Remember When…

How do you make it at MIT? A new Alumni Association video features the advice of alumni that participated in the Reunions Access Memories project.

“All you can do is dive in as much as you possibly can,” said Norman Gaut SM ’64, PhD ’67. Check out the video and share your own advice in the comments:

The video was produced by Alumni Association videographer Brielle Domings. 


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Images Courtesy of Rosales + Partners

More than 50 years since its debut, the MIT-borne unit of measurement known as the Smoot is still growing in popularity.

For those uninitiated to MIT, the Smoot was concocted in October 1958 after a Lambda Chi Alpha headmaster sent seven students to calibrate the Harvard (Mass. Ave.) Bridge using 5’7 freshman Ollie Smoot ’62. The unofficial length: 364.4 Smoots, plus one ear. (A plaque commemorating the prank was added to the bridge in 2009.)

Oliver Smoot "62 is used to measure the  bridge in 1958.

Oliver Smoot ’62 is used to measure the bridge in 1958.

The measurement has long been a calculation used by Google, and in 2011, the word “Smoot” was added to the American Heritage Dictionary. Earlier this year, the Smoot finished in fourth place—garnering more than 2,600 votes—in a Slice contest to determine the MIT community’s favorite hack.

Anyone trekking across the bridge can relive Ollie Smoot’s journey—the measurements have endured as permanent markings, and Cambridge police often use the marks to report accident locations on the bridge.

And soon, thanks to a $2.5 million anonymous donation, the marking will be visible to more than pedestrians. According to the Boston Globe, the gift will pay for state-of-the art LED bulbs that will illuminate the bridge.

 “$2.5 million gift will shed light on the Harvard Bridge,” Boston Globe:

“The design utilizes energy-efficient bulbs on both the roadway and the pedestrian path, adding lighting at a lower level to make the bridge both more attractive and safer.

The roadway lights will be set every 30 Smoots. They will turn on for the night in sequence rather than all at once, a nod to the day more than 50 years ago when the year’s shortest pledge—who would go on to become chairman of the American National Standards Institute and president of the International Organization for Standardization—lay down again and again.”

The Boston architecture firm Rosales + Partners will oversee the design, led by Miguel Rosales SM ’87, the firm’s president and principal designer.

In an MIT News article commemorating the Smoot’s 50th anniversary, Ollie Smoot recounted the unplanned effort needed to calculate the new measurements.

Smoot reflects on his measurement feat as 50th anniversary nears,” MIT News:

“I don’t think any of us had the slightest idea how much work was involved with lying down, getting up,” Smoot said. “They had to help me a great way across the bridge. I started by doing a push-up, and then I couldn’t even do that. It deteriorated from there.”



Nearly 600 tweets were sent with the #mitalc hashtag.

The 2014 Alumni Leadership Conference, held Sept. 19-20, set a new record for MIT volunteer and alumni engagement. 614 attendees—including nearly 400 alumni from more than 40 class years—returned to MIT’s campus and took part in the conference, which focused on MIT’s role in the evolving landscape of higher education.

The conference excitement flowed into social media where, over the course of the two-day conference, roughly 100 Twitter and Instagram users posted nearly 600 messages and more than 100 photos. Attendees could view the online interaction in real-time, both on their mobile device and the custom ALC Twitter screen on display throughout the conference.

To commemorate the social media buzz, Slice of MIT presents our favorite 14 tweets of ALC 2014.

The online conversations started a few days before the conference, as alums from around the globe began their trek back to MIT campus.


Professors Fiona Murray and Vladimir Bulovic

In the opening keynote, Professors Vladimir Bulovic and Fiona Murray discussed MIT’s innovative education offerings, the value of a sustained connection, and the Institute’s global impact.

Director of Digital Learning Sanjay Sarma and Professor Karen Willcox discussed the edX learning platform and presented the final recommendations of President Reif’s Task Force on the Future of MIT Education.

Tiandra Ray

Tiandra Ray, Miguel Salinas, and Cara Lai

Day one closed with TIMtalks. Based on theTED Talks model, MIT students Miguel Salinas ’16, Tiandra Ray ‘15, and Cara Lai ’16 gave presentations about how connecting with the MIT community has shaped their Institute experience.

During day two, Professor  John A. Ochsendorf, a 2008 Macarthur Foundation fellow,  discussed the history of MIT’s  architecture and and shared potential future plans for the Institute’s oldest buildings.

A three-part seminar by executive coach and alumnus Stever Robbins ’86 focused on life hacks and on ways you can increase productivity, avoid procrastination, and build stronger relationships.  

