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Intelligent Machines

Dorm Photo Boards Keep Telling Stories

Collages document the decades

During his undergraduate days, Greg Tao ‘10 often showed visitors to Burton-Conner a photo collage hanging in the hall near his room. He pointed to a picture–a wild-haired young man with horn-rimmed glasses, peering deviously around a doorway, armed with a handful of shaving cream.

Bernard Tao ’76, SM ’77, cira 1975.

“That’s my dad!” Tao would say cheerfully.

This story is part of the November/December 2010 Issue of the MIT News Magazine
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Long before Greg’s father, Purdue University professor Bernard Tao ‘76, SM ‘77, was a student (and enthusiast of shaving-cream wars), residents of Burton-Conner had been making permanent photo collages, also called floor boards, to commemorate their time together. More than 30 floor boards are still on display. In one photo, a guy with a staticky halo of hair looks straight into the camera; in another, a woman with a battle-ready frying pan barrels down a hall.

Greg Tao ’10 and his father, Bernard Tao, in front of a floor board in Burton-Conner.

“I think the really cool part of the board is that it solidifies in time a group of people who chose to live together and will never live together again,” says Greg Tao.

Burton-Conner is home to more than 350 residents during the school year. Each of the dorm’s nine floors–five on the Burton side, four on the Conner side–has a distinct personality. Tao says that his floor is characterized by parties; other floors are known to be more athletic or more pirate-focused.

Greg Tao, circa 2007.

Other dorms also have features that reflect residents’ culture, such as the elaborate student-­made murals at Senior Haus and Bexley. Students say those creations reinforce the sense of history and shared experience in their dorm, and alumni cite them as vivid visual reminders of their student experience.

“The fact that these projects are permanent is really key,” says Tao. “I think it’s like a mark you get to make. It says, ‘I was here; this was my experience.’ When you come back, you’ll remember it.”

Last summer, Tao interned at Ethicon Endo-Surgery, a Cincinnati company specializing in minimally invasive medical devices. In the fall, he returned to MIT to begin a master’s degree in mechanical engineering and took up residence in a fraternity house near campus.

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