Chris Colombo, Dean for Student Life

There’s a saying that history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme. If that’s true, there’s a poem going on at MIT right now.

W1 First Floor Plan

W1 First Floor Plan

The first line happened nearly a century ago when MIT planned its shift across the river from Boston to Cambridge. In 1912, George Eastman, the founder of Eastman Kodak Company, made the move possible with a $2.5 million donation to fund the construction of the main academic complex.

It was a marvelous, historic gift—but Eastman declined to take public credit for it. Instead, because Eastman insisted on anonymity, MIT President Richard Maclaurin identified the donor only as “Smith” or “Mr. Smith.”

Not even the members of the Corporation knew the source of the millions. For years, no one was in on the secret except President Maclaurin, his wife, and his secretary.

Indeed, Mr. Smith was the subject of national speculation. According to a 1932 article in The Tech, two other New York millionaires, each of whom suspected the other, had a dinner in which they cagily danced around the issue, “but separated without having discovered any secrets and with enlarged respect for the bluffing power of each other.”

And the need for secrecy created awkward moments for President Maclaurin. In 1916, an ambassador from MIT boarded a train to upstate New York to ask Eastman for money to support the Department of Chemistry. An embarrassed Maclaurin sent a hasty note. “I have just heard by accident that Mr. A. D. Little, a member of the Corporation of the Institute, is going to Rochester today … I could not dissuade him from his project without revealing your identity as a benefactor,” he wrote to Eastman.

Eastman did meet with Little and agreed to donate $300,000 although, perhaps to obscure his role as Mr. Smith, he made the gift public. Ultimately, Eastman gave substantial sums of his fortune to higher education, with the University of Rochester as the largest benefactor. MIT received nearly $20 million—most of it anonymously as Mr. Smith.

So why is history rhyming at MIT? Because similarly modest donors continue to shape our campus today.

The grande dame of the dormitory system, Old Ashdown House, presides over the gateway to MIT at the corner of Mass. Ave. and Memorial Drive. We have a new Ashdown House now: NW35, which houses graduate students in the northwest corner of campus.

W1, as we now call the majestic residence, has been gutted and is in the midst of a complete renovation. When the financial crisis threatened to bring work to a halt two years ago, anonymous gifts ensured that the project moved forward. To date, unnamed benefactors have given $20 million—crucial funding at a critical moment.

Eastman’s generosity laid the foundation for MIT’s academic buildings at the start of the last century. We may not know the identities of the current set of “Smiths,” but we can be certain that they are helping to set the cornerstone for residential life for the next century.

Whoever they are, every Mr. or Ms. Smith has our thanks.

Happy April Fools’ Day! A few weeks ago we announced a Hacks at Home video contest and we’re please to present the winner.

Drum roll

Longtime appreciator and first-time hacker Jim Mottonen PhD ’89, a senior research associate in the Department of Physics & Optical Science at UNC-Charlotte. Mottonen turned the whole endeavor into a spirited family adventure, complete with code names for all of the mission’s participants. Mottonen (“Gristle”), his kids, Nathanael (“Secret Sauce”) and Frieda (“Fierce Monkey”), and friend Ryan Oliver (“Agent Oregano”) showed the UNC–Charlotte campus what this MIT tradition is all about.

“Hacking turned out to be quite an exhilarating family enterprise, like geocaching with an edge,” Mottonen says. “My kids and I were so inspired that we now have a hacking queue set up with future projects.”

Parents take note! You can add hacking to that list of fun together-time activities. There are only so many make-your-own-pottery studios and IMAX movies and putt-putt courses you can hit. Am I right?

But of course, nothing goes off without a hitch. Says Mottonen:

“The actual hack day events turned out fraught with unanticipated problems, like most projects. The steak blew off at first, until I borrowed a step stool from a nearby lab to secure it to the pickaxe. The video from my daughter’s camera could have been clearer, and I forgot to show her contribution of the giant bite-mark revealing a medium-rare cross-section. We put it up around 7:00 a.m. and by 11:00 a.m., the steak itself was gone to parts unknown. Perhaps someone decided to ‘claim’ it?”

