Cara Anne Nickolaus, a third-year economics graduate student, “died suddenly” Sunday morning, President L. Rafael Reif wrote in an email to campus on Monday.
In a separate email, Department of Economics chair Whitney Newey told students in the department that “[w]e understand it was a suicide.”
“We turn our thoughts to Cara’s family and friends as they absorb this extremely painful loss,” Reif wrote. “In such moments, comfort can come from reaching out to those around us. Please do so.”
Nickolaus, who hails from Lincoln, Nebraska, was a top student at Washington University in St. Louis. The “best student I’d ever seen,” the author of a recommendation letter said of her, according to her advisor, Professor Parag Pathak. During her undergraduate years, she also played the oboe in the school orchestra.
At MIT, she was interested in studying the “mathematical aspect of microeconomics,” Pathak said. In particular, she studied mathematical models of the way children from urban areas entered into schools.
“She was a beautiful person; she had a beautiful mind,” Pathak said. “She was always very compassionate.”
Nickolaus lived in The Warehouse (NW30) and served as the dorm’s treasurer and as a residential advisor.
“Cara was unbelievably bright, compassionate, and energetic,” dorm co-presidents Sami Khan G and Joy E. Louveau G said in a statement. “She was a vital member of the Warehouse community and we will miss her dearly.”
At a community gathering held in Lobby 10 Monday, Reif said that Nickolaus often looked for “new ways to help others.”
“These aspects of her character only makes her loss harder to grasp,” he said.
After the gathering, staff from Student Support Services, Graduate Personal Services, and MIT Mental Health were available to students.
Reif encouraged students to take advantage of those resources, and to reach out to one another. “Know that there is no shame — no shame — in asking for support,” he told the crowd gathered in Lobby 10.
“When we learned the terrible news of her death, we thought it was important to gather the community as soon as possible,” Reif said, emphasizing the need for community members to have the opportunity to support one another.
Nickolaus’s death is the third student suicide at MIT this calendar year, and comes amid changes and initiatives to improve mental health at MIT. These changes, many of which are under the label of the MindHandHeart initiative, include increased access to mental health care.
“What we’re trying to do with the MindHandHeart Initiative is to help students manage stress, manage time, manage MIT,” Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart PhD ’88 said.
Members of the MIT community who feel affected by the deaths can access MIT student support resources and Mental Health Services at http://together.mit.edu. Mental Health Services is also available by phone at 617-253-2916 during the day and 617-253-4481 during nights and weekends.