Richard P. Simmons (SB 1953), a research metallurgist who rose to become the head of metals manufacturer Allegheny Technologies, wielded a state-of-the-art plasma arc cutter at a stainless-steel ribbon cutting last Friday at the celebration of Simmons Hall, the $40 million undergraduate residence being built on Vassar Street.
The surprise ribbon-cutting wasn't the only innovation of the day. Professor Anne McCants, the Green Hall housemaster who will become the housemaster at Simmons Hall when it opens in September 2002, was startled and very pleased when Chancellor Bacow announced she will become the first recipient of a new type of endowed chair for housemasters.
The $1 million endowment by William Leitch and his wife Betsy of Newtonville, MA, will support the housemaster and a fund for residential life programs and special events at Simmons Hall. Mr. Leitch, a 1956 graduate in economics, was a senior vice president at International Data Group (IDG) in Framingham before he retired.
Members of the MIT Corporation and students from the Founders Group for Simmons Hall gathered in a heated tent next to the site for a celebratory luncheon in recognition of Mr. Simmons and his wife Dorothy and their gifts of more than $20 million in support of student life and campus activities. Mrs. Simmons, who couldn't come to the ceremony, watched it via a live television transmission to their home in Sewickley, PA.
The 10-foot-by-8-inch ribbon, with a two-foot bow in the middle, was made of 0.035-inch stainless steel and required safety glasses and gloves to cut.
While son and daughter Brian Simmons and Amy Simmons Sebastian and their spouses held the ribbon, Mr. Simmons wielded the compressed-air arc cutter. A beam of 10,000ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½C flame, about six inches long and 0.025 inches wide, cut through the stainless steel bow in about a minute.
Corporation Chair Alex d'Arbeloff, in introductory remarks, said the 350-student Simmons Hall "is a symbol of our commitment to a residential campus that supports and nurtures a community of learning -- a community that offers the richest possible environment for education and discovery, both in and out of the classroom. It is a symbol of our continuing determination to compete for -- and win -- the very best students and faculty in the world."
Chancellor Bacow paid tribute to the faculty, undergraduate and graduate student members of the Presidential Task Force on Student Life and Learning, which spent two years developing a comprehensive review of all aspects of the student experience at MIT. The 1998 report recommended the Institute "make the residence system an integral part of MIT's education, and approach the issues of housing, dining, the first-year program and orientation as part of a single educational program," encourage faculty-student interaction, and "provide more attractive and convenient spaces for community interaction."
Mr. Simmons recalled his freshman year in 1949, when he moved into East Campus. "There was nothing Institute-driven to help incoming students adjust to the rigors of MIT -- no house proctors, no mentors, nothing of that kind."
In an emotional close to his remarks, Mr. Simmons said that a significant measure of his success was his MIT education and he was pleased "to give something back."
President Charles Vest was unable to attend the ceremony because of the death of Becky Vest's 87-year-old father.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on December 6, 2000.