First Generation Faculty and Teaching Staff Stories

The following first generation faculty and teaching staff have kindly shared their stories with us and look forward to connecting with you.

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John Winston Belcher

Professor of Physics

From the Odessa County Public Library in Texas to MIT, Professor Belcher navigated a path to space plasma physics as a part of the Space Plasma Group. Shortly after his arrival as a post Doc at MIT, the group wrote a proposal for the Voyager mission to Jupiter and Saturn. After reaching these two planets, as well as Uranus and Neptune, Voyager is still going strong. "That is a long way from Earth, and a really long way from the West Texas oilfields where I started out." Belcher says.

Read Prof. Belcher's story


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Ed Bertschinger

Institute Community and Equity Officer, Professor of Physics

It takes sisu. Sisu, Finnish for grit or perseverance, guided Professor Bertschinger from a misfit childhood in Oakland, California to college in southern California where, Bertschinger says, “A rocky start in college led to an instructor advising me not to pursue theoretical physics."

Read Prof. Bertschinger's story


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Karen Boiko

Lecturer II, CMS/Writing

Growing up in the San Fernando Valley, California Dr. Karen Boiko always had her nose in a book. "My parents had no advice to offer about schooling, but they encouraged me to do well in school," Boiko says. After completing her undergraduate degree and working in trade publishing, Dr. Boiko began her PhD in English Literature at the age of 40.

Read Dr. Boiko's story


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Bill Dalzell

Lecturer, Department of Chemical Engineering

When applying to college as a senior in rural Chatham, NY, Professor Dalzell perused college catalogs and thought about becoming an engineer. He discovered MIT when a friend told him it was the best engineering school. The admissions deadline had passed two weeks ago, Prof. Dalzell applied anyway.

Read Dr. Dalzell's story


photo of Woodie Flowers

Woodie C. Flowers

Pappalardo Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Emeritus

For Professor Flowers, a crooked arm, he had broken many bones as a child, led to a rehabilitation scholarship at a Louisiana state college. Undergraduate studies brought Prof. Flowers to Cambridge and a campus of opportunities. "I believe MIT is a reasonable gracious meritocracy. I can be a wonderfully powerful lever," Prof. Flowers says.

Read Prof. Flowers' story


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Joseph Formaggio

Associate Professor of Physics

Professor Formaggio spent a good portion of his childhood living in Catania, Sicily—a city with no public libraries and a school where teachers spent hours smoking in the teachers' lounge. Nonetheless, "going to college wasn't really a question for me," Prof. Formaggio says.

Read Prof. Formaggio's story


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Scott Hughes

Associate Professor of Physics

Professor Hughes' parents, both high school educated, made sure he got a library card and supported his interests in dinosaurs, Tolkienian linguistics, and World War II airplanes, he never heard "What's the point of that?" The question of college attendance, however, raised more issues, "Places like that don't help people like us," his mother contended.

Read Prof. Hughes' story


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Paul Lagacé

Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics and of Engineering Systems

Professor Lagacé grew up in a Lewiston, Maine where both French and English were spoken in school. With a family committed to education and excellence, Lagacé knew his future lay beyond the mill town. The side of his father’s van read, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.” “I have worked to practice that throughout my life, and it has served me well,” Lagacé says.

Read Prof. Lagacé's story


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L. Rafael Reif

President, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

President Reif grew up in a home in Caracas, Venezuela where a combination of Spanish and Yiddish was spoken. His mother and father, recent immigrants from Eastern Europe, made a living without the benefit of an extensive education. Reif says “To this day, each time I see a humble person in some menial job, I see a smart person like my parents who did not have the opportunity for an education.”

Read President Reif's story


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Sean Patrick Robinson

Lecturer, Department of Physics

For Dr. Robinson growing up on the Massachusetts "South Shore", hard work, family, and toughness were central values to Irish Catholic immigrant life. Until he came to MIT, the only scientists Dr. Robinson knew were on TV .

Read Dr. Robinson's story


Leona Samson

Professor of Biological Engineering and Professor of Biology

After numerous mid-semester moves, Professor Samson dropped out of high school at the age of 15. "This didn't alarm anyone in my family," Samson says. When Samson discovered biology "was surprisingly interesting", she decided she would go to university and work in a lab.

Read Prof. Samson's story


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Phillip Sharp

Institute Professor,
Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research
Nobel Laureate

As a youth hoeing tobacco in rural Kentucky, undergraduate life on a college campus appealed to Professor Sharp as a greener, more social alternative. Prof. Sharp decided to save money and attend college. While studying at Union College in the mountains of Kentucky, Prof. Sharp’s interest in chemistry and math “grew exponentially.”

Read Prof. Sharp's story


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T.L. Taylor

Professor, Comparative Media Studies and Writing

Professor Taylor grew up in a working class family and eventually ended up in academia by way of the community college system in California. Though her family always abstractly valued education, in practice her path to university was not the most traditional.

Read Prof. Taylor's story