Kresge Auditorium was jammed Thursday afternoon, abuzz with the noise of 1,080 fresh voices on campus, waiting for the President of MIT and a Nobel Prize winner to officially welcome them. When President Charles M. Vest greeted them, "And you-are the Class of 2000!," they erupted with applause and cheers.
"It may surprise you," said Dr. Vest, "but I envy you. You will be entering the new millenium prepared with all the tools of an MIT education."
Dr. Vest urged the students to take advantage of the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP), the special freshman programs like Concourse, the Experimental Study Group and the Integrated Studies Program, and the Freshman Advisor Seminars.
Noting that 90 percent of the freshmen have opted to join a Freshman Advisor Seminar, taught by faculty who will also be their advisors, Dr. Vest said:
"Ask your friends at other universities and colleges how many of them get to gather for a couple of hours every week in a close circle with a half-dozen other freshmen and a world-renowned faculty mentor, and spend that time talking about ideas, trying out hands-on learning, and exchanging insights about life issues. Your freshman advisor seminar is a unique opportunity to do just that."
Speaking of the wide diversity of the class in terms of geography, gender, ethnic, racial, economic, cultural and religious backgrounds, Dr. Vest said, "You have a remarkable opportunity to get to know-and learn with-others whose experience and outlook are very different from your own. If you seize this opportunity, you will be much better prepared to help build the national and world communities of the next century."
Dr. Vest emphasized the excitement of the search for the science we don't know, such as which aspects of climate may be predictable. The keynote speaker picked up on that theme.
Nobel Prize-winning Professor Mario Molina showed how he and colleagues convinced the world that the sky was falling because of gases from refrigerators and aerosol spray cans for underarm deodorant.
Of course, Professor Molina, of the Departments of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences and Chemistry, phrased it a bit more accurately. He showed a chart of the dispersal of chlorofluorocarbon gases (CFCs) from spray cans and refrigerators through the atmosphere. The CFCs chemically destroy ozone in the stratosphere, where the layer of ozone (O3) lies 10km to 50km above the Earth, protecting it from the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays.
In the 1970s, when the impact of human activity on the ozone layer was discovered, he said, the average American household had about 40-50 spray cans emitting CFCs directly into the air. Underarm deodorant spray cans were 89 percent CFCs. Dr. Molina said the decreased use of CFCs in recent years shows how science can help solve problems.
The third speaker, Undergraduate Association President Richard Y. Lee, a senior in economics, spoke of need for students to get involved in activities. He said his own student activities with Counterpoint magazine taught him he could have an effect on campus, and that convinced him he had been right in coming to MIT.
Dean for Undergraduate Education Rosalind H. Williams, who described herself as a mother of three with one in college, gave some advice on how to adjust to the new independence of college. She introduced the leaders of Residence/Orientation and dispatched the class to the group activity, Move Off Your Assumptions (MOYA).
The freshman class was chosen from a record 8,022 applicants, the Admissions Office reported last week before they began arriving. MIT accepted 1,947, and 1,081 (56 percent) said they would enroll.
Thirty-seven percent of those enrolling were valedictorians; 83 percent ranked in the top 5 percent of their high school class. The mean SAT scores were 748 in mathematics and 700 in verbal.
The class is 42 percent female. Minorities comprise 45 percent of the class: Asian Americans, 27 percent; African Americans, 7 percent; Mexican Americans, 6 percent; Puerto Ricans, 3 percent; and Native Americans, 1.4 percent. Eighty-two freshmen (8 percent) are international students.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on August 28, 1996.