Elsa Olivetti wins the McDonald Mentoring Award

The honor is given to faculty members who have shown exemplary commitment to guide and nurture their students.

MIT’s School of Engineering has named Professor Elsa Olivetti of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering (DMSE) the recipient of the Capers and Marion McDonald Award for Excellence in Mentoring and Advising. The award recognizes leaders in engineering and science who have supported the personal and professional development of others.
“Professor Olivetti is a motivated and innovative educator and one of the most passionate and dedicated mentors I’ve had the privilege to work with,” said Jeffrey Grossman, the Morton and Claire Goulder and Family Professor in Environmental Systems and until the end of July the department head of DMSE. Grossman nominated Olivetti for the honor, also called the McDonald Mentoring Award.
Anantha Chandrakasan, dean of the School of Engineering, surprised Olivetti with news of the award August 9, giving her a medallion and a certificate.
The McDonald Mentoring Award is distributed annually at Duke University, Harvard University, John Hopkins University, and MIT and engineering organizations ASME and Tau Beta Pi. Olivetti is the first DMSE winner of the award since Sam Allen, now professor emeritus, who received it in 2008. 
Olivetti’s research blends industrial ecology with materials science and engineering to improve and mitigate the environmental and economic impact of materials use. She first came to MIT as a graduate student in 2000, studying the electrochemistry of polymer and inorganic materials for electrodes in lithium-ion batteries.
She joined the DMSE faculty in 2014 and alongside a robust research program has built a reputation as an engaging and dedicated educator. She’s helped overhaul DMSE’s undergraduate curriculum and developed new courses and laboratory modules. She serves on DMSE’s undergraduate and graduate admission committees and has promoted diversity efforts in the department, working with students and faculty.
Olivetti’s students, whose comments contributed to her nomination for the McDonald award, describe her as an exceptional mentor who’s cultivated a caring and supportive environment. Mrigi Munjal, a student in Olivetti’s research group, said that despite her busy schedule and many roles at MIT—advisor and mentor but also teacher, researcher, and co-director at the MIT Climate & Sustainability Consortium—she always has time for her students.
“She provides individual guidance, encouragement, and constructive feedback that helps me grow both personally and professionally,” Munjal said. “She takes the time to understand her students’ goals and aspirations and works collaboratively with them to achieve success.”
During the covid-19 lockdowns in 2020, “she went above and beyond to ensure that everyone in the lab felt safe and supported,” said Tunahan Aytas, a former graduate student in Olivetti’s research group. “She took extra measures to help international students navigate the difficult situation and always made time to check in and see how everyone was doing.” Aytas successfully defended his PhD thesis this summer and will start as an associate consultant at McKinsey & Co.’s Boston office.
MIT has also recognized Professor Olivetti for her education and advising contributions. She was awarded the Bose Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2021. She was also named a 2021 MacVicar Faculty Fellow for her commitment to teaching, research, and improving the student experience, and the Earll M. Murman Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Advising in 2017.