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Students hail selection of L. Rafael Reif as MIT’s 17th president

Members of Student Advisory Committee cite president-elect’s ‘strong leadership and a willingness to engage students’ as provost.
L. Rafael Reif, MIT's president-elect, discusses <i>MITx</i> with MIT students in Simmons Hall during an event in early April.
L. Rafael Reif, MIT's president-elect, discusses <i>MITx</i> with MIT students in Simmons Hall during an event in early April.
Photo: Dominick Reuter

Students who were involved in the search for MIT’s new leader say they welcome today’s selection of L. Rafael Reif as the Institute’s 17th president, citing his “willingness to engage students” as MIT’s provost since 2005.

Six MIT students — three undergraduates and three graduate students — formed the Executive Team of a larger Student Advisory Committee that provided input to the 22-member Presidential Search Committee created following Susan Hockfield’s Feb. 16 announcement that she would step down as MIT president. The Student Advisory Committee held a half-dozen campus forums in March, and informally sought out the views of students on the presidential search both in person and in online forums.

In conversations with MIT News, the student committee members praised the choice of Reif and discussed some of the issues that arose most frequently during their conversations with students on the presidential search.

Reif, stated sophomore Patrick A. Hulin, a mathematics major who served on the committee, provided “strong leadership and a willingness to engage students during the announcement of MITx,” MIT’s new online learning initiative. Junior Amanda David, a management student on the committee, said she was “thrilled” by the selection of Reif and suggested he would “foster and prioritize the culture of teaching and mentorship at MIT.”

And senior Kimberly Sparling, a civil and environmental engineering major on the committee, added that “there are few people who could be as well qualified” as Reif.

‘Students see MIT as their home’

While the students acknowledged that the administration must deal with a wide range of issues and stakeholders, one consistent theme of their input into the search was the need to maintain a sense of community at the Institute, members of the Student Advisory Committee said. 

“The student perspective is different,” said committee member Bryan Owens ’07, a PhD candidate in biological engineering. “In addition to it being a place of education and research, students see MIT as their home.”

“Students clearly said the most important issue facing MIT is student wellness and support,” Hulin added.

Owens suggested that enhancing the student experience includes adding to the facilities available for students to develop their intellectual interests. “Students … need space to study, to do research, and to become innovators and entrepreneurs,” he said.

Owens knows the positive impact the Institute’s programs can have: Participating in MIT’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) convinced him to enter the Institute’s graduate program in biological engineering, where he now performs cancer research.

He also has a unique perspective on the matter of picking presidents: As an MIT undergraduate, Owens was on the search committee that selected Hockfield as president in 2004.

An ability to ‘engage with students collaboratively’

For all the accomplishments recorded during Hockfield’s tenure, Owens suggested, students should continue to present new goals and ideas to the administration as a way of keeping MIT moving forward — even if those requests may not seem immediately feasible.

“It’s important to project a vision that will require work,” Owens says.

Alex Evans, president of the Graduate Student Council and a PhD candidate in earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences, said the transition in leadership represented a good opportunity for students to make their ideas heard about expanding the sense of community at MIT.

“I know there are a lot of students who are sad to see Susan Hockfield stepping down,” Evans said. Still, he added, students were impressed with Reif’s ability to “engage with students collaboratively,” and praised the selection as “in line with the areas and issues students have been looking at.”

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