since age 6 and has formal training in ballet, jazz, lyrical and tap. When she was just 8, she became the youngest dancer selected to participate in the Dance Theater of Harlem residency program in classical ballet, co-sponsored with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington. She has performed in various venues across the U.S. and around the world and has taught dance to elementary and middle-school children in inner-city schools.

However, dance isn't Jordan's only love. When she was 16 she entered the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied science at Columbia University to major in electrical engineering. She graduated magna cum laude from Columbia with a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering and a Master of Science in Electrical Engineering, with a concentration in fiber optics and lightwave communications.

Jordan was named a National Science Foundation fellow and was awarded a full fellowship to pursue her doctoral studies. She is now a Ph.D. student in MIT's Engineering Systems Division, where she will pursue research interests that include applying systems thinking to address complex societal problems.

Jordan's advisor, Professor Richard Larson, described her as a "hard-core electrical engineer" who decided a couple of years ago that traditional engineering was too narrow and technocratic. She took a hiatus from graduate school to teach inner-city children in New York City, which so energized her that she sought out MIT's Engineering Systems Division as a place to develop her diverse skills and broadening interests.

"Because this is her first year at ESD, it's too early to say exactly what her ultimate research interest may be. However she seems to be leaning towards education systems, focusing on technology-enabled education systems that can multiply by orders of magnitude the number of children in poor communities who can benefit from excellent teachers," Larson said. "We welcome Rhonda's intellect, energy and enthusiasm and wish her well on network TV!"

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 26, 2007 (download PDF).

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