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A family affair

Orthopedic surgeon joins her sons on campus for an MIT educational experience.
Dr. Yolanda Roth and her two sons, Raphael and Ilan.
Dr. Yolanda Roth and her two sons, Raphael and Ilan.

It's a typical Tuesday night on MIT's campus and students Raphael and Yolanda are cleaning up after dinner when Ilan stops by on his way home from work. Scenes such as this play out every day on college campuses, but this one is a bit different: Raphael and Ilan are brothers and Yolanda is their mother.

The first to arrive at MIT was Ilan Moyer, as an undergraduate; two years later, his younger brother, Raphael, joined the mix. They both chose mechanical engineering as their major, but they did so for very different reasons and with very different futures in mind — Ilan wants to make things; Raphael will serve in the Army.

Dr. Yolanda Roth came to MIT having already had a successful career in medicine, establishing herself as a specialist in musculoskeletal oncologic surgery and total joint replacement. As she said, she was “the first woman to complete orthopaedic surgery at Johns Hopkins and the first woman to do a clinical and research fellowship in the surgery branch of the National Cancer Institute.” Yolanda both practiced and taught medicine before taking time off for family. A few years later, she was ready to return to work, but her interests had shifted.

So, on a whim, she googled "career re-entry" and discovered MIT Professional Education’s Career Reengineering Program.

The Career Reengineering Program (CRP) helps mid-career science and technology professionals re-enter the workforce after a period away, refresh skills in order to stay relevant, or change fields of concentration. Two days after finding the program in August 2009, Yolanda packed the family minivan, drove from Maryland to Cambridge, and enrolled.

She first asked her sons how they felt about her becoming a student on their campus. Ilan said, “It’s cool … a little crazy,” while Raphael acknowledged that “it kind of took me by surprise. But it’s exciting having her here. It’s a great opportunity for her.” Yolanda smiles when she remembers that Raphael only agreed to her coming on the condition she carry a backpack like all the other students. Neil, her husband, also offered support. “I’m blessed that my husband’s very self-sufficient and can cook and take care of himself.”

Yolanda’s career had always involved academia, but she hadn’t been a student since medical school. She learned quickly that school had changed. First, she needed a laptop. Then, a PowerPoint tutorial. Then, possibly, a medical dictionary. “Molecular biology didn’t exist as a field when I went to med school … during one presentation, the grad student indicated that she was going to skip certain topics because 'all of us had this in high school’ and I hadn’t had it in med school! For them it was second nature.” But she persevered, taking classes, listening to lectures, talking to colleagues, becoming a student again.

While Yolanda may have been a student at MIT, she was still Mom to her boys. For Mom, being on campus had given her a welcome glimpse into her sons’ lives. “One thing about campus is that I could attend events like the 2.009 presentations. I could be there for Raphael," she said.

”Ilan was one of the evaluators, so Mom attended Ilan’s evaluating but I presented,” Raphael said, laughing. “Hopefully he didn’t evaluate mine.”

As for their futures? Ilan plans to work at a start-up until he begins a master’s program in mechanical engineering at MIT in the spring of 2011; Raphael will finish his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in political science this fall before reporting for duty as a 2nd Lieutenant in the armor branch of the Army; and Yolanda loaded up the minivan and made the trip home to Maryland.

“I was like a kid in a candy store. There was more to do than hours to do it in. I am greatly enriched by CRP and the friendships I cultivated with other professionals in my program. It has been an immense privilege to be at MIT.”

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