Amitava “Babi” Mitra
Dr. Amitava “Babi” Mitra is the Executive Director of the New Engineering Education Transformation (NEET) program at MIT. Together with faculty co-leads Ed Crawley, Ford Professor of Engineering at MIT and founding president of Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology, Russia and Mark Bathe, Associate Professor of Biological Engineering, MIT School of Engineering, Mitra is co-leading what is arguably one of the most impactful initiatives in higher education today, an initiative launched by MIT’s School of Engineering in 2016 to reimagine and transform MIT’s undergraduate engineering education.
Mitra is passionate about evangelizing and implementing an educational vision he believes in; he enjoys formulating, designing and planning its implementation, and then taking it through to fruition. What he enjoys doing most is setting up and running ‘start-up’ educational initiatives within established universities (as in the New Engineering Education Transformation initiative at MIT) or at new institutions (as the founder-Dean of Engineering, BML Munjal University (BMU), India).
He has in-depth corporate and NGO experience; he grew a small e-learning R&D group with less than 1 million USD revenue into the profitable USD 24 million revenue Knowledge Solutions Business at NIIT, Inc. as its senior vice-president. Twenty-five years ago, he helped found one of India’s leading NGOs, the Pan-Himalayan Grassroots Development Foundation, Kumaon, India.
Mitra’s volunteer activities include: Board Member, ArborCreek Montessori Academy, Dallas; Member, Advisory Board, Advances in Science and Engineering Technology (ASET), Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT), UAE; Guest Editor, Advances in Engineering Education(AEE) Special Issue on Emerging Programs, American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE); Jury Member and Mentor, Action, Impact and Motivation (AIM) Scholarship Program, MIT Sloan Fellows; Mentor, MIT Sandbox Innovation Fund, and; Mentor, MIT Mentor Advocate Partnership (MAP) program, Office of Minority Education. He was also the co-founder of SaPa, the South Asian Parents Alliance group at the Buckingham Browne & Nichols School, Cambridge.
His recent publications, invited lectures and presentations include:
- Invited panelist, ASEE Joint Panel on ‘Leveraging Experiential Education to Become an Emerging Engineering Education Leader --- Curriculum-Based Experiential Education Opportunities’, 126th ASEE National Conference, Tampa, Florida, June 2019.
- Crawley, Edward F., Hosoi, Anette ‘Peko’, Long, Gregory, Kassis, Timothy, Dickson, Will and Mitra, Amitava “Babi”, Moving Forward with the New Engineering Education Transformation (NEET) program at MIT --- Building Community, Developing Projects and Connecting with Industry, Peer-reviewed paper presented at the 126th American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) Annual Conference, Tampa, Florida, June 2019. https://peer.asee.org/authors/39545
- Invited plenary speaker, Engineering Education Forum, Conference on Engineering Education for the Future 2019, ITA, São José dos Campos, Brazil, May 2019.
- Invited keynote speaker, Innovations in Engineering Education International Conference, Higher Colleges of Technology, UAE, April 2019.
- Co-author, paper presented at the Institute of Biological Engineering Annual Conference, St. Louis, Missouri, April 2019.
- Invited lecture at Afeka College, Tel Aviv, Israel, February 2019.
- Invited lecture at BML Munjal University, Gurgaon, India, January 2019.
- “Reimagining Engineering Education”, Edward F. Crawley, Anette “Peko” Hosoi and Amitava “Babi” Mitra, Opinion Editorial, Mechanical Engineering magazine, the flagship publication of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, July 2018.
- Crawley, Edward F., Hosoi, Anette ‘Peko’, and Mitra, Amitava “Babi”, Redesigning Undergraduate Engineering Education at MIT – the New Engineering Education Transformation (NEET) initiative. Peer-reviewed paper presented at the 125th ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah, June 2018. https://peer.asee.org/30923
- “Future of Engineering Education”, invited presentation at the Program Professors Dinner 2018 on ‘The Engineer of the Future’, Eindhoven University of Technology, Eindhoven, Netherlands, May 2018.
NEET is already being acknowledged in academic and professional forums as an initiative that is worth watching. Though it’s been just over two years since it was launched, the initial signs are encouraging. At the heart of NEET are the cross-departmental project-centric programs, or “threads,” that cultivate the transdisciplinary application, skills and knowledge needed to address 21st century challenges. Two pilot threads, Autonomous Machines and Living Machines were launched in Fall 2017; they were oversubscribed with over 4.5% of the sophomore engineering population opting in. Another 90 students representing over 11% of the sophomore engineering students signed up for the second cohort in Fall 2018 when these two threads were offered again together with a new pilot, Advanced Materials Machines. These are significantly larger than the number of students that have typically tended to opt for many new academic programs in the past.
