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Alumni Connection

The Road Less Traveled
The french have a word that aptly sums up Owen Frankens career: imprvisible (literally, unforeseeable). To many, unforeseeability might be a source of anxiety. To Owen Franken 68, its freedom.

It is not surprising then that Franken enjoys an unusual profession for an MIT grad: photojournalism. Frankens career has taken him to 103 countries, allowing him to taste the best (and sometimes the worst) of what the world has to offer. Ive always relished freedom and never worried about financial security, Franken says from his home in Paris, where he juggles his roles as a food and travel photographer, a husband and father of two, a gourmet chef, and the older brother of comedian and political satirist Al Franken.

Frankens road less traveled was nearly a different one. For his senior thesis at MIT, he assisted a grad student studying the circular polarization of 53.6 degrees KeV x-rays from Virgo A, which didnt appeal to his creative side. Adding to Frankens doubts were a series of job interviews in which it became clear that much of the work of physicists in 1968 was related to war research.

As a kid, Franken picked up photography from his father and fell in love with it. He did the photography for his high-school yearbook and continued his avocation at MIT, shooting pictures for the MIT News Office and Technology Review. He was also photo editor for Technique. His first paid assignment was photographing sculptor Alexander Calder constructing the Great Sail on the MIT campus. He particularly remembers the advice of his psychology professor, John Graves, who said, Dont do what you think you should do. Do what you want to do.

That chance soon came. Franken volunteered for Eugene McCarthys presidential campaign and, naturally, took a lot of photographs. Those pictures caught the eye of McCarthys press secretary, Seymour Hersh, who asked Franken to document the campaign. The assignment became Frankens new senior thesis.

I loved observing the world and photographing it, says Franken. He decided against graduate school and hit the road as a professional photographer. Four years later, his brother graduated cum laude from Harvard and immediately headed to L.A. to try his hand at stand-up comedy. One can only imagine the parental handwringing back home.

But the unforeseeable has a way of working out. Al joined Saturday Night Live and went on to a successful career as a political satirist. Owens photos have appeared on the covers and pages of Time, Newsweek, Forbes, BusinessWeek, the New York Times, and National Geographic, as well as Saveur, Gourmet, Bon Apptit, Food and Wine, and Travel and Leisure. He has photographed presidents from Nixon to Clinton, covered wars and Woodstock, illustrated Chinese economic reform and the fall of the Berlin Wall. Some of Frankens photographs have become iconic: Nixon giving his signature victory salute as he boards a helicopter on the White House lawn moments after his resignation, a young Chinese man standing on the Great Wall smiling broadly and holding a Coca-Cola.

Franken left news photography after covering the overthrow of Ceaucescu in Romania. I remember driving film to the Belgrade airport in a rented VW that had all its windows blown out by sniper fire. It was then that he realized there were probably safer subjects to photograph.

He traveled to Paris in 1988 and stayed for the oysters. He began to focus his photography on the food and travel industries. He would soon meet his Dutch wife, Annemiek, and now wife and kids often accompany him on exotic assignments around the world.

Photographing food as a deeply human experience is Frankens art form today. He has completed two illustrated books, Escape to Provence and Escape to the Riviera, and hopes to do a book on Asian street foods.

This year, because of Als show on Air America [], everybody has been asking me for photographs, says Franken, who accompanied Al last Christmas on a USO tour of the Middle East and was hired to photograph it. He plans to accompany his brother again this year.

Asked about sibling rivalry, Owen laughs and points to the Harvard-MIT connection. I tease him that there are more Harvard comedians than MIT photographers. Franken playfully uses the French term recompense to describe his brothers Harvard experience. The fact that you are able to get into Harvard means the hard work is over, which is certainly not the case at MIT. MIT makes you prove youre worthy of getting there
and staying there.

It has been interesting having my brother as my brother, Franken continues. During a live conversation in August on Air America, the two got emotional talking about the current war. I told him, I really love you for what youre doing.

Whats next for Owen Franken? He would like to be with his brother for the November election. After that, hes open to all possibilitieswhich is just the way he likes it. Dave Enders

Year-End Impact for the Alumni Fund
With the holiday season approaching, alumni are reminded that now is the time to make their year-end gifts to the Alumni Fund.

November is an important time for the fund, says Alumni Fund director Monica Ellis 91. People are conscious of year-end tax advantages, so its a busy time for us.

Ellis says that more than 40 percent of the annual gifts to the Alumni Fund are made in the months of November and December.

Its a busy time of year for everyone, so I would advise alumni to begin considering their year-end philanthropic decisions early, says Ellis.

Ellis says that alumni need to leave themselves ample time to make their year-end gifts before the end of December if they want to receive 2004 tax deductions.

These days, more and more alumni are making their gifts online through MITs secure giving website.

