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Letters

Research Highlights Need to Save
It is true that most Americans and especially Hispanics are not saving enough for their retirement. As the profile of James Poterba (“The Economics of Retirement,” March/April 2015) points out, retirement planning requires foresight and financial flexibility for decades. After spending the first 12 years of my career in finance and technology, I decided to combine my skills to build custom retirement options for Hispanics. Poterba’s work has served as an inspiration for my next challenge.

Carlos Armando Garcia ’02
New York, New York

This story is part of the May/June 2015 Issue of the MIT News Magazine
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Resurrecting the Piano Drop
I’m writing to add to your story about the Baker House Piano Drop (“Danger, Falling Pianos,” March/April 2015). I was part of the crew of Baker residents who resurrected this “musical gravitational demonstration” in 2005, and I’m thrilled to see that the tradition has been carried on regularly since then. Here are a few themes and anecdotes from our experience.

1. Humility. We spent months planning our drop in 2005. In order to safely launch a piano away from the building, we designed a reusable launch mechanism consisting of a pivoting ramp on top of a large wooden box. We felt pretty clever when we used freshman physics to convince the MIT Safety Office that our design was acceptable. We felt much less clever when we carried our large ramp to the roof (on the drop date!) and realized that it was one inch too wide for the doorway. But our invaluable house manager Jon Nolan grabbed a drill, and within minutes he had taken two heavy metal doors off their hinges, allowing the project to proceed.

2. Dedication. What made our event so much fun to organize is that we went bonkers with the piano theme. Of course we dropped a 700-pound piano seven stories. But we also had a target piano, a decoy piano, piano music, a piano website, and even a piano cake. I think our enthusiasm was infectious, because with very limited PR we attracted a crowd of hundreds, three local TV stations, high-speed photographers, and even a camera-equipped helicopter to take aerial video. The fallout (ha) was widespread, and we received calls and e-mails from relatives and MIT alumni as far away as Texas. Our parents even saw us on the evening news!

3. Community. A great number of people have put a great deal of effort into the piano drop over the years. I believe they gave their time to grow and improve the community in which they lived. The piano drop inspires awe, relaxes students on drop date, and brings the MIT community—and especially, the Baker House family—together. As Everett Moore Baker, for whom our dorm was named, put it: “Families are for every day—so that people growing up may learn what it is to belong to something bigger than just themselves, something from which, if they give themselves, they can take more than they will ever need.”

Martijn Stevenson ’05
Somerville, Massachusetts

Post-Global MIT
President L. Rafael Reif has neatly presented the basis for regarding MIT as a truly global institution in his MIT Technology Review editorial “MIT in the World” (November/December 2014).

Reporting on a historic off-campus meeting of the MIT Executive Committee of the Corporation at the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology, in Singapore, President Reif points out that the Institute has been an international university for some time. But now, he notes, it has gone beyond a single U.S. campus to become an entity with serious roots, operations, and two-way exchanges in many countries. Many others have tried to emulate MIT’s approach to scientific and technological education in institutions of their own.

There is a parallel here with the stages of growth in business operations—from local to regional to national to global or multinational. MIT began as a local technical school in Boston 35 years after its founder, William Barton Rogers, first attempted to start a similar technical high school in Maryland. By the time he died in 1891, MIT had already grown to strong regional status. In the first half of the 20th century, the Institute became a national powerhouse.

Now, as President Reif has observed, the global character of MIT has emerged, without fanfare or fantasy. It is real.

When and if intelligent life is discovered in space, it will not be surprising to find that a handful of world-class institutions like MIT have already been busy paving the way by seeking communication with fellow travelers from other planets or even galaxies. Or if we one day establish colonies in space, one can faintly visualize the first contribution to some future Alumni Fund campaign arriving radiomagnetically from some distant celestial body. The obvious next stage in our never-ending development is interplanetary.

Vincent A. Fulmer, SM ’53
Arlington, Massachusetts

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