‘Secular sermons,’ straight to your phone

first_imgAre fitness chains modern-day cults? Should efficiency be a moral value? How is our obsession with weight connected to Adam and Eve?Few, if any, of these questions would occur to the average American. As religious affiliation has continued to retreat in the U.S., so has the religious literacy that once informed how we interpret our culture. But Zachary Davis, M.T.S. ’19, a producer at HarvardX and host of the podcast “Ministry of Ideas,” would like to change how we understand religion’s place in the 21st century. And he’s doing it, one episode at a time.An initiative of the Religious Literacy Project at Harvard Divinity School, “Ministry of Ideas” has garnered the acclaim of outlets such as BuzzFeed and The Guardian, the latter calling it “Simply the best podcast out right now.” Now halfway through its second season, the podcast releases 15- to 30-minute episodes every other week, each tackling a significant idea in society.Davis sat down with the Gazette to discuss his podcast and how religious literacy can help everyone from Evangelicals to atheists be better citizens.Q&AZachary DavisGAZETTE: Tell me about your path to the Divinity School.DAVIS: I grew up in a devout Mormon home in southern Utah. There are no paid clergy in Mormonism, it’s all volunteers from the congregation. No one goes to seminary or divinity school. In fact, I was taught that divinity schools were places of dangerous speculation on the road to atheism.At 19, I went on my two-year mission to southern Spain and afterward I went to Brigham Young University to study political science. My first job out of college was the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Junior Fellowship in Washington, D.C. For a full year, I was surrounded by a lot of really smart, formerly hopeful people who would work their whole lives on a hoped-for policy goal and then see it smashed with an election loss. That reoriented me to try to live a meaningful life that didn’t depend on forces that I can’t control. I decided to become an educator, to help provide intellectual tools so that people could empower themselves.That all aligned when I started working at HarvardX. My first project was with Divinity School Professor Laura Nasrallah. I didn’t really know what the Divinity School did, but when I started working with her and Diane Moore, who is the director of the Religious Literacy Project, I started realizing that I was drawn to that way of thinking and their commitment to applying their knowledge for the betterment of the world.GAZETTE: How did you come up with “Ministry of Ideas”?DAVIS: At HarvardX, I saw firsthand the power of technology to expand access to knowledge across the globe. I’d been thinking for years about the best way I could expand access to humanities education, and the joy and excitement of working with Harvard faculty inspired me to start an educational podcast. “Being a citizen is a sacred calling, and we can’t be faithful to it if we don’t have the historical knowledge and intellectual tools to exercise good judgment.” When I first came up with the idea for the show in December 2016, I pitched it to the Boston Globe Ideas section as a simple interview show. One of the editors, Alex Kingsbury, had a background in radio, and he encouraged me to make the show more scripted and sonically rich. The Globe also helped me come up with the name, because they got a kick out of the fact that I saw the spread of important ideas as an almost religious ministry. They publish essay versions of our episodes and generally help promote the show to their audience.The show is in part a response to President Trump’s election, because his whole campaign, I thought, was founded upon bad ideas. We need to have a better grasp of where our ideas come from and how they are manipulated by other forces, so that when we are called to evaluate something, we’re ready to do the duty of a citizen. Being a citizen is a sacred calling, and we can’t be faithful to it if we don’t have the historical knowledge and intellectual tools to exercise good judgment.GAZETTE: What makes a podcast ideal for teaching religious literacy?DAVIS: Mass media is the primary vehicle to communicate wisdom, knowledge, and community, and this is especially true for podcasts. They preserve the power of the spoken voice, with all of its rhetorical and performative qualities; they let you feel an intimacy with another human being wherever you are. You can be listening in the privacy of your headphones while at the same time there can be thousands and even millions of other people listening to the same thing. So it does create a community, and podcast fans can be cult-like in their devotion. There’s something going on there that I think is pretty interesting about how much more connected people can get to ideas when they are delivered through the voice. After thousands of years of textual primacy as the vehicle for knowledge, we’re returning voice as an important form of academic learning. That’s the hope, that we can marry academic rigor with sonic pleasure.,GAZETTE: Religion has been on the decline in the U.S. for decades. Does the country need a new enlightenment or just more religious literacy?DAVIS: You need to be religiously literate to understand politics in America, because religious groups exert so much influence. If you understand Evangelical apocalyptic theology, you can understand that Trump pledging