MIT List Visual Arts Center Director Paul Ha led ALC attendees through a guided afternoon tour of MIT’s extensive public arts collection.

Per tradition, ALC culminated with the formal Leadership Awards Celebration, which honored the valuable contributions of MIT volunteers, including Roy W. Haygood III ’78, a Harold E. Lobdell ’17 Distinguished Service Award winner.

Throughout the conference, MIT alumni showcased their brass rat and explained why they volunteer for MIT.


May 31, 1972 Tech Talk caption: “Pat Peterson, 23, of San Carlos, Calif. (bottom), and Stephen Tepper, 22, of Wheaton, Md. (top) are shown with the obsolete Minuteman I guidance computer they have converted into a general purpose computer accessible via the teletypewriter (below).” Photo credit: photo courtesy of MIT Museum

May 31, 1972 Tech Talk caption: “Pat Peterson, 23, of San Carlos, Calif. (bottom), and Stephen Tepper, 22, of Wheaton, Md. are shown with the obsolete Minuteman I guidance computer they have converted into a general purpose computer accessible via the teletypewriter (below).” Photo:  courtesy of MIT Museum

Guest Blogger: Debbie Levey, CEE Technical Writer

When the Minuteman I missile system became obsolete in the early 1970s, the government sold off the projectiles’ $250,000 computers to schools for a mere $40 shipping fee. In an era of very expensive computers, the EECS Education Research Center (ERC) immediately requested two.

Taking advantage of this windfall for their EECS senior theses, Pat Peterson ’72, SM ’80, ScD ’89 and Andi (Stephen) Tepper ’72 reshaped the computer’s missile guidance function into a general numerical calculator linked to a teletype machine. “We didn’t have a specific long-term plan for what the computer might do,” said Tepper, adding that any machine capable of detailed, complex calculations would be an asset.

Peterson built the hardware interface to connect the teletype machine to the missile computer. “We had a lot of fun,” he recalled, “and we learned a lot about weird computer architectures.” Meanwhile, Tepper wrote an Assembler program for a PDP-7 computer that fed instructions into the missile computer on punched paper tape.

Peterson described the computer’s architecture as “unique, with the cards [circuit boards] surrounding the central core that held the warhead. This computer probably had 8,000 bytes of memory,” enough to direct a missile to its destination. In the days of magnetic core memories, “I think the designers didn’t trust magnetic cores, so they put the memory on a rigid disk an inch thick and about the size of a small dinner plate.” For comparison, his 64 gigabyte cell phone has eight million times more memory.

Making a quiet personal statement with their swords-to-plowshares work, Peterson considered the project “interesting, doable, a little bit anti-war, and pro-having fun.” Tepper concurred, “We would enable this device, whose main job was to cause an immense amount of destruction, to be used for peaceful and even beneficial purposes.”

At the time, the ERC was run by Judah Schwartz in the legendary Building 20. “Everyone knew the building wasn’t permanent, even though it had been there for 30 years. When we needed to run a cable from one room to the next, we just punched a hole in the wall,” said Tepper. “ERC fit in with Bldg. 20 exactly right,” agreed Peterson.

After graduation Peterson joined the MIT Center for Space Research before obtaining his advanced degrees. He now works for BBN on data analytics of call centers, figuring out how well companies take care of their customers, and giving them hints on how to improve. Around 30 years ago Tepper founded Advanced Software Technologies Company to create mainframe computer software mostly in storage management. He is also an adjunct professor of mathematics at Montgomery College in Rockville, Md.

Ariel Weinberg at the MIT Museum provided archival assistance.



To an un-choreographed eye, MIT may not seem like a place with a thriving ballroom dance community. In reality, the Institute’s Ballroom Dance Team is perennially top-ranked, and the non-competitive Ballroom Dance Club celebrates its 40-year anniversary on August 9.

“I’m sure some people are surprised that MIT’s has good ballroom dancers,” says Allison Chang PhD ’12. “It can be a rigid place to be, but ballroom dance fits that image better than any other kind of dance. There are techniques and rules about movement. A big reason MIT students excel at it is because it gives you structure.”

In fact, a few MIT alums have gone on to notable success in ballroom dance. The club’s first president, Jeff Alexander ’74, SM ’76, PhD ’78 and his wife, Janelle, have won high-level dance competitions in the U.S. and England, and Daniel Radler ’79 and his partner, Suzanne Hamby, were a top-ranked amateur team and, as professionals, were ranked third in the U.S.

