Graduating seniors reflect on four years at MIT


Four years ago, they were bright, motivated achievers new to MIT. At 18, they may have been a little intimidated by the Institute, obviously smart but scared they couldn't live up to the rigorous standards--in other words, typical freshmen.

But they have all survived, and some have even thrived. While their experiences have varied, all of them are glad they attended MIT. They didn't always feel that way during the past four years.

During R/O in August 1993, they shared a brief initial impression of MIT with Tech Talk. As seniors, we asked them to reflect on their MIT experience. Specifically, we asked them to address the following topics:

1. What was your perception of MIT upon arrival? How has that changed in four years?
2. What were your expectations? Did MIT live up to them?
3. Did you discover interests and talents that you were not aware of as a freshman? Have you developed them?
4. How have you changed in four years? What role did MIT play in those changes?
5. Are you happy you came to MIT? What did you like most about MIT? Least?
6. What are your plans?

Some of their responses were straightforward and succinct. Others were less direct, skirting the question to address a larger issue. Here are their answers:

DAN DOBBS

Hometown: Swansea, MA
Major: Mechanical engineering
1993 comment: "The research definitely will be one fun thing about MIT."

I showed up a week before most freshmen so that I could participate in Air Force ROTC's Freshman Orientation Program. This gave me the chance to interact with fellow freshmen and upperclassmen in a much smaller environment (although also a bit more stressful) than most freshmen did. I guess that I was a bit surprised that everyone seemed to be fairly normal. That view hasn't changed too much over the years.

I hoped and expected that MIT would challenge me and make me work to my full potential. Perhaps I wished a bit too hard. My freshman year was difficult, to put it mildly. Before I came here, I never really had to put all of my energy into schoolwork to get good grades. I could just pick up the homework and do it. Well, MIT was a far cry from those days. I think that the first two years can really be considered learning how to study and work. I've done a lot better since then, but it wasn't easy to learn what it really means to study.

I've worked to develop my ability to be a leader. Air Force ROTC has been a major contributor to that discovery and growth; so has my brotherhood in Chi Phi. Both of these organizations have challenged me and forced me to improve myself and my ability to lead and motivate others.

In four years at MIT, I would say that I have better learned how to interact with people who are very different from me. MIT's diversity has had a great impact on this growth. I feel that I am better able to accept and appreciate people who have different backgrounds or beliefs than I do.

Although this has not always been the case, I am now very glad that I chose to attend MIT. I don't think that any other academic institution would have challenged me in the ways that MIT has, and forced me to evaluate my beliefs and actions quite so deeply. I've met so many talented people and I've been able to work with people and projects that will truly affect the future.

The only regrets I have about MIT are that I didn't sink myself into the community quite as deeply as I wish I had. I hope that in my remaining time here, I can involve myself more deeply and reap the non-academic benefits which MIT has to offer.

I will be remaining at MIT this fall to finish my undergraduate education. I hope to be accepted into the MechE graduate program starting next spring, then finish my master's degree in one and a half years. After that, I'm headed off to the Air Force and hopefully Space Command, where I am strongly considering making a career of the Air Force.

MIKE LIU

Hometown: Woodbridge, IL
Major: Management
1993 comment: "They have a lot of stuff you can use and a lot of information here. If you need it, you can get it."

When I first arrived, I believed MIT would be a difficult four years, but that I would get a lot out of it and be well prepared to start my career. In my four years here, I have discovered that the road to graduation is not as impossible as it once seemed; one just has to realize that many others have succeeded and that you just have to figure out how they did it.

I expected that I would be able to lead a well-balanced college life. MIT lived up to that expectation, with the many clubs and organizations on campus and the very extensive intramural program.

As a freshman, I took 6.001. Even though I did not pursue Course VI, I did discover that I liked the challenge of programming. Since then, I've learned to program extensive macros in Excel, and I've been able to take on some freelance consulting where I use these skills to benefit others. I've also discovered the World Wide Web and HTML, which can be an eternal time sink.

I don't think I've really changed much in my four years here. I'm a little older, and hopefully a little wiser. The thing that has probably changed me the most is the experience I've had with my friends here.

