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Worldwide Networks

International alumni thrive on MIT connections
November 14, 2006

A two-week crash course in English was the first stop for ­Bernardo Blaschitz ‘56 when he left his native Venezuela to enter MIT. The Berlitz language course helped, but after he presented his second paper of the semester, his humanities professor called Blaschitz aside.

Jeff Kelley-Clarke ‘76 (far right), the Peace Corp’s country director in Modova, at the opening of a playground built in Zquritsa by a Peace Corps volunteer. (Credit: Jessica Ginger)

“He said it was clear that my problem was simply that I did not speak English,” says Blaschitz. “So he offered me a deal: if I could prove to him that I was passing calculus, physics, and chemistry with As or Bs, he would pass me with a D. I did, and that was the only D that I ever got at MIT.” Since 1956, Blaschitz has owned six consulting and design companies in Venezuela. He says his association with MIT has been an invaluable aid in getting and executing international business.

Fifty years after Blaschitz graduated, 2,792 international students from 110 countries are registered at MIT. Most are graduate students, since MIT caps the proportion of incoming international freshmen at 8 percent, in keeping with its founding commitment to national interests. Today’s international students arrive with stronger English skills than Blaschitz did, and they–and their U.S.-born classmates–receive even more preparation to thrive on the global stage. Work and study opportunities through the MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives and the Cambridge-MIT Institute are examples of the Institute’s increasingly global reach.

The opportunities don’t stop at graduation: the MIT Alumni Association offers connections across professions and international borders. Forty-three alumni clubs serve the 14,000 alumni who live abroad. MIT Enterprise Forum broadcasts have been beamed to 23 foreign cities. For Tech Reunions 2006 in June, 56 international alumni, including Blaschitz, traveled from as far away as South Africa and Moldova.

Dudzai Saburi ‘96, a Zimbabwe native who flew in from South Africa, says he uses his MIT connections in his daily life. “From the outset, MIT geared me to regard the work sphere as borderless and helped me create a mind-set to pursue opportunities beyond one nation,” he says.

Building Worldwide Partnerships
Saburi, who founded the Web-­application development company Cyberplex Africa with Roy Steiner ‘84 and has worked for the Internet service provider Africa Online, founded by Ayisi Makatiani ‘90 and Karanja Gakio ‘88, recently moved to South Africa to launch a new technology company.

“Considering that some of my most significant business ventures and work experiences have involved my fellow MIT grads, it’s clear that the network’s been important to my professional development,” he says.

The diversity of the Institute’s population encourages American students to aspire to global careers as well. Jeff Peter (Clarke) Kelley-Clarke ‘76 joined the Peace Corps shortly after receiving his SB in urban studies and planning. After a stint in Bahrain, ­Kelley-­Clarke returned home to Washington state, where he eventually became solid-waste director for Snohomish County. Last year he switched careers, taking a position with the Peace Corps as the country director in Moldova.

“MIT was a very international environment,” Kelley-Clarke says. “The fraternity where I lived had people from the U.S., Canada, India, Turkey, and elsewhere, and my classmates came from around the world. That international mix was great preparation for my work overseas.”

MIT Values Translate Well
For Raisa Berlin Deber ‘71, SM ‘71, PhD ‘77, moving south from her native Toronto barely qualified as an international experience.

“The key thing I got from MIT was permission to be myself. It was more influential to me as a woman than as a foreigner,” says Deber, who met her husband, Charles Deber, PhD ‘67, when she worked for the MIT humor magazine, Voo Doo. However, she profited from MIT’s diversity as well. “One of the other things that MIT taught you was to judge people on their own merits, and that was definitely useful,” she says.

Deber, a professor in the Department of Health Policy, Management, and Evaluation at the University of Toronto, joined Saburi, Kelley-Clarke, and Blaschitz on campus in June.

“Reunions are incredible,” says Blaschitz, who has attended five of them. “The bonds made in those four hardworking years have remained through life. I feel lucky and honored for having these friends.”

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