The Laboratory for Electromagnetic and Electronic Systems in Rm 10-050 was converted into Santa's workshop, with clean-shaven, lean and youthful Associate Professor Steven B. Leeb cast against type as Santa Claus. His elves included seven MIT freshmen, four sophomores and five Chelsea High School students.
As a freshman seminar project, they designed and manufactured an eclectic collection of wooden toys that were presented to children who live in shelters at a party Saturday in the workshop.
"I'm so proud of these dudes," said Professor Leeb, admiring the puppet theater, fish jigsaw puzzle, bear bookends, noisemaker and other toys being stuffed into holiday shopping bags.
"They all tackled serious machine design problems and they found ingenious ways to solve them," said Professor Leeb, who does have Santa's upbeat enthusiasm if not his looks. "They all did incredible work. They are incredible dudes."
Thirty-nine bags of toys were presented to children 2-6 years old from the Concilio Hispano Primavera Program in Chelsea and the Crossroads Family Shelter in East Boston.
"Sometimes I forget how good it feels to see someone else smile because of something you did," said freshman Carlos Renjifo, who helped create and produce the noisemaker. "I think I can speak for all of us when I say that the work we put into those toys was a fun experience in itself, but the experience was made even better by giving away what we made."
"As we handed out the presents, we saw all the little faces light up along with their parents, who were content seeing their children happy," said freshman Evencio Rosales, who also worked on the noisemaker. "We as students shared the joy the children radiated as we played with them. By coloring with them, kicking or throwing the ball to them or just being at their side watching them play with their new toys, the child in us was brought out as we remembered what it was like to be that age and how much fun we had. We were glad we could bring that feeling to these children."
Mr. Rosales and Mr. Renjifo each planned to wear the MIT beaver costume for half of the party. But Mr. Renjifo never got his turn.
"As soon as we got Evencio out there, the kids went crazy," Mr. Renjifo said. "All of them wanted to play with, talk to, hug, kiss and take pictures with the Beaver. He was the life of the party for the hour that he was out there. I think he did a really good job."
"As they gathered around me and began to hug me, that was when I felt how much we were doing for them," said Mr. Rosales. "It really meant a lot to the kids to get the attention they deserve. I'm so glad I was able to be a part of this Christmas wish."
Other freshman toymakers were Jesse Lacika, Johnathan King, Alexander Pope, Margaret Cheng and Chorvak Karpe. Their sophomore advisors are Maya Chandru, Diana Bolton, Kristie Tappan and Catherine Leung.
The entire group met weekly for two hours and broke into small groups to work on individual projects. The smaller groups met on their own between weekly sessions.
Professor Leeb, who came to MIT as a freshman in 1983 and never left, has held the Carl Richard Soderberg Professorship in Power Engineering in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science since 1993. He was an assistant professor from 1993-96 and was promoted to associate professor in 1997. Winner of the Harold E. Edgerton Faculty Achievement Award in 1998, he has four MIT degrees (SB 1987, SM, EE and PhD).
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on December 13, 2000.