Martin Schmidt named MIT provost

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Martin Schmidt, Provost

President L. Rafael Reif on Monday announced the appointment of Martin A. Schmidt PhD ’88 as provost, the most senior academic position in the administration.

Schmidt had served as acting provost since former Provost Chris Kaiser PhD ’88 returned to the faculty in November after a term of just 16 months.

Schmidt said in an interview his priorities as provost include MITx and digital learning, campus renewal and development, and a suite of interdisciplinary, MIT-wide initiatives aimed at tackling some of the world’s most daunting challenges.

Those initiatives include the MIT Energy Initiative, which conducts energy research with environmental and economic concerns in mind, and the Innovation Initiative, which seeks to boost innovation in manufacturing through both engineering and policy research.

The Innovation Initiative was announced only last October, but Schmidt said he hopes to see two more such initiatives — related to health and the environment — “by the next year or so.”

He would like these new initiatives to replicate the success of MITEI. “MIT is the go-to place when it comes to energy,” he said, citing the appointment of former MITEI director Ernest Moniz as Obama’s secretary of energy as an example of the initiative’s national influence.

The new initiatives should create new opportunities for additions to the undergraduate curriculum and new collaborations between departments, Schmidt said.

The push for these Institute-wide initiatives dates back to Susan J. Hockfield’s presidency, when MITEI was born, and to Reif’s inaugural address.

Finding dedicated space for these initiatives will be a task that MIT will have to think about in the context of the MIT 2030 framework for revamping the campus, Schmidt said.

One example is the possibility of “maker spaces,” which he said the current campus would be “challenged to support.” But these spaces, hoped to feature shop tools and 3D printers, have garnered “explosive interest” and are seen as potentially part of the Innovation Initiative.

As provost, Schmidt, together with the executive vice president and vice president for finance, will also oversee ongoing renovation and construction.

Schmidt said that an accreditor once told him that despite MIT’s status as a world-class institution, “‘frankly your physical campus doesn’t look like it.’”

Remarks like that underscore the importance of the campus’s renewal for Schmidt, who said he sees the stewardship of MIT’s resources and shaping MIT’s priorities as some of his biggest challenges ahead.

While MIT’s east campus “gateway” project has drawn much attention, Schmidt said he is also excited about changes closer to the core of MIT’s campus. With Building 12 set to be replaced by a new nanotechnology facility and Building 2 undergoing major renovations, Schmidt said “it’s going to be really exciting to see these buildings around us look nice and be effective for what we want to do.”

Schmidt, a professor of electrical engineering, has been at the Institute since 1981 when he started as a graduate student, according to an MIT press release. After earning his SM and PhD, Schmidt went on to become a professor, play a role in the founding of six companies, and head MIT’s Microsystems Technology Laboratories from 1999 to 2006. As associate provost beginning in 2008, Schmidt has been involved with the Institute-Wide Planning Task Force, formed in response to the financial crisis, and the plans for east campus and Kendall Square.

After consulting faculty members and students, Reif selected Schmidt to be provost, with the endorsement of the Executive Committee of the MIT Corporation, according to the press release.