Christina Gabriel, SM ’81, ScD ’85
Innovation facilitator transforms communities
Christina Gabriel makes innovation happen. As president of University Energy Partnership, a nonprofit that brings energy advancements from researchers at five Pittsburgh-area universities to market, she helps drive local economic development.
“I think people are realizing that research can make a contribution to a regional economy, but that’s not enough,” says Gabriel. “How do you create business and ecosystems and jobs, not just for PhDs but for everyone?”
A former researcher herself, Gabriel earned her MIT degrees in electrical engineering and computer science after completing a bachelor’s degree at the University of Pittsburgh. She became a principal investigator at AT&T Bell Laboratories, earning three patents for the ultrafast all-optical switching devices and systems she devised. Through much of the 1990s, she worked at the National Science Foundation, first with industry-university centers and later as deputy head of the engineering directorate, and she served on the professional staff of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee.
Gabriel then returned to her native Pittsburgh. From 1998 to 2006 she worked at Carnegie Mellon, eventually as vice provost and CTO, successfully boosting the number of technology transfer transactions. For nearly five years, she worked as director of innovation economy at the Heinz Endowments, promoting economic growth in southwestern Pennsylvania.
Because of her success in Pittsburgh, she’s been tapped to advise the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s headquarters consolidation in southeastern D.C. The new campus, the largest federal development since the construction of the Pentagon, is meant to function as an innovation cluster, spurring urban revitalization.
MIT also benefits from her experience. Gabriel has served on the Sponsored Research Corporation Visiting Committee since 2002. She enjoys the wide-ranging committee discussions, which cover everyday concerns, such as staffing needs, as well as big questions, such as dwindling government funding and new international collaborations.
Gabriel credits MIT with helping her develop two ways of thinking that have served her well throughout her career: the analytic and the synthetic. “The synthesis is what I think is even more important,” she says. “Engineers create something that never existed before.”
These days, Gabriel divides her time between Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C., where her husband, Kaigham Gabriel, SM ’79, ScD ’83, is acting director of DARPA. They have a son and two daughters, one of whom, Nivair, earned a degree in aeronautical engineering at MIT in 2008.