Alumni who work at MIT do not pass secret signals in the hallways. They usually discover a fellow grad only when the subject comes up in conversation. However, there are plenty of them: 29 percent of the faculty, 6.5 percent of the staff, and 32 percent of department, lab, and center directors have MIT degrees, according to the Human Resources Department. And alumni forging their careers at MIT do share a deep loyalty to the Institute, a personal perspective on MIT life and culture, and empathy for the students’ intense workload.
Lifer or Returnee?
Alumni employees sometimes divide themselves into lifers, who stayed after graduation to teach or work, and returnees, who worked elsewhere before coming back to MIT.
“I’m an extreme form of lifer,” says faculty chair Steven Lerman ‘72, SM ‘73, PhD ‘75, who teaches in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. “I got all my degrees here and started to work here right away.” Lerman was 23 when he began teaching. “I was very excited about being a faculty member here,” he says, even though most of his first graduate students were older than he was. “I was a little nervous, but I probably understood their lives better than if I was 30 years older.”
Lerman is also a notable example of commitment to campus life. Beyond teaching and research, he’s led major Institute initiatives including Project Athena, MIT’s pioneering computer networking project; now he directs the Center for Educational Computing Initiatives. Lerman and his wife, Lori Lerman, even sold their house in a Boston suburb to become housemasters of the Warehouse, a small graduate dormitory on Albany Street.
The transformation from student to employee means a new role and, sometimes, new clothes. “I’m enjoying working at MIT very much,” says Sloan management professor Erik Brynjolfsson, PhD ‘91, “but I do remember a few aspects of my transition, like trying to wear a suit and tie a lot for the first couple of years so other faculty wouldn’t think I was still a student.”
The Volunteer Path
Sherwin Greenblatt ‘62, SM ‘64, the former president of Bose, may be an extreme returnee. After Greenblatt retired in 2002, he began volunteering with the MIT Venture Mentoring Service (VMS), a group that helps MIT community members start their own businesses.
“Before I knew it, I was the director because I was so enthusiastic,” Greenblatt says. “And I’d be happily doing that today if I hadn’t gotten a call from the president.”
In August 2005, MIT president Susan Hockfield asked Greenblatt to take on a huge role in governing MIT. The executive vice president for administration and finance was leaving, and Hockfield needed someone on the job fast. Greenblatt agreed to take the job on an interim basis. “It’s been a phenomenal experience,” he says. “It’s very satisfying to come back and share business experience where there are people and activities that can change the world.”