Mottonen did alert the campus police of his undertaking beforehand with the following message sent from email username “ribeye”:

“The giant steak and lettering at the 29 entrance to campus is a harmless prank in the tradition of MIT hacking. If it survives the day, it will be removed tomorrow morning. No actual rib eyes were harmed in the making of this hack.”

Photograph of Mike Jones, a vendor, showing up at the lot with his big white dog named Leah.

This photo, of vendor Mike Jones arriving at an antiques show/flea market with his dog, was taken by an MIT student in the Documentary Photography and Photojournalism class. Click photo to view more.

By now, you’ve likely heard of the OpenCourseWare (OCW) phenomenon. But an OCW newsletter I received last week put it into perspective nicely. It reports that according to the OCW Consortium,

  • In one year (2008-2009), 4,727 courses were made available online—an increase of 58%.
  • More than 250 institutions have published some 13,000 free courses online.
  • Courses are available in more than eight languages.

MIT’s OCW is always updating and adding courses. Among the new offerings:

And, OCW has improved the supplemental resources section, which includes online textbooks, multimedia content, image galleries, and exams and assignments (with and without solutions), among other things—all categorized by discipline. So if you’re looking for a textbook for calculus, fluid dynamics, or electromagnetic field theory; video demonstrations in lasers and fiber optics; or examples of student work from intro writing subjects, you’re in luck.

Be sure to check out student photos from the Documentary Photography and Photojournalism class. You’ll see a day in the life of a Boston Latin history teacher, how scuba divers celebrate Easter, and the real story and characters behind an antiques show and flea market.

MIT has a photogenic campus, what with Stata, the Dome, and the Charles. Today, however, Slice wants to feature an image from campus that is unique, not just in subject matter but also in technique. Several years ago photographer Greg Peverill-Conti captured this shot of an administrative building at MIT that was being torn down. He recently went back and reprocessed it, using a tilt-shift effect.

Peverill-Conti says he’s hoping to produce a series of tilt-shifted MIT photos. You can try out the technique yourself, using either Photoshop, an iPhone app, or a good old (expensive) tilt-shift lens.

If you want to try the Photoshop route, check out this tutorial on tilt-shift photography.

About two weeks ago on “Pi Day”, March 14th at 1:59PM (3.14159), the admissions decisions for the class of 2014 came out. With the MIT admissions website buzzing with excitement, the Institute welcomed the future students of MIT with the greatest word a struggling high school senior could see: accepted. One thing that MIT does very well is making their admitted students feel welcome. From sending mailing tubes full of confetti to having MIT students and faculty call the high school seniors during “newly admitted student telethons” MIT provides a comfortable setting for the admit-tees even before they step on campus. With admitted student information sessions all across the country, the class of 2014 got to meet current MIT students who went back home for spring break this past week. One current student, Jay Rajan, a junior, who went to the admitted student get-together in Los Angeles, described the event as “electric.” I remember the excitement I felt when I knew I got into MIT, and it’s great to know hundreds of people all over the nation get to feel the same rush I did. With Campus Preview Weekend (CPW) only a week and a half away, MIT is prepping for a surge of energy from the admitted students. This year, CPW will take place from April 8-11. For more information about CPW and the newly admitted students, check out these websites:

http://www.mitadmissions.org/

http://web.mit.edu/admissions/cpw/

http://www.mymit.info/

Chip Chick, a blog devoted to “Tech and Gadgets from a Girls’ Perspective,” is saluting the 20th birthday of an MIT alumni business success, iRobot. Here is their shoutout:

“In the 90’s two MIT grads, Colin Angle [’89, SM ’91] and Helen Greiner [’89, SM ’90], and their MIT Professor, Rodney Brooks, joined forces to make practical robots a reality and 20 years later they are still at the forefront of technology with new and exciting ways to not only help us in our homes but in healthcare, research, and education. It all started by them winning the NASA Group Achievement Award from designing a behavior-controlled rover for NASA. This led to the Sojourner exploring Mars in 1997. In 2002, iRobot launched two robots that would ultimately cement them into our culture, the Roomba floor vacuuming robot and PackBot tactical mobile robot. Five million robots from the household line of vacuum robots have sold worldwide, making it the best-selling consumer robots in history. 3,000 units of the PackBot have also been dispatched to the military and as well as civilians worldwide.”

