Leadership Conference 2014 Recap

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Thank you all for making this academic year’s Leadership Conference a success! Below is a recap of each event and links to additional materials. Special thanks goes to our co-chairs Emily Mackevicius, Mallory Sheth for spearheading the conference and to SWIM for co-sponsoring several events.

Opening Keynote with Jenn Gustetic
In ‘Wear Many Hats: Catalyzing Breakthroughs and Solving Complex Problems by Engaging New Communities,’ Jenn Gustetic, the Assistant Director for Open Innovation in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy walked the audience through her path from a kid fascinated with space and flying to being charged with facilitating and encouraging US innovation as the Prizes and Challenges Program Executive at NASA. Jenn described how with the right amount of luck, dedication to public service and interest in the private-public intersection, she became the administrator of one of the most creative ways to address grand socio-technical challenges – after all, crowdsourcing solutions has only emerged as a practice in the past few decades. She urged audiences to go forth and change the world with curiosity, adaptability and tenacity!

Education Panel with Wendy Cebula and Cynthia Orellana
Though the two speakers came from different types of educational institutions, both Wendy Cebula and Cynthia Orellana spoke of their educational organization’s focus on underserved populations, private and public partnerships, and re-framed their organization’s goals in the bigger educational picture. After contributing to Vistaprint’s growth, as the edX COO, Wendy Cebula was tasked with the mission of guiding its growth from a startup-sized organization to the goal of a much larger one with the intent to bring MOOCs to an even larger audience. On the other hand, as the Director of Policy and Collaborative Initiatives at the MA Department of Higher Education, Cynthia Orellana works with different private and public stakeholders (including those like edX) to meet larger state-level education goals. Both panelists discussed the challenges of persuading communities, whether those were universities, residential or political to support and invest in their causes. Both also emphasized the intent of their work to reach underserved communities – Wendy highlighted that many of the MOOC users were from developing nations and Cynthia noted that her work sought to increase the level of educational opportunities for underprivileged communities. In concluding remarks, both panelists additionally discussed how the educational space is ultimately one that encourages, thrives and necessitates collaboration to work towards success.

Implicit Bias Workshop with Carlee Beth Hawkins
Do you recognize your own biases? During this workshop, Dr. Carlee Beth Hawkins, a researcher with Project Implicit, showed us that unconscious decision making occurs and can lead to implicit associations or biases. As an audience, we took an implicit association test where we were asked to match words related to family, career, men, and women. Even among the mostly female audience, our results showed an implicit male-career and female-family bias, and Dr. Hawkins explained that implicit bias can be present regardless of explicit attitude. In the second half of the talk, we learned that when we acknowledge that implicit associations exist, we can set up decision making processes that lessen or eliminate their effect.

Keynote Address with Susana Malcorra: “From Technology to the United Nations”
Susana Malcorra, Chief de Cabinet to the United Nations Secretary, was a great closing keynote speaker for this year’s conference theme: Leading in Our Community. Originally from Argentina, she was an inspiring example for the MIT audience, populated of scientists and engineers, of how an initially tech-based career can evolve to working at the public sector. After 25 years as a leader in the telecommunications private sector, Ms. Malcorra switched gears and joined the United Nations as Deputy Executive Director of the World Food Program (WFP). One of the most moving experiences that she shared with us at the conference was how she led the initial phase of the operational response to the tsunami emergency in December 2004, only weeks after she joined the UN. After working in the WFP, she moved on to de Department of Field Support before she was appointed by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon as his Chief de Cabinet, a role in which she is responsible of advising the Secretary General in a wide range of sensitive global and organizational issues, as well as representing him worldwide when necessary. After listening to Ms. Malcorra’s life journey and her transferable leadership skills from the private to the public world, our take-home message from her talk was: “Always wear a suit that it is a little too large for you; at the moment when the suit perfectly fits you, it is time for you to take on to the next new challenge!”

Status of Women Faculty in Science Documentary and Panel
The Status of Women panel showcased the power of speaking out and how the discussion of challenges faced by female professionals can have significant impact in the community. The event included the screening of a short documentary produced by MIT video on the 1999 report on the status of women, featuring how female faculties in the past spoke out at MIT and significantly changed the way gender bias was addressed in academic institutions. Following the screening was a live panel discussion with current female leaders at MIT and current undergraduate students, Kamilla Tekiela and Caroline Chin, who were involved in surveying and analyzing the current status of women at MIT. See the video here.