Actions of MIT’s 15th president have ‘grown to inspire generations,’ Reif says.
The following four students, who entered MIT as freshmen in August 1996, were among several chosen at random and asked about their expectations of college. Now that they've completed their degrees, MIT Tech Talk approached them to get their thoughts on the Institute. Here's what they said:
West Lafayette, IN
Major/career plans: Architecture and perhaps civil engineering as well.
Possible extracurricular activities: Intramural sports with her living group, Chinese Students Association, Freshman Leadership Program.
Easiest: "Just having fun. [Here in the city] I can do something different every night."
Hardest: "To do everything I want, because there's so much to choose from."
Degree: Architecture with a minor in civil engineering.
Were your expectations met? "My only expectations of college were to have fun, figure out what I want to do in life and keep off those freshman 15 [pounds]. I definitely had fun while I was here; I figured out that I want to continue having fun throughout the rest of my life, but nothing much beyond that. I did manage to keep off the freshman 15, but my sophomore 20... that's a whole 'nother story.
Things you loved or hated about MIT: "I loved that anybody could pursue any activity here. I loved that I could join the cheerleading squad my senior year without any prior experience. I also loved the freedom of choice and the sense of responsibility the Institute instilled in the students.
"I don't like the sense we now feel that the administration doesn't trust us any more -- like they did only four short years ago. I don't like how apathetic people are when it comes to forming an MIT community. I don't like how people complain that we don't have school spirit and don't have school pride, but won't take the initial step and participate in community-building events."
Most fundamental lesson learned outside of school work? "Love is the only thing that matters in life. Without people to love and people loving you, nothing is quite worth it. My friends are the essential element in my life."
How have you changed? "I don't think my fundamental character has changed, but I have strengthened and reevaluated my personal values system. I have also gained more confidence in myself as a person and in my leadership abilities."
Major/career plans: Biochemistry and possibly medical school; starting or working for a company to design pharmaceuticals.
Possible extracurricular activities: Crew, winter track, pole vaulting.
Easiest: "Getting good food with the MIT Card."
Hardest: "The work. I'm a little worried in that area."
Degree: Double major in chemical engineering and biology, with a minor in economics.
Were your expectations met? "I came to MIT for its academic reputation and therefore expected the workload to be difficult and the social side to be small. I was surprised my freshman year by the large number of parties and social events held every weekend, with so many people from all over Boston having fun. Sadly, the social scene has diminished greatly since then.
"Academically, I was surprised by the ease in acquiring research positions with the faculty. Although I didn't consider that an important factor when deciding to come here, I now believe that to be one of the Institute's best programs."
Things you loved or hated about MIT: "The best part of MIT has been the people here. There is a definite 'us-against-them' attitude that the students take here, which makes the often overwhelming workload more bearable. Group suffering tends to build bonds.
"On that note, the aspect of MIT that I have hated the most has been the disregard of student life that seems to appear so frequently in administrative decisions. Such decisions have greatly damaged the pride that I and my friends have for the school."
Most fundamental lesson learned outside of school work? "If you want something, you have to go after it yourself. After drifting through my freshman year, I realized that I had to apply this lesson to be successful academically and professionally."
How have you changed? "Quite a bit. Although I was involved in many organizations and athletic teams in high school, I was always just a participant. At MIT, and especially within my fraternity, I was able to take on more responsibility and develop better social and leadership skills."
Lake Almanor, CA
Major/career plans: Undecided; possibly biology.
Possible extracurricular activities: Undecided (planned to visit Activities Midway).
Easiest: "Just enjoying myself."
Hardest: "Juggling rigorous academics and having fun at the same time, getting a balance and taking care of myself."
Degree: Materials science and engineering. "I planned to study biology, but I majored in materials science and engineering. Still, not all of my interests have changed; I've worked in the medical device industry and plan to stay in healthcare-related fields."
Were your expectations met? "I expected college to be a lot of work. MIT certainly met my expectations with respect to the workload, but I've had a lot of fun too. People do get out and socialize here."
Things you loved or hated about MIT: "People often become so focused on their own life that they don't even make time for other people, or even to smile and say hello."
Most fundamental lesson learned outside of school work? "That none of life's lessons have anything to do with academics."
How have you changed? "I've become much more cynical."
New Canaan, CT
Major/career plans: Some field of engineering.
Possible extracurricular activities: Frisbee, community service.
Easiest: "Getting along with people, because there are a lot of people here with the same interests as I have."
Hardest: "Staying focused, because there are a lot of things pulling at your time. For instance, I've never used the web before, but all of a sudden I get a free [Athena] account."
Degree: Double major in materials science and engineering and mathematics. "I planned to understand how things worked. This was predominately focused on common-day things... so I decided that materials science was a good field of study. Because I enjoyed it, I also majored in math, for no real reason."
Were your expectations met? "I expected that college people would be different from my small suburban town. I found that there are just more people at college -- more good, more bad. I've met my share of both here. I've also become more computer-literate than I ever expected."
Things you loved or hated about MIT: "I've particularly loved having the chance to work with my lab group on a real project. I've particularly loved collecting a bunch of friends I refer to as my MIT family. I've particularly hated how MIT has a very patchwork system for dealing with the student body. I've particularly hated watching MIT slide into the 'on par with peer institutions' mentality."
Most fundamental lesson learned outside of school work? "Sometimes life sucks. You just have to deal."
How have you changed? "I haven't."
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 31, 2000.