NEET is starting to gain some traction with students. It’s now the fourth largest undergraduate academic cohort on campus. Students are engaged with NEET and are growing the NEET community, forming vibrant student council leadership teams within the program. Living Machines students co-authored a technical paper together with thread faculty; this was presented recently at the Institute of Biological Engineering conference. Students in the Advanced Materials Machines thread recently completed a study tour of Siemens and Volkswagen in Germany.
There are other fronts NEET is engaging on; with industry, faculty, other schools at MIT, thought leaders and the larger academic community. Industry partnerships are an essential ingredient for the long-term growth and sustainability of NEET, providing real-life examples for projects and insight into next-generation challenges. In 2018-2019 NEET welcomed both General Motors and Boeing as founding sponsors of the Autonomous Machines thread and Autodesk sponsored the NEET sophomore spring 2019 project competition in 2.S007.
NEET was chartered as a School of Engineering initiative. However other schools at the Institute have shown great interest in engaging with NEET and are now leading the effort to develop and deploy NEET Ways of Thinking modules in the NEET projects and seminars; these cognitive tools will help students to more effectively think and learn on their own initiative, throughout their lifetime. Four modules will be piloted this year around the following Ways of Thinking: ethical engineering (led by the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy, SHASS and the GEL Program), creative thinking (led by the Department of Architecture, SA+P), critical thinking (led by the Program on Science, Technology and Society, SHASS) and self-learning (led by MIT Library).
During the initial planning phase, NEET commissioned a global undergraduate engineering education benchmarking study. This report reverberated throughout the higher education community and generated world-wide interest. In response, MIT partnered with Olin College this April to host a first-of-its-kind Colloquium on the Global State of the Art in Engineering Education. Nearly 100 representatives participated including presidents, deans, faculty, academic staff and students from the 16 current and “emerging leader” colleges and universities identified globally through the study. Proceedings will be published in the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) journal, Advances in Engineering Education as a Special Issue. The participants have decided to continue this Colloquium as an annual event; University College London is hosting the next Colloquium during April 2020. That’s a great opportunity to disseminate NEET across our peer academic community. Two peer-reviewed technical papers on NEET were accepted for presentation and publication at the 2018 and 2019 ASEE Annual Conferences. The goal is to articulate and widely disseminate the positive outcomes of the NEET program through such channels so that it benefits the global education community.
The MIT student newspaper, The Tech, and student bloggers have also covered NEET favorably. NEET is already being acknowledged in academic and professional forums as an initiative that is worth watching. Peer-reviewed papers on NEET were presented recently at the 126th American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) annual conference in Tampa, Florida, and last year at the 125th ASEE annual conference in Salt Lake City, Utah . An op-ed piece authored by NEET leadership has been published in the July 2018 edition of Mechanical Engineering magazine, the flagship publication of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. The NEET-commissioned global study was covered in the May 2018 issue of Professional Engineer, the publication of the National Society of Professional Engineers. NEET was invited to present at Harvard University, Olin College, Eindhoven University of Technology, Netherlands, J-WEL Week, Cambridge, MA, University of Maryland, College Park, at the North American Materials Education Symposium, at the EU-US High Level Expert Meeting on Biotechnology, Brussels, and at London and several other venues.
Looking to the year ahead, the program continues to evolve. The three threads introduced in prior years were Autonomous Machines, Living Machines and Advanced Materials Machines. Two new threads are being launched this fall, Renewable Energy Machines and the first cross-School thread, Digital Cities; this thread will prepare students to plan and build technology for the public good by immersing them in the emerging intersection of urban science and planning with computer science. Implementing such threads where newly launched degree programs are partnering with the department of electrical engineering and computer science is of strategic interest; the experience could help inform the design of computing-related academic programs that may be offered with or by the recently announced MIT Stephen A. Schwarzman College of Computing. The other new thread, Renewable Energy Machines, is open to all majors --- another first --- and students in this thread will automatically get a minor in Energy Studies.
Prior to returning to MIT, Mitra was the founder-Dean, School of Engineering and Technology, BML Munjal University (BMU), Gurgaon, India from 2013-16 where he launched ‘Joy of Engineering’, a first-year hands-on course designed to get students excited about engineering and make them experience that it’s about problem identification and problem-solving. He continues to be an Honorary Professor at BMU. Before that he was the founder-President and Vice-Chancellor, Vivekananda Global University, Jaipur, India. When he assumed charge at VGU he became the fourth-generation vice-chancellor/academic institution leader in his family.
