Engineering leadership: the one-hour edition by Maggie L. '12
President Hockfield makes a surprise appearance!
About 20,000 visitors took a peek at MIT during last Saturday’s “Under the Dome” Open House. To put that into perspective, hosting this many visitors on campus is as if about ten Campus Preview Weekends took place at the same time. Wow. If you haven’t seen the flashmob video yet, you have my permission to put down your AP study books and take a look.
As I hinted at in my last entry, the GEL program had a hands-on hour-long activity of its own, called “Deliver!”
The goal of “Deliver!” is to build a bridge out of paper, paper clips, and pencils under tight time pressure. The better the bridge design, the more “vehicles” (or in this case, washers) it can hold.
According to Diane Soderholm, the Education Director for the GEL Program, “almost every team practiced key leadership skills while building a paper bridge on time, within their materials budget, and to the requirements specified.”
Now I mentioned before how GEL students did a similar activity in an Engineering Leadership Lab earlier in the school year. So, how did the Open House visitors’ performance stack up against those of MIT students?
Diane said that the visitors, including children, parents, and some real engineers, focused on “meeting the time, materials, and requirement specifications, and did not go for the ‘cool’ factor that trips up some MIT students.” This is a lesson I’ve learned over and over in the GEL program. It’s our instinct to push the boundaries sometimes, and so we forget what the customer asked for in the first place.
Leah ’11 was helping at the GEL booth on Saturday, and commented on the activity’s prime real estate in the Stata Center: “We were situated between a levitation station and the robots throwing tennis balls so we couldn’t have asked for a better location.”
The “Deliver!” station was also graced—not once, but twice!—with a visit by the ultimate MIT VIP: President Susan Hockfield!
After the Open House event, President Hockfield sent a note to program director Ed Crawley, saying “I greatly enjoyed the enthusiasm of the Gordon team, which amplified the dozens of other activities that lined Stata’s student street. I don’t know if the visitors or the MIT participants had a better time. Please thank your colleagues for showing the world how MIT works.”
Her May 2nd email to the MIT community called the Open House a “smashing success:”
The campus sparkled, and, more important, so did the eyes of thousands of children who came to explore MIT and to glimpse their futures. Nothing captures that better than a note I received just hours afterward from an alumna who had brought her 6- and 11-year-old sons:
“We were stunned by the organization, scale of the experiments shown, and sheer number of staff and students involved. We participated all across the ‘tute, the kids almost running between buildings as I read the options ahead. We saw the Army helicopters, water rockets, and all the exhibits in Johnson and the Rockwell Cage. We did materials experiments, were in Building 33 and 41 for events, saw the ship models and viewed parts of lectures on robotics in Course 2. We loved all the activities in Stata [including] …the DARPA autonomous vehicle… The flying car, motorized shopping cart, and the students trying to commercialize the Braille label maker were also big winners…
The best part was over dinner, when my kids sat there with paper and pencil trying to invent a different way to make the helium blimps they saw race. They [had] decided to forgo a trip to Toscanini’s so they could get home even faster – as they had decided to make a ‘robotic’ arm from their pneumatic LEGOs, discussing the design all the way home … The arm is already finished … We have been home only 45 minutes.”
It’s been 30 years since an event like “Under the Dome” took place at MIT, but as a recent Tech article suggests, we probably won’t have to wait that long for the next one.
Thanks to Bruce Mendelsohn for the pictures!