Related: A History of Ballroom Dancing at MIT

“When I first arrived at MIT in 2005, I was surprised to find out MIT even had a ballroom dance club,” says Media Lab visiting scholar and club vice president Attila Forruchi. “But it’s been a great way to meet people across campus. Our monthly social dances feature alumni who are in town for a visit and community dancers from greater Boston.”

Dancers at a 2014 Ballroom Dance Club event. Image via Facebook.

Dancers at a 2014 Ballroom Dance Club event. Image via Facebook.

MIT’s ballroom dancing origins date back to 1974 as a joint effort between students from MIT and Wellesley College, who met informally a few times per week. Membership grew throughout the 1980s and, as more members became interested in dancing competitively, the offshoot MIT Ballroom Dance Team was created in 1991.

“All of our events are open to general public,” Chang says. “We want to share ballroom dancing with everyone, and make it feasible to take high-quality classes for a low cost.”

Today, the MIT club is cross-generation club that holds instructional workshops up two three times per week and Saturday-evening social dances once per month. The club primary membership is MIT community members but is open to all.

“It became my primary extra-curricular activity when I was at MIT,” Chang says. “It was an important part of my life and created a nice balance with my academic work I was doing.”

The classes are taught by professional instructors located in Greater Boston and club members have varying levels of experience. The August 9 anniversary celebration is open to all—current students, alumni, and non-dancers curious about the art form.

“It’s very addictive,” Forruchi says. “Everyone starts without a formal dance background—almost everyone is a beginner of some sort. I used to played soccer in semi-professional leagues, and I was looking for something healthy but no contact. Ballroom dancing was perfect.”

The MIT Ballroom Dance Club’s 40th Anniversary Celebration Social Dance take place Saturday, August 9, from 7:30 p.m.-midnight in La Sala de Puerto Rico in the Stratton Student Center. RSVP in advance for a reduced price and, for more information, visit the event’s Facebook page.




Next month members of MIT’s Class of 2018 will descend upon campus to get their feet wet—literally.

To meet  MIT’s General Institute Requirements, many students attending first-year orientation will hop in the Zesiger Center pool for a swim test. The test is a 100-yard swim with no time requirement. Most students will pass, some will sign up for a swim course in place of the test, and some will put off the requirement as long as they can.


Smiling students take their test in the Zesiger Center Pool Photo: MIT Student Life

Though it has been Institute requirement since the 1940s, the swim test, which students must complete to graduate, seems to sneak up on some seniors year after year.

“Two days before graduation in 1952, I received a note from the registrar’s office that there was no record of my having passed the swimming certification. My diploma would be held until I passed it,” remembers Dan Lufkin ’52, SM ’58.

“At MIT I tried to ignore the swimming requirement and at the start of my last semester, they informed me I still had to pass the swim test!” says Glenn Nelson ’73.

“It was swimming that almost kept me from graduating. I had never learned to swim. MIT’s wonderful physical education teacher, Doc Smith got me swimming and diving,” Larry Constantine ’67 shares.

Success! Photo: MIT Student Life

Why does MIT have a swim test?

Carrie Moore, director of physical education for MIT, says the test has a purpose outside of worrying would-be graduates.

“It’s is a self-survival skill. Research shows that most drownings occur in families where parents don’t know how to swim,” she explains. “Swimming also opens up several opportunities for students to take advantage of other water sports at MIT.”

MIT’s large international student population is one reason the test is still relevant today.

“MIT has an international population that generally has not had access to the swim courses like many in the United States. It’s an important skill for students to acquire,” Moore explains.

MIT isn’t alone in its swim requirement. Cornell University, University of Notre Dame, Columbia University, Williams College, Bryn Mawr, and Hamilton College all require students to pass a swim test to be eligible for graduation.

While the reception for the requirement can be mixed, at least one alumnus is glad that a new batch of first-year students will be attempting the swim soon.

“I’m happy they still have the test,” says Hank Valcour ’56. “It is just one of those things that is still there while the Institute has changed in so many ways.”

Do you remember your swim test? Tell us about it in the comments!


MIT10 alumni at the 2013 Alumni Leadership Awards.

MIT10 alumni at ALC 2013.

The work of alumni and volunteers has never been more important to the mission of MIT. At this year’s Alumni Leadership Conference, held September 19-20 on MIT campus, volunteers can reconnect with the Institute and learn new tools to support MIT and involve more volunteers.

Registration is open for ALC 2014 and the conference is open to experienced alumni and first-time volunteers. (A travel subsidy is available for MIT graduates from the past 10 years.)

