MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI), the Institute’s groundbreaking program in applied international studies, presented its annual Excellence Awards to five students on Friday, June 5, in a ceremony in Kirsch Auditorium.
A program of MIT’s School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (SHASS), MISTI prepares students to become informed, engaged participants in work and research opportunities in more than 20 countries around the world. Training includes everything from workplace etiquette to the language, politics, and history of the country.
“MISTI sent 800 students abroad last year, and we’re honoring five,” said MISTI director Chappell Lawson, an associate professor of political science and emcee of the event. “The students receiving these awards are extraordinary.”
Learning "how to live your life" through MISTI
All of the winners told stories of gaining practical work and research experiences around the world — from surveying volcanic rocks in the Himalayas to setting up a medical research lab in Brazil — and related how their time abroad has shaped both their thinking and their career paths.
“MISTI broadens your understanding of the world,” said Kelly Kochanski ’15, a double major in physics and earth, atmospheric, and planetary sciences whose experience in the Himalayas has inspired her to pursue a PhD in geology. “Travel to India pulled me out of the MIT bubble — and shaped the avenues I want to pursue.”
The SHASS-based MISTI program presented awards to the five students in three categories:
The MISTI Ambassador Award, presented to Beth Hadley ’15 and Ron Rosenberg ’13, honors an MIT student or recent alumnus who exemplifies MISTI's mission and has served as an outstanding MISTI representative.
The MISTI Achievement Award, presented to Ricardo De Armas ’15, recognizes someone who has made a particularly noteworthy contribution to his or her host organization abroad.
The Berger Award For Future Global Leaders, presented to Kelly Kochanski ’15 and Caroline Shinkle ’15, honors graduating seniors who, through coursework and practical experience abroad, have demonstrated the potential to become global leaders. The award is named after Suzanne Berger, MISTI’s founding director, and the Raphael Dorman-Helen Starbuck Professor of Political Science.
At the ceremony, the award winners — each of whom received a $1,000 prize — gave presentations outlining their MISTI experiences. All of the students described their time abroad as life-changing.
“MISTI teaches you things about how to live your life,” said Hadley, a computer science major who first traveled with MISTI during her freshman year when she worked on a digital musicology project in Germany with Associate Professor Michael Cuthbert of the MIT SHASS Music section. “It was such a wonderful surprise to find that project at MIT,” she said. “I never imagined combining my interests in music and technology.”
Hadley went on to participate in MIT-France, where she had the chance to work on a navigation system for the blind. Today she is headed to a job at a technical consulting firm in France to pursue her dream of living and working alongside the French.
De Armas said his MISTI internship in Brazil with medical device maker Covidien gave him a new career path. “MISTI and being in Brazil taught me a lot about myself and what I’m capable of,” said De Armas, a mechanical engineering major who will attend Harvard Medical School this fall. He hopes to combine engineering with medicine for a job in the medical device field.
SHASS classes prepare students for global success
MIT's SHASS coursework is central to preparing students for such experiences. Shinkle, for example, emphasized the importance of language competency. “Each of my French classes at MIT has positioned me to become fluent as well as deeply knowledgeable about French history, culture, and customs,” said the economics and management major. “By applying the knowledge gleaned from these classes, I enjoyed a successful tenure in Paris, returning to MIT with a heightened sense of the French perspective on a range of economic and political issues.”
Rosenberg noted that the political science course required for MISTI’s Israel program — 17.565/17.567 (Israel: History, Politics, Culture, and Identity) — gave him a breadth of knowledge well beyond even what he already knew as an Israeli-American, providing context crucial to his work in Israel. “That really opened my eyes,” he said. “I was blown away to discover how little I knew of the history, complexity, and diversity of the country.”
Rosenberg shared the views of all the winning students in calling his MISTI experience “100 percent formative.” A mechanical engineering graduate student who also participated in MISTI as an undergraduate, he said he expects the lessons he learned not only in Israel but in Chile and India will prove invaluable in his future engineering career. “If you can’t understand people, you can’t build a product with them,” he said.