Guest Entry: Leadership @ MIT by Melis A. '08
You can become a leader on the MIT campus. Here's how...
By Chun Li
MIT students have often heard of the bitter joke that “MIT engineers go to work for Harvard graduates.” This phrase is no longer accepted by MIT students and the Institute administration, especially in a world where leadership, interpersonal, and management skills are required for competitive higher positions in all organizations.
President Hockfield says in her inaugural speech, “With our expertise in interdisciplinary problem-solving, MIT is uniquely equipped, and obliged, to make a critical difference: to do the analysis, to create the innovations, to fuel the economy and to educate the leaders the world needs now.” We are no longer required to just be scientists and engineers; we must take leadership roles in our fields. Leadership at MIT has become an Institute priority as the administration, departments, and student groups all work towards raising awareness for and creating opportunities for leadership needs.
What is leadership? Some say that it’s being the president of a student group. But did you know that service is leadership? Mentoring is leadership? Tutoring is leadership too? What is a good leader? Taking initiative, good communication skills, effectively participating or managing group processes…The description for a good leader can go on and on, but in recognizing that different people have different styles of leadership in different situations, we see that a leader doesn’t fit a mold. That’s why recognizing our own unique leadership skills and continuing to develop what we lack is so important.
The most recent leadership initiative in Student Leadership Development is an online search engine for various leadership opportunities on campus that can be tailored for a student’s particular need. It’s never too early to start your leadership experience @ MIT, so check it out at
Below are just a few highlights of the resources and leadership opportunities that await you when you come to MIT:
Student Life Services
The Division of Student Life promotes an MIT experience that is enriching, exciting, and fun. For many years, Student Life Programs (SLP) @ W20-549 has been the central office where students can learn about the various organizations on campus, how to plan large events, get funding, and how to get involved in student activities.
The Undergraduate Association (UA) is composed of elected students who represent students in matters concerning the Institute. The goals of the UA include planning undergraduate events, voicing student concerns, and serving as a link between the student body and the Institute administration. The UA also includes the class councils and various committees like the Course Evaluation Guide Committee, the Judicial Review Board, the Associate of Student Activities, etc in which students can become involved.
Service is leadership.
The Public Services Center
When we think of student leadership, we often think of elected positions in student groups or the student government. However, few realize that leadership isn’t just about having an elected title; it’s also about understanding diversity or taking the initiative to make a change in the community. The MIT Public Services Center offers students the opportunity to volunteer in its numerous community projects and also provides fellowships for students to travel around the world to apply their knowledge and talents in underserved communities. Learn more about the Public Services Center and read more about amazing students who took the initiative to launch projects at http://web.mit.edu/mitpsc/.
There are plenty of opportunities in the living groups.
Residence Hall Government/Resident Based Advising
What will you do with a $10,000 budget? You can plan a cruise, buy new lounge gadgets, see the Blue Man Group, go apple picking, go out for an outrageous dinner, the possibilities are infinite. As a member of the Residence Hall Government, you will have the power to make decisions that directly impact the living space and social life in your dorm. If you live in McCormick or Next House, you can become a Residence Based Advisor, helping faculty lead freshmen seminars and serving as a source of wisdom for the young and impressionable.
Fraternities, Sororities, and Independent Living Groups
MIT recognizes 37 fraternities, sororities, and independent living groups (FSILGs). The Interfraternity Council (IFC), the Panhellenic Council, and the Living Group Council represent the government of these living groups, respectively. Each group is “self governing, manages all its operations and maintenance, and develops its own academic, social, membership, recreational, and external policies and programs” (MIT Course Catalog). The living groups offer unique experiences in volunteerism and leadership.
Orientation Leaders and Associate Advisors
Some of the earliest upperclassmen you’ll meet (other than ones in your dorm) are the orientation leaders and associate advisors. Orientation leaders guide you through the first hectic week of orientation programs and meetings after your arrival on campus, and associate advisors guide you academically through your first year, and possibly beyond. Many students also choose to return to their pre-orientation programs as counselors. These peer-mentoring roles are ways to meet the incoming class and to give back to the MIT community by sharing with the new students wise words of wisdom for survival at MIT.
MIT offers many workshops, programs, and classes aimed at developing and honing leadership skills.
LeaderShape is a week-long IAP program open to all undergraduates. The program emphasizes community building and leadership development experiences through group discussions, team building, and faculty facilitators. It’s a few weeks away from MIT for students to take an introspective look at their values, skills, and dreams. Students who have participated in the program say it’s one of the best things they’ve done at MIT!
Community Catalyst Leadership Program
This is a new program for the junior class launched in 2007. Assisted by coaches who are alumni leaders in industry or the Institute, the program’s goals are to help students identify their unique leadership skills and potentials and to connect them with mentors who will guide them in their development. This year long program offers workshops on topics like decision-making models, understanding, communicating, etc. It culminates in a private dinner at the Gray House, home of President Hockfield where students will hear her views on leadership and participate in round-table discussions with alumni and senior administrators.
Student Ambassadors Program
Sponsored by the MIT Alumni Association, Student Ambassadors serve as liaisons between the MIT student community and the alumni and prospective students. They volunteer during campus preview weekends, family weekends, and various reunion events as hosts, tour guides, and sources of information about student life at MIT. Through the Alumni Association, students interact with campus VIPs and alumni who may become important career contacts. Through the events, ambassadors develop communication and other interpersonal skills.
MIT Leadership Training Institute
In high school, it’s easy to become the president of a club simply for saying that you were the president, without really knowing the meaning behind the role or having the skills to make a difference. This new program pairs MIT student mentors with high schools students to teach motivated high school students the real meaning of leadership and the importance of teamwork, self-reflection, and self-identity in leadership roles. It’s a great way to mentor and impact students in the Cambridge and Boston areas.
Undergraduate Practice Opportunities Program (UPOP)
This IAP program, geared for sophomores, introduces students to the art of finding and succeeding at internships. By spring of sophomore year (after you’ve learned something at MIT), many students will be in a frenzy trying to find summer internships, and many companies will be eager to hire. But how do you talk to companies at the career fair? What should your resume look like? What should you do once you’ve gotten to your internship? UPOP staff will help you in this week-long 9-5 workshop answer these questions and develop your networking skills and job-side mannerisms.
The MIT Sloan Leadership Center:
The MIT Sloan School of Management also has many resources related to leadership development, in fact, a whole center who is “dedicated to advancing the extraordinary knowledge, perspectives and experiences that enable leaders to transform their passion into action.” In other words, they will help you become future business and research leaders. While Sloan resources are often thought to be only for graduate students of the School of Management, undergraduates are offered the full services and also a selection of classes aimed at improving leadership skills and developing interests in business/entrepreneurship.
From the president of the UA to the orientation leaders to the MIT student in Ecuador building a computer center in a needy neighborhood, we as MIT students have a commitment to make a difference in our communities through leadership. So get involved. Challenge yourself to experience leadership @ MIT and graduate not just as scientists and engineers, but as leaders with the skills ready to take on high positions in all organizations. After all, who wants a Harvard grad to tell us what to do?