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Highlights from the 2021 MIT Sloan Virtual Reunion

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Over 1,100 members of the alumni community came together in early June to reconnect and continue learning at the 2021 MIT Sloan Virtual Reunion.

John C Head III Dean David Schmittlein kicked things off on Tuesday, June 1, with the “State of the School” address, during which he acknowledged the “unusual” and “stressful” nature of the previous year. “We are challenged to be MIT’s school of management and to reach out across all of this country and the world,” he said. “We take these responsibilities very seriously.”

After reviewing MIT Sloan’s COVID-19 response and ongoing diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts—as well as providing updates on admissions, career development, and fundraising—Dean Schmittlein concluded his talk with a personal reflection. “Almost every person who had their picture taken with me in front of the Great Dome mentioned how meaningful this moment was,” he said, “and how grateful they were for the contributions and sacrifices that faculty, staff, and alums had made for them in this extraordinary year.”

Fiona Murray (William Porter Professor of Entrepreneurship; Associate Dean for Innovation and Inclusion) and Donna Levin, EMBA ’16, subsequently participated in a fireside chat on innovation and entrepreneurship. Levin, CEO of the Arthur M. Blank School for Entrepreneurial Leadership at Babson College, said she initially did not consider herself an entrepreneur, but following her time in the MIT Executive MBA Program, her thinking quickly changed.

“I realized I wanted to be part of a team that always focused on solving a problem—and that I did better when I was really clear and passionate about what problems my team was trying to solve,” said Levin. “Along the way, someone called us ‘entrepreneurs’ and that’s when I realized what entrepreneurship and innovation were all about.”

Andrew Lo (Charles E. and Susan T. Harris Professor) ended the first day by addressing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on financial markets and the global economy, and what stakeholders need to watch for in the coming months and years, via the adaptive market hypothesis. “We need to be wary of changes in market conditions, particularly given the kinds of technological innovations that have really affected markets,” he said. “But what really matters is for all of us to adapt to these changing market conditions.”

Donna Levin, EMBA ’16

On Wednesday, the "Disruption in Retail" panel began the day with a rousing discussion of the many changes and innovations the retail industry is currently experiencing. Panelists Heather Hardy, MBA ’95, Aagya Mathur, MBA ’18, Ambika Singh, MBA ’16, and Kristin Toth Smith, LGO ’03 shared their stories and discussed how they are leading their companies as they continue to navigate industry disruptions and learn to adapt to new strategies.

Next came a lively Q&A session on “New Entrepreneurship Realities” with moderator Bill Aulet, SF ’94, (Managing Director, Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship) and panelists Daryl Carter, MAR ’81, Shelley Chan, SDM ’20, Julia Hu, Perrin Quarshie, MBA ’16, and Rene Reinsberg, MBA ’11. The panel spoke about their first-hand experiences in the Institute’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and how these learnings continue to influence them.

Christopher Knittel (George P. Shultz Professor; Professor, Applied Economics) followed the panel with a presentation on The Roosevelt Project—a collaboration led by former U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernie Moniz, the MIT Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research, and Harvard researchers. “The fact that climate change is real is becoming less partisan,” he said. “I wouldn’t be as afraid as you previously might have been to broach the subject with both sides of the aisle, though there is a big disconnect on what to do.”

The second day ended with one of Reunion’s most sought-after speakers: Assistant Dean of Admissions Rod Garcia, who retired after nearly 33 years at MIT Sloan in May. In a fireside chat with Kerry James, SB ’95, MBA ’01, Garcia recalled his first days in Cambridge and pivotal moments from his time at MIT Sloan. “You cannot do this job for as long as I have if you don’t believe in what you do,” he said. “If you believe that, then you’re all set.”

Rod Garcia

Day three included a deep dive into the history of Cambridge Landmark, the private investment firm focusing on the acquisition of full-service hotels in the U.S. Co-founders and former MIT Sloan classmates Pedro Miranda, MBA ’01, and Joao Woiler, MBA ’01, were joined by Erin Scott (Senior Lecturer, Technological Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Strategic Management) for a moderated discussion of how the company had navigated the unprecedented challenges presented by the pandemic, how they had applied their MIT Sloan knowledge to their everyday business, and how they were leading their team forward.

Bryn Panee Burkhart (Senior Associate Director, Alumni Career Development) then led a "refreshed" version of her career and networking workshop. Based on lessons learned during the pandemic, “Intelligent Networking in 2021” reviewed tactical methods for curating and mapping one’s network that can be used in any professional situation. Burkhart also discussed her five-step, five-question structure for conducting effective networking conversations. “You must think about networking at all times—not just during a transition,” she reminded the audience. “It is essential to lifelong career management.”

As numerous Reunion-year classes held private virtual gatherings during the week and throughout the weekend, the 2021 MIT Sloan Virtual Reunion officially concluded on Friday with an alumni panel on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investing; a Dean’s Circle session on evidence-based climate policy; and MIT Online commencement.

Gita Rao (Senior Lecturer, Finance; Associate Faculty Director, MFin Program) joined panelists Hala Fadel, MBA ’01, Justin Kulla, MBA ’09, Lydia Li, MBA ’19, and Ryan Macpherson, MBA ’17, to explore possible opportunities and challenges in the fast-growing ESG investing space. Building on their collective educational and professional experiences, the panel delved into the promising landscape of ESG investing—as well as the many problems it still faces.

Jason Jay, PhD ’10

Meanwhile, Jason Jay, PhD ’10, (Senior Lecturer, Sustainability; Director, Sustainability Initiative at MIT Sloan) led Dean’s Circle donors through an interactive workshop featuring the En-ROADS Climate Solutions Simulator. Paraphrasing John Sterman, PhD ’82 (Jay W. Forrester Professor of Management; Professor, System Dynamics and Engineering Systems), Jay said: “Research shows that showing people research does not work. What is going to work is interactively exploring these dynamics with a simulation tool like En-ROADS.”

After the final class meetings had come to a close, Lauren Wojtkun (Director, Alumni Experience) thanked the attendees for helping to make the event a great success. “While like all of you, I eagerly await the days when we will be able to gather with our community members in person, it has been a pleasure to be with you in this virtual space,” she said. “Thank you for sharing your time with us, and I look forward to welcoming you back to campus soon.”

Click here to view a playlist of the 2021 MIT Sloan Virtual Reunion sessions.

For more info Andrew Husband Writer & Editor, Office of External Relations (617) 715-5933

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