to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem mattered more than anything else to them, much more than his affairs. Same with his talk of ending the Iran nuclear deal [the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action]. They don’t necessarily want peace: The end times predicts turmoil and tribulation. When we better understand why different communities believe the way they do, we’re going to have an easier time coming to democratic compromise.Ultimately, we’re trying to empower people to be more critical about religion. We would like to persuade people that religion is more than just metaphysical propositions. Religion is a way of orienting values and communities and you can appreciate that even if you yourself don’t practice. That appreciation may help you think of secular forms that are compatible with some of those same goals. But in terms of providing community and solace, I don’t see anything replacing religion.GAZETTE: The podcast is rife with religious concepts even when not discussing religious ideas. How do you strike a balance between treating these ideas objectively and using the podcast as a vehicle to teach religious literacy?DAVIS: We’re coming from three traditions. Our show is about the history of ideas and why we think the way we do about important topics. We also draw from the tradition of cultural criticism or critical theory, which tries to rigorously examine what is good and bad for human flourishing. But the third tradition that we draw from is the church sermon. One way I have described what we’re doing is giving secular sermons. At its best, a sermon calls forth better versions of its listeners — it condemns and asks them to be better — but it also offers hope and strength, and I think the spirit of our show is using history to help you critically evaluate the ideas that you probably take for granted but all come from somewhere.GAZETTE: I love the idea of secular sermons. What is the “Gospel” that you take your ideas from and that guides these sermons?DAVIS: The show is driven by a belief that all humans should have access to a fair chance at flourishing, and that while power isn’t evil on its own, it’s very susceptible to being manipulated for its own ends. We’re enduringly interested in critiquing the expansion of market logic into matters of human relationships. The episode on efficiency is pretty near and dear to me because a culture that subordinates nearly everything to the needs of the economy is a historical development. We take it for granted when people are called human capital, but it’s actually deeply offensive.The other gospel would be that love is not a ridiculous value to live by. We don’t talk about it in our secular context, but it’s very different to use love to direct a lot of your decision-making as opposed to using a value like professional success or economic needs. If we could find ways of incorporating the idea of love into more things, I think we’d have a society that’s better suited for our emotional and psychic needs. “A culture that subordinates nearly everything to the needs of the economy is a historical development. We take it for granted when people are called human capital, but it’s actually deeply offensive.” And, finally, justice. We have an episode on the history of cannibalism and how the label of cannibalism was used to justify the enslavement of millions. Working on this really taught me some powerful lessons about how labels can end up doing far more damage than the thing you’re afraid of. Being aware of long periods of historical injustice can help clarify contemporary challenges and problems. If wisdom is the ability to keep a big picture without getting lost in the details, then anyone working toward justice really has to be attentive to history.GAZETTE: How do you identify an idea that needs to be re-examined?DAVIS: We’re driven to try to reveal the significant ideas that actually make a difference to our lives. Although we’re looking at history, we’re almost always trying to connect it to contemporary concerns. We’re certainly not afraid to take positions; any preacher has to be willing to take a stand. I think that the ideal of the centrist, neutral commentator is a problem because it can end up simply sustaining an unjust status quo. We look for how a particular idea or concept plays out in real life and whether it seems to promote what I’ve been calling flourishing but what is essentially a mixture of fairness, justice, happiness, and virtue.If I could succeed at anything, it would be to rehabilitate vital religious terms and concepts in a way that can be adopted by our secular polity. For a long time, secularism had the better side of the argument in the public sphere, but — and maybe it’s my own bias — I think we’re closer to realizing that religion wasn’t just about trying to explain the origin of the world, but instead was about the creation of a common welfare and shared myths that could bind us together. We’re in desperate need of those, and there are many people at the Divinity School interested in what new forms this can take.My agenda is not necessarily to get everyone to go back to church — I don’t think I could — but people should be aware of its social function, and they shouldn’t be scared to have a worldview that includes ideas of love, goodness, redemption, and grace.This interview has been edited for clarity and length.Episodes of “Ministry of Ideas” can be found on their website and podcast .last_img read more

