MIT-Japan Program establishes the Patricia Gercik Memorial Fund

The endowed fund will provide financial support for student internships in Japan.

The MIT-Japan Program has announced the establishment of the Patricia Gercik Memorial Fund. The endowed fund will provide supplemental stipends to students seeking internships in Japan.

Gercik served as managing director of the MIT-Japan Program for almost three decades and introduced hundreds of MIT students to Japanese culture, history, and in-country internship experiences.

MIT-Japan is a part of (and was the prototype for) the MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI) — the Institute’s pioneering global internship program. Gercik simultaneously served as associate director of MISTI, which is among the largest and most renowned programs at the Center for International Studies (CIS).

“Pat was one of a kind — truly a force of nature. In her tireless efforts to facilitate collaboration with Japan at MIT, Pat blazed new paths in international education and truly epitomized the MIT spirit of innovation. She touched so many students so deeply, and we are proud to have worked closely with many of them to establish this endowed fund in her memory,” says Richard Samuels, the Ford International Professor of Political Science, director of CIS, and the founding director of the MIT-Japan Program.

Gercik’s early and sustained enthusiastic leadership of the MIT-Japan Program clearly demonstrated this commitment. Her knowledge of all things Japanese was vast and her passion for the country was infectious.

Born to a British mother and a Russian father who relocated to Kobe, Japan, in the 1930s, Gercik lived a Japanese childhood. She recalled “confronting” U.S. soldiers during the Occupation and wandering through the black markets of a reconstructing Tokyo in her autobiographical novel, “The Outsider.” She also authored “On Track with the Japanese,” an interactive guide based on the experiences of program interns that provides insights to non-natives into Japan’s complex society.

Informed by her own experiences in Japan, she thoughtfully matched students studying a wide range of disciplines with challenging internships that would encourage them to grow in unexpected ways. She had an uncanny knack for clearly conveying the nuance and subtlety of Japanese communication to those who weren’t familiar with Japan. For many of her students, she instilled a lifelong love of and connection to a country that, without her guidance, could have seemed mysterious and unknowable.

In 2010, the Institute recognized her extraordinary work by bestowing her with an MIT Excellence Award. She was described by her nominators as having “a passionate belief in our mission to help MIT students become informed global citizens” and as “a visionary leader whose spontaneous enthusiasm and zeal for life can barely be contained.”

After battling a long illness, Gercik died on Sept. 17, 2019.

“When we learned the heartbreaking news about Pat, we really wanted to do something in her honor. We — and especially her former students — could think of no better tribute to Pat’s life and contributions to MIT than to establish a memorial fund in her honor,” says Christine Pilcavage, managing director of the MIT-Japan Program.

Alumni of the MIT-Japan Program were instrumental in raising the initial seed money and making the memorial fund a reality. Their dream, now realized, was to endow the fund in perpetuity so that her legacy continues at MIT.

The inaugural recipients of the Patricia Gercik Memorial Fund will be announced in spring 2022 with the hope of resuming in-country internships by that summer. Travel restrictions for MIT students due to the Covid-19 pandemic have paused travel to Japan since spring 2020.

The MIT-Japan Program looks forward to hosting a ceremony next spring to honor Gercik and celebrate the first students to receive this award.

To learn more about Gercik, including quotes from her former students and information on how to donate to the Patricia Gercik Memorial Fund, please visit the MIT-Japan Program’s Patricia Gercik memorial webpage.

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