Quick action keeps DMSE commencement celebration on dry ground

Department staff relocated the event in an hour after rain caused minor flooding, ensuring a smooth celebration of students’ achievements.

A nearly constant downpour threatened to drench the Department of Materials Science and Engineering’s commencement reception at MIT on May 30, but quick thinking and swift action by department staff ensured the event went off without a hitch.
Heavy rain in the early morning hours caused minor flooding in Eastman Court, where the reception was scheduled to take place in a tent pitched on the lawn. The soggy, sloshy ground that graduates and their families would have to navigate in dress shoes that morning prompted DMSE headquarters staff to seek an alternative.

“The tent was flooding quickly, and there was lightning on the radar, so we didn’t want to risk it and ruin such an important celebration,” said Erin Caples, director of administration and finance at DMSE.
In a little more than an hour, DMSE staff found a new location, coordinated a move with caterers and audio-visual equipment delivery, and sent out emails about the venue change.
Graduate academic administrator Bianca Sinausky tapped her extensive MIT network to quickly identify a new location. “I’ve been at MIT a long time,” Sinausky said, “so I knew who to call.”
Posters quickly printed and posted at the old location gave directions to the R&D Commons in the Stata Center. The reception opened on time at 11:30 am.
“The changeover and execution were seamless,” Caples said.
Other MIT departments’ receptions were also scheduled to be held in tents on Eastman Court that day—Civil and Environmental Engineering, which had booked the same tent as DMSE but later in the day, also relocated to Stata. Chemical Engineering, whose tent on higher ground was relatively dry, stayed put.
The receptions took place during MIT’s three days of commencement activities, the same day as the OneMIT Commencement Ceremony that brings together the entire Institute on Killian Court. A ceremony for the School of Engineering’s advanced degree students was on May 29; the undergraduate ceremony was on May 31.
Addressing the rerouted crowd of graduating seniors, advanced-degree graduates, and their guests, Interim Department Head Caroline Ross spoke of the advantage of earning a degree in an interdisciplinary field such as materials science and engineering, which covers topics spanning electronics and semiconductors, manufacturing processes, and biological materials and systems.
“Everyone is well-equipped to succeed in a wide range of possible careers,” said Ross. “There’s really nothing you can’t do.”
Ross praised graduates for their grace and grit in challenging times, including the covid-19 pandemic and ongoing global conflicts.
“You’ve demonstrated a lot of resilience, and just a genuine sense of community has held us together through what we’ve all been through,” Ross said.
The event also included an awards ceremony recognizing undergraduates and graduates who have made exceptional contributions in teaching, research, and service to the department. Professor Juejun Hu, chair of the undergraduate committee, announced the winners of the undergraduate awards.

  • Outstanding Sophomore Award: Jacqueline Prawira
  • Julian Szekely Award for Outstanding Junior: Jordan Tierney
  • Outstanding Senior Award: Katherine Lei
  • Undergraduate Student Teaching Award in Teaching an Undergraduate Subject: Maria Aguiar
  • John Wulff Award for Excellence in Teaching an Undergraduate Subject: Tao Cai
  • Outstanding Senior Thesis Award: Shu Yang Zhang
  • Joseph M. Dhosi Outstanding Internship Award: Ian Chen and Lucas Marden

The annual Horace A. Lubin Award for Outstanding Service to the DMSE Community went to all the seniors on the executive committee of the Society of Undergraduate Materials Scientists, or SUMS. Hu said the group deserved the award for their collective community building and being “wonderful ambassadors for the major.”

“You are a very special class,” Hu said. “We truly enjoyed working with you, and we cannot thank you enough.” Here are the winners:

  • Kirmina Monir, SUMS president
  • Katherine Lei, senior representative
  • Linnaea Uliassi, social chair
  • Daniel Tong, internal affairs chair
  • Melissa Stok and Sierra Green, career development chairs
  • Kimberly Cheng, commons chair, aka “snack fairy”
  • Lauryn Kortman, apparel chair

Associate Professor Robert Macfarlane, chair of the graduate studies committee, announced the winners of the graduate student awards.

  • Exceptional Graduate First-Year Performance Award: Juno Nam
  • Best Paper for a First- or Second-Year Graduate Student: Rachel Luu
  • Graduate Student Community Service Award: Eric Lee and Isabella Caruso
  • Graduate Student Teaching Award in Teaching a Graduate Subject: Pete Lauer
  • Best Doctoral Thesis Award: Kate Reidy

Ross encouraged graduates to stay in touch. She also reminded them to pick up their medallions, bronze mementos made in the DMSE forge and foundry and given every year to graduates of the department.
“This is the only chance you’ll get to have one. We don’t give these to anybody. You can give us a million dollars, and you still won’t get one,” Ross said. And then with a smile, to laughter: “But you can give us the million dollars anyway.