A veteran author of books and articles about science and technology, McElheny worked at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, a research center with ties to several Nobel Prize winners, before arriving at MIT
My Nieman year was a stunning combination of contact with leading newsmakers, including [U.S. Attorney General] Bobby Kennedy reviewing the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the intense competition of first-class fellow professionals. The meaning of a career in journalism was raised to a new level. In frequent conversations with Louis and [his wife] Tottie Lyons, I learned how a very special program of professional energizing could be made to work in practice and how it could be integral to a university’s intellectual mission.
So in 1981, when the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) approached me to start a program for science journalists modeled on the Nieman Fellowship, I knew exactly what to do.
At MIT in the 1980s, as at Harvard in the 1930s, the aim was to tap the resources of a great university to reinforce the knowledge, skills, reflectiveness, confidence and ambition of newspeople determined to deliver facts straight to the public, to educate the real rulers in a democracy. My Nieman experience gave me crucial encouragement in enlisting science journalists from across the world to spend a year at MIT, colliding with each other and with MIT’s amazing faculty (and many at Harvard, too) to sharpen their ability to translate into popular terms the science that shapes so much of our existence. As happens with Niemans, MIT Knight Science Journalism Fellows solidify their commitment to a very difficult line of work and set themselves on a steeper upward path.
In the complex, science-shaped world of today, science reporting is more important than ever. I hope Niemans celebrating their 75th anniversary will take pride in their daughter at MIT.