Philanthropist provides $10 million gift to Graduate Engineering Leadership Program

Dean Anantha Chandrakasan (left) shakes hands with Daniel J. Riccio at a gift-signing ceremony. Riccio has donated $10 million to expand MIT’s Graduate Engineering Leadership Program.

With new support, program looks to expand on its mission of developing exceptional engineering leaders of the future.

School of Engineering

October 14, 2022

Daniel J. Riccio, an advisory board member for the School of Engineering’s Undergraduate Engineering Leadership Program, has made a gift of $10 million to expand MIT’s Graduate Engineering Leadership Program, which will be renamed in recognition of the support. The gift will allow the program to grow and sustain its operations for years to come and was first announced by Riccio and the School of Engineering during a meeting of program supporters on Oct. 5.

The Daniel J. Riccio Graduate Engineering Leadership Program (GradEL) aims to build on the engineering education that graduate students receive, helping to foster leadership capabilities and developing engineers who can inspire and guide teams throughout their careers. “Those types of skills are essential to successful engineers,” says Riccio, vice president of engineering at Apple.

“It is true not just of Apple but of many innovative companies that we are not limited by ideas or by money — rather, we are limited by having enough effective engineering leaders to bring complex innovative products to market,” says Riccio. “This is a problem that is widely acknowledged. I want to do something about it. That is why I’m willing to invest my time, my energy, and my money in this program.”

MIT established the undergraduate-focused Gordon-MIT Engineering Leadership Program (GEL) in 2007, which serves around 150 students each year. Due to the success of that program, the School of Engineering launched GradEL four years ago. With the guidance and support of GradSAGE — a group of graduate students that advises the School of Engineering and helps to set priorities — GradEL grew from one class into a series of classes and workshops that culminate in a graduate certificate in technical leadership. Like the undergraduate program, the graduate program aims to help students grow into leaders within engineering to propel their careers forward and increase their impact.

“I am extremely grateful for this gift and excited about the potential it provides to the future of GradEL,” says Anantha Chandrakasan, dean of the School of Engineering and Vannevar Bush Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. “With this generous donation, the program is well-supported in its continued efforts to develop potential engineering leaders of the future.”

“The gift from Daniel Riccio will allow the graduate program to grow from a ‘scrappy startup’ to the type of sustainable program that characterizes the longer-running undergraduate program,” adds Reza Rahaman, the Bernard M. Gordon industry co-director and senior lecturer. The program will invest in relationships with industry to develop externship opportunities for students, build out curriculum, and market and promote the program to bring in more student participants.

“What it will really allow us to do is to both raise the waterline in terms of the number of students that we can engage and, at the same time, create a group of world-class engineering leaders who can go out and tackle the toughest problems, and have incredible impact on the world,” says Rahaman.

Rahaman earned both his graduate and doctoral degrees in chemical engineering at the Institute, and returned to MIT four years ago to be the organizational head of the School of Engineering Technical Leadership and Communication (TLC) Programs, which include both GEL and GradEL.

“I believe that MIT gives its students, particularly its PhDs, the best technical education in the world. And I believe that if you combine technical education with the leadership skills that this program can give you, the effect is not just additive, but is multiplicative,” says Rahaman. “Engineering leadership is a force multiplier for students’ academic depth and academic prowess.”

Martha Gray, faculty co-director for the TLC Programs and the Whitaker Professor in Biomedical Engineering and a professor of electrical engineering and computer science, reiterated the “absolute importance of leadership and professional development” as part of a full educational experience at MIT. 

“I believe strongly in the importance of leadership, and professional development more generally, for any graduate of MIT,” she says.

Last year, an MIT task force tasked with re-imagining MIT in a post-pandemic world recommended that every graduate student at the Institute should be required to pursue some sort of professional development. That is what the Daniel J. Riccio Graduate Engineering Leadership Program aims to provide.

“MIT clearly has found a formula that works really well for taking bright technical people and giving them an excellent technical education,” says Joel Schindall, Gordon Professor of the Practice emeritus, and the GEL program’s founding industry co-director. “But you also need teamwork, communication, and leadership skills, as well as determination and character.”

“MIT not only wants our graduates to have the knowledge and the skills, but we want them to be able to apply them in real-world environments to produce products and processes that make a difference in the world,” he adds.

The gift will be a “game changer,” says Maria Yang, associate dean of the School of Engineering and the Gail E. Kendall (1978) Professor of mechanical engineering.

“MIT is proud of its long tradition of fostering top research talent in its graduate programs,” says Yang. “We believe this approach will enable a new breed of researcher/technologist who is prepared to lead and innovate in response to the challenges of the future.”

The program is designed to help MIT students stand out as they move from educational experience to professional life.

“Exceptional engineering leaders ultimately have the attitude and ability to bring complex technical products to market; they lead innovative technical organizations; they make things happen that simply would not happen without them,” says Riccio.

GradEL now needs to deliver on its initial program deliverables and raise additional funds in order to unlock another donation from Riccio.

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