This is the age of communication.
New technologies have made it possible for us to be in touch with each other around the globe 24 hours a day. The explosion of the Internet, e-mail, and voice mail and the proliferation of cell phones and pagers have made it possible for us to communicate in ways never before possible.
Although technology has made it easier for us to connect with each other, we must still develop the personal communication skills to make effective contact. This is particularly important in a global age, where complex problems cannot be solved by any one person or group.
Modern organizations in business, government, and academia deal with complicated issues, which require collaboration and team work and demand the ability both to learn from and teach others. It is why now,more than ever before,we must educate a new generation of leaders to communicate their thoughts and ideas and inform and persuade a wide variety of audiences.Such communication is especially challenging to those who must convey ideas and concepts that are rich in scientific or technological content.
Good communication skills are an indispensable ingredient of a world-class engineering education. In industry, engineers must be able to explain their ideas to potential investors and relate to executives and to corporate groups having different functions. According to MIT Professor James H. Williams Jr., this is but one reason for incorporating communications into the MIT curriculum. Professor Williams, who holds a joint appointment in the School of Engineering and the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, is a longtime advocate of developing communication proficiency among our students. A generation ago, members of our society trusted public policy officials to make sound technical decisions about safety and environmental regulations; today, they demand to know why specific actions are taken and expect government officials to clearly articulate their recommendations.
To keep pace with the changing times, the MIT faculty recently voted to institute a new Communication Requirement for all undergraduates, mandating substantial instruction and practice in writing and speaking. Beginning with the Class of 2005, entering students will be required in each of their undergraduate years to take communication-intensive courses, including practice in both writing and speaking. During the first two years, these courses normally will be taken in the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, and during the junior and senior years, in the student’s major department.
MIT is now working to better prepare young people to express themselves personally and professionally. In the Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies, 500 students are studying expository writing,while faculty members develop a new graduate science writing program, which will be taught by a team of professionals, including a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist. In an innovative joint project between the Department of Biology and the Writing Program, undergraduates write and publish a professional journal, similar in quality to popular scientific journals. Journal projects for undergraduates in physics and math are also underway.
In a survey last spring of selected alumni and alumnae who have graduated during the past 25 years, writing and speaking were named among those abilities that graduates have found important in their lives since college. Ninety-five percent stressed the importance of communicating well, 89 percent of writing effectively, and 72 percent of possessing quantitative abilities.
MIT students think big ideas and dream big dreams, and while they are here, they gather much of the knowledge and skills needed to achieve them. In helping our students to communicate their ideas vividly, to look at problems from unfamiliar perspectives, to work in teams, and to build communities, everything else we do is amplified. We prepare students to have the greatest possible impact on the world. It is a model of leadership not only for their education at MIT, but for their emergence as leaders around the world.