Late last year, the new Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology in Russia announced that the 56-year-old AeroAstro Professor Edward Crawley had been selected as the school’s first president. In announcing the decision, Skolkovo Foundation President Viktor Vekselberg said that Crawley was the “number one candidate” for the job because of his stature at MIT and as an expert in space exploration as well as for his strong connections to Russia, his fluency in the Russian language, and his reputation as a pioneer in commercializing science. Construction of the school’s campus has begun and the Institute is scheduled to open in 2015. Crawley’s connection to MIT extends back to his undergraduate years and has remained uninterrupted. After receiving his Sc.D. in 1980, he joined the AeroAstro faculty and went on to develop MIT’s System Design and Management Program before serving as AeroAstro head for seven years then three years as director of the Cambridge-MIT Institute, and then as director of the Gordon-MIT Engineering Leadership Program. And in 2011, Crawley won the prestigious Bernard M. Gordon Prize for Innovation in Engineering and Technology Education for his creation of the Conceive, Design, Implement, Operate (CDIO) educational initiative for producing the next generation of engineers. AeroAstro sat down with Crawley to talk about the challenges lying ahead in Russia.
AeroAstro: Could you provide some background on the Skolkovo Institute and how you came to be named as its president? Crawley: The motivation for this institute is very simple. The Russian Federation economy largely runs on raw materials — gas, oil, precious metals — and the government realizes that while they still have revenue from these natural resources, they have
to transform their economy to more of a knowledge — and manufacturing-based economy. So how do you do that? Well, you take the existing institutions and you move them in the right direction; but you also create some new institutions. So they created the approach, which in China would be called a special economic zone — a region that has special economic status-called Skolkovo, just outside the Moscow city limits, and we’re building in Skolkovo the entire ecosystem of innovation. We’re attracting multinational research and development research centers to locate there, there’s funding through the Skolkovo Foundation to create small and medium-sized enterprise entrepreneurship there, there’s going to be good schools, nice housing, and it’s going to be an area of intense economic growth that will hopefully drive the regional economy; and if it succeeds they’ll replicate it elsewhere. The conventional wisdom is that at the center of every one of these is a great research university. So, basically, the Russian Federation government decided it wanted a graduate research, science, and engineering university to be at the center of this region of economic growth. They went around the world to a limited number of universities and said would you like to help us do this? And they made a deal with MIT. This is not the first time MIT has done something like this in the last decade. (In addition to the Cambridge-MIT Institute, MIT has joined similar ventures in several other countries, including Singapore, Malaysia, and Portugal). So if you want the university to sort of look and feel like MIT, you’ve got to have as its leader someone who’s willing to accept that and not push back and say, ‘Oh, we can’t do that here.’ Therefore, you either get an MIT person to go be the founding president or you get some-
Faculty interview: Russian around with Ed