Weve noticed an upward trend, says Ellis, which alumni tell us is due to convenience and ease of use.

Last year, the Alumni Fund received gifts from a record number of donors, as more than 31,000 alumni participated.

Annual participation from alumni is critically important to MIT, says Ellis. All gifts, regardless of amount, show a commitment to the Institute and a desire to be part of its future.

For more information on the Alumni Fund, or on how to make your gift online, go to Or alumni can also call the Associations toll-free number at 800-MIT-1865.

Commencement Surprise
At harvards commencement this past June, graduates who arrived early were surprised to find 13 crimson-colored lunch tables neatly folded in front of the fabled statue of founder John Harvard. The tables were so arranged as to spell out the initials of a rival school down the street. Harvard commencement officials were the first to arrive on the scene around 6:30 a.m. and were quick to have the tables returned to their rightful places, but not before Harvard photographer Justin Ide captured the early-morning chicanery.

The photo appeared in the July/August issue of Harvard Magazine, described playfully as an outrage perpetrated under cover of darkness.

While no one at MIT took credit for the hack, a source close to the Institute of Hacks, Tomfoolery, and Pranks said the prank reflected a certain style. Said the source, I suspect Jack Florey or Fletcher Peck might be behind this.

No further investigation, however, is planned at this time.

Che Musica!
This spring join fellow alumni on a special musical trip through Italy from March 16 to 25, 2005. 

This one-of-kind trip includes up-close-and-personal looks at some of the most amazing historic musical instruments in the world. Included in the planned itinerary are visits to the personal workshops of several of Italys top musical artisans.

In addition, the trip offers an exploration of Italys amazing scientific heritage, as well as out-of-the-way villas, towns, and museums that relate to the lives and discoveries of Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo Galilei, and other prominent Italian scientists and inventors.

This MIT-exclusive program will take you through Florence, Bologna, Parma, Lucca, Cremona, and Milan. However, because space is limited on this trip, alumni are encouraged to reserve their places early.

To find out more, call the MIT Alumni Travel Program at 800-992-6749. You may also visit the alumni travel Web page at While there, be sure to check out all of our trips for 2005, including some special trips to Alaska, Portugal, Crete, and India, and alumni campus programs in Ireland, France, and Sicily.

The Learning Is in the Doing
Ask robert wickham 93, sm 95, what he enjoys most about volunteering, and youll get a long, reflective pause. Thats a tough one, smiles Wickham. Different experiences bring different types of rewards. But certainly serving on the MIT Corporation was a phenomenal experience.

Wickham likes to stay busyso busy, in fact, that asking him to choose his favorite MIT experience is an unfair question. Since his student days, the Course XVI graduate has been actively involved with MIT, participating in student government, varsity sports, musical theater, UROP, WMBR radio, and Tau Beta Pi, to name just a few of his affiliations. And after graduation, he got even busier.

I like different experiences, Wickham confesses. I always learn something new, which is a big part of the fun. Wickham currently serves as president of the Class of 93, is a member of Friends of DAPER, serves as an educational counselor, and volunteers in the capital campaign. He chaired his reunion committee in 2003, has sponsored student externships, served on the board of the MIT Enterprise Forum, and recently completed a stint as chair of the Technical Operations Review Committee for the Alumni Association. This past June he was selected to the Alumni Association Board of Directors. But his election in 1996 as the young-alumni member of the MIT Corporation still stands out.

I really do enjoy all my MIT volunteer experiences, explains Wickham. But serving on the MIT Corporation was a remarkable experience. It gave me significant insight into the governance of a complex organization like MIT. It was valuable to see the amount of thought and planning that goes into the Institute. I also got to work closely with some remarkable people in both industry and academia. There are some impressive minds on the MIT Corporation.

Wickham served five years on the corporation, from 1996 to 2001. He said the idea came after an intriguing talk with Professor Earl Murman, then head of the Aero-Astro department. Professor Murman was my senior thesis advisor and thought this could be a great way for me to contribute to MIT, says Wickham. He was absolutely correct.

Wickham says his time on the corporation was made even more interesting by his commute, which turned out to be longer than most. In 1996, I was a management consultant with the Boston Consulting Group, he says, and at the time I was living and working in Australia. It often took two days to arrive at the meeting.

After his stint down under, Wickham joined a startup airline in the U.K. called Go Fly Ltd. A year later he enrolled in the MBA program at the Harvard Business School. After graduating, he joined his current employer, Empirix, a software firm that builds testing and monitoring tools for enterprise applications and networks.

I actually became aware of the opportunity at Empirix through my work on the corporation, says Wickham, pointing to just one of the unplanned benefits that come from his volunteer activities.

Wickham eventually served on four different visiting committees while on the corporation but says the large part of his work was on the athletics committee.

