Dean for graduate education to take leave, start new university

Professor Christine Ortiz is stepping down from her post as dean for graduate education to found a new residential research university.

Formally, Ortiz is taking a one-year leave from the Institute beginning after the end of the academic year, Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart PhD ’88 said in an email yesterday.

Whether or not she actually returns to her materials science professorship in 2017, Ortiz said, will depend on the progress of the new university.

“The goal for the next year,” she said in an interview with The Tech, “is really to try to create a non-profit university with a new model for a research university.”

The residential university she hopes to create would differ radically from what’s been done traditionally. Project-based learning is the cornerstone of her vision.

“I’m looking at a new model, where the whole sort of vocabulary is different,” she said. “The distinction between undergrad and grad goes away.”

Ortiz said the university would focus on project-based learning and would dispense with some of the familiar hallmarks of university education, like the lecture.

“I don’t see it having any face to face, on-the-ground lectures, actually,” she said. “No majors, no lectures, no classrooms.”

She said she has begun to assemble a team that will help shape the proposed university and help found it. After she begins her one-year leave from MIT, she will work on finalizing the team and begin the legal process of founding a university.

Ortiz said that the scope of research undertaken at the university would be broad: students would be able to work on both basic research and applied research, but also on “a vision for a startup.”

The university will serve “all levels of students,” Ortiz envisioned. The students will “come in and leave at different levels, after they come in and complete a project that they ... deem completed. [We hope to think] outside of the degree system totally.”

Ortiz hopes that the flexibility the university is slated to offer will not prevent it becoming scalable. She said that, despite the need for a physical infrastructure to support a residential research university, she hopes her model can scale “to the same degree as online education.” She hopes the university will be located in Massachusetts.

Ortiz has served as dean for graduate education since 2010. The purview of her office includes various diversity initiatives, the International Students Office, and Graduate Student Council staff.

“An enthusiastic and strategic champion for innovations in graduate programming, student success, academic excellence, and diversity and inclusion, Christine has helped build a graduate student community renowned for its talent, curiosity, and commitment to making the world a better place,” Chancellor Barnhart wrote.

“She championed increases in funding for fellowships and recruitment and retention programs,” Barnhart said of Ortiz. “[She helped] increase MIT’s underrepresented minority graduate student population by 30% since 2010.”

Ortiz has also worked to strengthen support services for graduate students and championed programs for stress relief, cultural acclimation, and child care.

“A particular highlight of my time as dean was partnering with the Graduate Student Council, an exemplar organization of student governance, collegiality, and effective advocacy,” Ortiz said in a press release.

“Leading the ODGE and the graduate student community has been a great honor,” Ortiz said. “I am forever grateful for the dedication and expertise of the ODGE, ISO, and GSC staff, as well as staff and faculty partners across the Institute, who have been incredible colleagues, thinking partners, and friends.”

Giselle about 7 years ago

This sounds incredible ... an UNCOMMON University ... looking forward to witnessing it unfold. Bravo Ms Ortiz.


an UNCOMMON marketplace

Durmus Yanmaz about 7 years ago

Congratulations. I think this idea so creative. I hope so I can see this model in my country..

Maureen Greenbaum about 7 years ago

Educators have known for a long time that having students actively involved in solving problems in which they are interested is the best way for learning to happen. Lecture is probably the worst, as seen by this Brain Scan of a week in the life of a student. Note the flat line for class lecture times -- (courtesy of a learning session (not a lecture) led by Julie Schell of the Mazur Group.

Kim William Gordon about 7 years ago

I concur.

It's high time that we re-define what it means to be educated in a networked, computer driven society and culture. We are long overdue in re-engineering "education", from K-12 to "higher education" (quotes intentional).

Let's make this happen.


Macky Bradley about 7 years ago

Hi Dear Editor,

Did you mean to use "fund" in opening sentence?

Professor Christine Ortiz is stepping down from her post as dean for graduate education to found a new residential research university.

Found doesn't sound like he best choice in this situation?


TS about 7 years ago

Macky Bradley

found 1 (found)

tr.v. founded, founding, founds

1. To establish or set up, especially with provision for continuing existence: The college was founded in 1872. See Synonyms at establish.

2. To establish the foundation or basis of; base: found a theory on firm evidence.

so yeah, found is perfectly acceptable and well used.

Francois Victor Tochon about 7 years ago

A similar attempt is being created in Wisconsin with project-based learning Deep University, a startup seeding institution that targets applied knowledge with wisdom. Its model is open programs and Business with a Conscience. For a grasp at the concept:

Richard Bernato Ed.D. about 7 years ago

How can I contact this professor ?

Anna Aguirre about 7 years ago

Intrigued. Having worked as a technology consultant for a couple of Universities including Kellogg School of Management, I think it is high time for alternative models of thinking, interaction and learning. I would love to be part of your start up.