When the MIT Media Lab Director’s Fellows initiative launched in 2013, the goal was to connect people from across the world with the innovation and creativity of the Media Lab. Five years later, this global network now includes 38 current and former fellows from a range of disciplines — artists and designers, scientists and technologists, advocates and activists, dancers and musicians, writers and comedians, athletes, filmmakers, scientists, and more.
In July, nine new Fellows will join the growing group.
“The latest cohort of Director’s Fellows aligns with our mission to create a better future for all, addressing pressing issues through the lens of civic engagement, social change, education, and creative disruption,” says Media Lab Director Joi Ito. “Not only do the fellows bring their own expertise from different fields but they also take what they learn from their involvement and collaborations in the program back to the world beyond.”
Meet the 2017 Director’s Fellows:
Julia Angwin is a senior reporter at ProPublica. As an investigative journalist at The Wall Street Journal, she was on a team of reporters who won a 2003 Pulitzer Prize in explanatory reporting for coverage of corporate corruption, and in 2011 Angwin led a privacy investigative team that was a Pulitzer finalist. The Newswomen’s Club of New York named her reporter of the year in 2014.
Farai Chideya has combined media, technology, and sociopolitical analysis during her 20-year career as an award-winning author, journalist, professor, and lecturer. She’s currently a fellow at Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy, studying newsroom diversity and media coverage of the 2016 election.
Isha Datar has been a pioneer in the emerging field of cellular agriculture since 2009 when she began investigating the technical challenges and opportunities in producing cultured meat. In her quest to establish the field of animal products made without animals, she discovered that the research was held back — not by a lack of interest or expertise, but by a lack of funding channels for this intersectional work.
Adam J. Foss is a former assistant district attorney in the Juvenile Division of the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office in Boston. Now an advocate for criminal justice reform, he co-founded Prosecutor Impact, emphasizing that the profession is ripe for reinvention based on improved incentives and more measurable metrics for success beyond “cases won.”
Andrea Lauer is the founder and chief creative officer of Risen from the Thread, a design-thinking, product development, and innovation agency focused on the human body and its relationship with technology. She lectures at universities and works internationally to produce multi-media experiences with a focus on the human form.
Leland Melvin is a former NFL draftee who became an engineer and a NASA astronaut logging more than 565 hours aboard the shuttle Atlantis. Melvin was appointed the head of NASA Education in 2010 and served as co-chair of a White House STEM task force. He currently hosts the television series “Child Genius” and is a judge on the TV series “BattleBots.”
Bridgit Mendler is a songwriter, recording artist, and actress, entertaining audiences through diverse media and live events around the world. She’s also involved in multiple philanthropic pursuits, including UNICEF and Save the Children, for which she serves as an Artist Ambassador.
Jamila Raqib is a nominee for the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize. She’s executive director of the Albert Einstein Institution, which promotes the study and strategic use of nonviolent action worldwide. Her work centers on presenting a pragmatic approach to nonviolent action to activists and organizers, human rights organizations, academics, and government bodies. As a research affiliate at the MIT Media Lab, Raqib has been exploring how innovations in technology and education can contribute to more effective nonviolent strategies.
Esra’a Al Shafei is a Bahraini human rights activist and founder of Majal.org, an organization that develops platforms to amplify underrepresented and marginalized voices in the Middle East and North Africa. Al Shafei has received the Berkman Award for “outstanding contributions to the internet and its impact on society,” and Fast Company featured her as one of the “100 Most Creative People in Business.”
Gavin Zhao has deep experience in supply chain management for startup companies. In 2010, he joined AQS, a firm that provides electronics manufacturing and engineering solutions around the world. Zhao leads strategic planning and specializes in helping suppliers to overcome manufacturing difficulties in new projects.
The 2017 Director’s Fellows officially join the Media Lab on July 19. They did not apply for the program; rather, they were nominated by a network of advisors. Many factors go into the selection process, including all aspects of diversity, each fellow’s balance with the rest of the cohort, and the impact of their work in the world.
What’s pivotal to the program is that the fellows collaborate both with each other and with Media Lab faculty, researchers, and students. They get involved in a variety of activities — from leading workshops, to participating in research projects, to advising on students’ theses. And, they often find there’s so much to do that their two-year honorary affiliation extends beyond the time they’re officially part of the Director’s Fellows group.