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Profiles in generosity

Richard Smallwood ’57, SM ’58, ScD ’62

Palo Alto, California

August 22, 2023
Richard Smallwood ’57, SM ’58, ScD ’62

The first in his family to graduate from college, Richard Smallwood ’57, SM ’58, ScD ’62, remembers arriving at MIT certain he would flunk out. “Stick it out,” he recalls being urged by a teaching assistant in calculus. He did, earning bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in electrical engineering. Today, he credits scholarships and fellowships with making his education possible. “Having that kind of help made a huge difference to me,” says Smallwood, a retired entrepreneur and mathematical modeler who taught for many years in Stanford’s School of Engineering.

Inspired to make a similar difference in young lives: Smallwood and his late wife, Jerry, founded the nonprofit organization Pursuit of Excellence in 1985 to provide college scholarships to students of limited means. The organization, now overseen by their daughter, has provided scholarships and mentoring to more than 700 students over the years.  

Supporting MIT graduate students fighting climate change: Smallwood established the Dick and Jerry Smallwood Fellowship Fund to support graduate students in MIT’s Schwarzman College of Computing who are applying mathematical models to problems of sustainability and climate. “All my life I’ve been somebody who likes to solve problems,” he says. “We face a huge problem right now in climate change. MIT has a lot of really smart people, and I have faith in them to do the right thing well when it counts. I’m betting on MIT.”

Help MIT build a better world. For more information, contact Amy Goldman: 617.253.4082; Or visit

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