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Venezuelan Engineer Becomes President of Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Boston’s prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced Wednesday that it has named Rafael Reif, an electrical engineer from Venezuela, as its new president.

Reif has been the university’s provost since 2005, and also headed its department of electrical engineering and computer science. He assumes the new post on July 2.

According to Bloomberg, at a press conference yesterday, Reif said: “It is incredibly humbling for me to be standing here as the president-elect of MIT. I cannot tell you that this is a dream come true, because this is a dream I never dared to imagine. My story is not too different from that of many at MIT. I grew up in a home wealthy in integrity and principles and values, but poor in everything material.”

The New York Times reports that Reif, the son of immigrants from Eastern Europe, grew up “speaking Spanish and Yiddish.”

He was born in the city of Maracaibo in western Venezuela and moved to Caracas at age 9. The first in his family to attend university, Reif graduated in 1973 with a degree in engineering from the Universidad de Carabobo in Valencia. He taught as an assistant professor for one year at the Universidad Simón Bolívar in Caracas before going to the U.S. to continue his studies. He received a master’s and PhD in electrical engineering from Stanford University, and joined MIT in 1980.

Reuters writes that as provost of MIT, Reif “helped create and implement a strategy that allowed MIT to weather the global financial crisis, despite a large decline in its endowment, and drove the growth of the university overseas, from Abu Dhabi to Russia.”

Another of his contributions was the creation of the Office of the Associate Provost for Faculty Equity. According to an MIT press release, in 2007, “Reif promoted a major faculty-led effort to address challenges around race and diversity… [he] has since taken steps to foster a culture of inclusion at the Institute.”

Regarding his appointment, Reif said: “I am deeply honored to be elected president of the Institute I love so dearly. MIT’s impact on my life — how I think, how I make sense of the world, and how I align my personal aspirations with the call to service — has been profound.”

Press Office – Embassy of Venezuela to the U.S. / May 17, 2012

Photo: AP

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