Over 25 years at MIT's Office of the Dean for Graduate Education (OGE), Blanche Staton has advised graduate students, faculty, and administrators; served on numerous Institute committees; provided support to countless graduate students; and created and sponsored programs designed to enhance graduate student life and prepare future alumni for leadership in their careers.
Now, the senior associate dean and director of OGE is planning a new act: retiring at the end of the academic year, rounding out a quarter century of invaluable service to the Institute.
“Blanche’s 25 years of leadership and service to our community is a truly remarkable achievement,” says Chancellor Melissa Nobles. “Throughout her MIT journey, she has guided and mentored countless graduate students, helping them to grow into their whole selves and preparing them to lead lives of meaning and impact. Blanche has similarly counseled staff and faculty colleagues, sharing with us her wisdom, empathy, and sound judgment time and again. I am deeply grateful to Blanche for all that she has given to MIT. And I wish her nothing but the best — more travel, more time with friends, and more time for herself — as she prepares to turn the page to her next incredible chapter.”
Staton came to MIT in 1997 from Penn State University, where she directed one of three regional offices dedicated to undergraduate recruitment and admissions. Her career in higher education has also included leadership roles at the University of Pennsylvania as director of minority admissions and associate director of admissions for the Wharton School’s MBA Program; at Temple University as a senior recruiter/counselor at the School of Medicine; and in her own firm as a private educational consultant.
At MIT, Staton has played a significant role in the Office of the Vice Chancellor’s collaborations with graduate student leaders, which has led to many advances on critical topics such as financial security, belonging and community, and professional development; support for students with families and for international students; and providing a range of programs for those with the most pressing financial needs.
“I consider myself a huge beneficiary of Blanche’s knowledge, passion, and wisdom, and I am just one among many who have similarly benefited,” says Ian A. Waitz, vice chancellor for undergraduate and graduate education. “It’s not hyperbole to say that Blanche has touched — and strengthened — every aspect of the graduate student experience at the Institute.”
“Blanche is a transformational leader,” says Suraiya Baluch, associate dean of GradSupport in OGE, which provides advising and counseling to graduate students. “She is able to actualize initiatives that develop and nurture graduate students as whole people. From formal programs to informal meals with students, her deep and abiding interest in student development is evident.”
One such program is the Graduate Community Fellows Program, which sponsors a cadre of graduate students who foster graduate community, giving them many opportunities to learn and lead outside of the classroom and lab. Staton has also enhanced graduate students’ sense of belonging through collaborations with numerous student groups, including the Graduate Student Council and Graduate Women at MIT, to on-board and welcome students.
Anastasia Ostrowski, a graduate student in the Media Arts and Sciences program, worked with Staton as a grad community fellow. “Blanche’s work has defined and touched upon many areas of MIT graduate students’ lives, and she has unceasingly dedicated herself to supporting students,” she says.
Other programs that Staton has fostered include the MIT Summer Research Program, which aims to increase diversity in the academic and research enterprise by preparing and recruiting the best and the brightest underrepresented minorities and underserved for graduate education. Staton has also helped advance efforts to educate the whole student through programs like the Path of Professorship workshop, which aims to give a boost to graduate and postdoctoral women at MIT who are considering a tenure-track position in STEM.
Staton credits the MIT Leader to Leader program she completed in 2006 with helping her develop her leadership skills. In turn, she served as a project coach for the program for several years. Skills aside, it’s her leadership style — infused with kindness, warmth, and a collaborative spirit — that has deeply impacted students, faculty, and administrators alike.
“Her mentorship and her kindness have shaped my experience at MIT as I’ve navigated professional and personal challenges, always feeling valued, inspired, and supported by Blanche,” Ostrowski says. “I’ve been so lucky and honored to have connected and worked with her during her career at MIT."
Leslie A. Kolodziejski, professor of electrical engineering and computer science, has worked with Staton for over a decade through the Path of Professorship program and as her department’s graduate officer. “In all of her years at MIT, Blanche has led by example; she demonstrates day in and day out, how to be helpful, kind and generous to people — all people — and to solve problems. However, her main ‘people’ are the graduate students who are here at MIT, but who ultimately will go out into the world. If a fraction of those graduates model her helpful, kind behavior and her manner of thoughtful leadership, just imagine the ripple effect!”
“Blanche has a rock-solid belief in the goodness and the good intentions of everyone in the MIT community — it helps her be the strong supporter of students that she is, but less publicly, she also provides quiet and much-needed support to staff working with graduate students,” says Catherine Modica, academic administrator in the physics department. “I’ve had my share of conversations with Blanche at times when I was grappling with difficult situations, and she has always brought me through to the other side with kindness and grace. It’s hard to imagine MIT life without the essential and irreplaceable Blanche.”
Beyond MIT, Staton is a noted leader and expert throughout higher education. She holds an MEd with specialization in counseling and has authored numerous articles on student life and community, including co-authoring the article “Making the Case for Graduate Community” in the Journal for Higher Education Strategists as well as a chapter in the book “Forward to Professorship in STEM: Inclusive Faculty Development Strategies that Work” (Elsevier 2016).
Among other honors, Staton was selected as Black Achiever of the Year by Black Opinion Magazine, and she has been recognized for her leadership and tireless commitment to students through an MLK Leadership Award and MIT’s Infinite Mile Award in 2004; a Gordon Y. Billard Award in 2010; a Tribute to Outstanding Women award from the Cambridge YMCA in 2013; the Collier Medal in 2018; and a Lifetime Service Award for her dedicated service to the Black community by Black Alumni at MIT.
The Office of the Vice Chancellor will conduct a national search for Staton’s successor, with assistance from the firm of Isaacson and Miller. Community members may recommend or refer candidates to Tim Lanigan of at firstname.lastname@example.org.