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Marian grad finds success at MIT

To Joe Higgins, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is a “delightfully complex research place that has some of the smartest people in the world.”

It’s the place where he hangs his hat these days while working on billions of dollars’ worth of projects. That’s “billions” with a “B.”

Higgins, a 1987 graduate of Marian Catholic High School and former Nesquehoning resident, is one of the many vice presidents at MIT, directing Campus Services and Stewardship as one of the core members of its management team that oversees business and administrative functions.

With 800 employees under him, Higgins oversees the Office of Sustainability, Environment Health and Safety, the Office of Campus Planning, and MIT Facilities, including Campus Construction.

Ever humble, he describes his job of unquestionably huge responsibilities as “handling crisis after crisis, but empowering people to do the best they can.”

He added, “MIT is a research place, with like 20,000 independent businesses doing all they can to maximize their own world.”

Since 2016, Higgins has managed critical aspects of MIT’s facilities, including finance and administration, procurement, communications and customer engagement. In 2018, he assumed responsibility for management of maintenance, utilities and facilities engineering. He and his team are responsible for safely and sustainably planning, designing, constructing, maintaining and powering the MIT campus, with buildings totaling over 12 million gross square feet.

168 acres, $150M budget

During his career, he worked for a consulting management firm that served many prominent institutions of higher learning, including Harvard, Yale, Rockefeller, George Washington, Northwestern and Tufts universities, where he provided strategic and engineering services to more than 100 academic and nonprofit institutions for their buildings and broader campus initiatives.

Working with the Director of Sustainability, he led MIT’s alliance with Boston Medical Center and Post Office Square to create a 60-megawatt, 650-acre solar power installation, adding carbon-free energy to the grid. MIT’s purchase of power from this North Carolina facility’s 255,000 solar panels was equivalent to 40 percent of the institute’s electricity use at the time, neutralizing 17 percent of MIT’s carbon emissions.

“We work together to shape and enable our campus and community to tackle big, important problems for the world,” he said, noting his job includes day-to-day collaboration with finance, treasury, human resources, information technology and MIT Medical.

Higgins is accountable for all of the fiscal, technical, compliance and sustainability attributes of campus design, construction and operations across 168 acres, 13 million square feet, 160 buildings, 5,500 lab spaces, 40MW of electric utility generation, 17 miles of utilities, 400 active construction projects - all supported by 800 staff with operating budget of $150 million per year and capital budget $400 million per year.

He is the steward and architect for the implementation of MIT’s $5.2 billion Capital Plan enabling breakthrough knowledge in science, technology and other areas of scholarship. Under his watch, MIT has completed $1 billion in projects, has another $1 billion of projects in construction underway, and has another $1 billion currently in design.

Before joining MIT, Higgins served as vice president and head of engineering for Fidelity Investments, where he was responsible for the infrastructure systems across a global real estate portfolio including key data centers, trading floors, call centers, and corporate office campuses. He also served as Fidelity’s first corporate sustainability officer, providing leadership, coordination, and reporting for a broad array of sustainability initiatives across worldwide locations.

Earlier in his career, he served for 14 years as director of engineering and then as executive director of strategic and technical services at a Connecticut-based facility management company. In these roles, he provided strategic and engineering services to over 100 academic and nonprofit institutions on their building projects and broader campus initiatives.

Started at Marian

Higgins’ journey to a top rung on the ladder of one of the most prestigious college campuses in the country started at Marian Catholic High School in Hometown, where he played football for Coach Stan Dakosty’s Colts.

He started on the offensive and defensive lines when the Colts won the 1986 Eastern Conference Class B championship and established a record 24 straight victories.

“Coach and his assistants taught us not only how to play the game, but about life’s challenges,” he said. “They taught us that you don’t fall down, you get up and keep going. That thought has stayed with me through adulthood.”

Higgins went to Swarthmore College on a football-related Thomas Kershaw Engineering Scholarship and played on its gridiron for four years, captaining the 1990 team. During his career, he was named to the First Team Defense of the All Centennial Conference and was named the 1991 National Football Foundation and Hall of Fame Scholar Athlete for the Philadelphia Chapter.

In the classroom, he was outstanding, having been selected to represent the entire college in the U.S. News and World Report article in which Swarthmore was voted the No. 1 liberal arts college in the country.

Higgins graduated there in 1991 with two degrees - a B.S. degree in engineering and a B.A. degree in economics. He then went on to earn a Master of Science degree in education from the University of Oxford U.K. Christ Church College, where he was a co-captain of the university’s American football team playing university competitions across the U.S.

A son of Joe and Valerie Higgins of Hometown, formerly of Nesquehoning, he has three other siblings who graduated from Marian, including Pam, who works as a technical lab director in Pennsylvania; Matt, a technical/sales position at KME in Nesquehoning, and Samantha, who works in film and movie production in Philadelphia.

Joe and his wife, Christine, will celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary in October. They are both competitive rowers on the Charles River, where he admits, “she is admirably better than I.” Joe enjoys short-track speedskating with the Bay State Speedskating Club and says when he comes back to the area, he returns to the Marian track, field and stadium bleachers “for exercise.”

They have a son Jack, who graduated from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy and was a two-time All American NCAA swimmer, and Emilia, a second-year midshipman at the academy and a swimmer as well.

One of three Coal Crackers

Ironically, Higgins is joined at MIT by two other Pennsylvania Coal Region natives, Dr. Maria Zuber, a Summit Hill native and Panther Valley High School graduate, and Martin A. Schmidt, originally from Mountaintop.

Dr. Zuber is MIT’s Vice President for Research who was recently named by President Joe Biden to the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. Her research focuses on the structure and tectonics of solid solar system objects. She specializes in using gravity and laser altimetry measurements to determine interior structure and evolution and has been involved in more than half a dozen NASA planetary missions aimed at mapping the moon, Mars, Mercury, as well as several asteroids.

Schmidt is the MIT provost in charge of faculty members.

About Zuber, Higgins, who joins her on the MIT Climate Action Plan, said, “She’s a fantastic, amazing person who is mapping out the moons.”

He added, “To have three people from the Coal Regions in responsible positions here is great. I don’t know if there’s something in the soil back home, or what, but it’s a wonderful testament to the people of Pennsylvania. It tells you the type of people we are.”

Marian Catholic graduate Joe Higgins is now a vice president at MIT. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO