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Alumni Letters

Letter from our readers.

Rethinking an MIT Education: A Beginning, Not an End
I was delighted to see your article on MIT’s extensive review of the undergraduate curriculum (“Rethinking an MIT Education,” March/April 2007). As a former student member of the Task Force on the Undergraduate Educational Commons and a recent graduate, I am excited by the flurry of discussion since the release of the task force’s final report in October 2006. Such rigorous debate is essential to ensure that MIT continues to provide the best possible education for its undergraduates.

At the same time, I fear that the creation of numerous additional spinoff committees will slow the implementation process dramatically and that it will be years before these vital recommendations are fully realized. While I recognize that institutions are slow to change, it is crucial that MIT move forward at a steady pace to act on the recommendations the task force put forth.

Those recommendations, while controversial, represent the work of 23 faculty members, four students, and dozens of others over two and a half years. Despite the insatiable desire of students and faculty alike to address a plethora of curricular issues, I urge the MIT community to focus on addressing only what is truly essential in an MIT undergraduate education. For me, it is not necessarily a long list of required courses in science and engineering that have left a lasting impact but, rather, the leadership and community service activi­ties in which I was involved.

Finally, let us all not forget that this is the beginning of a process, not the end; reviewing, revising, and renewing the undergraduate curriculum must be a regular process that involves faculty and students to ensure that MIT remains the center of excellence and leadership it has been for over a century.
John R. Velasco ‘06, SM ‘06
Limerick, Ireland

More Maya Pedal Collaboration
I was delighted to see Andrea ­Silverman’s article on Maya Pedal in the most recent Technology Review (“Pedal Power,” March/April 2007). Maya Pedal is one of many local partner organizations in the developing world that make it possible for students to engage with very real problems in challenging environments.

In January I visited Maya Pedal with three students from Amy Smith’s D-Lab course Introduction to Development. In addition to helping Maya Pedal with its usual work, the students worked on projects that they had identified and prepared for before leaving the U.S. The aim of the first project was to use inexpensive testing equipment developed by D-Lab to help the local community of 26,000 improve the quality of its drinking water. The second project involved testing modifications to a grain mill attachment for one of Maya Pedal’s products. These modifications will make it possible to make masa, the dough used to make tortillas, quickly and inexpensively, using pedal power. Both projects are continuing this semester, and students are planning to return to Guatemala this summer to carry them forward.
Gwyndaf Jones
MIT Edgerton Center instructor

A Stunning Exhibit
We were pleased to see Technology Review’s account of Donna Coveney’s remarkable photographic record of MIT (“The Other Side of the Lens,” March/April 2007).

Since her arrival here nearly 25 years ago, Donna has created a unique record of life at the Institute. Her work provides a clear, honest, and inspiring insider’s view of MIT, its people, and their activities, both profound and offbeat. She projects a sense of how our faculty, staff, and students work to change the world and aid humankind. MIT’s depth, humor, and heart are on display. The Institute’s many facets, from Woodie Flowers sliding down the banister at 77 Mass. Ave. to a pene­trating portrait of the late Viki ­Weisskopf, and from arriving freshmen to research laboratories, are captured in this important retrospective.

In our opinion, Donna is an excellent photojournalist whose work in newsprint has been outstanding, but her work in these high-quality prints is stunning. One of us (CMV) recalls a conversation with the late author and artist Phyllis Morrison. At the mention of Donna, Phyllis’s eyes lit up, and she said, “Donna Coveney does extraordinary work and portrays MIT better than anyone else.” We agree, and so will any member of our community who views this exhibit.
Charles M. Vest, president emeritus
Paul E. Gray, president emeritus

Editor’s note: To see some of Donna Coveney’s most memorable photographs from the Compton Gallery’s two-decade retrospective of her work, visit

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