A proven international leader in delivering technology-enabled educational solutions in demanding environments, Mitra has successfully led entrepreneurial ventures involving 40 to 600 people as the Executive Director, Academic Media Production Services (AMPS), MIT, as the Senior Vice-President, Knowledge Solutions Business Unit, NIIT, Inc., and as the first Chief, Distance Learning Programs Unit (DLPU), Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS), Pilani, India. He has over twenty-eight years’ experience in institution building, higher education, corporate e-learning, and distance education. He is active in professional organizations and boards including those promoting the development and dissemination of new and strategic uses of technology in teaching and learning. He has presented at EDUCAUSE and NERCOMP and at other conferences.
Mitra’s strategic board-level leadership experience includes the following: Member, National Advisory Board, SPIC MACAY (Society for the Promotion of Indian Classical Music and Culture Amongst Youth), India; Member, NASSCOM Engineering R&D Talent Council, India; Member, NERCOMP Board of Trustees, USA; Founder member, Sakai Project Board, USA; Co-chairperson, Advisory Board, and member, Program & Research Council, Royal Roads University, Victoria, Canada, and; Founder member, Council of Governors, Pan Himalayan Grassroots Development Foundation, Ranikhet, India. He has been involved with other organizations, e.g., Collegiate School Advisory Board, India; Academic Advisory Board, IEC University, Solan, HP, India; Advisory Board, SPIC MACAY Rajasthan; Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) Rajasthan Panel on Education and Skill Development; Honorary Advisory Board, Neutrino IT Technologies, Ltd., Jaipur, India; Advisory Board, Lessonsmith, USA; Council Member, Gerson Lehman Group (GLG) Research, USA; Advisor, Guidepoint Global, USA and; Member, Gilfus Advisors, USA. Mitra was a member, India Strategy Working Group, MIT, USA; Consultant, Learning Technologies, Consulting Services for Education, Inc., Boston, MA, USA; Working Group on Collecting Teaching Data, convened by the Provost, MIT, USA; and, Co-convener, Sakai Working Group on Subject Evaluation, USA. He was on the International Program Committee, 20th World Conference on Open Learning and Distance Education, “The Future of Learning---Shaping the Transition”, Dusseldorf, International Council for Open and Distance Education (ICDE), April 2001 and participated in the first Planning Workshop, “Towards the Global Virtual University Alliance”, organized by the International Council for Open and Distance Education (ICDE), Barcelona, December 1998. He was a member of the BITS, Pilani faculty team that participated in the formulation of the National Policy on Education released by the Government of India in 1986; this led to his being one of the members of the authors team of a book titled, “Challenge and Response - Towards a New Education Policy & Beyond”, by C.R. Mitra & Associates, Wiley Eastern Limited, India, 1986.
Mitra studied at St. Columba’s School, New Delhi from where he graduated with distinction; he was a National Science Talent Scholar and was ranked all-India 36th. He was ranked 175th on the all-India merit list of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Joint Entrance Examinations. Mitra earned a B.E. (Honors), Chemical Engineering with Distinction (ranked third), and an M.Sc. (Honors) Chemistry (ranked second); both degrees were from the Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS), Pilani. Mitra earned a PhD in chemical engineering from BITS, Pilani, India; he was simultaneously a Visiting Engineer at the department of chemical engineering, MIT where he worked with Professor Adel Sarofim, the doyen of combustion engineering. His NIEHS-funded research at MIT focused on modelling and controlling the production of mutagenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons from coal combustion and led to peer-reviewed publications.
He was born in New York City and grew up in India. His wife Srirupa Mitra graduated high school from Loreto House, Kolkata, India and then earned her BA (Honors) in English and B.Ed. from Loreto College, University of Calcutta and MA (Honors) in English from Jadavpur University. She chaired the Board of the MIT Women’s League in 2017-18, the first South Asian to do so, and volunteers as an English teacher. They reside in Medford, MA and have two children, Abhi Mitra (Consultant at Altman Vilandrie, Boston; MIT ’14, major in economics, minor in brain & cognitive science, MIT varsity squash captain; BB&N ‘10, graduated summa-cum-laude, BB&N varsity squash captain) and Gautam Mitra (Colby College ’21, majoring in computer science and economics, Ralph Bunche Scholar, Dean’s List, Colby varsity squash team; BB&N ‘17, Chinese Prize, BB&N varsity squash co-captain). Both his children received the India New England News’ 20-Under-20 Stars Award. Mitra loves food, music, the intersects across people and technology, growing up with his children and playing squash.