Ben Linville-Engler, MIT System Design and Management (SDM) industry and certificate director, is the 2021 recipient of the Collier Medal. The Collier Medal was established in 2014 to honor MIT Police Officer Sean Collier and his commitment to community engagement and model citizenship. It is among the highest honors that MIT awards to staff and community members. Linville-Engler exemplifies these values and has demonstrated his own dedication to MIT and broader communities throughout his career.
In spring 2020, as the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 to be an official pandemic and case numbers rose in Massachusetts, many different groups and individuals across MIT and the Commonwealth sought ways to help. Linville-Engler’s background in the medical device industry and his training in applying a systems approach to sociotechnical challenges immediately proved useful. Linville-Engler worked closely with professors John Hart and Haden Quinlan of the Department of Mechanical Engineering to navigate the rapidly evolving response across the Institute and to identify labs and other groups that could join in these efforts.
Through this work, Linville-Engler connected with the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, which convened experts from a variety of fields to form what became the Massachusetts Manufacturing Emergency Response Team (M-ERT). This collaborative, cross-disciplinary, and cross-industry group played a key role in the Baker-Polito administration’s initial response to Covid-19. M-ERT helped local manufacturers pivot their operations to produce personal protective equipment and other much-needed supplies for health-care workers at scale. Linville-Engler helped lead the effort and provided medical device development guidance to manufacturers. He also served as the team’s key liaison with U.S. Food and Drug Administration officials and ensured that critical emergency regulatory requirements were addressed. M-ERT’s organizing resulted in one of the largest and most diverse manufacturing responses to the pandemic in the United States. Much of Linville-Engler’s time in 2020 was spent coordinating these efforts, tapping into existing networks and creating new connections to make a rapid response possible in a time of overwhelming need. Like many others, he was also juggling his work with SDM and family responsibilities, with Ben and his wife caring for their 1-year-old son at their home in Medford, Massachusetts.
Linville-Engler is quick to highlight the support and efforts of all involved. “I’m very grateful that my role and additional support I received from SDM and MIT enabled me to pursue this work,” he says. “I feel this is a recognition of everyone I have collaborated with over the past 12 months who simply asked, ‘How can I help?’ and stepped up when and how they could, especially those in Massachusetts’ manufacturing community. I have seen what a true community response to a crisis can look like. If there is anything to be optimistic about looking ahead, it is what else can come from so many of these new community connections.”
Linville-Engler’s work in creating links to SDM across the Institute has also extended beyond his Covid-19 efforts and into the classroom. Before studying at SDM, he served in vice president roles in technology, product development, and engineering at Applied Medical. Linville-Engler has shared his knowledge of the medical device field in an Independent Activities Period course he created and taught, “Medical Device Development: Architecting Trust.” This course, along with his background in medical devices, was an impetus for others at MIT to reach out with ideas for respirators, ventilators, and other devices that were in short supply early in the pandemic’s first U.S. surge. Linville-Engler advised many of these groups on navigating the regulatory pathways and quality management required for medical devices — a step that many innovators don’t account for in their early planning. He has also continued to serve as SDM’s industry and certificate director, bringing in new sponsors for spring projects and overseeing the graduate certificate program.
Joan Rubin, executive director of SDM, notes that Linville-Engler has always been interested in building connections across his communities. “Ben embodies the characteristics exemplified by Officer Collier, and this is reflected in his belief in the broad sense of community and commitment outside of his official role here at MIT,” she says. “This year he has put the needs of MIT, Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the nation first to find solutions to save lives.”