Cell biologist from Duke named new president of MIT

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) — While there were myriad reasons Sally Kornbluth felt pulled to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, it was the chance to help address some of the world’s greatest challenges that played perhaps the biggest role, the school’s new president said at an introductory news conference on Thursday.

“Maybe above all, I was drawn here because this is a moment when humanity faces huge global problems, problems that urgently demand the world’s most skillful minds and hands,” she said. “In short, I believe this is MIT’s moment. I could not imagine a greater privilege than helping the people of MIT seize its full potential.”

Kornbluth, a cell biologist who has spent the past eight years as provost at Duke University, was elected MIT’s 18th president on Thursday by the MIT Corporation, the school’s governing body.

She will officially take over on Jan. 1, succeeding L. Rafael Reif, who in February announced that he planned to step down after 10 years on the job. She is the second woman to lead MIT.

Kornbluth has been on the Duke faculty since 1994, and is currently a professor of biology. As provost at the North Carolina school since 2014, Kornbluth was responsible for carrying out Duke’s teaching and research missions; developing its intellectual priorities; and partnering with others to improve faculty and students.

It was her accomplishments at Duke that made her the clear frontrunner out of the four finalists for the MIT presidency, said Diane Greene, chair of the MIT Corporation.

“Dr. Kornbluth is an extraordinary find for MIT,” Greene said, noting that the vote was unanimous. “She’s an exceptional administrator, widely respected for her ability to create an environment that breaks barriers, and importantly, enables every student, faculty and staff member to contribute at their highest levels. She is known for her judgment, plain-spokenness, and integrity.”

Kornbluth also pledged to keep MIT a welcoming and comfortable environment where everyone can reach their potential.

“I’m absolutely committed to building a more diverse and increasingly inclusive environment here at MIT,” she said.

Kornbluth already has one strong tie to MIT. Her son, Alex, is a Ph.D. student in electrical engineering and computer science at the school. Her husband, Daniel Lew, is a professor of pharmacology and cancer biology at the Duke School of Medicine, and her daughter, Joey, is a medical student at the University of California at San Francisco.

She grew up in Fair Lawn, New Jersey, and has degrees from Williams College, Cambridge University, and Rockefeller University.

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