Yenwith Whitney’s Historic Career
When 18-year-old new yorker yenwith whitney was sent to Tuskegee, AL, for military training in 1943, he was entering several new worlds. First, he was leaving childhood to join the military in wartime. Second, he was learning to fly, then an unlikely dream for African Americans. Third, the young black man from the Bronx was joining an all-black community for the first time.
“My first real experience with black kids was living in the army air corps,” Whitney said. “It was my first profound exposure to being part of a group that was exclusively black.” Whitney’s parents had moved to a suburban neighborhood for better schools and safer streets in the 1920s, so Whitney grew up going to a predominantly white school and local church.
Growing up, he loved to tinker with mechanical things and was delighted to receive a model-airplane kit for a birthday. He built the plane, flew it, and promptly fell in love with flying. But “it never crossed my mind that I could be a pilot. That was an impossibility.”
Yet war needs intervened. The army air corps began training black military pilots at Alabama’s Tuskegee Institute and nearby Tuskegee Army Air Field in 1941. Whitney applied for and was ecstatic when he was accepted for pilot training. Joining the group that later became famous as the Tuskegee Airmen was one of the highlights of his life. “We were very close,” he said. “It was a life and death experience.”
Whitney’s life had changed profoundly. “I went into the army air corps and did something I wanted to do tremendously-I wanted to fly-and I was successful. That set me apart in both black and white society. And that had a tremendous impact on me.”
Whitney flew 34 combat missions as a fighter pilot escorting heavy bombers in Europe before the war ended. He wanted to study engineering and worked hard to pass the MIT entrance exam. His acceptance to the Institute was another turning point in his life.
Whitney translated his love of flying into aeronautical engineering studies and earned his bachelor’s in 1949. He worked first for Republic Aircraft on stress analysis, then for EDO on structural design of aircraft floats. With his wife, Muriel, he made a decision to venture into another new world.
“In 1956, at our church, I heard about the need for math and science teachers in Africa. I wasn’t particularly enchanted with working on aircraft floats at that time. So I said to my wife, who was working in the New York City Welfare Department, Why don’t we go to Africa?’ And she said, Okay.”’
The Whitneys spent a year and a half in a Paris suburb learning French. Then in 1958, they and their two young daughters headed for the strife-ridden French colony of Cameroon as missionaries for the Presbyterian Church. The Whitneys taught at the first school in that nation that provided secondary education for African boys and girls. And their daughters Saundra and Karen attended the mission school during the difficult civil-war years. When the country became independent in 1961, some of Dr. Whitney’s students became the political leaders of the young, independent nation of Cameroon.
In 1967, the family returned to New York, and Whitney continued working for the United Presbyterian Church in minority education and international education, in the U.S. and Asia as well as Africa. In 1980 he was appointed liaison with Africa, in which capacity he worked with local churches, councils, schools, and hospitals in more than 20 African countries. During his 35 years with the church, he earned a master’s degree in math education and a doctorate in international education from Columbia University.
After his retirement in 1992, Whitney moved to Sarasota, FL, with his wife Lorenza, whom he married after his first wife died in 1978. His participation in church affairs and MIT activities remains extensive. For the church, he has led study tours to Malawi, Madagascar, and South Africa. He also co-led a six-week series on Racism and White Privilege at the First Presbyterian Church in Sarasota and wrote articles on Africa for the national church’s World Update.
For MIT, he has served on the board of directors of the MIT Club of Southwest Florida, as an educational counselor, and as president of the Black Alumni Association of MIT, more commonly referred to as Bamit (bamit.org).
“When I went to MIT, I was well treated and had a good experience in the dormitory, the fraternity, and in intramural sports,” he said. “Yet there were only three other black students when I was at MIT, which is why I became so interested in Bamit. I think Bamit is a very important part of MIT and extremely important for black students.” Organized in the 1970s, Bamit provides professional and personal growth opportunities for African-American students and alumni.