Visit the ALC site to register, reserve a discounted rate at a campus-areas hotel, and view the updated schedule, which includes the annual Leadership Awards Celebration, ALC’s crowning event that salutes the outstanding contributions of the 2014 MIT volunteer award winners.

During ALC weekend, attendees will have the opportunity to network and brainstorm with fellow alumni and take part in a schedule that already features more than 40 events and workshops, including addresses from MIT President L. Rafael Reif, current students, and prominent Institute faculty.

  • Reif

    MIT President L. Rafael Reif

    Professors Vladimir Bulovic and Fiona Murray will discuss innovation, entrepreneurial education, and the importance of a sustained connection with MIT.

  • Director of Digital Learning Sanjay Sarma and Professor Karen Willcox will present the final recommendations of President Reif’s Task Force on the Future of MIT Education.
  • Professor John A. Ochsendorf will share the Institute’s plans for the Main Group, MIT’s oldest buildings.
  • Students will share their experiences as a current-day MIT student in the Ted talks-inspired TIMtalks. (“Think. Inspire. Motivate.”)

Share your ideas and post questions on the ALC-specific Facebook and Twitter accounts, and view campus photos on the Alumni Association’s Instagram page. Use the hashtag #mitalc to participate to connect with the online ALC conversation.

Last year’s conference featured more than 500 attendees from nearly 40 class years. Read a recap of the 2013 conference and check out Slice’s top 13 tweets of ALC 2013.


Click the image for the full list.

Click the image for the full list.

MIT’s 138th Commencement exercise takes place on Friday, June, 5, 2015. The ceremony will feature guest speaker Megan Smith ’86, SM ’88, the chief technology officer (CTO) of the United States.

Smith is the 22nd  MIT alumnus/ae and Institute’s 110th Commencement speaker dating back to 1880, the earliest year that MIT Commencement records exist at MIT’s Institute Archives and Special Collections. The list of speakers includes President Bill Clinton, Vice President Al Gore, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan SM ’72, 12 alumni, and 11 MIT presidents.

Perhaps the most notable event in MIT’s Commencement history occurred when there was no speaker. In 1970, during the peak of the United States’ conflict in Vietnam, the graduating class requested that then-MIT President Howard Wesley Johnson HM ’66 refrain from speaking in lieu of two minutes of silence for attendees to consider what can be done “to help resolve the conflicts which divide mankind in this country and around the world.”

The first half of the 20th century often featured more than one Commencement per year. Separate ceremonies were held from graduate and undergraduate students in the ’40s, and traditional students and military students often held separate ceremonies in the ’20s and ’30s.

Commencement speakers dating back to 1995 are listed below. Click on the image for the full list of MIT Commencement speakers dating back to Unitarian clergyman George E. Ellis, who addressed MIT graduates in 1880. Share your Commencement speakers memories in the comments below and on Facebook and Twitter.


Click the image for the full list.



On Friday morning, Michael Zelin will don a cap and gown and march into Killian Court, one of more than 2,700 students attending MIT’s 148th commencement. He’ll wave to his parents, take pictures, and listen to speeches.

Yet unlike most grads that day, Zelin will have a surprising suffix added to his MIT affiliation. While most undergraduates will add ’14 to their names, Zelin will add ’81.

Update: Zelin sent this photo along after graduation day.

Updated photo: Zelin sent this photo along from Killian Court on graduation day.

That’s because Zelin, who completed all four undergrad years at MIT more than three decades ago, never walked in Commencement nor received a diploma. His program at the time, Course 6A, required students to complete their master’s thesis before earning both undergraduate and graduate degrees. Because he stopped short of completing his thesis, he never received either degree. When he double-checked the requirements a few years later, they were still rigid on that point, and he let the issue lie for a quarter century.

“I had a job after graduation,” Zelin recalls, “and my thesis became bigger than originally planned. My new employer was willing to wait a few months, but ultimately I had to start the job with an intent to finish the thesis at night. The reality of getting wrapped up in my first job got in the way of that plan.”

“There was a lot of disappointment at home,” Zelin adds, “particularly when my advisor, Professor Leonard Gould, pulled my parents aside at a dinner we had before I left and prophetically proclaimed to them that I would likely not finish the thesis. They trusted me more than him–oops!”

Zelin moved to New Jersey and took a job with Datascope in the medical devices field. Later, he became CTO of a startup called i-STAT, which since became a $400-million dollar business unit of Abbott Labs. There, Zelin is now VP of R&D for the business. Zelin holds nearly twenty patents in fields such as pulse oximetry and blood pressure monitoring from his days at Datascope and miniaturized point of care blood diagnostics from his work at i-STAT.

