Freshmen are in full bloom on MIT’s campus this week. Interacting with some of the world’s greatest emerging young minds is by far the greatest perk of being on the faculty here at MIT. Scanning the endless lists of AP exam scores lit up with 5s (the highest score possible) and reviewing these freshmen’s records of hands-on experience in some of the world’s greatest labs even before making it here, I often wonder whether I could get into MIT today against this kind of incredible competition.
Advising freshmen is a complex task because of the intricacies in how a mind is engineered by an academic institution. It seems like all “You can take this, if you’ve taken this and this,” and “You shouldn’t take this if you want to do that.” It seems a bit unfair to force these new minds along specific paths of instruction to become a specific person like a “mechanical engineer” or a “French historian,” or to earn any specific intellectual badge that they are to carry for the rest of their lives. A freshman comes to you as a blank slate, brimming with opportunity to become something new and as yet undefined. Why reduce their chances to become new by force-fitting them into the path of what is already done?
I arrived at MIT in 1984 as a freshman with a typical math/science strength, yet with an atypical ability in the visual arts. Twenty years later, I strive to bridge the various islands of the artist, the engineer, the scientist, and the designer, and to instill this spirit in the students I have the privilege to encounter. My own interests in what I call “technohumanism” are continually under construction, and I am honored to present these thoughts regularly in this blog.