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Exploration Focus Of Ulysses Project

By Jennifer Young


Sam Jahanmir ’01 hadn’t traveled much before last summer.

Things changed when a field school program in Italy gave him the perfect opportunity to pursue a personal interest in archaeological work, and, unexpectedly, the perfect idea for a new student club.

“My experience was amazing. I thought there should be an organization that would help students to do the same thing,” Jahanmir said.

The idea grew from a whim to a plan. Jahanmir shared his idea with friends, forming a group that gained support from MIT faculty, official recognition from the Association of Student Activities, and sponsorship from J.P. Morgan, Lockheed Martin, Mitsubishi, and Qualcomm.

Borrowing its name from Jahanmir’s favorite Tennyson poem, the Ulysses Project was born.

Inaugural meeting, competition

The group is open to the entire student population of MIT, and so will be the competition that marks its beginning.

Students, in teams of two to four members, are invited to “Pick a continent. Plan an expedition. Go exploring this summer,” and to write these plans in a three-page trip proposal. The entries will be submitted in mid-May and judged. The top two or three teams will share $2,000 in travel scholarships, which must be spent to make these trip happen.

“The prize money isn’t going to cover all the travel expenses, but it’s meant to be an encouragement,” Jahanmir said. “We want to create something that can get students going to a lot of exciting places.”

Project dedicated to adventure

Not everyone was as enthusiastic as Jahanmir when the Ulysses Project began soliciting corporate sponsorship. “We were turned down by a few companies not only because the economy was down, but because our group was unconventional.” Yet the organization persevered despite the initial roadblocks.

Jahanmir describes the group as “dedicated to encouraging and helping students plan ambitious expeditions to anywhere in the world that they want to go.” One of the Ulysses Project’s ultimate goals is an online record of its members’ expeditions across the country and the globe. Such a record will let students know that the group “allows students to follow their interests and find something they really want to explore,” Jahanmir said.

At the same time, such a record will increase the Ulysses Project’s credibility with both current and future sponsors. “We are very grateful to all of our sponsors for supporting an unusual idea. If we can show that it can be successful, the number of sponsors will probably grow,” Jahanmir said.

Faculty, international support

The project has garnered substantial support from members of the MIT faculty. “I think the Ulysses Project is a wonderful way to add another crucial dimension to the world of exploration at MIT,” said Philip S. Khoury, Dean of the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, who is acting as one of the group’s advisers. “Our students have once again demonstrated their creativity in design and execution. I wish them and their project enormous success.”

The organization is also generating interest outside of MIT. The Explorers Club, an international professional society that formed almost a century ago to sponsor and support expeditions to the poles, has expressed interest in the group’s mission.

The Club’s focus on field studies and scientific research through exploration is closely akin to the concept of an MIT exploratory society. “The Ulysses Project is an idea whose time is now. I could see the potential for a very beneficial and interesting interface between the Ulysses Project group and the Explorers Club. We welcome the chance to offer whatever we can of our experience to this like-minded entity,” said Greg Deyermenjian, president of the Northeast Chapter of the Explorers Club. Deyermenjian will be an adviser to the group and the keynote speaker at their inaugural meeting.

The Ulysses Project’s first meeting will be held on May 3, at 7:30 p.m. in E51-345.