SA+P celebrates its Infinite Mile 2021 awardees

“Grace under pressure” underscores those recognized during this unprecedented academic year

 For the second time, the MIT School of Architecture and Planning (SA+P) held its annual Infinite Mile Awards ceremony virtually due to the global pandemic. While the year’s difficulties were many — professionally and personally — for everyone, the challenge of providing outstanding administrative and support services to students and colleagues without in-person contact was a recurring theme in this year’s award nominations.

 “I knew we would receive a large number of submissions, and we certainly did,” said Dineen Doucette, SA+P’s manager of finance and human resources administration. “The pandemic had a lot to do with that. So many members of our SA+P community stepped up this past year, and it was disappointing not being able to celebrate and recognize everyone in person as we usually do. However, that made it possible to redirect event funds to support additional awards this year. To be able to acknowledge 17 individuals is astonishing—we’ve never been able to do that before. I’m thankful that our rewards and recognition program is so flexible.”  

 The ceremony was orchestrated by Doucette, who provided an image of fireworks to serve as a celebratory background for the awardees on Zoom. Department heads and faculty shared highlights of each individual’s contributions over the past academic year.

 Kicking off the event, SA+P Dean Hashim Sarkis said that of all the events held at MIT, the Infinite Mile Awards was his favorite. 

 “This ceremony not only celebrates the contributions of our colleagues; it helps us articulate what our values are as we move forward,” said Sarkis.

Team Award: SA+P academic administrators and student support services teams
“Academic administrators and student services teams are the primary point of interface between the staff and student body,” noted one nomination. “The relationship is a key fixture throughout a student’s time at MIT, and it is often most instrumental at a time of crisis.”

 Across the School, these individuals provide a host of services for students, beginning with admissions and orientation. In addition to their efforts to enable remote teaching, the student services teams supported graduate students working abroad, class scheduling, and grade reporting, while assisting students with the academic, mental health, and personal challenges that accompany any given school year. With the Covid-19 crisis sending students to their home states or countries, their fears and concerns were only heightened with the nationwide social justice unrest and the civil disruption in Washington, D.C., early this year. 

 Managing these virtually and, in many cases, with students they had yet to meet in person required “empathy, flexibility, and most often grace,” stated one of the nominators.

 Sixteen colleagues were recognized with the 2021 Team Award: Antonina (Nina) Palisano (Art, Culture and Technology); Kelly Cameron, Tricia Nesti, and Lacey Cochran (Center for Real Estate); Renee Caso, Cynthia Stewart, Darren Bennett, and Tonya Miller (Department of Architecture); Sandy Wellford, Ellen Rushman, and Sandra Elliott (Department of Urban Studies and Planning); Mahy El-Kouedi, Mark Grinstein-Camacho, Monica Orta, Sarra Shubart, and Rebecca Cuscaden Marvin (Media Arts & Sciences).

 One nominator summed up the individual and collective efforts succinctly:

“Working almost exclusively from home, they have shifted their individual work-life balance much more toward work than is at all reasonable to expect, and done so without complaint. They have done this for the students – their clientele. They more than merit the Institute’s best expressions of gratitude, including the Infinite Mile Award.” 

Individual award: Inala Locke, discipline group assistant, Department of Architecture
Taking on a new responsibility — serving on the department’s newly established Strategy and Equity Committee — while working remotely during a pandemic was just one of the reasons colleagues throughout the Department of Architecture supported the nomination of Inala Locke for the Infinite Mile Award. 

“As a colleague she is generous and patient, and as a leader she is humble yet diligent in her work,” noted one nominator. The Strategy and Equity Committee “transformed our community and our goals for the better, and have done so during a pandemic under unprecedented work conditions. In July 2020, [Inala] introduced this committee to the entire staff and somehow managed to tip her hat to her colleagues” for their contributions without acknowledging her own.

 Locke has been with the department for nearly six years. Many nominators mentioned that her effective problem-solving skills and friendly disposition were apparent from the start, and more than a full year working remotely did not diminish these attributes.

 “Her patience and discretion in the face of students’ and faculty’s sometimes challenging demands are remarkable,” stated one nomination. “This last year Inala has been present virtually for all of us, helping us cope academically and personally.”

 “She builds community wherever she goes, and even more so during the past year,” noted another nomination. “No other co-worker has done so much to keep ongoing communication between us while working remotely.”

 Yet another nominator identified a factor that may be more meaningful given the new experience of working solely off site: “She has a marvelous ability to create connections between students, faculty, and staff, which in turn creates an environment in which they can excel.”