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Vest Welcomes Incoming Class

President Encourages Freshmen To Take Leadership Roles

By Dana Levine


Charging the incoming class to become more actively involved in their education and to assume leadership roles, President Charles M. Vest formally welcomed the Class of 2004 to the Institute.

In introducing Vest at the yesterday’s convocation, Orientation Coordinator Joseph A. Cirello ’00 hosted a skit likening life at MIT to an appearance on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire.” While not directly contradicting this, Vest did say that some students find MIT to be “more like ‘Survivor.’”

“It is said that a leader is one who takes us elsewhere ... and each of you has that spark, that spirit, and that extraordinary ability to lead us elsewhere,” Vest said.

To become leaders, students should become involved as quickly as possible in the different research opportunities available at the Institute. “This means that your freshman year at MIT is not a rehearsal, or a dry run. This is a real as it gets,” Vest said.

His speech went on to detail exciting research projects currently underway, including genetic research at MIT-Whitehead Center, Project Oxygen at the Laboratory for Computer Science, and the cognitive research of Professor Mriganka Sur.

Professor discusses experiences

After his speech, Vest introduced Associate Professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences Nancy G. Kanwisher ’80, who spoke of both her undergraduate career and her research as a professor.

Kanwisher likened the techniques for studying the brain in her undergraduate years to trying to figure out how a car works by driving it.

“In the human mind, there is no substitute for looking under the hood,” Kanwisher said. “I never thought that there would be a way to look at living brains. Now I do that all the time using MRI.”

Kanwisher briefly described her research, using a computer image of her own brain as an example. Through studying blood flow to the brain as a subject is shown various stimuli, researchers have linked various brain regions to types of thought.

“[O]ur minds are not universal computational machines. They are more like Swiss Army knives, which have many different tools,” she said.

Dean for Undergraduate Education Robert P. Redwine also spoke at convocation, providing some final advice to students who “haven’t really been short on advice lately.”

Redwine urged students to “be open and adventurous,” saying that “education is not simply what you are going to learn in the classroom.”

He emphasized keeping the larger picture in mind rather than becoming bogged down by details. “If 10 years from now you aren’t able to recite Newton’s laws, it’s not the end of the world,” he said, in spite of his background as a Physics I (8.01) professor.

However, lack of a general understanding of physics would be detrimental in the working world, he said. Redwine concluded by telling freshmen to “make your own way” while also working with others.

Shulman links MIT, restrooms

Undergraduate Association President Peter A. Shulman ’01 delivered the final address, which drew a parallel between restrooms and life at MIT.

“There is one thing that goes neglected year after year during orientation. It is information that you can use today, and also something you can take with you for your entire four years here. I am speaking about restrooms,” he said, also implying that his advice applied to life in general at MIT.

“First, remember that there are restrooms everywhere; you just have to learn where to look,” he said, referring to MIT’s variety of residence choices.

He continued further, describing how restrooms differ and that each student should “find the restroom that best matches you. Some restrooms have single stalls, while others seem to stretch endlessly into the great abyss.”

Shulman also advised that students not neglect friends from orientation who choose different living options. “Your temp roommate might even prefer to go across the river. But don’t let them slip away from you ... Make a point to visit them whenever you can,” he said.

Finally, he encouraged students to make their own choices, regardless of advice from others.

“People will give you advice, and it will always only reflect on their own experiences, interests, and taste ... It’s too easy to forget that some of us prefer two-ply to one, and we just have to trust our instincts.”