Education is encountering the forces of tremendous change. At MIT, we are meeting this moment with novel research and experimentation.
Below are stories of alumni and friends who are helping MIT unleash new endeavors and new tools to reshape the learning experience, open an expanded portfolio of educational offerings to the world, and create a student learning-living environment charged with opportunities.
“Teachers are working incredibly hard. Creating resources that support them is very important.”
“My passion has always been education and children,” says Julia Casady, cofounder with her husband, Mark, of the One Step Forward Education Foundation, a proud funder of MIT’s pK–12 Action Group within MIT Open Learning. Casady’s commitment to education stems from her experiences as a teacher, a mother of four, a volunteer, and a grant maker advancing the best teaching and learning.
The pK–12 Action Group brings MIT’s hands-on learning approach to pre-kindergarten through grade 12 (pK–12) learners and teachers around the world. The effort, Casady says, highlights characteristic MIT strengths: work that is sustainable, entrepreneurial, and global in outlook.
During the pandemic, she notes, MIT Open Learning has helped meet unprecedented needs in digital learning, with a focus on equity and accessibility. The pK–12 Action Group “also does a great job enriching existing programs,” says Casady, such as in schools in Massachusetts, and around the country, where tools developed at MIT help teachers to encourage students’ interests in science. “Teachers are working incredibly hard. Creating resources that support them is very important to me.”
Casady is confident that her foundation’s support of the MIT pK–12 Action Group can make a difference because MIT reaches a worldwide network and the group’s work is exceptional. The challenges in 21st-century education are steep, says Casady, and “MIT really rises to the occasion.”
“We hope that…effective student wellness programs spread throughout higher education.”
While serving on the Student Life Visiting Committee, Ricardo Jenez ’86 saw the need for a campus-wide approach to prioritizing student wellbeing at MIT. He and his wife, Sara, are now acting to fulfill that need with a gift to the Student Wellbeing Initiatives Fund, which helped to launch the new Office of Student Wellbeing in the Division of Student Life.
“By growing in their wholeness as persons, students become better professionals, better people, and better able to contribute to society,” Ricardo says.
The couple is supporting the development of the Wellbeing Pathway, a framework that will guide students in caring for their minds and bodies, fostering meaningful relationships, and clarifying their purpose at MIT and beyond. The pathway includes programs for new students and peer support training for sophomores, juniors, seniors, and graduate students. The pathway also provides resources to engage faculty in practices that prioritize wellbeing in academics.
“We hope these activities become part and parcel of MIT and its culture,” says Sara.
Spreading these practices within and beyond MIT, the new Jenez Wellbeing Graduate Student Internship brings a graduate student from another institution to MIT each year to develop and deliver new student wellness programs, benefitting both institutions. “MIT sets the standard in educational excellence,” says Ricardo. “Where MIT leads, other institutions follow. We hope that with MIT’s leadership, effective student wellness programs spread throughout higher education.”
“PKG’s model ensures that students engage in substantive work.”
John Wasson SM ’86 and his wife, Gina, support MIT’s Priscilla King Gray (PKG) Public Service Center because it extends student learning beyond the classroom through social impact internships and employment opportunities.
The Wassons’ support has enabled the PKG Center to keep up with high growth in student demand during the Covid-19 pandemic. Over the past year, hundreds of students took part in its programs.
“Students see how their engineering and science talents can help address pressing social and economic challenges,” says Wasson, chairman and CEO of ICF, a global consulting company serving such sectors as energy, the environment, and public health. “They work in teams, collaborate, and gain cross-disciplinary skills while working in partnership with diverse communities. What they learn can last a lifetime.”
Wasson speaks from experience. While he was a graduate student at MIT, Wasson took an internship at the Conservation Law Foundation, an environmental advocacy organization. “I learned a lot by tackling real-world issues,” he says, which is why he is such a fan of PKG internships. “Students see they have an impact, and this transforms their college experience.”
The PKG Center’s partnerships with nonprofits, as well as government organizations, social enterprises, and for-profits, also benefits host organizations, Wasson adds. “PKG’s model ensures that students engage in substantive work. And nonprofits get to tap the talents of MIT students, a resource few can access on their own.”
Supporting Teaching, Learning, and Living at MIT