The MIT Media Lab has added 11 members to the diverse group of visionary innovators and leaders it calls the Director’s Fellows.
Now in its seventh year, the Director’s Fellows program links a vast array of creators, advocates, artists, scientists, educators, philosophers, and others to the lab. The goal of the program is for the fellows to get involved in the lab’s work, bringing new perspectives, ideas, and knowledge to projects and initiatives.
Conversely, the fellows spread insights, knowledge, and work of the lab out into the world, giving it exposure in spaces as varied as fashion, human rights, and sports.
“My intention was to bring a wide range of voices into the Media Lab that we might not otherwise hear, because I firmly believe that technology and engineering alone cannot address the complexity of the challenges we face in today’s world,” says Joi Ito, director of the Media Lab. “Addressing an issue as complex as climate change or public health require solutions involving philosophy and politics and anthropology — a range of knowledge, skills, and talents that we don’t necessarily have at the lab.”
With the addition of this year’s fellows, the Director’s Fellows network will be 70-ish persons strong. The fellows may collaborate on projects with students and faculty, serve as advisers, bring a project idea into the lab, or work on projects together. Those living abroad may participate in Media Lab workshops and other offsite events.
Fellows have a formal affiliation with the lab for two years, but the hope is that the network continues to flourish after that period ends. “Our intention is to keep them as close as possible, both to each other and to the lab,” says Claudia Robaina, the program’s director. “They are great resources for us and for each other, a huge network of collaborators.”
The fellows this year are as diverse as ever, although Robaina says there is perhaps a greater diversity of age than in the typical class. Among them are a career police officer, a freestyle skateboarder, and a physician.
The Media Lab’s 2019 Directors Fellows are listed below.
Jaylen Brown, an NBA basketball player with the Boston Celtics, has a wide range of interests, including history, finance, technology, and meditation. Considered an innovator by his peers, he entered the NBA draft in 2016 without an agent, and a year later created a stir by pulling together a networking event for rookie players at the NBA Summer League, which was followed by a “Tech Hustle” event at the NBA All-Star Weekend that attracted venture capitalists, rap stars, and corporate chieftains to help players understand investment.
Jan Fuller, a former senior digital forensics investigator for the Redmond Police Department in Washington state, began conducting forensic investigations of electronic devices in 2003, when 1 gigabyte was a lot of data. Currently, she’s pursuing projects aimed at improving law enforcement capabilities deployed against digital crimes and coaching and mentoring students interested in careers in digital forensics.
Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner, a poet of Marshall Islands ancestry, achieved international acclaim with her performance at the opening of the United Nations Climate Summit in New York in 2014. She has published a collection of poetry, Iep Jāltok: Poems from a Marshallese Daughter, and she directs a Marshall Islands-based nonprofit dedicated to empowering Marshallese youth to seek solutions to the environmental challenges their homeland faces.
Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, founder and chief executive of Ocean Collectiv, a consulting firm for conservation solutions, is a marine biologist and policy expert. She founded the Urban Ocean Lab, a think tank focused on coastal cities, and has worked on ocean policy at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Lehua Kamalu, an apprentice navigator and the voyaging director at the Polynesian Voyaging Society, researched and devised the sail plan for Hōkūleʻa, a double hulled canoe, as it circumnavigated the Earth from 2014 to 2018 on a voyage named “Malama Honua — to care for the Earth.” She sees the practice of deep-sea voyaging as a means to challenge the depth and quality of our individual relationships to the ocean, nature, and one another.
AiLun Ku, president and chief operating officer at The Opportunity Network, works to create spaces for first-generation high school and college students of color to enhance and improve their postsecondary and career readiness education. She trains partners to integrate culturally balanced, student-centered curriculum design with rigorous data-driven practices with the goal of influencing systems that have traditionally excluded young people of color from college and career opportunities.
Nonabah Lane, a member of the Navajo Nation, is a sustainability specialist and entrepreneur in environmental and culturally conscious business development, energy education, and tribal community commitment. She is a co-founder of Navajo Ethno-Agriculture, a farm that teaches Navajo culture through traditional farming and bilingual education and is active in promoting and developing tribal sustainable energy strategies.
Kate McCall-Kiley, co-founder and director at xD, an emerging technology lab within the U.S. government, works to create new environments and mechanisms for behavior change while experimenting with different ways to productively challenge convention. She served as a White House Presidential Innovation Fellow for the Obama administration, where she worked on projects including vote.gov, The Opportunity Project, worker.gov, BroadbandUSA, and Vice President Joe Biden’s Cancer Moonshot.
Rodney Mullen, co-founder of one of the most dominant skateboarding companies in America, invented many of the tricks in use in skateboarding today and holds two patents related to the sport’s equipment. He has pivoted to work in the open source community, where he finds many parallels between the creativity of skateboarders and hackers. He still skates two hours a day.
Elizabeth Pettit, executive director of Clínica Integral Almas in Álamos, Mexico, which works with remote indigenous communities, is a physician. Medicine and work in rural public health is a second act: Pettit previously was a designer, creating specialty materials for art and architecture and for the film and entertainment industry.
Michael Tubbs, mayor of Stockton, California, has received national attention for his ambitious progressive agenda, which includes securing $20 million to finance scholarships to triple the number of the city’s students entering and graduating from college, and the country’s first universal basic income pilot project. He is the youngest mayor in the history of the country to represent a city with more than 100,000 residents and is Stockton’s first African-American mayor.