The beetles have landed

first_imgOver the span of 90 years, banker and philanthropist David Rockefeller collected beetles from around the world, eventually building a personal collection of more than 150,000 specimens.In 2017, his longstanding support for the Entomology Department of the Harvard University Museum of Comparative Zoology (MCZ) culminated in a gift to the museum of this extraordinary collection.The Harvard Museum of Natural History celebrates this monumental gift with “The Rockefeller Beetles,” a new exhibit that features hundreds of the specimens and recounts the story of a man whose childhood pursuit grew into a lifelong passion.A selection from ‘The Rockefeller Beetles’ exhibit at the Harvard Museum of Natural History. Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff PhotographerIt was a summer tutor who encouraged Rockefeller in that area in 1925, and he began collecting a wide variety of insects. He eventually focused on beetles, and spent a lifetime exploring their extraordinary diversity, said MCZ’s entomology curator Brian Farrell, who traced Rockefeller’s collecting career.One out of every four animal species on the planet is a beetle, an abundance likely tied to their association with flowering plants, Farrell said in a 2017 Gazette interview.“The collection is superb, worldwide, and the biggest collection ever donated to Harvard University’s Museum of Comparative Zoology as far as we know,” he added.“The Rockefeller Beetles” opens Saturday at the Harvard Museum of Natural History and will be ongoing. See the related 2017 free public lecture by Brian D. Farrell with an introduction by Harvard Professor Emeritus Edward O. Wilson.last_img read more

Good fat vs. bad fat vs. high carb vs. low carb

first_imgWhich is better, a low-fat/high-carbohydrate diet or a high-fat/low-carbohydrate diet — or is it the type of fat that matters? In a new paper featured on the cover of Science magazine’s special issue on nutrition, researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston Children’s Hospital, and colleagues with diverse expertise and perspectives on the issues laid out the case for each position and came to a consensus and a future research agenda.The researchers agreed that no specific fat-to-carbohydrate ratio is best for everyone, and that an overall high-quality diet that is low in sugar and refined grains will help most people maintain a healthy weight and lower chronic disease risk.“This is a model for how we can transcend the diet wars,” said lead author David Ludwig, professor in the Department of Nutrition at Harvard Chan School and a physician at Boston Children’s Hospital. “Our goal was to assemble a team with different areas of expertise and contrasting views, and to identify areas of agreement without glossing over differences.”The review was published online today in Science.The authors laid out the evidence for three contrasting positions on dietary guidelines for fat and carbohydrate consumption:High consumption of fat causes obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and possibly cancer, therefore low-fat diets are optimal.Processed carbohydrates have negative effects on metabolism; lower-carbohydrate or ketogenic (very-low-carbohydrate) diets with high fat content are better for health.The relative quantity of dietary fat and carbohydrate has little health significance — what’s important is the type of fat or carbohydrate source consumed.They agreed that by focusing on diet quality — replacing saturated or trans fats with unsaturated fats and replacing refined carbohydrates with whole grains and nonstarchy vegetables — most people can maintain good health within a broad range of fat-to-carbohydrate ratios.Within their areas of disagreement, the authors identified a list of questions that they said can form the basis of a new nutrition research agenda, including:Do different carbohydrate-to-fat ratios affect body composition (ratio of fat to lean tissue) regardless of caloric intake?Do ketogenic diets provide metabolic benefits beyond those of moderate carbohydrate restriction, especially for diabetes?What are the optimal amounts of specific types of fat (including saturated fat) in a very-low-carbohydrate diet?Finding the answers to these questions, the researchers said, will ultimately lead to more effective nutrition recommendations. Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard Chan School, is a co-author.Ludwig was supported in part by a career award from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (K24DK082730). Ludwig, Willett, and Jeff Volek received royalties for books about obesity and nutrition that include recommendations on dietary fat. Volek is a founder, stockholder, and consultant for VirtaHealth Corp. and a member of the advisory boards for Atkins Nutritionals Inc., UCAN Co., and Axcess Global.last_img read more

