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Notable Alumni

After departing from MIT, alumni make their mark on the world.

By Aaron D. Mihalik

Former MIT Alumni/ae Association President Bob Metcalfe ’68, put it simply., “There is life after MIT.” Though life after MIT varies for everyone, there are quite a few alumni that have gone on to achieve fame and public recognition in different fields.

Take for instance the effect of MIT alumni on the world market. In a study released in 1997 compiled by BankBoston and MIT entitled MIT: The Impact of Innovation, the effects of MIT alumni were calculated in terms of economic impact. The study reported that in 1994, MIT graduates were responsible for creating firms that employed 1.1 million people and generated $232 billion in world sales.

MIT inspires budding entrepreneurs

The list of MIT alumni who have become famous entrepreneurs is nearly endless. The early generation of entrepreneurs include the entrepreneur Alfred P. Sloan, Jr. 1895, as well as Vannevar Bush PhD ’16 (Raytheon), John T. Dorrance 1895 (Campbell Soup Company), Donald Douglas ’14 and James S. McDonnell ’25 (McDonnell Douglas Aircraft Company), Cecil H. Green ’23 (Texas Instruments), William R. Hewlett SM ’36 (Hewlett Packard Company), George L. Eastman 1870 (Eastman Kodak), and Arthur D. Little 1885 (chemical engineering research firm that bears his name).

The entrepreneurial trend has not stopped with the older generations, however. The more recent entrepreneurs include John S. Reed ’61 GM (Chair of Citicorp), Amar G. Bose ’51 (Bose Corporation), Mitch Kapor ’80 (Lotus Development Corporation), Rank Manning ’70 (Zoom Telephonics), Kenneth Olson ’50 (Digital Equipment Corporation), Raymond Stata ’57 (Analog Devices, Inc.), and Metcalfe (inventor of the Ethernet and founder of 3Com). Metcalfe commented on MIT’s influence in his life by saying, “What I got from MIT was how to enjoy hard work and accomplishment, not to mention the science, math, engineering, and entrepreneurship. Oh, and a network of lifelong friends.”

However, for the world outside MIT, the stereotypical MIT alumnus is a researcher. It is no wonder that MIT faculty, staff and alumni have won a total of 35 Nobel prizes, with 15 of these awards received by MIT alumni.

A significant area of research in which MIT alumni are prominent in is space exploration. The number of astronauts that MIT graduates is second only to the Naval Academy. The second man to walk on the moon, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, Jr. ’63 ScD, is an alumnus.

MIT alumni hold positions in politics

The importance of MIT alumni extends beyond research and enterprise, however. Benjamin Netanyahu ’75 is an example of an MIT alumnus who became famous as a politician. In 1996 Netanyahu ran for prime minister of Israel. Netanyahu won the election by fewer than 30,000 votes and became the youngest prime minister ever elected in Israel. Another MIT alumnus turned Israeli politician is Moshe Arens ’47 ME. He is the former Israeli minister of defense.

MIT alumni have achieved high ranking positions in government agencies. For instance, John M. Deutch ’61 has served as the director of the Central Intelligence Agency and Sheila Widnall ’60 was the former Secretary of the Air Force.

Other alumni who have turned to politics have actually served as presidents, including Virgilio Barco ’43 (Colombia), Luis A. FerrÉ ’24 (Puerto Rico), and JosÉ Figueres Ferrer ’26 (Costa Rica).

Alumni entertain audiences worldwide

Besides making a name for itself in the movie Good Will Hunting, MIT also has alumni that have made their names in the entertainment industry. James Woods dropped out to pursue his acting career shortly before his scheduled graduation in 1969. He has played such roles as Jack Crow in John Carpenter's Vampires (1998) and Mel in Another Day in Paradise (1998). He has won two Emmys, one Golden Globe, and he was nominated for an Oscar in the category of Best Supporting Actor for Ghosts of Mississippi (1996).

Another famous entertainer is Tom Scholz ’69. He is the producer and instrumentalist for the music group “Boston.” He engineered all the Boston albums and plays lead and rhythm guitars, as well as the bass, piano and percussion. In 1980 he started Scholz Research & Development which designs and manufactures signal processing equipment for musical instruments.

Also included in the group of entertainers are radio celebrities Tom ’58 and Ray ’72 Magliozzi. These brothers are otherwise known as Click and Clack of National Public Radio’s “Car Talk” and hold the distinction of being this year’s Commencement speakers.

MIT has graduated its share of people who have earned fame in an unusual fashion. Stewart R. Mott ’59 is the former director of Planned Parenthood and number 15 of President Nixon’s enemies list. Larry Kahn ’75 was the holder of the world singles title in tiddilywinks. James Moody ’75 is Linda Tripp’s former attorney who delivered the tapes to Kenneth Starr. Steve W. Altes ’84 is the body double for Brad Pitt. Lastly, I.M. Pei ’40 is the architect of buildings like the Green building, John Hancock Building, and the entrance to the Louvre.

MIT has meant different things to all these alumni, but one thing has been clear:

In the words of Chancellor Lawrence S. Bacow’72: “My undergraduate experience taught me what it meant to work really hard on incredibly tough problems. It helped me realize that I was capable of far greater things that I ever thought possible.”