Summer Associate Alumni Spotlight: Roger Levien

RAND's Inaugural Summer Associate

Today, RAND’s Graduate Student Summer Associate Program is a highly regarded, integral piece of the institution. The program attracts outstanding students who work on short-term independent research within the framework of an ongoing RAND project. The Summer Associate program is designed to introduce emerging thinkers and leaders to RAND, to public policy, and to effective, unbiased decisionmaking.

In 1956, when RAND was only eight years old, the Summer Associate program did not exist. Roger Levien, then a newly minted graduate of Swarthmore College, moved west for the summer. Roger wanted to gain experience in operations research before attending graduate school, and the chairman of his Swarthmore engineering department happened to have a friend, “Goldy,” or Richard Goldstein, who was then the vice president of the RAND Corporation. RAND had been considering launching a summer program for graduate students, and Roger became the program’s first “summer associate,” before it formally existed. The experience was such a success that Roger came back to RAND for two more summers and then joined full-time in 1960.

Roger Levien

Roger Levien (right) speaks with an IIASA researcher at Schloss Laxenburg near Vienna, c. 1975

Photo courtesy Roger Levien

Working at RAND was a formative experience for Roger. At RAND, Roger worked with issues that were, as he puts it, “of a high level of importance, but not limited by disciplinary boundaries.” He adds, “I wanted a breadth of vision and understanding, and I found that at RAND.”

In 1974, years after finding RAND, Roger left on a sabbatical at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, known as IIASA. Founded in 1972 and headquartered in Austria, IIASA is an international, nongovernmental scientific institute that conducts policy-oriented research into problems that are “too large or too complex to be solved by a single country or academic discipline.” Roger was appointed its director in 1975.

At IIASA, Roger saw an opportunity to create a program similar to RAND’s Summer Associates program. Roger explains, “I was interested in attracting to IIASA the people who would seek ways to use their skills not only in academia, but also in government or think tanks,” to inform policy decisions. Roger’s vision for IIASA’s Young Scientists Summer Program (YSSP) was that it would give graduate students from nations with different systems the chance to get to know each other, to form friendships, and to come to appreciate aspects of each other’s lives.

Ultimately, his vision was that many graduates of YSSP would go on to policy advisory positions in their respective nations. Having studied and collaborated at IIASA, they would share a vocabulary and approach, which could improve communications diplomatically.

Even after having retired from IIASA, Roger continues to support and engage with the organization, just as he does with RAND. Recently, Roger made a gift to IIASA that would enable a Pardee RAND Graduate School student to spend the summer at the Institute. In so doing, Roger hopes to bring the two organizations together so that they might benefit from each other’s expertise and networks. If all goes as planned, Roger will be in Austria this summer and able to personally meet the RAND student.

Roger, a member of the RAND Policy Circle, credits RAND with being “the basis for everything I did subsequently, for my mode of thought—at IIASA, at Xerox, and even consulting now.” He continues, “I think that RAND and RAND-like thinking is more critical these days than ever before. The problems the nation faces cannot be resolved without rational thought. In my mind, RAND brings objective, rational thought to critical problems faced by the United States and countries throughout the world. RAND retains its neutrality, and is therefore respected by the people we need to respect it. RAND is an essential part of the policy furniture of the United States. It deserves all the support we can give it. It should have and attract the best people we can get to it.”

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