Our new Dean of Engineering, Ian Waitz, came to the EE&CS lunch the other day, talking about exciting new School of Engineering initiatives. He also reported a sobering survey statistic: MIT students arrive as freshman with extremely high self esteem; they leave with greatly diminished self esteem.
Of course, there are a lot of monster brains around here, in all ranks, and that takes some getting used to for ordinary geniuses.
Enter Vikash Mansinghka ’05, MEng ’09, PhD ’09, a graduated student of mine, who wandered into my office a while back when he was in town. Because I had just read Making the Corps, a terrific book about Parris Island, by Thomas Ricks, we started comparing MIT to boot camp. Much is the same: not much sleep, bonding through working and suffering together, demanding authority figures, and occasional humiliation (in our case, via quizzes).
The difference is, the Marines don’t just take the recruits apart; they put them back together such that they end up with increased self esteem. They seem to know what they are doing down there in South Carolina. Their vision, conspicuously displayed on their website, is:
|We are a cohesive team of Marines, Sailors, and Civilians committed to upholding the legacy and operational relevance of the Corps by attracting qualified young men and women and transforming them mentally, physically and morally into U.S. Marines.|
So, “Vikash,” I said, “they pound duty, honor, country, and that sort of thing into the recruits. What should we pound into our students? Without hesitation, he replied,
You can do it
Only you can do it
You can’t do it alone
Pretty good, I think. Now we just have to figure out how to get a message like that across, along with Newton’s laws and Maxwell’s equations.