On Pi Day, A Chance to Make an Impact

Digits of Pi on a whiteboard

Digits of Pi on a whiteboard

By Megan Maffucci, MIT Open Learning

On March 14, math enthusiasts everywhere will take a moment to appreciate 𝛑 (pi), that irrational number equaling the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. Pi Day (3.14) is marked annually worldwide with creative pi-themed classroom projects, nerdy baking contests, and other pi (and pie!) filled activities to recognize the importance of this elusive and never-ending number to mathematics and science.

Inspired by the power and possibility of pi, March 14 has become a significant day for MIT, giving way to two special MIT Pi Day traditions. First, it is the long-awaited day every year when MIT announces its admissions decisions for the incoming undergraduate class. It is also MIT’s annual giving day, when alumni, parents, and friends of MIT around the world come together to support the Institute during the 24 hours of Pi Day. The Pi Day giving challenge celebrates important initiatives like OpenCourseWare (OCW) and MITx, which carry out MIT’s mission to advance knowledge worldwide. By giving to OCW and MITx on Pi Day, learners can be part of our efforts to expand these educational resources to empower learners worldwide.

Richard Harlow and Parent Connector Michele Sorenson are two such community members who were inspired to take the Pi Day challenge and give back to OCW and MITx. A long-time OCW learner, Richard embraced the opportunity to make a difference as this year’s OCW Pi Day challenge donor and has pledged to give OCW $5,000 if the project reaches its participation goal. Michele, an MIT parent and lifelong learner, is supporting MITx on Pi Day as a way to help expand accessibility for those with limited educational opportunities. Like Richard, she will make a $5,000 gift to MITx if we reach our Pi Day goal.

Get to know Richard and Michele as they share the stories behind their generous Pi Day pledges and reflect on their own relationships to OCW and MITx:

Richard Harlow, this year’s OCW Pi Day challenge donor

What role does education play in your life?

Richard: In the years 1971-73, I was a lecturer in Chemistry at the University of Zambia. The University, as well as the country, were relatively isolated with very few resources, and little communication with the rest of the world: no reliable telephone service and, of course, no internet at that time.

When I returned to the US, a mild recession was in progress and the only jobs available were temporary post-doctoral type positions.  I accepted a Welch Foundation offer at the University of Texas at Austin where, for a period of 3 years, I labored to get my academic credentials re-established. Having accomplished that, I was successful in obtaining a permanent position at DuPont’s Experimental Station in 1977.

How has OpenCourseWare supported your learning goals?

Richard: I kept in touch with the University of Zambia once the internet was available and, one day, I discovered a reference to the OCW offerings on its website.  I checked out some of the lower-level science courses and realized that they would be a valuable asset for any student who was interested in learning science from some of the best professors in the business.  And cost would not be a barrier!

Intensely curious, I have listened over the last 5 years to lectures on chemistry – how was my field being taught these days;  material sciences – technical details of solar panels; quantum physics – I simply wanted to understand the fundamentals; and finance – circumstances that led to the crash of 2008-09.

What inspired you to support OCW in this year’s Pi Day challenge?

Richard: I began to modestly support the OCW program a few years ago as I could see for myself what a treasure these lectures are. I support, and will continue to support, individual initiatives which expand the ability of people to gain free access to higher education.  OCW is well worth supporting.

 

 

Michele Sorenson, this year’s MITx Pi Day challenge donor

What are you learning now?

Michele: Being a lifelong learner, I subscribe to many feeds, ranging from the spiritual to the academic, the cerebral to the practical. As a faith community nurse, attorney, bioethicist and professor of law and ethics, I do almost all of my continuing education online.  It is free and authoritative, and allows me to stay current in all my professional and avocational ventures. These not only keep me fresh in my fields but also take me just about anywhere I want to go for information. I earned a scholarship to attend the University of Virginia/Virginia Commonwealth University, where I am currently working to attain my geriatric education certification, for which much of the training is online.

What inspired you to support MITx in this challenge?

Michele: My life has been devoted to supporting and advocating for the underprivileged, and the underserved. MITx provides for this, and at a location accessible to even the most isolated among us. All that’s needed is connectivity; once you’re plugged in, you own the universe. How inspiring and empowering to those who have little! A life-altering game changer.

[My son] Andrew ’21 spent his IAP (Independent Activities Period) in Kazakhstan, teaching physics to Astanan high school students. He returned home deeply appreciative of MIT. “Mom” he said, “These kids are smarter than I am. When I asked them what they most wanted in life, every one of them said: ‘I want to go to MIT.’ I looked at them and sadly realized how infinitesimally harder it was for them to attend, and realized how incredibly lucky I was to be there.”  MITx affords these talented kids the opportunity to fulfill that dream: to get an MIT education.

What do you think of MITx’s role in shaping education?

Michele: With great gifts, comes great responsibility. MIT has emerged from a dense pack of excellent universities to be regarded as the premier institute of higher learning in the world. Because of this, MIT has an absolute duty to shape education responsibly, to inform its motto of mens et manus with agape, with love and respect for everyone; the duty incarnate in its Better World campaign. MITx takes this concept global, by “expanding access to quality educational opportunities worldwide.”

Richard and Michele’s stories are just two of many powerful examples of why OCW and MITx remain committed to open access and to helping independent learners and educators make the most of their education. You can make the most of your support and help us unlock Richard and Michele’s $5,000 challenge gifts with a gift of any size on Pi Day.

We hope you’ll join Richard and Michele in supporting us on March 14 by giving to OCW or MITx.

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