Ambitious goals at State of the Institute

In her Monday morning State of the Institute address, President Susan J. Hockfield spoke about MIT’s preparation for the future in four main areas: attracting and retaining high-quality students, faculty, and staff; digital learning technology; encouraging the growth of this region’s “innovation cluster”; and making strides in the area of advanced manufacturing.

Hockfield’s address was followed by a question-and-answer session with Provost L. Rafael Reif, Chancellor Eric L. Grimson PhD ’80, and Treasurer and Executive Vice President Terry Stone SM ’76, during which questions centered mainly on budget concerns.

Hockfield began her speech by recapping MIT150, MIT’s 150th anniversary celebration, which she said was “more successful in more ways than I could have imagined.” She credited its success to the large amount of participation, and encouraged the audience to visit the MIT Idea Bank ( to share their feedback about the event.

“Innovation cluster”

One of the main items on Hockfield’s agenda for MIT’s future is “fostering” the “innovation cluster” in Kendall Square and around Cambridge. This is part of the “MIT 2030” framework — a set of goals MIT hopes to achieve within 20 years. MIT hopes to develop the property around Kendall Square and recruit high-tech companies. Hockfield noted that “Kendall Square has more biotech and IT firms per square mile than anywhere else on the planet,” and invoked some of MIT’s corporate neighbors, which include Pfizer, Novartis, ZipCar, and Google.

Microsoft, for instance, is planning to expand its offices in Kendall to 1000 employees by 2012, and the Cambridge Innovation Center has grown from housing 360 startups to 425, half of which are MIT-related. Hockfield calls these firms an “exciting backdrop” to the Institute and hopes to continue to “amplify innovation potential” and create a “more lively and vibrant neighborhood.” Cambridge is currently considering an MIT proposal for the development of the Kendall Square area.

Digital learning, manufacturing

Another focus of the speech was digital learning technology — namely, OpenCourseWare. OCW content, which is visited two million times per month, has “revolutionized digital learning” according to the slideshow at the address. Hockfield said the main question now is “how [to] enhance residence-based education by bringing in technology.”

Hockfield also brought up MIT’s role in the future of manufacturing. Appointed by President Barack Obama as the co-chair of the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership, Hockfield is working on a national level to develop an idea of what future manufacturing in America will look like. She said that innovation at MIT will help shape “the future of manufacturing.” Relatedly, part of the MIT 2030 plan is to build new facilities on campus, such as a nano-Materials, Structures, and Systems (nMaSS) facility, which would house nanoscale materials research.

MIT is acknowledged for having top-tier faculty and staff, but Hockfield — who is serving as a freshman adviser this term — said that undergraduate classes also bring their brilliance to the Institute. While the freshmen are “pinching themselves” that they got in, Hockfield said, she also “can’t believe we’re so fortunate to have them [at MIT].”

Hockfield also cited the opening of the 460-bed Maseeh Hall as a way the Institute is expanding its student body. The growth in undergraduate enrollment is “an important act of service to the nation and the world” by providing MIT graduates with strong math and science backgrounds, said the president.

Economic growth

The State of the Institute address came with a backdrop of continuing economic uncertainty. During the Q&A session, Reif stated that the Institute is in “good shape” financially — in fiscal year 2011, MIT reported a 17.9 percent return on the endowment, bringing it from $8.5 billion to $9.9 billion dollars.

Reif added that MIT’s revenue for research is comprised of 70 percent federal funding, 15 percent domestic funding, and 15 percent international funding. Since federal funding is likely to decline, said the provost, MIT needs to “diversify [its] sources of research funding,” including international partnerships.

According to Hockfield, the atmosphere at MIT after MIT150 is “more focused, more committed to our core values and our mission.” The Institute has been reminded of its roots and what originally made it great, such as the “power of thinking in the long term,” she said.

Hockfield gave several examples of past leaders at MIT who have exhibited great forethought, such as Richard C. Maclaurin, the president of MIT during its move to Cambridge, and George Eastman, the then-anonymous donor who financed the move. Eastman once said, “The future of technology should be big.” Hockfield added, “we can only hope this generation will be as visionary about technology,” as Maclaurin and Eastman were.