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Alumni connection

Bringing MIT Home

Club volunteers build MIT community where they live.
December 20, 2016

With MIT alumni living all around the world, graduates in more than 90 locations have banded together to form MIT clubs. Volunteers serve as leaders, supporters, and innovators to help create a little bit of MIT where they are.

Building Northern California’s club
Decades after Denman McNear ’48 served as chair of the MIT Club of Northern California, his impact remains strong. “As our club looked at its history, we realized that Denman’s leadership as chair during the 1970s and 1980s created the foundation of our current success,” says chair Nelson Lin ’91. “So now that our club has a robust treasury, we decided that it would be most appropriate to create an undergraduate scholarship in his name.”

The MIT Club of Northern California established the Denman McNear ’48 Scholarship to honor its former chair.

A native of Northern California, McNear followed in the footsteps of his grandfather (MIT Class of 1877), who spent his career at the New York Central Railroad. McNear entered MIT in 1942, served two years in the U.S. Navy as a radio technician, and earned his degree in civil engineering in 1948. He went to work at the Southern Pacific Railroad, retiring as CEO and chair in 1990.

Over the years, he has participated on 43 MIT committees, including stints as a member of the MIT Corporation, a member of the Course 1 Visiting Committee, president of the Alumni Association, vice chair of the Educational Council of Marin County, and chair of the Katharine Dexter McCormick Society.

McNear leveraged his connections to create distinctive club events, including a day-long program that included a tour aboard the Navy’s research vehicle Atlantis. He also helped build the group’s structure. “He played an influential and important role in energizing the club and in selecting its officers,” says Harbo ­Jensen, PhD ’74, a fellow board member and former club president.

Today the club hosts about 100 events a year and serves more than 12,000 alumni in Northern California. A scholarship program it established in 1983 to aid MIT students from Northern California has grown to more than $1.3 million.

Volunteering from Hartford to Atlanta
In her senior year, Hope Barrett ’98 was walking through Building 10 when she passed by a display table for educational counselors. “I am passionate about MIT,” she says. “When I saw people recruiting for educational counselors, I remembered my interview.” She signed up and has been interviewing prospective students ever since, first in Hartford, Connecticut, where she started her career, and now in Atlanta, where she serves as the regional coördinator, visits local high schools on behalf of MIT, and recruits other educational counselors.

A chemical engineering major, Barrett enjoys applying the analytical skills she learned at MIT at her job in operations management and as a volunteer. “There are 166 schools in Atlanta, and I am trying to balance educational counselor assignments,” she says. “It’s a big optimization problem.”

“I like being an educational counselor because it helps me keep abreast of what’s going on in the world,” adds Barrett, who won the George B. Morgan Award in 2016. “And it’s satisfying when some someone gets in, especially when you thought they were a good fit.”

New Jersey volunteer steps up
Civil engineer Jazlyn Carvajal ’03 calls the MIT Club of Northern New Jersey “a great team—like family, really.” Carvajal, who finished her term as president in 2016, takes pride in events like the food and wine club. She especially enjoys watching volunteer Frank Tuhy ’67 use his analytical skills to calculate how many people will attend each meeting and how much food and wine to buy. “He gets it right every time,” she says.

Other events include an annual dinner and picnic, a holiday party, and a book club. But Carvajal says the best part of volunteering is “building community and keeping our networks alive.”

She encourages young alumni to get involved with an MIT club. “Just out of college you can start to feel alone,” she says. “You can get a lot out of reconnecting with MIT right away, including finding mentors.”

Carvajal also works with other MIT alumnae on a project called Latinas in STEM. “When I see those I have mentored start mentoring others, that is very satisfying,” she says.

Support works both ways
As a grad student, Brooklyn native Michael G. Johnson, MCP ’97, went to Barcelona and to Cuba, where he traveled with Mel King, a renowned community organizer, politician, and former adjunct professor at MIT. His master’s thesis on public-housing redevelopment focused on Boston’s Columbia Point neighborhood. “That work really inspired me, and I knew at some point I wanted to give back,” he says. “The MIT connection was there.”

When he returned to New York City, he worked at the Economic Development Corporation under Mayor Michael ­Bloomberg and later with the New York City Housing Authority. In 1999 he organized his first event with the MIT Club of New York City, which featured ­Bloomberg’s deputy mayor for economic development and rebuilding, Dan ­Doctoroff. The event drew more than 70 people. “That got me excited,” says ­Johnson, who served as secretary and then president of the club.

Johnson is especially proud of the club’s work in community service. He spearheaded a group of alumni who taught Brooklyn seventh graders about community development, an effort highlighted in a 2002 New York Times article.

When Johnson lost both parents in the same year, his fellow club officers rallied around him. “I couldn’t have done it without them,” he says. “It came to me then: this is about life.”

Visit to learn more about getting involved in a club or becoming an area representative in a region with no club, or e-mail

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