I'm really happy I came to MIT. I think most of us share the same feelings, but won't admit it. I really enjoyed learning to skate through IM hockey, having a lot of IMs to give me lots of breaks from work, and being able to go into the city whenever I felt like going out. What I liked least about MIT was how you had to go to so many different places on campus to get things done. But improvements have been made, i.e., the new Student Services office off the Infinite Corridor.

I will be heading to New York after graduation to work at an investment management firm. It looks like a promising experience and I hope to come back to MIT in the future to do some recruiting.

DOUG HOWIE

Hometown: Terrell, TX
Major: Materials science and engineering
1993 Comment: "It's so nice to have people like you because most us come from a place where we're (unusual). I'm looking forward to doing research and learning all sorts of things I never really wanted to know but that are interesting."

MIT has played a very different role in my scholastic and professional development than I thought it would. I once thought the MIT experience was about gaining pure knowledge, but I now think it's more about learning where and how to obtain knowledge and what to do with it once you have it.

Upon arrival, I was told that MIT is a time to build my "tool chest." I was going to learn how to solve problems, and to an extent that is true. However, the more potent effects for me were the identification of how "I" solve problems (not how "to" solve problems) and a greater cognizance of what I bring to a situation simply by being the person that I have always been. If anything, I neglected talents I already had.

I think I look much better (shallow shallow!) and that I project a more positive self-image. As a freshman I subscribed to a nonchalant individuality. As long as I didn't hurt anyone, I felt that no one had a right to an opinion about my appearance, or comportment, or anything for that matter. I have really changed in this regard. I found that I can build bridges of understanding and friendship by changing my thinking about truly small things. I am not saying that I don't have a right to my personality quirks--I do--but at what expense? As my mom says, I had to "choose my battles." Some of my past wars were not worth waging, and by winning some of them, I lost even more. Like it or not, I was missing out on opportunities to know some really great people and (as friends finally helped me understand) those people were missing out on a chance to know a really great me.

I have no regrets. Good, bad or indifferent, I believe that God intersects every step on my path. I don't think he condones my unwise choices, nor do I think he laughs at my confusion, but I think he turns all things into manifold opportunities for good.

Honestly speaking, MIT was distasteful medicine to me. I have experienced my full emotional range probably twice as many times as any "normal" person should have. However, I know that much wisdom has preceded me here. I am only 22 years old, so I can't possibly understand all of the wisdom that's embedded in my MIT experience, but I think those things will become accessible to me as needed.

I plan to pursue a PhD in polymer science and engineering at UMass-Amherst. After that, I can only speculate. Only God knows, and only time will let us in on life's little secrets.

CRISTINA VILLARREAL

Hometown: Orosi, CA
Major: Chemical engineering
1993 Comment: "I like the social atmosphere. Everyone's friendly and glad to meet new people. I'm looking forward to a good year. I hope to pass all my classes."

I was very intimidated just by the pure reputation that MIT has. I knew MIT was a very tough and grueling place and that it wasn't meant for everyone. These past four years have definitely reinforced my initial perceptions.

I have become a much stronger and more independent person. I also realized that it is possible to live on caffeine and five hours of sleep every night. This place has managed to stretch my brain beyond belief and has brought a new meaning to the word endurance.

I definitely do not regret coming to MIT, although I did have my doubts. Sometimes I would ask, "Why didn't I go to Stanford?" In all seriousness, MIT has shaped my life. After these four years, I feel that I can conquer the world. I seriously do not believe that I will ever experience anything as difficult.

Without a doubt, the best thing about MIT has been the people I have met and the friends that I will love and cherish for the rest of my life. The worst thing has been the tremendous amount of work that is required. There is absolutely no way that everything will be accomplished. Once you figure that out, things become more manageable.

Upon graduation, I have decided to relax and take a break. In fact, I believe all of us graduates can use a well-deserved break. For the next year or so, I will be working for a wonderful pharmaceutical company in New Jersey, yet my ultimate goal is to become a physician. I plan to attend medical school and practice medicine back in my home state of California.

I would like thank my parents for allowing their only daughter to travel to the far ends of the East Coast in order to obtain an invaluable education. My family has given me an incredible amount of support. There were times when I felt like quitting and packing my bags. I would have never made it past these four years without those 3am phone calls to my older brother, who always seemed to know what to say.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 21, 1997.


Topics: Commencement, Students

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