As of early summer, the campaign for MIT stood within what amounts to a whisker of its $1.5 billion goal, with gifts and pledges totaling $1.4 billion.
But that figure, however impressive, isn’t what stands out about this campaign on campus. No, the most visible signs of the campaign’s impact are building projects that are not only reshaping MIT’s physical look but that are also introducing a new era in the Institute’s educational life.
Projects range from the Stata Center for Computer, Information, and Intelligence Sciences –– the 430, 000–square-foot complex that will house computer science, artificial intelligence, and related disciplines –– to the complete revamping of Chemistry’s home, Building 18. But few projects will have the broad educational impact of two new structures along Vassar Street on the West Campus: undergraduate residence Simmons Hall and the Zesiger Sports and Fitness Center. Simmons was named in honor of the late Dorothy Simmons at the request of her husband, MIT graduate Richard P. Simmons. It includes space for some 350 students, a mini-theater, group study rooms, a photo lab, a dining room, and five apartments for visiting scholars.
The Zesiger center, named in honor of donors Al, ‘51, and Barrie Zesiger, includes an Olympic-sized pool, a 12, 000-square-foot weight-and-exercise-machine area and six squash courts. In short, it’s a state-of-the-art athletic and fitness facility. But with Simmons, says Chancellor Phillip Clay, the center also makes a statement about MIT’s evolving approach to education and to campus life. “We don’t draw a sharp line between students’ academic work and what they do outside the classroom,” says Clay. . “We recognize the complex challenges tomorrow’s graduates will face in a changing world, and we’re creating facilities to make sure these graduates can meet such challenges.”
He notes that some Simmons’ features –- study rooms, the accommodations for visiting scholars –– will specifically aid students’ intellectual development. But the facility also offers venues for activities like artistic and cultural expression.
“Students who leave MIT these days have to know how to function well in teams, how to be leaders, how to express themselves effectively and confidently, how to work well with people from all types of backgrounds and cultures,” he says.
“Many of our building projects,” he continues, “will help us teach those types of lessons, and do it without in any way compromising the rigor of an MIT classroom education –– which, I might add, is enhanced in some of the new teaching venues. We want more hands-on learning and more learning that’s interdisciplinary.”