New dean for Graduate School of Design

first_img Related Harvard’s GSD selects architects for proposed expansion Mostafavi to step down as GSD dean A graduate of Yale College, Whiting earned her M.Arch. degree from Princeton and her Ph.D. in architectural history, theory, and criticism from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Early in her career, she practiced with the architects Rem Koolhaas, Peter Eisenman, and Michael Graves.In announcing the appointment, Bacow expressed thanks to the “many members of the GSD community — faculty, students, staff, alumni — who offered thoughtful advice during the search. Provost Alan Garber and I are grateful to all of you — and especially to our faculty advisory committee, whose members provided valuable counsel throughout. Special thanks go again to Mohsen Mostafavi, whose devoted service as dean these past 11-plus years has guided the GSD’s continuing leadership and progress.”“Sarah Whiting is an exemplary academic leader and colleague. Her intellectual commitment to design education has enhanced the future of practice,” Mostafavi said. “I am delighted that she will be returning to the GSD to help shape the next phase of this incredible School’s journey.” Project designed to advance School’s commitment to cross-disciplinary collaboration and innovation Praised for ‘imagination, energy, and dedication,’ he will depart post at close of academic year Sarah Whiting, a leading scholar, educator, and architect widely respected for her commitment to integrating design theory and practice, has been named dean of the Graduate School of Design (GSD), Harvard President Lawrence S. Bacow announced today.A Harvard GSD faculty member early in her career, Whiting has served since 2010 as dean of the Rice University School of Architecture, where she is the William Ward Watkin Professor of Architecture. She is also co-founder and partner of WW Architecture, a firm she launched with her partner, Ron Witte, in 1999.Whiting will assume the GSD deanship on July 1, 2019, succeeding Mohsen Mostafavi, who is stepping down after more than 11 years of distinguished service.“Sarah Whiting is an outstanding leader with broad interests that range across the design disciplines and beyond,” said Bacow in announcing the appointment. “She has a keen understanding of the intellectual dimensions of design and its distinctive power to shape the world of ideas. And she has an equally keen understanding of design as a force for shaping the communities we inhabit and for engaging with some of contemporary society’s hardest challenges. I have been deeply impressed by her during the course of the search, and I greatly look forward to welcoming her back to Harvard.”“The GSD has long been a center of gravity for my thinking and actions, and I’m thrilled to be returning,” Whiting said. “It is altogether tantalizing to look across the School’s three departments, with their individual and collective capacities to shape new horizons within Gund Hall. And it’s even more enticing to envision working with the GSD’s remarkable faculty, students, staff, and alumni to help imagine and create new futures for the world, not just at Harvard but beyond.”As dean at Rice, Whiting said she has been guided by an overarching commitment to “dissolving the divide between architecture as an intellectual endeavor and architecture as a form of engaged practice.” She has led efforts to reform the curriculum, introduce innovative studio options, recruit new faculty, boost funding for research and course development, enhance facilities, and raise new resources.Her interests are broadly interdisciplinary, with the built environment at their core. An expert in architectural theory and urbanism, she has particular interests in architecture’s relationship with politics, economics, and society and how the built environment shapes the nature of public life. Her work has been published in leading journals and collections, and she is the founding editor of Point, a book series aimed at shaping contemporary discussions in architecture and urbanism.In recent years, Whiting has been recognized as an educator of the year by the publication DesignIntelligence (2014, 2018), by Architectural Record magazine’s Women in Architecture program (2017), and by the Houston chapter of the American Institute of Architects (2016).“Sarah Whiting has earned an extraordinary reputation as dean of the School of Architecture at Rice, where she has pursued educational innovations while building connections across the university,” said Provost Alan Garber. “She is similarly committed to strengthening connections across the departments of the GSD and between the GSD and the rest of Harvard. At a time when the role of design is increasingly important, and when design education and practice face an array of challenges, her creativity, wisdom, and leadership experience will help the GSD navigate the changing demands of the design professions and the evolving interests of our faculty and students. She is the right person to lead the School forward.”Besides heading the School of Architecture at Rice, Whiting has held many leadership roles at the university, chairing search committees for the dean of graduate studies, the dean of humanities, and the director of Rice’s Moody Center for the Arts. She sits with the Rice board of trustees’ buildings and grounds design subcommittee and also has been active in the university’s efforts to engage with its home city of Houston.Before becoming dean at Rice in 2010, Whiting served on the Princeton architecture faculty as assistant professor from 2005 to 2009. From 1999 to 2005, she was a design critic, assistant professor, and associate professor in the Harvard GSD Department of Architecture. She has also taught at the Illinois Institute of Technology, the University of Kentucky, and the University of Florida.last_img read more

