Unconventional Paths

When you think of MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), you think of brilliant students with brilliant futures. But did you ever think that a blossoming young printer turned Peace Corps director would ever become an MIT graduate? Alan White’s life motto is, “Follow unconventional paths: they will take you where you want to go”.

Indeed, Alan is anything but conventional. A recent immigrant to Hawaii, he continues to work for the MIT Sloan School of Business as one of its Senior Associate Deans, while enjoying the pleasures that “location-independent” work offers. As he slowly moves toward retirement, Alan admits that these “new patterns of work” benefit him: he finds he has higher productivity. This situation of course puts him closer to Asia where much of his work is centered. “However”, he says, “it doesn’t work for everyone”.

As the Senior Associate Dean for the MIT Sloan School of Business, what would Alan like to say to high school hopefuls who are eager to apply to – and be accepted by – elite colleges such as MIT? “Relax! Getting into the MIT undergraduate program is horribly difficult.” It is true that MIT acceptances are merit-based, but MIT also wants students with various backgrounds and interests. “It’s not about punching a dance card – the more the better. We want passion and excellence, proof of leadership and accomplishments in particular and not necessarily standard areas.”

Clearly, Alan has had several work and life accomplishments.  He has two successful sons to whom he recommend that they take liberal arts degrees rather than applying to MIT: “broaden your studies now – you can specialize later!”.  He is also the former director of the Sloan Fellows Program, a full-time Executive MBA program. “If kids don’t take the widest, most diverse possible paths to education, they are not doing their best. It’s important that they expose themselves to as many things as possible.”

One anecdote that Alan shared was about a candidate he interviewed – the best candidate he had ever seen, but who was not accepted by MIT. “What’s the point of my story? We have a wonderful country and system where people can build their way up. You shouldn’t feel disappointed if you are not accepted. The point is that there are so many good schools, students shouldn’t feel compelled to go to one place.”

If unconventional paths can build stronger futures for our children, what unconventional paths are MIT currently undertaking? “MIT now has 47% women!” Also, MIT is hosting free, open, on-line MIT courses (ocw.mit.edu): “And over 100,000 people have signed up for a new online course that awards a certificate! Harvard has joined the program!” What is the benefit of this program? “Why should we keep this knowledge to ourselves? Knowledge is to be shared. Education has overcome political arguments – it’s one way countries can collaborate without going to war!”


Written by K. Forissier for College Goals


0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *