Celebrating the legacy of Michael Hammer and the new Hammer Fellowship
In a private event held in MIT’s Samberg Center, MIT senior leaders and IDSS faculty, staff, and students joined Phyllis Thurm Hammer and her family and friends in a celebration marking the launch of a new fellowship at MIT: the Hammer Fellowship.
Thanks to a generous endowment gift from the Hammer family, Hammer Fellowships will be awarded annually to IDSS doctoral candidates in the Social and Engineering Systems (SES) program. In addition, the Hammer family’s gift will also support postdoctoral fellows in IDSS.
The gift honors the legacy of the late Michael Hammer ’68, SM ’70, PhD ’73, an educator, visionary engineer, and pioneering business leader and author. As a full-time MIT faculty member from 1973 to 1984, he was hailed for his teaching in courses on programming language processors, computer language engineering, data base management, and office automation. His research in the latter two fields earned him an international reputation.
Widely known for his founding role in the business reengineering movement and his formulation of the process-centered organization, Hammer sought to transform business in ways that not only made it more efficient, but more personally engaging for workers across the entire corporate spectrum. As just one measure of his impact, he was named by TIME magazine to its first list of “America’s 25 Most Influential Individuals.”
The first Hammer Fellows — three students and one postdoc — were also present at the celebration to meet and thank the Hammer family. Their research will follow in the footsteps of Michael Hammer by seeking big-picture solutions to major societal challenges, beginning with an understanding of how complex systems function and interact.
Anantha Chandrakasan, Dean for MIT’s School of Engineering, acknowledged this extension of Michael’s legacy in his opening remarks. “It’s been wonderful to see a gift in Michael’s name come to fruition. His family has honored and extended his legacy of impactful research and education by supporting new generations of problem solvers at MIT.”
MIT Vice Chancellor for Undergraduate and Graduate Education Ian Waitz also spoke, connecting the formation of IDSS and its mission to Hammer’s own work and impact. He commented on Hammer’s interdisciplinary career and broad toolbox, which Hammer applied to one of “the most complex systems: organizations filled with people. That’s a perfect match for IDSS,” he remarked. He went on to say that IDSS came about at MIT to answer a question brought about by developments in computing and analytics: “How do we create an organization that works across all of MIT to bring together the very best talents in analytics and statistics and connect it with some of the world’s most challenging problems?”
“The goal now,” Waitz concluded, “is to create people who naturally have that blend within them, who are essentially future Michael Hammer’s.”
Michael Hammer’s son David spoke with passion and eloquence on the decision to support IDSS, saying that his family was looking not only to honor his father’s memory, but to extend his legacy. David characterized his father as a passionate intellectual with broad knowledge, and felt that the cross-disciplinary nature of IDSS was a great fit with the many facets of his father’s interests and impact. Most importantly, he remarked that IDSS’s societal-level thinking reflected Michael Hammer’s own big-picture style of questioning. “We’re proud to be supporting IDSS,” he said, “proud to be continuing to build on my father’s lifelong mission.”
Lastly, IDSS director Munther Dahleh discussed the exciting work being done at IDSS to take advantage of the enormous amounts of data available today. Societal systems contain human agents and constantly produce data — as Dahleh puts it: “We are in the loop in real time. Out-of-the-box thinking about social behavior interacting with machines is part of the legacy of Michael. This is something that we are taking to another level right now.”
Dahleh concluded with a reflection of Michael Hammer’s lifelong commitment to education, saying “MIT as a whole and IDSS as part of it — we’re all focused on producing the next student, the next learner that is going to go out there and change the world. To be able to educate people in this interdisciplinary way where we can address hard problems is really essential. I think this is going to be a great journey for IDSS and the Hammer family.”
Pictured, l-r: Phyllis Hammer, Munther Dahleh, Hammer Fellow postdoc Kiran Garimella, SES Hammer Fellow Manxi Wu, Michael and Phyllis’ children Jessica, David, Dana, Alison, and SES Hammer Fellows Cate Heine, Leon Yao)
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