Center for International Studies pays tribute to Robert Wilhelm | MIT News


The Center for International Studies (CIS) has long been considered one of the world’s leading centers for academic research and teaching. One of the features of the centre’s many programs is the opportunity for scholars and practitioners to work together on policy issues.

The Robert E. Wilhelm Fellowship Program is among the center’s most prestigious fellowships and is reserved for individuals who have held leadership positions in public life. He has brought to campus heads of international non-governmental organizations, national security advisers, US military leaders, high-ranking diplomats and retired ministers – including a former prime minister.

Since its inception in 2004, the center has hosted 18 Wilhelm Scholars from around the world, including Egypt, India, Israel, Japan, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, UK and the United States.

A generous gift from Robert E. Wilhelm ’62 supports this annual scholarship.

CIS recently welcomed Robert Wilhelm and his wife Gena Whitten to campus to express their gratitude and to dedicate a new lecture hall named in his honor. His May 26 visit coincided with his 60th class reunion at MIT.

Richard Samuels, Ford International Professor of Political Science and Director of CIS, opened the event by thanking Wilhelm for conceptualizing and funding the Fellowship at CIS.

“Bob’s idea – and generous support – of bringing seasoned professionals to the international stage to engage with CIS faculty and graduate students has been inspiring. Each of us at the Center – and in the MIT community at large – benefits from this commitment, whether formal or informal. It informs our understanding of how the world works, refreshes our sense of service, and helps guide our hopes to make the world a better place. For us, the Wilhelm Scholars have been a daily reminder of the value of MIT’s commitment to its core mission of ‘mens and mans’,” Samuels said.

Lourdes Melgar SM ’88, PhD ’92, and Wilhelm Fellow in 2016, was among the many guests present.

“I am privileged to be part of the Robert E Wilhelm Fellow tribe. I had to be here today to thank Bob for his foresight, his generosity and for giving me the time and space to re-imagine my life,” said Melgar, who was Mexico’s undersecretary of energy for hydrocarbons and undersecretary of electricity at the fraternity.

Melgar was also a member of the Mexican Foreign Service from 1997 to 2005.

“As a Wilhelm Fellow, I have realized the importance of continuous dialogue between academics and policy makers. It must be a dialogue: knowledge without a reality check can become an empty word. I see it when the solutions techniques proposed to accelerate the energy transition do not take into account the social and political stakes of the transformation of energy systems. So, thank you for giving me the chance to spend an entire year at MIT, to learn and test ideas,” concluded Melgar.

Additional remarks were shared by Steven Simon, the current Wilhelm Fellow at SIC. Simon served as the National Security Council’s (NSC) Senior Director for the Middle East and North Africa during the Obama administration and as the NSC’s Senior Director for Counterterrorism in the Clinton White House. These assignments followed a 15-year career with the US State Department.

“The opportunity afforded by Robert Wilhelm to think deeply, or at least as deeply as I can, about matters raised by our government service but imponderable while we were there, is such a blessing. In my case, it completed a book about a phase in the history of the United States and the Middle East that began when I entered government and seemed to fade when I left. anything less than inspiring, my thinking about American politics was transformed by writing the book.

A celebratory toast to Wilhelm was raised by Agustín Rayo, Dean Kenan Sahin of MIT’s School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences and professor of philosophy at MIT.

“Excellent work is being done at CIS. But to achieve this level of excellence, we need partners – people like Bob and Gena,” concluded Rayo.

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