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After A Year Of Scandal, MIT's Media Lab Names First Female Director

For the first time in its 35-year history, the MIT Media Lab will be led by a woman.

Dava Newman comes to the role with a stellar resumé. An aerospace engineer and MIT professor since 1998, she served as deputy administrator of NASA from 2015 to 2017 and helped shape its plan for human travel to Mars.

But she has her work cut out for her. In September 2019, Joi Ito — the lab's long-serving prior director — resigned after his financial relationship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein was revealed. (The revelations sparked protest on MIT’s campus and anguish inside the Lab itself.)

Newman acknowledged that it will be a challenge to rebuild trust — the price of accepting what she called her “dream job.”

When she begins work in July, Newman plans to embark on a listening tour. “Taking responsibility, making sure that everyone’s heard, bringing together the community,” she said. “Compassion is important these days."

The Media Lab was founded in 1985 to serve as a hub for interdisciplinary research. Drawing on funds from corporate supporters and private donations, its aim is to develop technologies that “benefit society.”

Newman says that the pandemic has only highlighted the need to renew that mission, inside and out of the Media Lab.

A longtime advocate for women in the disproportionately male world of science and engineering, Newman pledged to pursue gender parity and broader diversity at the Lab.

“Superstars and genius comes in all forms and shapes,” Newman said. As director, she says she hopes to celebrate the Lab’s “‘infinite diversity in infinite combinations’” — a Star Trek allusion befitting an aerospace engineer.

Related:

Max Larkin Twitter Reporter, Edify
Max Larkin is a multimedia reporter for Edify, WBUR's education vertical.

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