This release is courtesy of WGBH News.
The MIT football team practicing under the hot August sun was in a rebuilding mode this year, after losing of a slew of talented seniors. Last year, the Engineers won a conference championship and advanced to the Division III national tournament for the second time in school history.
But it's not just the football team that's had recent success. Over the last 12 years, various teams at MIT have won 110 New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference championships — more than twice the number the Engineers had ever won before that period. On top of that, MIT athletes in the last dozen years have captured 15 individual NCAA championships and 993 were named All-Americans.
The recent success in athletics at school known mostly for its science and engineering prowess has been shaped in large part by one woman, Julie Soriero, the director of athletics since 2007, who is retiring at the end of this semester. Across the country, only 21 percent of college athletics directors are women.
What has been behind her success guiding MIT's little-known sports programs? Soriero has excelled as a fundraiser for facilities and coaching endowments, brought recruiting of athletes to a new level in cooperation with the admissions office and applied her coaching experience to working with MIT's coaches.
Before her arrival, Soriero coached women's basketball teams for 21 years at other academics-oriented schools like the University of Pennsylvania and Colorado College, where she was serving as athletics director when MIT came calling.
When MIT approached Soriero about their search for a director of athletics, she said, "I asked the question that everybody asked: Does MIT have athletics?"
But even then, the possibility of what MIT could be was mentioned in hushed tones.
"I called a friend after I had this conversation and I said, 'Tell me about the word on the street with MIT,'" she said. "And this was a friend in the conference that MIT's in. And she said to me ... 'Julie, I think MIT's a sleeping giant."
That conference includes Emerson, Babson, Wellesley and Smith.
Since Soriero took the job, athletics at MIT haven't been the same. Ranging from the men's basketball team going to the Final Four in 2012, to swimmer Margaret Guo winning the NCAA Woman of the Year Award in 2016, program-changing events have almost become commonplace.
For track coach Halston Taylor, who has been at MIT for nearly four decades, it's a world away from the program he started with.
"You know, recruiting wasn't done very much," he said. "There was almost zero alumni fundraising. So a lot of things just weren't in place."
That started to change over the years, but even when Soriero started the job, there were still problems. Taylor says the outdoor track was in such bad condition that it was unsafe to run on.
"I interrupted her one day and said, 'Let's take a walk, you've got to see this,'" he said, adding that he had talked to several people about the track but nothing had been done about it. "So Julie went out there with me, and we were out there 10 minutes and she said, 'I got it. I understand.'"
A little under two months later, Soriero and the program obtained money for the track from team alumni.
It's a prime example of part of what's made Soriero so successful. If fundraising were a sport, Soriero would be an All-American. She's raised tens of millions during her tenure to improve MIT's facilities.