It was an interesting challenge, says Wickham, a former varsity squash player and then later coach of the J.V. squash team. MIT has always had a large NCAA program, with 41 different varsity sports. But the athletic programs were growing fast among the students, resources were being stretched, and the Zesiger Center was under construction. So there were issues to prioritize, constituents to identify, and then a need for a clear plan. It was an enjoyable experience.

Robert was a terrific asset to our committee, says Candace Royer, MITs director of athletics. He made us take a good hard look at ourselves. Royer says Wickhams most valuable contributions were the clear analyses he could bring to complex issues.

Joseph Recchio, director of operations and information systems for the MIT Alumni Association, expressed a similar sentiment. We had been struggling with an age-old debate, says Recchio, namely, when to launch online products versus adding enhancements to existing ones.

A committee was formed, with Wickham selected as the chair. Recchio, a 29-year veteran of the Institute, says this committees charge involved a multitude of contingencies. Roberts leadership was inspired. He kept our group engaged, focused, and on point. Best of all, we came out of the experience with a clear game plan we could confidently build on.

Having a clear game plan is second nature to Wickham, who says he intends to stay involved with MIT for the foreseeable future. My wife and I have even turned down opportunities that require moving away, he says with a laugh. But I would encourage any alumnus who may have fallen out of touch with the Institute to maybe take another look. MIT has changed quite a bit. And by that I mean both physically and pedagogically.

Wickham says he plans a lifelong attachment to the Institute. I would say that MIT shouldnt just be a point in your life but a part of your life that you carry wherever you go. Jim Wolken

COOP Discounts Exclusive to MIT
Buy mit-logo gear and gifts at the Coop online during the month of December and receive a 10 percent discount off clothing and merchandise, and receive 15 percent off on chairs, Chelsea clocks, and custom jewelry (Tiffany products not included). To receive your online-only discount, simply enter this code when the order form requests a membership ID number: 311204.

This offer is for MIT goods only. It is not to be combined with other Coop discounts and is valid Dec. 1 to 31, 2004. Questions? Call the MIT mail order coordinator at 800-368-1882. To order or browse the Coop, go to

Save the Date
Director of reunions and special events Peter Muise is reminding all alumni to mark June 25, 2005, on their calendars. These are the dates for Tech Reunions 2005.

This is especially important for all classes ending in 0s and 5s, says Muise, as they are celebrating anniversaries this year.

Muise says a preliminary schedule of events is already up on the MIT Alumni Association website.

For more information about your class reunion or Tech Reunions 2005 in general, please visit the Reunions Web page at

Building Stata
Can architecture actually aid scientific discovery and educational excellence? This was just one of the questions explored in Building Stata, a new book by MIT project director Nancy Joyce, who chronicles the rise of MITs new Stata Center from its initial design through final construction. Brought to life by the photography of Boston-based photojournalist Richard Sobol, the book captures both the aesthetics of Frank O. Gehrys revolutionary design and the engineering science that allowed for its construction.

Joyce sets the tone by first looking at the historical development of MITs campus. Recognizing the remarkable scientific discoveries that came from both the pillared halls of the Infinite Corridor and the modest barracks of historic Building 20, Joyce captures MITs penchant for balancing aesthetics with pragmatic purpose and juxtaposes it with architect Gehrys revolutionary building, which quite simply changes the landscape of MIT.

The strength of the book, however, is the insiders tour Joyce gives the reader, capturing in great detail the engineering challenges faced by the builders of Stata and their solutions. Joyces text and Sobols pictures provide the sort of detail that the most dedicated engineer will enjoy. At the same time, her explications are clear enough that even the nonengineer will find much to enjoy. The end result is a thorough look at a building that will surely become a Boston landmark.

Alumni can order Building Stata directly from MIT Press, and a 20 percent discount is available to MIT alumni. You may order online at and simply use the code MITALUM to receive your discount.

Building Stata may also be ordered toll free at 800-405-1619.

Volunteer Honor Roll
The MIT Alumni Associations Volunteer Honor Roll, a biannual list of outstanding volunteers who have done remarkable work on particular projects or events, was released recently for the six-month period ending in July. The Volunteer Honor Roll is limited to just 25 people per selection period. For the period ending July 2004, the selections were:

Gregory K. Arenson 70
James W. Bueche 62
John T. Cardella 04
Angie M. Chatman-Williams, SM 88
Heather M. Cogdell 89
Anand Devendran 99
Deirdre K. Dunn 99
David J. Goldstone 89
Ludmila Kopeikina, SM 90
Joseph G. Kubit 70
Vilette T. Nolon, friend of MIT
Timothy I. Panagos, SM 03
Malulee Pinsuvana, friend of MIT

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