A tribute to the MechE professor’s legacy of support to graduate students
“We’ll figure it out,” MechE Professor Emeritus Ain A. Sonin would tell his students as he steered them through one challenge after another. Benny Budiman, ScD ’04, remembers Professor Sonin, who was a graduate officer for 20 years, helping him to cope with a family crisis without losing his academic momentum. “Professor Sonin was a tremendous resource to graduate students, guiding them through difficulties with grace and dignity. I have adopted ‘We’ll figure it out,’ as my own philosophy in facing challenges, personal and professional.”
Born in Tallinn, Estonia in 1937, Sonin fled with his family to Stockholm in 1944. They eventually made their way to Toronto, where Sonin pursued his interest in aerophysics. Shortly after earning his PhD at the University of Toronto, he found his intellectual home at MIT. Sonin retired in 2009 after touching the lives of thousands of students.
In addition to being a top researcher in fluid and thermal sciences, Sonin has a successful line of furniture to his credit. But his greatest passion has always been his students. Sonin was awarded the MIT Graduate Student Council Award for Outstanding Graduate Teaching twice in his MIT career—once in 1973 and again in 1989.
The Ain A. Sonin Fellowship has been established in his name to recognize that extraordinary dedication and impact. “Ain’s door was always open,” says Epp Sonin, founder of the Lexington Music School and Ain’s wife of 39 years. “No matter how difficult the challenge, he always found a way to work through to a solution calmly and rationally.”
Mary C. Boyce, Gail E. Kendall Professor and Mechanical Engineering Department Head, says that such fellowship funds are critical to the strength of the department. “The Department of Mechanical Engineering draws much of its international renown from its graduate students, who are widely acknowledged to be the best in the field. First-year fellowships are a key element in continuing to recruit the most talented students to MIT, especially in the face of increasing competition for the best students growing among the world’s top universities. Alumni support of funds like the Ain A. Sonin Fellowship has never been more critical.”