Student tackles new subject: lecturer sketches

Alex d'Arbeloff in Hiep Nguyen's caricature (above) and in real life (below).

The faculty in the Leaders for Manufacturing/System Design and Management (LFM-SDM) programs assumed Hiep Nguyen was taking copious notes as he scribbled assiduously during their lectures.

Actually, Mr. Nguyen was creating caricatures of the speakers.

"At the beginning, I think most of them, including my classmates, didn't know what I was doing," said Mr. Nguyen, who posted his early drawings on the bulletin board at the LFM office. "I didn't use a lot of my class time to draw. I drew just once a while, in low-stress class time, and very quickly (five to 10 minutes) when the lecturer intrigued my drawing interest."

The subjects were amused and pleased when they viewed the drawings.

"I told him that I liked it," said Alex d'Arbeloff, chair of the MIT Corporation. Under the caricature of Mr. d'Arbeloff holding a magnifying glass in one hand and a globe in the other, Mr. Nguyen has written the words "Focus, Focus, Focus." Mr. d'Arbeloff explained, "That was one of the two main themes of my presentation. He wisely did not mention the second theme to create maximum impact of the sketch with a clear one-dimensional caption."

"Besides being a spot-on caricature, he added elements to the drawing that captured the content of my course in a sly and humorous way," said John Sterman, the Standish Professor of Management, who is shown encircled by whirling feedback loops. "I'm pleased with it."

"It was a complete surprise," said Professor Roy E. Welsch, director of the Center for Computational Research and Economics and Management Science. "I think it more or less looks like me, and my family thinks so as well. The catapult with an egg may have a deeper meaning. Whom is it aimed at? We did use catapults in the course, which we naturally called statapults."

Senior Lecturer Donald B. Rosenfield, director of the LFM Fellows Program, is depicted looking toward the heavens as he slaloms between tasks on a snow board. "I think Hiep's drawings are terrific and capture both looks and character," he said. "I'm flattered that he thinks I am LFM's soul-keeper and I wonder if I do, indeed, always look upward."

Framed copies of Mr. Nguyen's collection of sketches will be on display outside the LFM-SDM Leadership Library at Rm E40-422 through June 2002. He expects to receive the SM in construction engineering and the MBA from the Sloan School through the LFM program in 2002.

Mr. Nguyen, who moved to the United States from his native Vietnam in 1992, was awarded the Harold and Arlene Schnitzer Prize in the Visual Arts last May. His work was displayed over the summer in the Weisner Student Art Gallery. He started sketching in 1996 -- "just for fun with friends," he said. "I am not a professional. I can draw only when I am in a good mood and find the subject interesting."

Mr. Nguyen's 10-year-old son is also an award-winning artist. He recently won $1,000 in a competition sponsored by Fidelity Investments and the $100 first prize in the city of Quincy's annual holiday art competition. He is renowned among his peers for his Pokemon sketches.

Mr. Nguyen, who has a bachelor's degree from the University of Architecture in Saigon and a BS in engineering from Tufts University, presented copies of his caricatures to several of his subjects. "They all seemed surprised and accepted them cheerfully," he said. "One professor patted my shoulder and whispered, 'I hope that's not all you've done in my class.' I laughed and said, 'You bet.'"

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on December 6, 2000.

Topics: Arts, Students

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