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MIT marks 25 years of international initiatives

MIT Professor Eric Grimson, center, and alumnus Jake Seid, right, talk with Scot Frank, a senior in EECS who has gone on several MISTI internships, during the MISTI 25th anniversary celebration.
MIT Professor Eric Grimson, center, and alumnus Jake Seid, right, talk with Scot Frank, a senior in EECS who has gone on several MISTI internships, during the MISTI 25th anniversary celebration.
Photo / Justin Knight

The Institute celebrated 25 years of international engagement through the MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI) at an Oct. 2 dinner hosted by Dana Mead, chairman of the MIT Corporation, and Deborah Fitzgerald, Kenan Sahin Dean of the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences.

MIT's largest international program, MISTI is a pioneer in the field of applied international studies. It prepares MIT students to participate in the global economy by connecting them to hands-on professional internships and research opportunities across the globe.

MISTI began in the early 1980s with the creation of the MIT-Japan Program. By 1991, more than 60 MIT interns each year were working in Japan. Today, MISTI prepares and sends more than 300 MIT interns annually to nine countries: China, France, Germany, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mexico and Spain.

"From the path that MISTI has broken, we are now paving the way to a whole new avenue for education at MIT," President Susan Hockfield said at the dinner. "The reason I'm convinced that global exposure makes an MIT education even better for our students is that we have been very careful in designing those experiences. MISTI is the premier example."

MISTI students prepare for their internships through immersion in the language, history and politics of their host country. Working with leading companies, research institutes, universities and non-governmental organizations around the world, MISTI individually matches each student with a project.

MIT senior Wendi Zhang told dinner attendees how MISTI gave substance and new direction to her MIT education: "I came to MIT wanting to do something international, and business-related, and exciting, and new -- and thanks to MISTI, I have found that something." Zhang researched mobile-gaming trends and investment opportunities during her internship last summer with a U.S.-China joint venture capital firm in Shanghai. "This was my first close look at the intersection between technology and international business and I found it absolutely fascinating," Zhang said. "I really hope that MISTI will become a significant and stimulating part of every MIT student's experience, as it has been for me."

MISTI alumnus Jake Seid ('96, MEng '98), now managing director of Lightspeed Venture Partners, described how vital the ability to connect to innovation around the world has become. In the past, he said, "startups happened when a group of people set up shop in a garage. That's not the case anymore. A friend and fellow MIT alum has a two-person startup: one founder is in China and one is in the U.S. The garage is virtual now."

MISTI has partnered with MIT's Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) to increase global opportunities for EECS students. Eric Grimson, Bernard Gordon Professor of Medical Engineering and head of EECS, underscored the importance of international experience: "Current students understand that to compete in today's world, they also have to appreciate global perspectives: global markets, different cultures, national priorities, nuances of communication in different languages, even the impact of social and religious norms on commercial and technological behavior. MISTI has been the leader in this meta-education of our students."

MISTI aspires to be a part of the MIT experience for every student. The program has created new initiatives such as the OpenCourseWare/Highlights for High Schools projects, and student workshops abroad with leading international companies. This fall, MISTI launched the MISTI Global Seed Funds to help MIT faculty begin new projects anywhere in the world, with additional funds to involve students. MISTI also plans to expand to more countries around the world. Potential new host countries include Brazil, South Africa and the United Kingdom.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 8, 2008 (download PDF).

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