Coming to MIT for his graduate studies from the University of New Mexico was challenging for Burton J. Smith, who is now a successful computer architect. After he initially failed his oral qualifying exam in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS), his advisor, Al Drake, suggested he improve his presentation skills by doing some teaching. Smith got good enough at that to win EECS’s premier teaching award for graduate students. “[EECS showed me] how to learn, how to teach, how to be technically creative, and how much fun I was going to have for the rest of my life,” he says.
Smith, a technical fellow at Microsoft with expertise in parallel and high-performance computing, decided to give back by helping graduate students whose undergraduate institutions are underrepresented in EECS. “I wanted to encourage people like me to attend MIT in spite of their educational background,” he says. His gift honors his former mentor with the establishment of the Alvin W. Drake Fellowship Fund. “Professor Drake took care of me as my advisor and helped me keep faith in myself in spite of adversity,” he says. Smith hopes his gift will encourage graduate students to choose MIT “as a friendly and caring place that believes in their abilities and potential.”