65 Years of Impact on the World, and from the World

Faculty, Participants, Institute all reap unique benefits: "We learn as much from them as they do from us"

“Lifelong learning” has been a top-of-mind topic at MIT since 1949, when the Institute’s summer programs were formalized into the Summer Session. Since then, more than 100,000 engineers, scientists, and managers have bolstered their knowledge by taking classes through the programs that now comprise MIT Professional Education.

“It opened a window for new ideas,” “An invigorating experience and particularly useful investment of my time,” “This course went to the heart of creating innovation within organizations.” These are just some of the glowing reviews received over the years.

At the same time, hundreds of MIT faculty members have found that participation in MIT Professional Education programs has improved their research and teaching abilities, by providing them with insights and perspectives that only front-line practitioners can provide.

“We learn as much from them as they do from us. Practitioners tell you about the real problems that no one has worked on before, the new problems that didn’t exist when the textbook was written,” says Professor of Engineering Systems Richard Larson, who gave his first Summer Session guest lectures to emergency services managers in 1972. The experience, he says, was the genesis of the first book project he participated in; more recent classes, including his current Crisis Management and Business Continuity course, have connected him with top-tier managers from Disney, the FBI, the City of New York, and other organizations around the world, which enables him to share firsthand knowledge with his MIT students.

“In the process engineering world, knowledge comes from practice and not a lab,” adds Ford Professor of Engineering Emeritus Earll Murman, who joined MIT Aeronautics and Astronautics after a distinguished career in industry and taught the Lean Enterprise class on campus and internationally from 2007 until last year. “Lean thinking has its roots in the Japanese auto industry; that’s why MIT went there to study and codify it. If you’re not rubbing shoulders with practitioners in a field like that, you’re not getting access to the real source of knowledge.”

Born the Same Year as ILP

Indeed, it’s no coincidence that MIT’s establishment of the Summer Session (later dubbed the Professional Institute and now known as Short Programs) took place in the same year, 1949, as the formation of the Institute’s research-oriented Industrial Liaison Program. As former MIT President Charles M. Vest put it in a 1999 commemorative talk, “Both proposals were deeply rooted in the basic values of MIT, and both were designed to help faculty into greater direct contact with senior leaders and decision-makers in industry and government.”

This connection is one reason so many distinguished faculty participate in MIT Professional Education programs. The current group of about 75 includes Institute Professors Daniel I.C. Wang and Robert Langer and School of Engineering department heads Professor Markus Buehler (Civil and Environmental Engineering) and Professor Klavs Jensen (Chemical Engineering).

The teaching roster is also rich in MacVicar Faculty Fellows, who are honored for exceptional teaching ability: Professor Sanjay Sarma (Mechanical Engineering), Associate Professor Kristala Prather (Chemical Engineering), Professor Edward Crawley (Aeronautics and Astronautics), and professors Charles Leiserson, Steven Leeb, and Vladimir Bulovic (Electrical Engineering and Computer Science).

Intellect and Infrastructure

In addition to Short Programs, MIT Professional Education, which was established in 2003 under the School of Engineering, also oversees the Advanced Study Program (ASP), which dates to 1964 and currently offers about 75 fellows annually the opportunity to take regular Institute courses on a non-degree basis. More recent additions include Custom Programs, which develops training programs for specific industry or government clients (including Accenture and BP); International Programs, which offers short courses onsite in locales worldwide; and Online X Programs, an initiative for global online learning launched in 2014.

This combination of intellectual firepower and educational infrastructure positions MIT Professional Education as a strategic asset for the Institute as a whole. The recent report of the Institute-Wide Task Force on the Future of MIT Education recommended a bolstering of infrastructure for MIT Professional Education and the Sloan School’s Executive Education program, and a reduction in barriers to offering more programs and engaging more faculty.

International and Online — “Our Next Frontier”

MIT Professional Education executive director Bhaskar Pant, who served on the task force, notes that while there will always be a prominent place for the long-standing on-campus programs, “international and online programs are very much our next frontier, with a focus on addressing global audiences and issues, particularly in emerging economies. There is great hunger for knowledge in these economies, and they’re also places that our faculty and students are keen to understand better.” Early steps in this direction include the recent hosting of a custom course for South African transport managers and a program in Dubai for would-be Middle East entrepreneurs.

As part of this evolution, said Pant, “we’ll also be experimenting with online and blended learning (a combination of online and traditional classroom teaching). These models can enable greater access and more time-efficient learning for professionals around the world who want to benefit from MIT expertise.”