Yenwith Whitney, like a lot of MIT alumni, has followed his own path to achieve his goals. From the historic accomplishments of the Tuskegee Air Corps to his volunteerism for both the Institute and his neighborhood church, Yenwith Whitney is leading a life that makes a difference. -Nancy DuVergne Smith
MIT Clubs News
The MIT Club of Germany sponsored its first international Biotech Conference on June 16, 2003, in Munich. It boasted an impressive roster of speakers that included government and industry representatives from Germany and the U.S., including Lita Nelsen ‘64, director of MIT’s Technology Licensing Office, and Frank Landsberger, visiting scientist, Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology. Under the general title “Facing Present and Future Challenges,” presentations focused on the theme of what the German biotech industry can learn from the MIT/greater-Kendall-Square area, Cambridge University, and industry experts in the biotech sector. It was the first time that a group of professors and executives had gathered together in Germany with top professionals active in the pharmaceutical and biotech industries to discuss the entire value chain of biotechnology. Lou Alexander HM, director of alumni education programs, described the event as “a stellar example of what MIT volunteers can accomplish in creating programs of high professional value and relevance.”
…and the MIT Club of South Africa.
The MIT Alliance of Michigan, a combined group of alumni organizations in Michigan, sponsored a half-day program back in April that, for the first time anywhere, brought MIT’s famed problem-solving abilities to the arena of public housing. Working with the offices of the governor of Michigan and the mayor of Detroit, the alliance created a forum on the topic of “Community Revitalization.” Chancellor Phillip L. Clay, PhD ‘75, a nationally recognized expert on urban housing issues, traveled from MIT to make his presentation, “Revitalizing Neighborhoods,” as did Professor John D. Sterman, PhD ‘82, Sloan School professor and head of MIT’s Systems Dynamic Group, who spoke on “Catalyzing Change: Systems Thinking for a Complex World.” Their presentations were followed by a panel discussion that included local academics and community and governmental leaders. Opening the program were remarks by Jeffrey Kaczmarek, senior VP of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, and Walter Watkins, chief development officer for the Planning and Development Department of the City of Detroit. After the event, through the auspices of the MIT Michigan Alliance, Professor Sterman donated software he had created to model development. The software is now being tested in Detroit.
Alumni Connect Worldwide
Throughout the past year, travelers with the MIT alumni Travel Program met with local alumni in the destinations they visited to exchange ideas and get to know one another. The generous hospitality of local alumni made these events a success, enabled many new connections, and renewed interest in MIT.
In March 2003, 12 MIT travelers explored the lush islands of Hawaii under the leadership of MIT professor emeritus of geology Bill Brace ‘46. MIT travelers took a tour of the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory led by local alum and seismologist Paul Okubo, PhD ‘86, and had lunch the next day at the home of Harrison Klein ‘71. Of the gathering, Bill Brace comments, “We had a wonderful lunch at Harrison Klein’s octagonal house, constructed of rare Hawaiian woods, on the edge of a rough coastline made of jagged lava. Several other people with MIT affiliation were there.” Klein added, “The luncheon was one of the most memorable MIT alumni experiences I have ever had.”
In the fall of 2002, 16 alumni and guests met with local alumni in Halifax, Nova Scotia, for a panel session. Alumni speakers included Andrew Trivett, ScD’91, Adam Bell, ScD ‘69, and James Warner, ME ‘57. Each gave a talk about his current professional experiences and research. The session was followed by a reception with additional alumni from the Halifax area. Another local alum, former lieutenant governor of Nova Scotia John James Kinley, SM ‘50, greeted this and another MIT group of 14 a few weeks later and took them on tours of the Lunenburg Marine Railway and of his town of Lunenburg.
In October, 16 travelers from the Class of 1950 met with alumni in Paris for dinner and attended a lecture on the European economy by MIT alum Jacques Cremer, PhD ‘77, which took place at Toulouse University. Other visits took place with the help of local alumni in Los Alamos and Albuquerque, NM; Beijing and Shanghai, China; Pretoria, South Africa; Jekyll Island, SC; and Dearborn, MI.
These special MIT visits add an important component to the MIT programs that cannot be found elsewhere and offer alumni the enriching experience of meeting fellow alumni from around the world. The Travel Program appreciates the generous hospitality of all these local alumni who volunteer their time and effort in hosting the MIT travelers during their journeys. Meeting locations coming up for future trips include Switzerland, China, and New Zealand.
For more information on the MIT Alumni Travel Program, please call 800-992-6749. The Web site is alum.mit.edu/travel.
