Some of MIT’s most prestigious awards have been established in the names of prominent professors and scholars, while others are named for those who made an impact from behind the scenes. Among the latter is Laya W. Wiesner, in whose memory two awards, sponsored by the MIT Women’s League, are given each year at the MIT Awards Convocation. Though Mrs. Wiesner was never a professor at MIT, she left a legacy of service that is still celebrated through these awards.
Mrs. Wiesner was the wife of Jerome B. Wiesner, who served as president of MIT from 1971 to 1980. Originally from Johnstown, Pa., she received a BS in mathematics from the University of Michigan, where she met her husband. Following their graduation, they moved to Boston so that Dr. Wiesner could join the radiation laboratory at MIT. In 1971, after spending almost 30 years in Cambridge, Dr. Wiesner was appointed MIT’s 13th president.
Mrs. Wiesner was involved in numerous social projects that impacted both the Boston community and Massachusetts. She was a founder and supporter of the Metropolitan Council on Education (METCO) program, which brought minority children in Boston to suburban schools. She was also a leader in the Massachusetts League of Women Voters, and she remained an advocate for equality and women’s empowerment throughout her life. During her time as first lady at MIT, she worked to be certain the needs of female staff were being met by frequently arranging meetings with them to address issues and concerns. She juggled all these responsibilities while raising four children.
Mrs. Wiesner was a longtime member of the Women’s League at MIT, and it is through the league that she arranged the establishment of two awards in her honor upon her husband’s retirement.
The Laya W. Wiesner award recognizes an undergraduate woman “who has most enhanced MIT community life, while at the same time maintaining a good academic record.” A second award, established in 1999 after her death, was named the Laya Wiesner Community Award. It similarly celebrates “a member or friend of the MIT community for conspicuously effective service that reflects Mrs. Wiesner's concerns for enhancing life at the Institute and in the world at large.”
Dr. and Mrs. Wiesner are also the namesake of the Laya and Jerome B. Wiesner Student Art Awards, which are presented to two students for outstanding achievement and contributions to the arts at MIT.
Nominations for the Laya W. Wiesner Award, the Laya Wiesner Community Award, and the Laya and Jerome B. Wiesner Student Art Awards are open through March 15. Visit the MIT Awards Convocation website to nominate students, staff, faculty or community members. The 2013 MIT Awards Convocation will be held on Thursday, April 25, at 4 p.m. in 10-250.