Opening the door for scientific leaps

first_img Star Family Challenge supports cutting-edge research projects Inquiring minds rewarded Related Funding the futurecenter_img Star Family Challenge backs big ideas in language, health, and astronomy Research administration services at the Faculty of Arts and Sciences last week named nine Harvard researchers as the 2019 winners of the Star-Friedman Challenge for Promising Scientific Research.The Harvard researchers selected for awards were Benjamin de Bivort, James Crall, Jennifer Hoffman, Noel Michele Holbrook, David Keith, Boris Kozinsky, Samuel Myers, Ann Pearson, and Joost Vlassak.The award provides seed money for high-risk, high-reward research that is unlikely to be funded through traditional grant programs in the physical, life, and social sciences because it is seen as too novel or risky.“It’s important to do something that provides the opportunity to do more, to think differently, to take risks, [and] to do innovations that aren’t right at the edge of ongoing normal science, but that open the door for a bigger potential leap,” said Lawrence Bobo, the W.E.B. Du Bois Professor of the Social Sciences and dean of social science, at the award ceremony for the fund in University Hall. “That, I think, is the inspiration and the beauty and the success of the Star-Friedman Challenge.”The researchers are working on four projects, which range from making one of the world’s smallest flying machines to opening a new lane of research in the study of climate change to developing groundbreaking technology that conducts electricity with 100 percent efficiency to an investigation into how environmental change affects bees.“The kind of projects that are selected are chosen because of their tremendous opportunity, not because they look like anything that’s been done before,” said Randy Buckner, a professor of psychology and neuroscience in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and Harvard Medical School and chairman of the faculty review committee that selects the projects. “In celebrating the winners today and hearing about their proposals, we’re telling our students —we’re telling our community —that we value innovation.”The Challenge was created in 2013 by the Star family with a $10 million gift at the suggestion of James A. Star ’83. It was formerly known as the Star Family Challenge for Promising Scientific Research and awarded funds to researchers from FAS and the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS).This year, with support from a $10 million gift from Josh Friedman ’76, M.B.A. ’80, J.D. ’82, and Beth Friedman, the Challenge expanded to include faculty at both Harvard Medical School and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and changed its name to the Star-Friedman Challenge.,As part of the ceremony, the researchers made short presentations about their work.De Bivort, the Thomas D. Cabot Associate Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology (FAS); Holbrook, Charles Bullard Professor of Forestry and professor of organismic and evolutionary biology (FAS); Myers, principal research scientist for the Planetary Health Alliance (Harvard Chan School); and Crall, Rockefeller Foundation Planetary Health Alliance Fellow in Organismic and Evolutionary Biology (FAS) are working on a project that will adapt tools from behavioral neuroscience and machine learning to study how environmental changes, like increased concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide, are affecting bees and their pollination of key food crops. The project could help design technology to support bees and other insects in their pollination.Jennifer Hoffman, professor of physics and applied physics (FAS), and Boris Kozinsky, associate professor of computational materials science (SEAS), are searching for a way to create room-temperature superconductivity — a technology that conducts electricity without releasing heat. Superconductors could help reduce energy loss in electric power generation, transmission, and storage, helping decrease global carbon dioxide emissions and slow climate change. Currently, there are no known materials that superconduct at ambient temperature and pressure.David Keith, the Gordon McKay Professor of Applied Physics (SEAS) and professor of public policy (HKS), and Joost Vlassak, Abbott and James Lawrence Professor of Materials Engineering (SEAS), are hoping to build a nano-size self-levitating device, based on the principles of photophoresis — the phenomenon that causes dust and other small particles to float. If successful, these devices could create a new class of microscale atmospheric sensors.Ann Pearson, the Murray and Martha Ross Professor of Environmental Sciences (FAS), hopes to use an organism known as the Thaumarchaeota and the chemical signals it leaves in marine sediments to shed light on a topic essential to climate research: the relationship between Earth’s temperature and the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The ice-core records that have shown higher carbon dioxide levels correlating to a warmer Earth are limited to the age of Earth’s oldest ice cores, which are only about a million years old — a tiny fraction of the Earth’s history. Pearson and her lab hope her approach with the Thaumarchaeota will allow them to go further back.Also, as part of the ceremony, past winner Paola Arlotta, Golub Family Professor of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology at FAS, shared an update on her 2015 project exploring the development of human cerebral organoids grown from stem cells taken from a human skin sample.last_img read more

