ESG Alums Celebrate 30 YearsBy Katharyn Jeffreys
The Experimental Study Group celebrated its thirtieth anniversary this past weekend with staff, current ESG students, and alumni of the program. The former ESG participants shared stories of life at MIT and ESG in the 70s and 80s, as well as asking many times “What ever happened to...?”
ESG was, as its name suggests, very experimental in its conception. Today, according to George J. Carrette ’81, this progressiveness has decreased. “MIT has so many programs now. It’s much harder to be experimental.” He attributes this to the “institutionalization of innovative things.” ESG has found a system that works, which reduces the need to try new methods.
This system allows freshmen to study the mainstream core material within the context of traditional lectures or as independent study. The program is very flexible allowing students to experience large and small class sizes covering topics in almost any academic area. The pace of classes is tailored to each student such that a topic a freshman covered in high school will be skipped, and a topic the student struggles with will receive special attention. This pace allows students to work outside the boundaries of the traditional MIT semester, moving quickly or slowly through a subject as necessary.
Many alumni cited this feature as the best aspect of ESG. Doug May ’77 told the story of the last ten days of his freshman year. He had finished his classes, and decided to use the final weeks to learn the entire 8.02 curriculum. After 18-22 hours of studying a day, he was ready for the final. The professor was skeptical of his retention of the material, and wrote a special final for May. It consisted of one question: Re-derive Maxwell’s equations for initial principles. “I actually did it and was very pleased,” said May.
In addition, ESG provides discussion-oriented seminars, Friday luncheons and weekend trips as a forum for interaction between the freshmen and their peers and professors. The program also has its own common area which includes a lounge, kitchen, and computer room ideal for relaxing and studying. The alumni noted that this bonding was very important. “ESG was basically my family when I was here,” said Robert L. Pyron ’76. Another ESG alum, Dave Stefanovic ’78 met his wife when they were both freshmen in ESG. They brought their young daughter, one of the the first ‘pure’ ESG children to this weekend’s festivities.
Events for alumni and current students included discussion forums, speakers, a concert, and a banquet. Downtime was spent lounging in the ESG common area, snacking on cheese and crackers, and watching the next generation of ESG students crawl on the floor, playing with the programs puzzles and building blocks.
ESG currently consists of 45 freshmen, 15 sophomores, 10 staff members and 20 upperclass tutors, who are former ESG participants. The tutors are available not only for academic help, but nourishment, providing both services on Tuesday and Thursday nights at the ESG “Grindstone Nights.”