A most memorable mentor relationship occurred in my last months as an undergraduate. I was recommended to be an occasional companion to Dr. James R. Killian ‘26, a former president of the Institute. Little did I know that this rather modest gentleman was instrumental in many of the technical initiatives that shaped the Institute and American society.
Professor Killian seemed like a scholarly older gentleman, dedicated to his family and to the Institute. During my time as his assistant, he spoke with me about my work in the Media Lab and my plans after graduation. As our relationship developed, I would accompany him to museum exhibits by architect Eero Saarinen and discuss Nobel laureate Franco Modigliani HM, the speaker that year at the annual lecture named for Dr. Killian. After an eager glance toward the graduation platform, I finally felt the name “Killian Court” sink in. He mentioned having raised funds during his tenure as president and fund-raising efforts with the entrepreneurial An Wang, my highly respected future boss. We talked about my class at the Sloan School and about Dr. Killian’s relationship with Alfred Sloan.
Later I came to learn that after the launch of Sputnik, Dr. Killian was key in focusing engineering educational opportunities as science advisor to President Eisenhower and later contributed to the founding of the Public Broadcasting Service under President Johnson. His leadership traits included collaboration, humility, and calm, rational direction amid crises. I learned some of these things at his memorial service and from reading his memoirs, The Education of a College President, a signed copy of which he presented to me as a graduation gift. He was a great man, and I was glad for the opportunity to carry his briefcase.
The Institute is filled with history, tradition, and impact on society, through students, alumni, faculty, staff, and humble, influential men like Dr. Killian.
Wil Blake ‘86
Boca Raton, FL