MIT Media Lab names Dava Newman as new director

MIT’s famous Media Lab, the multidisciplinary idea factory that produces many a fascinating invention and influential thinker, has found a new director in its backyard after scouring the globe for candidates. Dava Newman, MIT professor of aeronautics and astronautics and former deputy administrator of NASA under Obama, will helm the intellectual hub.

The Media Lab is famed for its freewheeling techno-intellectual prowess, but for more than a year has been leaderless following the resignation of former head Joi Ito. Ito resigned when it was discovered that billionaire and alleged child sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein had given funding and reportedly received special treatment and access to the Media Lab under his leadership.

The ensuing leadership search no doubt looked for, if not exactly new blood (Newman has been involved with MIT for decades) then certainly a break from the past. Out of 60 candidates, they interviewed 13 and ended up picking Newman for a variety of reasons.

“In a field of outstanding candidates, Professor Newman stood out for her pioneering research, wide range of multidisciplinary engagements, and exemplary leadership. She is a designer, a thinker, a maker, an engineer, an educator, a mentor, a convener, a communicator, a futurist, a humanist and, importantly, an optimist,” wrote Dean Hashim Sarkis in a letter announcing the appointment.

Coincidentally (or is it?), Newman just last week was a speaker at TC Sessions: Space, where she seemed to give a preview of her new responsibilities talking about the importance of inclusion in major efforts like NASA’s Artemis.

“It’s going to bring the scientists and engineers together, but we need the artists, we need the designers, they’re the visionaries,” she said. (If you missed the event, you can watch this and all our other panels on Extra Crunch.)

Newman seems to be starting off the job by emphasizing one of the best qualities a leader should have: listening to the people she’ll be leading.

“I plan to start by doing a lot of listening and learning,” she said in the MIT announcement. “I like to meet people where they are, and to encourage them to put all their great ideas on the table. I think that’s the best way to go forward, working with the whole community — faculty, students and staff — to tap into everyone’s creativity. I can’t wait to get started.”