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Harvard and MIT: A Helpful Rivalry

August 20, 2014

By Andrew Rich

The college rivalry:  it’s the classic tale of two melting pots battling for pride, be it in the academic field or the athletic field.  We’ve seen it countless times—Duke vs. North Carolina, Oklahoma vs. Texas, Alabama vs. Auburn.  And while one might think that such a heated rivalry would exist between Harvard University and MIT—due mainly to their proximity in the town of Cambridge—the two colleges are instead engaging in a different, friendlier, kind of rivalry.

For nearly a year, members of both Harvard and MIT have been engaging in the Harvard-MIT Multiple Sclerosis Challenge.  The Challenge’s goal is to raise funds for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society to fund research, education, public policy advocacy, and services for people living with MS.  Throughout the academic year, each college competes to see which one can raise the most money.  The Challenge began in September of last year and will continue until the end of September this year.  So far the Challenge has raised over $3,000.

The Harvard-MIT Multiple Sclerosis Challenge came about with the help of six people from Harvard and MIT:  Todd Krohne, Ken Gagne, Laura Bitler, Susan Cohn-Child, Johanna Hising DiFabio, and Jessica Fretts.

Todd Krohne, a 40-year-old Jamaica Plain resident, has been living with MS for the past ten years.  He is not only a fundraiser for Harvard, but has also previously worked for the National MS Society’s Greater New England Chapter.

“It was about a year ago,” said Todd, speaking about the origins of the Challenge. “Since I had left the Chapter, I had stayed involved as a volunteer for the MS Challenge Walk and I still did fundraising.  And I noticed people from Harvard had always been generous.  I was looking for something to boost fundraising efforts and I didn’t want to do an event.  I knew several people at Harvard who were involved with the National MS Society.  I just got thinking, ‘if there was something we could do between [Harvard and MIT.]’”

“I was on the MS Challenge Walk steering committee for six or seven years,” began Ken Gagne.  Ken, originally from Leominster and now residing in Arlington, works at MIT Medical as a web producer for the marketing department.  His mother was diagnosed with MS in 1990.  “I had recently stepped off the committee.  I had all this philanthropic free time and Todd came in and swooped me up.”

Along with Laura, Susan, Johanna, and Jessica, Todd and Ken began the Harvard-MIT Multiple Sclerosis Challenge.  Their idea was to build a bridge between two communities: those involved with higher education and those involved with MS.

“We have a critical mass here in Cambridge who are connected with MS and higher education so I figured why not do something about it,” said Ken.

“We wanted to raise money for the National MS Society and to allow people who were connected with both the MS community and the education community to be involved,” concurred Todd.

This isn’t the first time that Harvard and MIT have collaborated.  The two colleges have also partnered together to found The Eli and Edythe L. Broad Institute, a biomedical and genomic research center, as well as EdX, an online learning platform that hosts university-level courses in a wide range of disciplines to a worldwide audience at no charge.

“It’s a friendly relationship,” noted Ken.  “MIT and Harvard collaborate more often than they compete.  Any opportunity for a good cause, they’ll do it.”

While the Challenge team so far only consists of the six founding members, they are more than willing to accommodate anyone who wants to join their cause.

“One thing that we are on the lookout for is people who can take up different parts of this challenge,” Todd said.  “For example, Ken took on the website part.  That’s more than I could do.  People are taking different parts, which is great and what we looked for.  We’re on the lookout for more of these types of champions.”

With the end of September quickly approaching, the team looks not only to continue the Harvard- MIT MS Challenge for the foreseeable future, but to make it bigger as well.  They plan on bolstering the connections of the educational and MS communities to do so.

“We plan to be an ongoing thing, an ongoing challenge,” Todd commented.  “There are student groups who are involved in National MS Society events and they want to do as much as they can to contribute.  By meeting more people with that connection and expanding that web, we can become something amazing.”

“There [are] a lot of venues that we haven’t explored,” Ken concluded, “and a lot of relationships we haven’t considered.  There’s nowhere to go but up from here.”

You can donate to the Harvard-MIT MS Challenge by going to

About the Greater New England Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Society

The National MS Society mobilizes people and resources to drive research for a cure and to address the challenges of everyone affected by MS. The Society’s Greater New England Chapter serves 21,000 individuals and families affected by MS in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont. Early and ongoing treatment with an FDA-approved therapy can make a difference for people with multiple sclerosis. Learn about your options by talking to your health care professional and by contacting the National MS Society at, or 1 800 FIGHT MS (344 4867).

About Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body. Symptoms range from numbness and tingling to blindness and paralysis. The progress, severity and specific symptoms of MS in any one person cannot yet be predicted, but advances in research and treatment are leading to better understanding and moving us closer to a world free of MS. Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, with at least two to three times more women than men being diagnosed with the disease. MS affects more than 2.3 million people worldwide.


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