Michael Zelin.

Michael Zelin.

Through his stellar career, Zelin has always been honest with his colleagues about never having graduated from college. “It’s been fodder for jokes in the office,” he says, “though a lot of people point out that it’s kind of cool nowadays not to have a degree in the startup world.”

When a medical visit brought him to Boston this winter, Zelin figured he would stop in again at the registrar’s office on campus. It turns out that the old Course 6A requirement changed back in 1995, years after his last check-in. “Now they decided that simply submitting a thesis proposal would meet the requirements of the undergrad degree, so I had no more work to do!” says Zelin. He completed his paperwork for commencement and began making plans.

“When we see people like [Zelin] we say, ‘let’s work with you,’” says EECS undergraduate advisor Anne Hunter, who speculates that there are hundreds of potential MIT alumni who, like Zelin, are eligible to come back and apply for a diploma. Hunter notes that it’s impossible to query all student records, so alumni—all undergraduates who completed one semester are official MIT alumni—who didn’t quite graduate should get in touch.

Zelin plans to become more involved in the MIT Alumni Association in the years ahead, offering advice to undergrads or mentoring fellow alumni. He will also look forward to telling his Zeta Beta Tau frat brothers of his new accomplishment, not to mention attending his 35th reunion in 2017.


Fred Kaneb ’43 has been a soldier, petroleum trader, fiberglass manufacturer, and Pepsi distributor.  But for the past 40 years in Cornwall, Ontario, Kaneb has been a farmer too.

Fred Kaneb '43.

Fred Kaneb ’43.

Managing an orchard of nearly 900 apple and pear trees that he bought in the 1970s on the banks of the St. Lawrence River, Kaneb is an engineer of the land. Reached by phone this week, Kaneb spoke warily of the half-foot of April snow the farm received right in the midst of pruning season. At 94 years old, though, nothing fazes him. Kaneb shoveled out then returned to the orchard to prune, a rite of spring he hasn’t missed in four decades.

“I work away at it, six days a week,” says Kaneb. “It takes five or six weeks to get everything pruned.”

Kaneb grows MacIntosh, Honey Crisp, Cortland, Russet, and Empire apples, and Flemish Beauty, Bartlett, and Anjou pears. Some varieties came with the farm when he bought it. Others, like the Honey Crisp and Empire, he introduced himself.

Kaneb says that while he used to sell his produce and make part of his living off the land, “times have changed, the people have changed, and how we eat has changed.” No matter. Kaneb has plenty of willing consumers in church groups, food banks, and schools. “Even then, we still have some left over,” he says.

Though Kaneb is known well in town for his bountiful crops and generosity, he is also somewhat of a legend. After graduating from MIT, Kaneb entered the Naval Reserve and was put to work applying his engineering talent in Pensacola, FL, home of the Navy’s flight school. Kaneb designed the Dilbert Dunker, a detached cockpit from an old plane that plunged frightened, aspiring pilots deep into a swimming pool upside down to train them for escaping crashes at sea.

Fred Kaneb's Dilbert Dunker. About 8,000 pilots trained in them over the years.

The Dilbert Dunker made Kaneb famous in the ’40s—about 8,000 pilots trained on them. Today, Kaneb works on engineering his orchards.

Kaneb designed four Dilbert Dunkers in all, one of which went on display last fall at the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola. The museum honored Kaneb for his contribution in 2009, when he donated his papers to it and was reunited with his invention of seven decades prior.

“The Army colonel said somebody has got to teach them what it is like to be drowning,” Kaneb recalled at the time. “It took us between six months to a year to design and build it.”

“If you think of all the people who have gone through [the Dilbert Dunker], all the astronauts, the people who went to the moon…they all had to go through Pensacola, through this one,” said the Navy captain overseeing the visit.

Kaneb is most at home on his farm, though, where his four children, seven grandchildren, and five great grandchildren visit often. In the winter, Kaneb snowshoes across the acreage, surveying the deer tracks, taking stock of the pond he designed, the rows of fruit trees he planted, the fire pit where he burns trees blighted with disease, and the irrigation system he built to water them. “We do everything ourselves,” says Kaneb, “and everything is pretty good.”

Though he missed his 70th reunion, Kaneb says he’ll be at his 75th. And he occasionally gets a call from his classmate, Israel Lenzner ’43, who lives in Florida. Few alumni can chat about the old days at MIT as they do.