May 17, 2012 / 4:18 AM / 7 years ago

Venezuelan-born academic named president of MIT

CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts (Reuters) - The Massachusetts Institute of Technology on Wednesday named Rafael Reif, an electrical engineer born in Venezuela who has been the university’s provost since 2005, as its 17th president.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology President Susan Hockfield (R) presents MIT President-elect L. Rafael Reif with an MIT jersey with the number 17 on it during an MIT Community Meeting after his election to the post of President was announced at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts May 16, 2012. Reif will be MIT's 17th President. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi

Reif, 61, replaces Susan Hockfield, the first female president of MIT, who announced in mid-February that she was stepping down after almost eight years leading one of the most prestigious universities in the United States.

Reif will take up his post at the Cambridge, Massachusetts, university on July 2, the first MIT president not to be a native English speaker.

In his role as provost, the senior academic official at the university, 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.

He also led the development of MITx, the university’s initiative in online learning, and pushed an effort to increase diversity among the university’s faculty.

He takes over at a time when many college graduates face crippling student debt and an uncertain job market, and when MIT is preparing to launch a major fundraising campaign and expand its online learning programs.

Reif is the youngest of four sons of émigrés who fled Eastern Europe for Latin America in the late 1930s, living first in Ecuador and Colombia before settling in Venezuela. Reif’s father worked as a photographer.

“I grew up in a home wealthy in integrity and principles and values, but poor in everything material,” Reif said at a news conference to announce the appointment.

Reif earned an undergraduate degree in engineering from Venezuela’s Universidad de Carabobo in 1973. He gained a master’s and PhD in electrical engineering from Stanford University in California and joined MIT in 1980.

He was an early champion of the university’s work in micro- and nanotechnology. He holds 15 patents, has won several teaching awards and has supervised 38 doctoral theses.

Reporting by Ros Krasny; Editing by David Storey and Lisa Shumaker

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