A captain for our planet

first_imgThis is one in a series of profiles showcasing some of Harvard’s stellar graduates.As a kid, Christina Chang was already a mini-sustainability activist. She recycled and reused. She turned lights off in empty rooms. She screened  “Captain Planet and the Planeteers” at her school on Earth Day. And, for two years in high school, she showered sustainability-style, turning the water on just long enough to get wet, then lather up, and rinse off under a quick burst of cold water.“I was unwarrantedly stoically proud of my extreme shower practices,” Chang said, “until I learned about the order of magnitude that is needed to make a real difference.”Most individuals won’t clench through two years of sustainability showers. But it doesn’t matter. Compared to industrial production, livestock farms, and highways jammed with cars, a cold shower won’t foot the climate bill. That power gap might deflate the most ardent environmentalist, but for Chang, it was a call to action: Instead of just changing her behavior, she set out to change the aluminum and steel mills, coal plants, and concrete and plastic industries.“I realized that my habits as an individual will not make a big enough difference to matter,” Chang said, “but maybe my inventions could.”As an undergraduate at Princeton University, she invented a water decontamination process. As a master’s student and Marshall Scholar at Cambridge University, she created a new solar-to-hydrogen technology. Then, as a chemistry Ph.D. candidate in the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) Chang was working in the lab of  Roy Gordon, the Thomas Dudley Cabot professor of chemistry and professor of materials science, when she co-invented a method that could enable the production of cheaper, longer-lasting solar panels that can be mass produced at a rate of a few feet per minute.“Switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy has many benefits,” Chang said, “but it’s still somewhat expensive for the majority of people.” Her invention could drop the price and speed production. “I realized that my habits as an individual will not make a big enough difference to matter, but maybe my inventions could.” — Christina Chang, Ph.D. ’20 Yet that was still not enough. Chang filled her nights and weekends chasing curiosities that extended beyond her Ph.D. work and even beyond her discipline. When she learned how much carbon dioxide the steel industry emits — production generates between 7 and 9 percent of global emissions, according to steel industry figures — she invented a sustainable chemical steel manufacturing process that could decrease those emissions. Her side project won the 2019 President’s Innovation Challenge Ingenuity Award for ideas with potential to be world-changing. “The only way [the world] gets better,” said Harvard President Larry Bacow in his introductory remarks at the award ceremony, “is if good people like you are willing to make it so.”Chang is willing and more than able. At Harvard, she was president of the chemistry department’s Graduate Student and Postdoctoral Council for two years and then president of the Energy Journal Club for another two.Curious about psychological techniques to promote sustainability, she co-founded a cross-disciplinary conference called “Nudging Toward a Cleaner Future.” In March, she received her Ph.D. in chemistry, surprising no one.“[Professor Roy Gordon] graciously gave me the freedom to direct and develop my own interests, from my solar panel research to my professional interests like teaching and machine shop training,” said Christina Chang. Roy, who was also Chang’s mentor and adviser, is pictured here at her thesis party. Courtesy photoThough Chang decided to devote her life to sustainable technology at 19, that wasn’t her first unshakable commitment. At age 12, she decided to become fluent in Spanish and, with help from the Spanish-speaking residents in her native Austin, Texas, she did.At Harvard, to maintain a self-imposed rule to practice Spanish (and French) at least once every week, she co-organized GSAS Spanish and French language tables for fellow linguaphiles. Recently, her Spanish skills faced a high-stakes test.Two years ago, she found a new devotion: rock climbing, which she said taught her to plan for risk and prepare back-up systems for inevitable failures.In January, after defending her dissertation, Chang packed a backpack with clothes, anti-malarial pills, rock-climbing gear, sunblock, her passport, and 12 Clif Bars, and flew to Peru on a one-way ticket. When people asked if she felt safe as a woman traveling alone in Latin America, she said, “I hang off sheer rock faces — this trip is way less scary.”,From January to March, Chang backpacked alone through rural Latin America. She climbed volcanic cliffs in Peru and scaled 1,200-foot canyons in Mexico. In Guatemala, she taught chemistry to middle schoolers and installed ventilated “eco-stoves,” which improve respiratory health over traditional open-fire cooking.In the Peruvian Amazon, she joined Harvard Professor Joost Vlassak as a teaching assistant for his course on sustainability challenges. Together with Professor Carlos Rios from Peru’s University of Engineering and Technology, they took undergraduate students deep into the rainforest to talk to informal miners, who extract gold from the Amazon river’s basin with methods toxic to their soil and health, helping them to find safer methods.“If we’re going to help invent solutions for folks in the developing world,” Chang said, “we have to understand a little bit about what life is like there and not just assume we know what the problems are.”In mid-March, the COVID-19 pandemic forced Chang to cut her trip short, and she flew home to shelter in place.Soon, whether in person or virtually, she will begin her Department of Energy ARPA-E Fellowship. There she will develop sustainable technologies for industries that collectively account for one-third of global energy use — concrete, steel, aluminum, pulp and paper, plastics and chemicals.“For example,” Chang said, “if we could develop a technology eliminating the carbon footprint of steelmaking, we would save over 5 percent of global CO2 emissions. If steelmaking were a country, its emissions would rank fourth in the world, just below India and above Russia.“In spite of my naive sustainability fanaticism as a kid,” Chang continued, “today I don’t proselytize or chastise or advocate for everyone with the privilege of a career choice to adopt sustainability as their pet cause. My vision for the world is one where we lower our carbon footprint not through ground-up, individual actions, but by creating systems that make sustainability automatic, so that people can go about their lives and do the jobs they are called to do — doctoring, lawyering, homemaking — without needing to add sustainability to their list of worries.”Unlike Captain Planet, Chang no longer tries to save the world one small act at a time; instead, she’s helping to build a world that no longer needs saving.last_img read more