You can celebrate virtually by watching a Packbot music video created by the band Landsdowne and iRobot that shows off the Packbot at work deactivating bombs and such.

A flute of local champagne in the vineyards of Unchair, near Reims

A flute of local champagne in the vineyards of Unchair, near Reims (© Owen Franken/ photographed for the New York Times).

Curious about Owen Franken? View more of his work via the Franken Photo of the Week category, learn more in this profile, read a What Matters opinion column he wrote called “Life in Brownian Motion,” or visit his Web site.

Two months ago, David Ziegelheim ’75 started a discussion on LinkedIn about health care reform: “What is your solution for health care services?” he asked. His question generated nearly 800 replies.

Comments have continued since Obama’s landmark legislaton passed earlier this week. Read Ziegelheim’s opening statement and some recent remarks after the jump.

Want to join the conversation? Go to LinkedIn.com and make sure you’re a member of the MIT Alumni Association group. (All alumni are encouraged to join!) Once you’re a member, you can participate in the open discussions.

(more…)

Computer mouse connected to the word job.

Image: ©istockphoto.com/porcorex.

With the economy the way it is, it pays to stay current with job search strategies, whether you’re currently on the prowl for a new position or not. Savvy job hunters these days create personal brands for themselves with social media—strategies that take time to develop.

Two Webinars sponsored by the MIT Careers Office will offer tips that will help position alumni for future career movement.

Using Social Media for Your Job Search
March 31
3:00–4:00 p.m. EDT

Did you know that 83% of employers use the Internet to find information about potential employees? Are you on Facebook but not on LinkedIn? Discover how to create your own personal brand using social media instead of just aimlessly applying for jobs. In this Webinar, we will focus on the dos and don’ts when using LinkedIn and tips to build valuable connections. In addition, you will leave this workshop with the knowledge of how to diagnose, manage, and monitor your Web presence while developing connections with people who can make your professional goals a reality. Learn how to establish a strong web presence that will impress employers, colleagues, and industry leaders.
Preregistration required
.

Job Search 911
May 25
2:00
3:00 p.m. EDT
Sign up for this Webinar for tips on maximizing the impact of your resume, creating tailored cover letters, and uncovering the hidden job market. While this is geared to graduating students, anyone whose resume is out of date will find it useful.
Preregistration required
.

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Students visit the rising city of Masdar as part of Terrascope.

Students visit the rising sustainable city of Masdar.

Spring break means exploring the exotic reaches of Abu Dhabi for students in MIT’s Terrascope Program, the academic program that tackles a fresh global problem each year. You can be there too by reading the student blogs this week, with posts that share visits to a resplendent mosque and walking magnificent sand dunes and, in later days, digging into the science and technology that underpin the experimental city of Masdar and the Masdar Institute, the world’s first graduate institution devoted to renewable energy and sustainability.

These students, all freshmen, are engaged in Terrascope’s Mission 2013, focusing on capture and storage of carbon dioxide from Earth’s atmosphere.

One student wrote: “Highlights from yesterday were seeing the technologies that we’ve been researching so extensively actually being implemented. We saw a 10 megawatt field of photovoltaic solar panels (5MW of thin-film and 5MW of crystalline cells) and the magnitude of such a proposition became clear. Row after row of sun-speckled panels lined the desert floor like engineered vegetation. The technology made the area flourish….”

Visit the Mission 2013 Web site for more information on the technologies involved in Masdar city. You can learn more about the development of the Masdar Institute, which is modeled on MIT and began offering classes last fall.

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