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Kirsch makes $2.5 million pledge

Steven Kirsch, founder and chairman of the board of Infoseek, has pledged $2.5 million to construct an auditorium in the complex that will serve as a new center for computation, information and intelligence sciences at MIT.

Mr. Kirsch, who earned the SB and SM in electrical engineering and computer science in 1980, founded Infoseek as an Internet service in 1994. Infoseek reported $34.6 million in revenue for the year ending December 31, 1997, a 129 percent increase over the previous year.

In financing the auditorium, Mr. Kirsch believes he is contributing to the tradition of innovation at MIT. "My hope is that someone learns something in that auditorium that helps them do something great later in life," he said, "and I'll have the satisfaction of knowing that I played a small role in making that happen."

He also welcomed the opportunity to share his success with his alma mater. "If we all leave MIT a bit richer than when we arrived, MIT will continue to be one of the leading research universities in the world," he said.

The 300-to-350-seat auditorium will be part of the complex of buildings to be constructed on the site of Building 20. The complex will be named for Ray and Maria Stata, who provided impetus for the project with a $25 million pledge. Alexander Dreyfoos, president of Photo Electronics Corp., recently committed $15 million to the 300,000-square-foot project.

The auditorium will have state-of-the-art audiovisual capabilities, and every seat will have a laptop computer connection. Like the Wong Auditorium in the Tang Center, it will have a large formal lobby breakout space in the adjacent space.

Infoseek is Mr. Kirsch's third information technology firm. After developing his entrepreneurial spirit as a teenager in West Los Angeles, CA, by earning $30 an hour repairing pinball machines, Mr. Kirsch started Mouse Systems Corp. with $40,000 of his own money in 1982. The firm developed two patents for mouse technology involving the optical mouse, invented by Mr. Kirsch. The optical mouse substitutes LEDs and a mouse pad for the traditional ball.

In 1986, Mr. Kirsch co-founded the publishing software firm Frame Technology Corp., relinquishing his position as president of Mouse Systems. He was vice president of Frame Technology until he started Infoseek.

Mr. Kirsch, 40, has been a member of the Undergraduate Education and Student Affairs Visiting Committee since 1997 and the MIT Club of Northern California since 1985, serving as vice president from 1985-88 and 1990-92. He is currently a director of the Northern California group.

While a student at MIT, Mr. Kirsch was news editor of The Tech and projection director of LSC, and he also participated in gymnastics and lightweight crew. He was named one of "The 50 Most Influential People to Watch in Cyberspace" by Newsweek in 1995.

Mr. Kirsch said jokingly that he regretted that his gift does not address "the most difficult technical problem" traditionally faced by MIT students: "how to get a date." Mr. Kirsch met his wife, Michele, in California after graduation. They live in Los Altos, CA, with their two children, Katherine, 3, and Alexandra, 1.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on March 18, 1998.

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