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The STS Program is pleased to announce the L. Dennis Shapiro (1955) Graduate Fellowship in the History of African American Experience of Technology, thanks to a generous gift from MIT alum Dennis Shapiro. This fellowship supports a Ph.D. student who is studying the history of African Americans’ engagement with technology: invention, use, engineering, cultural innovation and creativity. The fellowship also provides the selected student with a summer research stipend and research support, renewable for up to three years. It is also accompanied by a Program Fund to enable supporting activities by the STS Program.

“What a fitting and hopeful way to honor Dennis’s legacy and relationship to MIT,” said Professor David Mindell, Dibner Professor of the History of Engineering and Manufacturing in STS, Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and a long-time friend of Shapiro. “Dennis has mentored and inspired me and many others with his broad interests, from aviation to American history. This gift opens up a major avenue toward a nascent but crucial avenue of scholarship, and it does so by supporting young scholars at a vital time in their careers. Historians are just becoming aware of the crucial role of technology in African American experience, including the skills of enslaved artisans, overlooked black inventors, the centrality of railroads in the Great Migration, to the emergence of Jazz in the machine age and the role of systems engineering in designing America’s prisons, and so much more to explore.”

“STS is thrilled with this generous gift, and its support for this important topic,” said Jennifer Light, Bern Dibner Professor of the History of Science and Technology, Professor of Urban Studies and Planning, and Director of the STS Program. “Our program has long been recognized for its leadership in the history of technology and these funds will ensure the next generation of scholars has the resources to investigate new questions to better understand the full scope of technology in America.”

Kelcey Gibbons, an MIT Ph.D. student in HASTS studying the history of black computer professionals and black technological education in the twentieth century, is the first recipient of a Shapiro Fellowship.

L. Dennis Shapiro (1955) is an electronics engineer and inventor with a life-long interest in American History. He is credited with helping to pioneer the personal response industry that allows millions of elderly and disabled individuals to live independent lives. He was chair for 28 years and CEO for 10 years of Lifeline Systems Inc., later acquired by Royal Philips Electronics. He was named as an IEEE Fellow and served as Chair of the Industrial Advisory Board Committee of its Consumer Electronics Society. He is a Fellow and member of the Board of the Manuscript Society, a Fellow and Trustee Emeritus of the Massachusetts Historical Society, a Fellow of the Explorers Club and a recipient of the FAA’s Wright Brothers Master Pilot’s Award. His wife, Susan, is a retired partner at the law firm Ropes & Gray, LLP. In 2020 the Shapiros donated their extensive collection of American historical manuscripts and documents to the Huntington Library in California to establish the Shapiro Center for American History and Culture.