Event: The 8th Annual Erin M. Aylward Graduate Women’s Community Dinner

    A time to celebrate; meet; rekindle; and be together over a family-style dinner as a community of graduate women in EECS.

    EECS graduate students gathered for the 8th annual Erin Aylward Memorial Dinner. Photo credit: Rafa Islam Khandoker

    Leslie Kolodziejski | Department of EECS

    As the pandemic prohibited offering the annual gathering in 2020, on December 2, 2021 the Department held the long-awaited 8th Annual Erin M. Aylward Graduate Women’s Community Dinner at Vincent’s neighborhood bistro in Cambridge. With the sign-up sheet filled to capacity (plus a long waitlist), EECS graduate women, along with faculty, staff and donors of the Erin M. Aylward Memorial Fund, were eager to come together in fellowship and camaraderie. The bistro was filled with a multitude of delicious offerings, much excited conversation and laughter, and dozens of happy smiling faces.

    Friends and faculty who knew Erin were in attendance. Photo credit: Rafa Islam Khandoker

    EECS alumna Erin M. Aylward, SM ’06, was a cofounder of the Graduate Women of Course VI (GW6), an organization designed to bring students together for academic, professional and personal support as they navigate their PhD journey.

    In honor of Erin’s memory, her friend and fellow MIT alum Thaddeus Fulford-Jones (PhD ’09, Course 16), together with Erin’s family and friends, established the memorial fund with the goal of supporting the community of graduate women in EECS. Since 2014, the Erin M. Aylward Graduate Women’s Community Dinner has been held at venues all around MIT and also metropolitan Boston. At every community dinner, Thaddeus has been in attendance, and has shared remarks about Erin and her love of math, her graduate classes and her research in EECS. He takes every opportunity to give inspiration to the attendees, to lift them up and to motivate them in their quest to earn the PhD degree.

    Thaddeus Fulford-Jones (PhD ’09) shares a few words on Erin and her lasting legacy. Photo credit: Rafa Islam Khandoker

    Thaddeus remarked, “This annual memorial dinner is always a very special day for me personally – both an opportunity to honor the memory of Erin and a celebration of the remarkable organization that GW6 has become. Erin was a friend and study partner throughout our undergrad and graduate studies. It’s now been 15+ years since Erin co-founded GW6, and slightly over a decade since her untimely passing in 2011. If Erin were still with us today, I think she would be genuinely astounded and delighted to see how GW6 has continued to grow and flourish, in fulfillment of her initial vision.”

    In addition, when reflecting over the past eight years, Thaddeus has observed, “I am encouraged every year to see that GW6 is going from strength to greater strength. The Aylward dinner showcases the organization’s positive impact for so many women graduate students.”

    Prof. Alan Oppenheim performs a card trick at the Aylward Memorial Dinner. Photo credit: Rafa Islam Khandoker

    The many Aylward dinners have been enjoyed by Erin’s friends, teachers, and her husband. This year Professor Alan Oppenheim attended the dinner; Professor Oppenheim taught Erin in his class and remembers her eager determination, her dedication and love of learning. “Magic Al” dazzled and surprised everyone with his magical powers of illusion with the deck of cards he happened to have in his pocket—and commented, “Among the wonderful aspects of the Aylward dinners is the opportunity to collectively remember and celebrate such a charming, brilliant and caring person. And by extension to celebrate all the extraordinary women in the EECS graduate program. For years Erin sent me a birthday card, and so I couldn’t resist honoring and remembering her with my own deck of cards in a way that brought her spirit and presence into the dinner as a participant. And yes, ‘Erin’ did successfully locate the card that Professor Leslie Kolodziejski had randomly chosen.”

    Although the pandemic continues to wreak havoc on society, the graduate women of EECS were able to relive community once again and come together in support of each another. Having attended three Aylward dinners, PhD-candidate Jessica Boles comments “To me, this year’s event celebrates not only the preservation of our GW6 community, but also the strengthening of it throughout the pandemic, at a time when many of us needed community most. I didn’t know Erin, but I’ve benefited tremendously from her legacy throughout my PhD and I know others will too for years to come.”

    Thriving Stars, in partnership with the co-presidents of GW6, will continue the tradition by offering the 9th Annual Erin M. Aylward Graduate Women’s Community Dinner on December 8, 2022 at another venue to celebrate graduate women in EECS on their PhD journey. The numbers of women embarking on that journey have grown: from 129 students enrolled in the EECS PhD program in 2006, to 146 in 2014, and to 215 today. EECS Thriving Stars has the goal to achieve greater representation of women in the PhD program.