Telling Untold Stories
Thomas T. Huang ‘86, SM ‘88
When Tom Huang ‘86, SM ‘88, arrived at MIT as a freshman in 1982, he had a plan. “I was very good at science, so I was going to be a scientist and a professor like my father,” he recalls.
But just because youre seven feet tall, must you play basketball? If science is something of a family business, and youre pretty good at it, what do you do when you discover a passion for something else?
In Tom Huangs case, you finish up your master’s, pack two suitcases, and run off to join the newspaper business.
Today, Huang works for the Dallas Morning News, serving as editor of “Texas Living,” the paper’s prizewinning lifestyle section. His monthly column on diversity runs on Poynter Online, a website for journalism insiders.
Huang’s journey started during his first week at MIT, when he joined the Tech. “Looking back, I’m not quite sure why I signed on,” he recalls, “but I fell in love with reporting. By my junior year, I was working 40 hours a week on the Tech.” As an editor, Huang relished his work as well: developing story ideas, working with and coaching other writers, shaping each edition. “It took a lot of all-nighters to get my classwork done, but it was a terrific experience. Let’s say at MIT, I learned how to keep a sense of humor under extreme conditions,” he says.
Huang recalls the moment when he knew that he needed to be a reporter. He was covering a rally of homeless people picketing MIT and Harvard over Cambridge’s lack of affordable housing. He spent a day with a small group of them and they showed him the derelict building where they were squatting.
“They slept on dirty mattresses. They kept old, stale loaves of bread in a broken oven. Something moved in me. I wondered, Why have we not told your story? Can I tell it?’”
It was a life-changing moment, Huang recalls. “I was far along in my program and wanted to complete my master’s,” but the call of journalism was strong. His reporter’s notebook offered a free pass to go anywhere and ask anybody anything. The prospect of exploring the realities of people’s lives, and sharing them with readers, proved irresistible.
For 15 months, Huang barnstormed through four newspapers in Ohio, North Carolina, and Virginia, learning his craft. During job interviews, newspaper executives would see MIT and engineering on his resume and ask what he was doing there. “I’d tell them that I love meeting people and telling their stories,’” he says. The questions always stopped when they read his work. The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk hired him in 1989 as a permanent staff writer covering police, courts, City Hall, features, and special projects.
“My parents hoped this was an experiment and that in time, I’d come to learn the folly of youth,” he recalls with wry sympathy. But as Tom Huang thrived in journalism, his parents’ concern turned into support.
Huang is the son of immigrants with their own fascinating story. They met as students at National Taiwan University in Taipei, having each fled Mao’s advancing armies as teenagers. At 23, Huang’s father came to America for his doctoral work at MIT, where he also taught from 1963 to 1973. Today, Thomas S. Huang, SM ‘60, ScD ‘63, is a full-time faculty member at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Tom’s younger siblings are also MIT alums: Caroline Huang, SM ‘85, PhD ‘91, and Gregory Huang, SM ‘92, PhD ‘99, a fellow journalist who is now senior writer here at Technology Review.
Huang has been with the Dallas Morning News since 1993. Twice he’s been to Bosnia reporting on the aftermath of war. He’s also covered two of the nation’s most moving tragedies, the Oklahoma City bombing and September 11th.
“That I was able to think clearly, in times of extreme stress, I attribute directly to my MIT experience,” says Huang. “Scientists and journalists are naturally curious about the world and how things work. Both search for facts and dig deeply for answers. My MIT training in how to think and analyze problems creatively influences my work every day.”
EFL adds new improvements
In november 2004, the MIT Alumni Association implemented new spam-filtering software for users of Email Forwarding for Life (EFL), one of the most popular Infinite Connection services. The software, SpamAssassin, which has been used successfully throughout MIT, has significantly reduced the amount of spam sent through the EFL system. Since November, SpamAssassin has identified four million e-mails as spam and has returned all of them, undelivered, to their senders.
As an EFL user, you have the option of turning this service on or off, and you can choose to apply high, medium, or low levels of filtering.
The Association has also invested significant resources in upgrading hardware for the EFL service with the addition of six new servers, two to assist with the forwarding process and four devoted to running SpamAssassin. Also new to the service is an “allow and deny” function that allows you to select e-mail addresses that you’d like to either regularly receive mail from or block. To sign up for EFL, or to learn more about the free online services offered through the Association’s Infinite Connection, visit alum.mit.edu/as.
Hockfield Out and About
New president meets alumni
During the month of April, alumni will have three opportunities to meet MIT president Susan Hockfield outside the confines of 77 Mass. Ave. On April 2, the MIT Club of Boston honors the new president at its black-tie Spring Gala at the Museum of Fine Arts. Hockfield will also participate in the MIT On the Road event in Washington, DC, on April 9. This will be a one-day conference that will focus on recent developments in the field of brain and cognitive science. And finally, Hockfield will deliver the closing remarks at MIT’s first ever Women’s Leadership Conference in Cambridge on April 30. This conference will bring together alumnae and members of the MIT community for a celebration and exploration of MIT women as leaders and innovators. For more information on Association events, please visit alum.mit.edu/calendar/.
Tech Night at the Pops
Now in its 108th year, Tech Night at the Pops continues with Keith Lockhart conducting the Boston Pops on Thursday, June 2, at Boston’s Symphony Hall. Along with Lockhart’s trademark charm and good humor, this year’s event will feature some homegrown talent. MIT Media Lab professor of music Tod Machover has composed a new concerto for “hyperpiano and orchestra,” which the Pops will perform. The piece also has a visual component, which will be projected onto a large screen above the orchestra. Machover, who has a history of breaking traditional artistic and cultural boundaries, also heads up the Media Lab’s Opera of the Future, which uses computers to augment musical expression and creativity.