MIT provost Martin Schmidt has been named the 19th president of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the country’s oldest technological research university.
Schmidt, who received his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from RPI in 1981, will assume his presidency on July 1, 2022. He has spent more than 40 years at MIT as a student, faculty member and administrative manager.
“MIT has been a remarkable home for me,” says Schmidt. “It allowed me to pursue my research and teaching passions, and immersed me in an environment of inspiring and dedicated staff, students and faculty. I have had exceptional opportunities to contribute to MIT and beyond.
In a letter to the MIT community today, President L. Rafael Reif thanked Schmidt for his decades of dedicated service to MIT.
“Marty is an extraordinary citizen of MIT and one of its most gifted and dedicated servant leaders,” Reif wrote. “I couldn’t be more grateful for his expert advice and his lasting friendship.”
“Very happy to come back”
Located in Troy, New York, RPI was founded in 1824 to support “the application of science to the common purposes of life.” Over the next nearly 200 years, many other technological universities, as well as schools and colleges of applied science, emulated RPI’s model. Today, its 7,900 students take courses in five schools: architecture; management; engineering; humanities, arts and social sciences; and scientific.
“When RPI approached me over the summer about the presidency, I wasn’t initially convinced that was right for me,” Schmidt said. “However, as I began to think about it, I realized that there was really something special about being able to lead your undergraduate alma mater. My wife Lyn and I are very happy to return to a campus that we knew very well 40 years ago and reconnect with the RPI community.
In his new role as President of RPI, Schmidt will succeed another MIT graduate: Shirley Ann Jackson ’68, PhD ’73, who has served as President of RPI since 1999.
Four decades at MIT
“I often joke, when asked how long I’ve been at MIT, that I’ve been here my entire adult life,” Schmidt says. “I arrived at MIT in September 1981 as a 21-year-old graduate student and never left. “
He received his master’s degree in 1983 – largely for research conducted at the Lincoln Laboratory – and his doctorate in 1988, both in electrical engineering and computer science (EECS). A member of the EECS faculty since 1988, Schmidt was Director of the Microsystems Technology Laboratories at MIT from 1999 to 2006, and Vice President from 2008 to 2013.
Schmidt has been provost since 2014; he is also Ray and Maria Stata Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. The Provost is MIT’s primary academic and budgetary officer, with overall responsibility for the Institute’s educational programs, as well as the recruitment, promotion and tenure of faculty. As Dean, he worked closely with MIT Deans to set academic priorities, and with other members of the Institute’s leadership team to manage financial planning and research support. He also oversaw MIT’s international engagements.
“When Marty took on the role of provost in 2014, he was exceptionally well prepared,” President Reif wrote in his letter to the community today. “Calm, thoughtful, upbeat but cautious enough, with a nimble mind and an easy, unassuming manner, he quickly became one of my closest advisers.”
Main achievements as a provost
During his eight years as Provost at MIT, Schmidt led many of the Institute’s efforts to foster an inclusive and well-supported community. He was also instrumental in the 2018 creation of the MIT Stephen A. Schwarzman College of Computing and in the continued evolution of edX.
In 2016, Schmidt launched a process to reinvent MIT’s approach to creating welcoming and inclusive communities. He provided leaders across campus with resources to improve the climate in their academic fields and undertook a major restructuring of the institute’s community and equity office. Most recently, he oversaw the development of a strategic action plan for the Institute for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DCI), as well as the ad hoc committee on the arts, culture and DEI.
Working closely with former Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart, Schmidt launched the MIT Values Statement Committee and increased resources for essential student support services. He also created a new faculty development effort to provide training and coaching to faculty as they progress into leadership roles.
In 2018 Schmidt played a central role in the founding of Schwarzman College. Made possible by a donation of $ 350 million, Schwarzman College represented the most significant organizational change at MIT in 70 years. The college aims to strengthen MIT’s core computing activities by hiring 25 additional faculty; to bring together the disciplines between computer science and other disciplines through the recruitment of 25 new joint professors; and to create a new unit to focus on the social and ethical responsibilities of IT.
Together with the rector of Harvard University, Schmidt has co-chaired the board of directors of edX since 2014. He was deeply involved in the execution of a transformative transaction, announced in June 2021, to sell part of edX to a business partner and use the $ 800 million in revenue to start a new nonprofit organization. This new nonprofit, still in development, will support an open source learning platform and help learners who are not well served by current online platforms, through grants and partnerships.
Seasoned researcher and entrepreneur
In the 1980s, as a graduate student, Schmidt broadened his horizons beyond his early interest in microelectronics, looking at miniature sensors for use in factories and vehicles. He then conducted research on sensors to detect turbulence.
As a faculty member at MIT, Schmidt’s enthusiasm for interdisciplinary collaboration led him to partner with colleagues outside of his field. Attracted by the problems of practical applications, he also found himself working closely with industrial collaborators from 3M, Bosch and General Motors.
A seasoned inventor and entrepreneur, Schmidt holds more than 30 issued US patents and has been instrumental in the start-up of seven companies. His entrepreneurship has its roots in the 1990s, when he was interested in microfluidics. His work to develop miniature chemical reactors gave rise to a startup; two others were born from research in microfluidics involving the manipulation of individual cells in the blood.
“Marty embodies an ideal of MIT – an academic at work in the world,” President Reif wrote in his letter today.
President Reif also invited members of the MIT community to make suggestions regarding the selection of the next MIT provost. Entry can be sent to [email protected]; all correspondence will be treated confidentially.