Scouting for MIT’s Future
Darian Hendricks ‘89 has been interviewing candidates for undergraduate admission to MIT as an educational counselor in the Boston area since 1991. “I enjoy meeting the students and listening to their dreams and aspirations,” says Hendricks. One such student was Kevin Liu, who attended the Boston Latin School. Liu was admitted and is enrolling this fall at MIT.
“I felt elated for Kevin when I learned he was admitted and decided to attend MIT,” said Hendricks. “I am pleased that I was able to make a difference in his life by helping to connect him to the Institute, with all the benefits that go along with that.”
Hendricks has been involved with screening undergraduate applicants for more than 13 years. In that time, he has noticed some changes.
“Today’s students take advantage of more enrichment programs, college prep courses, and academic activities,” says Hendricks. “They are also more savvy about how they pick colleges and seem to have more complex questions on their minds.” About his latest recruit, Hendricks said, “I look forward to seeing Kevin one day join the leadership ranks of the MIT alumni body.”
In addition to being an educational counselor for the Institute, Hendricks has held leadership positions in various companies and has just recently started his own company.
ICAN’s Reputation for Success
With the sluggish eco-nomy and jobs moving to international locations, alumni and students are finding the Institute Career Assistance Network (ICAN) to be a great way to network with the MIT alumni community. ICAN, a service in the Infinite Connection suite of services, is an online directory that allows job seekers to perform searches using a variety of criteria. Whether searching for a specific field, job title, or geographic location, alumni can use ICAN to focus their efforts.
Almost 2,500 MIT alumni participate in ICAN as mentors, advisors, and informational resources each year. Each month, more than 300 alumni and students use ICAN as a part of their overall career strategies. As an example, Shelley Cazares ‘98 used ICAN to do long-distance networking as she was moving back to the U.S. after living abroad. After applying for hundreds of positions and having been turned down or ignored completely, Shelley found what she describes as her only “positive lead” through ICAN. Furthermore, ICAN led “directly to job interviews.” Kathy Li of the Class of 2005 had similar success with ICAN, through which she found her summer internship at Los Alamos National Laboratory last summer.
Another ICAN success story is Christopher Rohrs ‘00. He tells of his fruitless efforts applying for a position through a company’s Web site. “Then a friend suggested that I search for alumni at the company through ICAN,” said Rohrs. “I found someone’s name, got an interview in a week, and got the job a week later. I wish I had known about ICAN when I started my job search.”
The Alumni Association seeks alumni willing to volunteer their assistance and advice to other alumni and students in all courses of study. To learn more, go to alum.mit.edu/cs/ican/index.html or call Nora Zheng at 617-253-6378.
MIT OpenCourseWare (MIT OCW), the Institute’s groundbreaking Web project that offers free and open access to the course materials that support an MIT education, held its formal launch in September after a year-long pilot. This initiative supports MIT’s fundamental mission to advance knowledge and education to best serve the nation and the world. New course materials from 500 courses were published in September, with the goal of publishing virtually all of MIT’s course materials by September 2008. See what’s new and share your feedback at ocw.mit.edu. Receive monthly updates on the latest news from MIT OCW by registering for The MIT OpenCourseWare Update e-mail newsletter at mailman.mit.edu/mailman/listinfo/ocw-mail.
The September/October issue of openDOOR, the Alumni Association’s online publication, explored “Pervasive Learning” and the new technologies that are influencing education, including MIT’s OpenCourseWare. The November/December issue, entitled “Engineering Biology,” focuses on the growing overlap between biology, the medical sciences, and engineering. To view the current and past issues go to alumweb.mit.edu/opendoor/.
Technology Day from the Comfort of Your Home
Over 900 alumni attended the 2003 technology day talks in June, but now you can attend them virtually from the comfort of your own home-or wherever you access the Web. Entitled “Fast Times at MIT: What’s New, What’s Next-Now What?,” the program featured speakers such as political science professor Stephen Ansolabehere; Lawrence J. Vale, professor and head of the Department of Urban Studies and Planning; professor of biology Rudolf Jaenisch; Richard M. Locke, professor of entrepreneurship and political science at Sloan; and Edwin L. Thomas, director, Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies. Visit mitworld.mit.edu/dsp_series.php?id=40 to view the entire series on streaming video or just listen to the audio.