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IAP Notebook

Advice from the 'charmcellor'

Forget sunscreen -- "don't forget your raincoat."

That was the advice Chancellor Lawrence Bacow offered to 216 graduates at the Charm School commencement in Lobby 10 last Thursday.

Chancellor Bacow, promoted to "charmcellor" for the occasion, told the students his raincoat was a strategic lifesaver when he used it to cover an unfortunately located rip in his trousers at a luncheon meeting with a potential MIT supporter at the Harvard Club. The lesson, he said, is that "poise, charm and a firm handshake are important, but don't forget your raincoat."

Wearing a Harvard robe, a Viking helmet and carrying a plastic mace, Charmcellor Bacow said he was fulfilling a lifelong dream with his appearance -- "not wearing this crazy hat... but delivering an MIT Commencement speech."

After completing an intense one-day curriculum that included schmoozing, body language, manners, how to tell a joke, flirting and dating, "what more do you need other than an MIT education to conquer the world?" he asked his student audience.

Honorary degrees were awarded to Associate Dean Alberta Lipson and Rosanne Swire of the Office of Academic Services. In addition to awarding bachelor's, master's and PhD "degrees," the Charm School Police issued more than 200 citations for fashion violations. About 50 students received complimentary citations for making positive fashion statements, according to Charm School Police Chief Ted Johnson of the Campus Activities Complex.

Charmcellor Bacow shared the commencement platform with Dean of Charm Travis Merritt, the MIT beaver (Anne McLeod, a junior in civil and environmental engineering), and the Charm School student coordinator, Rita Lin, a junior in chemical engineering. Monica Huggins, Katherine O'Dair and Heather Trickett of Residential Life and Student Life Programs were the Charm School coordinators.

Field work fun in the sun

The following account of IAP course 12.314, Field Oceanography, was written by Moana Minton, a sophomore in earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences. The trip from January 11-22 was led by Associate Professor Maureen Raymo of EAPS. Professors Ron Prinn of EAPS and Rafael Bras, head of civil and environmental engineering, as well as the Caribbean Marine Research Center, also provided funding to support the expedition.

When we finally arrived at the dock of the Caribbean Marine Research Center on Lee Stocking Island, in the outer archipelago of the Bahamas, we were exhausted. We had arrived at Logan Airport at 4:30am to tumble onto a plane to Miami; we then crowded onto a bus to a propeller plane to Great Exuma, and then onto another bus and finally to a motor boat which carried us across the Great Bahama Bank to our destination.

The island was small, inhabited only by the Center employees. There was only one vehicle, and it was a golf cart. The residents obtained all their water through desalinization. There were no lights at night, no radios (save in the kitchen), and when the one television was on, it was to watch the Weather Channel. These people (approximately 30 including our group) were here to do science and learn from other scientists, up at dawn for breakfast and outside until the sun went down. This was real. They were dissecting the planet.

It was amazing to me that we were there, too -- a bunch of students without a real understanding of what we were doing. Myself, especially -- one who intended to leave MIT for the greater world of writing and literature. One scientist's T-shirt read it right, though, and made me laugh: "If We Knew What It Was We Were Doing, It Wouldn't Be Called Research!"

The next day I snorkeled over corals that, even coming from Hawaii, I had never seen or imagined. Looking at brain corals six feet in diameter, and elkhorn coral that reached 20 feet up through the water and branched dozens of feet across, I understood clearly how entire civilizations could depend on these tiny animals. The bright bodies of hundreds of fish hid in their branches and swarmed around us in groups.

Every night, we received an impromptu lecture from one of the researchers -- either on the worldwide bleaching of corals that occurs when the oceans warm (and their fractional recovery rate), or the depleted conch population in Florida that, despite 14 years of protection, has not rebounded. The delicacy of populations was very clear.

Everything we did gave us insight and perspective -- from seeing and touching the stromatolites ("rocks that grow") I had learned about as a kid, to walking along ancient Pleistocene reefs exposed since the last ice age, to realizing that not only are there stromatolites in Nevada but that once the Rockies used to look like the Bahamas.

We were able to tear up huge algal mats that were strong enough to hold us up, and using the algae-coated footprints of last year's team, determine how long the pond had existed under present conditions. In our core samples we found storm deposits and could count back the years to recent hurricanes.

On the third day, I stood far from land on the crest of a migrating dune which had surfaced at low tide and buried my feet in oolites (small grains of carbonate) as round and perfect as pearls of yeast. I could watch them underwater, forming, collecting aragonite needles as they bounced along the bottom. It was heaven.

We spent time in a lab examining the results of plankton tows we did in the open ocean east of the shallow bank. We saw living foraminifera -- single-celled marine plankton -- as well as the tiny organisms whose shells appeared in the sediments we collected everywhere we went. By the fourth day, all of us could accurately identify different sediments based on their contents. We were beginning to understand sedimentology, and beginning to know for ourselves the art in seeing the smallest things, and their vast differences.

In a week of field oceanography on Lee Stocking Island, though, I think it became clear to most of us that the most important thing we gained was the acquaintance of a handful of scientists who work in the tiny network of oceanographic and geological research. The interdependence of all their work and the accessibility of it (all of us were invited to return as volunteers) hit us very hard.

For myself, I was reassured of the huge importance of their work -- and renewed in the drive to pursue it myself. It took being outside, in the middle of nowhere for a week, for me to rediscover the love of science I had slowly been losing in a year and a half of closed-door MIT life. This week of field work might just last me two and a half years more.

On the morning we were leaving, I signed a form in the office acknowledging that it cost the world $540 for me to be there that week -- not including my airfare, just for my water and the food I ate and the bed I slept in. I realized why only 10 of us could come, and why Maureen, my professor, was so excited when I decided to write this. Finding support for field work is difficult, especially for that involving undergraduates. I have only one response to that: It made all the difference.

Joining forces for leadership

The Leaders for Manufacturing program (LFM) at the Sloan School for Management and ROTC co-sponsored a two-day IAP seminar last week on leadership -- a key ingredient in success for both the military and industry. Eighteen undergraduates participated in the seminar, most of them from the Sloan School and the School of Engineering.

The military-civilian effort was organized by ROTC officers and the LFM over five months at the suggestion of LFM Professor Emeritus Robert McKersie, who was the keynote speaker last Friday, the final day of the event. Professor McKersie chairs the ROTC Oversight Committee.

"Our goal was exposure," said Col. John Kuconis, director of the Air Force ROTC. "We want to be part of the mainstream of the Institute." Representatives of all three ROTC units participated in planning the seminar while Capt. Tony Cho of the Army participated.Speakers included William Hanson of LFM and Professor Maureen Scully of the Sloan School.

A principal LFM organizer was James A. Wolters II, who attended the Naval Academy and served as a Naval flight officer for 10 years before becoming an LFM Fellow in the fall. In his eyes, both civilian and military leadership involve motivational skills that "build esprit de corps."

"You've got to make people feel like they have a stake in the organization, that their ideas count," he said. "People want leadership. They want someone to stand up."

Besides Mr. Wolters, LFM graduate students who participated in the seminar were Brian Urkiel, Brian Wolkenberg, Meghan McArdle, Chip Zaenglein and Dan Wheeler.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on February 3, 1999.

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