Empowering the Business to Come Out of the Shadow IT

first_imgFirst we called it shadow IT. Then it was rogue IT. Now, we refer to it euphemistically as business-managed IT (BMIT). No matter what you call it, the longstanding problem of business groups buying, building and deploying IT solutions without company authorization presents the same challenges to IT executives everywhere.In some cases, it could mean that business-sensitive information is being used and shared without proper security controls, sometimes in external environments. It often leads to fragmented architecture, a lack of integration and inconsistent and ineffective management of vendor contracts. It also increases overall costs, complexity and may create a “double standard” between IT and business-implemented solutions. And it is a practice that is on the rise across a wide range of industries, as cloud technology has evolved.No longer limited to resorting to stealth servers under someone’s desk, the business now has easy access to a growing number of Internet-based providers offering nearly unlimited IT capabilities in the public cloud. But we in IT also have more options than ever to turn this headache into a business-empowering opportunity. It’s not like business leaders’ reasons for using BMIT aren’t good ones. They are under increased pressure to drive top line revenue ASAP. They want new capabilities, and more agile IT tools. At the end of the day, business leaders’ choice to use BMIT is about faster time to market and better control.The good news is that enterprise IT organizations have also transformed with cloud technology, and new, in-house IT models can now compete with outside cloud providers to give the business the capabilities it wants, at competitive cost and in shorter cycle times.What we in IT need to do is be proactive in showing the business that we can not only meet their needs in a more agile way, but also do it better than outside vendors. Our IT solutions are scalable, secure and efficient. We bring a great understanding of business processes, and we know how to integrate the multiple technologies needed to enable many capabilities. We understand the data architecture and we have expertise in IT vendor management.What’s more, since we have a highly optimized private cloud infrastructure and don’t have to make a profit, in many cases, we can provide such capabilities cheaper than outside vendors. And where using outside resources makes sense, we can work with the business to leverage those options as well, acting as a “broker–agent” to negotiate the smartest and most cost effective deal.At EMC, we are now building applications that are cloud-enabled and that can be hosted on an internal or external cloud. We’ve also developed the ability to migrate seamlessly between clouds to create a hybrid cloud approach.And to give the business more control and flexibility in using these expanded capabilities, we are implementing a user-focused, IT-as-a-Service model which allows business users to “buy” what they need — like Business-Intelligence-as-a-Service and Infrastructure-as-a-Service.It’s all about proactively engaging and empowering the business by creating a framework that allows it to experiment in a way that helps drive innovation and accelerates time to market and time to value together.BMIT is here and it’s not going away. So don’t kid yourself by thinking that you don’t have such a challenge in your organization. Believe me, you do.Given this reality, it’s up to us as IT professionals to seize this opportunity to demonstrate how we can add differentiated value by turning BMIT into business-empowered IT.last_img read more

