On July 27, it was announced on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Web site that president emeritus Charles Vest will receive the National Medal of Technology.
Biomedical engineering professor Robert Langer and physics professor Daniel Kleppner would each be receiving the National Medal of Science, as well.
"MIT is clearly the global leader in science and technology, but [it's] more than that," says Deborah Bohren, the newly appointed VP of external affairs for MIT. "Our mission and focus are on science and technology and how they interface and support the humanities and social sciences."
Bohren is quick to declare that the arts, business, and other non-science departments at MIT, which admitted its first students in 1865, are of the same top-ranked caliber as its more traditional study areas. She assumed her VP position on May 21, in large part, to make that clear to the public.
"Some of the challenges moving forward are being able to share MIT's expertise with a broader audience and translate the science into a language [so] more people can understand what it means for their lives and the planet," she says.
Bohren has a strong academic background, earning a master's from Harvard University in public administration, a pursuit that included coursework at MIT. Like MIT, she also has a wide array of areas of expertise. She has worked in government relations, was the SVP of communications for Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield, and, most recently, was head of the healthcare practice at Powell Tate.
That latter role only lasted a few months (from September 2006 to April 2007) before a search firm familiar with both MIT and Bohren called with what it thought was a perfect opportunity.
"I had barely unpacked my last box," recalls Bohren. "It's matchmaking sometimes."
Bohren has started transitioning to the university setting by meeting with as many people as possible across MIT and in the Boston area.
"Education is much more collaborative," she says. "[And] I've had a lifelong interest in science. But you need communications skills."
MIT's administration is certain that Bohren has those skills.
"The position requires a broad range of talents," says Kirk Kolenbrander, Ph.D., VP for institute affairs, who headed up the search to fill Bohren's position. "[Bohren] can bring that complete array."
Kolenbrander, like Bohren, speaks to MIT's belief that it can fuse science and the humanities to solve issues within communities. He goes on to emphasize the role that communications can play.
"MIT is committed to serving the nation and world," he says. "However, we can only accomplish that when we're seen by the community as a place to turn to for help. Therein lies the challenge of sharing our message with the world."
Another of Bohren's responsibilities is serving as a liaison between local and state officials and MIT, working on issues concerning higher education, research funding, and others. Her political campaign work in the 1970s, in DC after graduate school, and for New York congresswoman Nita Lowey in the 1990s prepared her for that.
"The skill sets are virtually identical for strategic communications and government affairs," she says. "The outcome is different [a newspaper story vs. a piece of legislation], but in both cases, you're putting ideas forward to advocate for the organization's interests."
There's been concern over the US' scientific prominence in the world. Accordingly, Bohren thinks her post, and the need to spread the word on MIT's other offerings, has taken on a new significance.
"It makes my job more important because America can't lose that [scientific] edge, and MIT is committed to helping America not lose that," she says. "We're not trying to be anything other than MIT."
VP of external affairs, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Sept. 2006-April 2007
EVP, healthcare practice, Powell Tate
Feb. 1996-Feb. 2006
SVP of comms, Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield