For MIT150, Idea Bank reopens

Invitation to reflect on MIT150 and offer new suggestions

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MIT150 Idea Bank posters have suggested that MIT should hold open houses more often. In this April file photo, a team from the Research Laboratory of Electronics help open houses guests build a simple DC motor in the Stata Center.
Manohar srikanth—Tech file photo
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FAST LIGHT lit up the Charles River last May in the culmination of a semester of art installations around campus, as seen in this file photo. Idea Bank commenters have asked for the spirit of FAST installations to continue.
manohar srikanth—Tech file photo

The Idea Bank, an online forum for community members to give MIT comments and suggestions, is open again — this time to discuss the MIT150 festivities and collect ideas for future MIT150-inspired events. The Idea Bank is intended to foster ideas in a setting where students, faculty, staff, and alumni all have input.

Kirk D. Kolenbrander, vice president and secretary of the MIT Corporation, believes MIT150 was too important of an event not to cover in detail.

“MIT150 was a set of experiences so many members of the community participated in. The bank is a good way to get ideas from a large cross section of them,” he said.

As of last night, 20 discussion topics had been posted by users. Each user’s post starts a thread in which subsequent visitors can comment.

MIT’s open house and the Festival of Art, Science, and Technology (FAST) are two of the events that users on the Idea Bank have indicated they would like to perpetuate, Kolenbrander said.

Jay Scheib, associate professor in Music and Theater Arts, wrote in the forum that he appreciated the “meaningful conversations [FAST] fostered across disciplines.”

“I don’t think any of us could have predicted how successful and how important the FAST Festival would be at MIT,” he said.

FAST — a four-month feature of events and installations around campus — included artistic exhibits created by students and faculty, along with several concerts and forums intended to make viewers consider the relationship between science, technology, and art. Events such as FAST LIGHT — when the Harvard Bridge and Charles River were colorfully lit up — drew crowds from MIT and Boston.

FAST should happen again for the campus and city enrichment value, wrote Martha E. Sieniewicz, special assistant to the president, in the Idea Bank.

“Let’s have FAST become a regular, recurring feature of our community life, and let’s think about ways to use it to make the world more delightful beyond just a single evening,” she said.

Catherine A. Olsson ’12 agreed that MIT150 provided a valuable intellectual addition to the campus in the form of the MIT150 Symposia series.

“As an undergraduate, the experience of being able to attend the Brains, Minds, and Machines symposium to listen to leaders in the field speak, right on the MIT campus, at no cost, was immensely valuable,” she said on the Idea Bank website.

Olsson added that the more routine symposia the Institute usually holds should be better advertised to undergraduates.

Enthusiasm for the April open house was also high. Attendees of the Institute’s one-day open house — the first in 30 years — seemed to appreciate the hands-on activities and talks.

“Let’s have an open house every few years,” wrote Joseph F. Gifun, assistant director of the Systems Engineering Group, “I worked on the preparation and execution of the event and observed first hand the collaboration between departments for the single purpose of making the open house a success — incredible.”

The opportunity for a great impact on the community is also present, said Jonathan A. Battat G, “Our physical campus — labs, people, etc. — is one of the most ideal tools possible to engage the public and especially young people.”

The first Idea Bank was initiated in 2009 following the global economic crisis of late 2008. At the time, MIT was seeking community input on cost-saving strategies without compromising the Institute’s core values. The ideas from that Bank were all presented to one of the Institute’s newly-formed task forces in charge of reviewing revenue, Kolenbrander said.

Since then, Idea Bank opened once again in April 2010 for discussion of a new house dining meal plan.

Since the majority of comments are linked to MIT user accounts, the Idea Bank coordinators can reach out to the writer directly should they choose to pursue an idea, Kolenbrander said.

However, it is unclear how many ideas conceived in prior Idea Banks have come to fruition.

As for future Idea Banks, the focus is on appropriate applications of the ideas, Kolenbrander said. The only criterion is that the Bank concern something of broad interest to the community.

The 2016 anniversary of MIT’s centenary move to Cambridge is the Institute’s next big milestone, but Kolenbrander believes that more can be gained from the Idea Bank than celebration plans.

“Going forward, we hope to take with us whatever lessons we learned as community. That can be in terms of big events, but also how we share our story and communicate our history,” he said. “[MIT150] was such a rich experience, there’s value in taking time to reflect.”

Kolenbrander hopes to keep the MIT150 Bank running for at least a month or two to create more discussion. The Idea Bank can be accessed at