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 Anette "Peko" Hosoi, associate dean of the MIT School of Engineering and Neil and Jane Pappalardo Professor of Mechanical 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.
NEET is already being acknowledged in academic and professional forums as an initiative that is worth watching. In 2018 Mitra has been an invited speaker at Eindhoven University of Technology, Netherlands; Abdul Latif Jameel World Education Lab (J-WEL) Week, MIT, Cambridge, MA; McMaster University, Ontario, Canada, and; University of Massachusetts, Lowell, MA. He co-authored a peer-reviewed paper on NEET that he presented at the 125th American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) annual conference held at Salt Lake City, Utah in June 2018. He has been invited to be on the ASEE Joint Panel on ‘Leveraging Experiential Education to Become an Emerging Engineering Education Leader --- Curriculum-Based Experiential Education Opportunities’, scheduled at the 126th ASEE national conference in Tampa, Florida during June 2019.
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 start-ups (as the founder-Dean of Engineering, BML Munjal University, 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 volunteers at MIT as a mentor for the MIT Sandbox Innovation Fund and for the 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.
NEET is still in its infancy; however, the initial signs are encouraging. Two pilot cross-departmental threads (pathways), Autonomous Machines and Living Machines were launched in Fall 2017; they were oversubscribed with 39 sophomores (nearly 5% of the sophomore engineering population) voluntarily opting in. Another 92 students representing over 12% of the sophomore engineering students have signed up for the second cohort that started this fall; those two threads have been offered again together with two new pilots, Advanced Materials Machines and Clean Energy Systems. These are significantly larger than the number of students that have typically tended to opt for many new academic programs in the past. The student newspaper, The Tech, and student bloggers have also covered NEET favorably in this short space of time.
NEET is being received favorably by the community external to MIT. General Motors is sponsoring the Autonomous Machines thread. 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, University of Massachusetts, Lowell, MA, McMaster University, Ontario, Canada, 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. MIT is proposing to build on this momentum by convening together with Olin College a first-of-its kind Colloquium on the Global State of the Art in Engineering Education, in 2019. The invitees are the 16 current and emerging global leaders identified through the MIT NEET-commissioned undergraduate engineering education benchmarking study. The proceedings of this Colloquium will be published in ASEE’s Advances in Engineering Education as a Special Issue.
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. 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, Kolkata, India. She volunteers as an English teacher at the MIT Women’s League and served on its board for several years and as the Board Chair in 2017-18. 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 2018, Charles A Dana Scholar Award 2018, 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.