What’s the Best Predictor of Success with IT Transformation?

first_imgOn the road to IT-as-a-Service, transforming your IT infrastructure and applications is the easy part, comparatively speaking, that is. The really tough part is transforming the people and processes, and it’s also what differentiates the most successful IT transformations.So you’ve virtualized your environment, set up your on-premises private cloud and connected it with a public cloud solution. You have a hybrid cloud up and running and you’re on your way to delivering IT-as-a-Service. Now that you have the hardware and software operating, how do you get your people operating in a new way – with new processes and structure — that allows your business to capitalize on the new IT agenda to deliver more business value than ever before?Chances are your IT department is skilled and organized around delivering component technology, while your lines of business could care less about the technology – they just want IT services and applications to help them get their work done. If they’re not getting that from their IT department, they go outside the company for these services, bypassing IT altogether. A September 2014 Gartner Group report showed that 40% of IT budgets are being spent by business partners outside of IT – marketing, sales, HR and finance, to name a few. They go around traditional IT departments not so much because of cost, but because of the immediacy, convenience and simplicity of the service experience with a 3rd party.IT:  It’s time to carve out part of your organization and retrain, retool, and retitle, as many IT responsibilities move from the back office to the front office. EMC’s Global Services teams have helped accelerate thousands of IT transformations for our customers, and a new operating model has been a critical element in the most successful ones, including our own EMC IT transformation. Jon Peirce, SVP of EMC IT, shares a bit of our own experience in his blog.What does the new IT department look like?The new operational model focuses first on identifying the business needs of your company’s various functions, and then supplying IT services to meet those needs. This demand-and-supply model is what EMC is adopting for its own IT operations. We will have IT business relationship managers aligned to key business functions. Job descriptions will call for people who understand business, have great interpersonal and communications skills, can proactively identify technology solutions for their internal customers’ problems, and then collaborate with others to build or broker the solution.Also, with the silos breaking down on the technology side, we will need our people to have a broader understanding of multiple IT components. There will always be a place for those with deep technical knowledge in one area, but increasingly, we will need people to widen their perspective.So you may have a “demand center” made up business relationship managers who translate the business needs into IT solutions, and a “service center” that supplies these solutions back to the business. But it all starts with business needs – not the technology.Questions to ask yourselfMuch of this sounds simple, but in reality, there are layers of tough questions you’ll need to engage your stakeholders in answering. How do we assess our talent’s current capabilities? Do they have what it takes to transform? Can we retrain our current talent? Who will the business relationship managers report to – the business function or IT? How many will we need for each function? How will they engage with the business functions and with IT? Who pays for what? How do we operate the current IT organization while we are building the new model?  Knowing what questions to ask is just the beginning.The new IT agenda presents a great opportunity for IT leaders to be more relevant to their business than ever before, but it takes some courage to stand up and help your own business leaders understand the new value you can bring to them.If you’ve already gone through this with your business leaders, use the comment box below to tell us how you addressed this and got their attention. If you’re going through it right now, what questions do you have that I, or others reading this blog, might help you with?last_img read more

California: Criminal rings loot billions in jobless funds

first_imgLOS ANGELES (AP) — California officials say hackers, identity thieves and overseas criminal rings stole an estimated $11.4 billion in unemployment benefits from California last year. But the extent of the fraud might grow far larger: billions more in jobless payments are under investigation. California Labor Secretary Julie Su told reporters in a conference call Monday that of the $114 billion the state has paid in unemployment claims, about 10% has been confirmed as fraudulent. Nearly $20 billion more is considered suspicious. Su says the state did not have sufficient security measures in place and criminals took advantage of the gaps.last_img read more

Biden oath second only to Reagan and Obama with TV viewers

first_imgNEW YORK (AP) — The first inaugurations of Presidents Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama were the only ones to exceed Joe Biden’s in popularity among television viewers over the past 40 years. The Nielsen company says 33.8 million people watched Biden’s inauguration between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Wednesday. The top inaugural was Reagan’s in 1981, which was seen by 41.8 million people. Obama’s first oath-taking reached 37.8 million. Biden also beat predecessor Donald Trump, whose 2017 inauguration was seen by 30.6 million. Football was big for the week. The pro football conference championship games each brought more than 40 million people to their televisions over the weekend.last_img read more