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A History of Honoring Volunteer Achievement

With over 7,000 alumni volunteering for the Association and the Institute, recognizing outstanding volunteers is a daunting challenge. But this challenge is nothing new, as the history of the Alumni Association awards reflects the difficulty of showcasing a select few from among a population of volunteers that relishes hard work and high achievement.

The current alumni awards began in 1955 when the first Bronze Beaver went to Alf Berle ‘27 and Carole “Cac” Clarke ‘21. In 1968, the Association added Presidential Citations as a way of specifically recognizing the work of alumni groups.

In the late 1970s, the Association realized that the Bronze Beaver and Presidential Citations could not adequately celebrate the contributions of alumni. The Association created a committee to address this challenge and give alumni a more in-depth role in the awards process. The Harold E. Lobdell Award for alumni relations service of special depth over a sustained period and the George Morgan Award for sustained excellence in all aspects of Educational Council activity were first awarded in 1979. The Henry B. Kane Award for exceptional accomplishments in fund-raising was established in 1987. “It became plain that we could not just have the Bronze Beaver and then Presidential Citation to recognize the great things that alumni and groups were doing,” says William Hecht ‘61, executive vice president and CEO of the Association. “In a way, the challenge is still there. When the Bronze Beaver was first awarded in 1955, we had half the number of total alumni and a third of the total volunteers.”

“MIT is a culture of people who have learned to work their tails off,” continues Hecht. “Alumni volunteer because they are deeply committed to MIT. In fact, almost to a person, awards winners are stunned that they’ve even been recognized.”

Hecht’s observations were echoed by 2002 Bronze Beaver winner Manny Ikpo, SM ‘83, who was “absolutely surprised” when he was told of this year’s award and his 1994 Lobdell. “There are some very distinguished people who have received awards,” says Ikpo. “The typical MIT graduate is about finding new ways to do things, taking on challenges and making a difference.”

The awards are a means of highlighting good ideas and effective solutions within the community of volunteers. “When I saw fellow volunteers receive their awards at ALC, it told me that they were doing some superb work, and I looked to learn from them,” acknowledges Ikpo. “I hope that winning shows that the work that I’ve been doing is important, and that it shows others, particularly graduate, African-American and international alumni, that they too can serve, participate and make an impact.”

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