The campus is mapped in a way only engineers and scientists could love. Think of it is a Cartesian heaven: miles of numbered buildings with numbered rooms in which students take numbered courses for numbered degree programs. Today, the deep numeration of the campus also contains a puzzle maze of temporary corridors that shunt visitors and students from one construction site to another.
Then and now
The 1961-62 handbook, which I found in a basement archive, proudly announces the presence of a single computer on campus. It was an IBM Type 709 mainframe. Only six courses contained the words "computer" or "computation" in their titles. Today, computers spill into the hallways, laptops have replaced book bags, and the slide rule is a collector's item on eBay.
Beyond the campus, new research and office space has exploded far beyond the old Kendall Square boundary. A shock wave of new apartment buildings juts into adjacent Somerville.
According to Charles M. Vest, president of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, there are 54 biotechnology firms within a mile of the campus. Forty years ago, the double helix structure of DNA was a relatively new discovery. Computational Biology did not exist.
More companies are coming. Novartus, the pharmaceutical firm, is moving to Cambridge "to be where the talent is."
Why am I telling you this?
Because, stock market notwithstanding, technology is not dead. It is alive and moving faster than ever.
I know this because I listened to Marilee Jones. Her formal title is director of admissions at MIT, but her co-workers see her as a major life force. At a class dinner, she compared the graduates of 1962, the last of the silent generation, to the class of 2002, the boomers' babies. Here are some of the amazing changes and constants of 40 years:
- Think public education is failing? Then explain why 79 percent of the class of 1962 and 70 percent of the class of '02 attended public schools. Explain why the class of '02 had average SAT scores of 753 in mathematics and 706 in verbal aptitude, compared with average scores just under 700 for the class of '62.Explain how two-thirds of the class of '02 had taken university-level classes while in high school. Explain how many had mastered college-level calculus and chemistry — then went on to organic chemistry and biochemistry. (Hint: Being a study drudge is not the answer. Sixty percent played varsity sports in high school, and 70 percent were in the performing arts. While the class of 1962 supported 70 clubs and activities as undergraduates, the class of 2002 engaged in 340 clubs and activities.)
- Think our society is slow to change? Then explain how we moved from 15 women among the 834 members of the class of 1962 — a virtual trace element — to 451 women in the class of 2002. "This is the era of girls," says Ms. Jones. In 1962, 90 percent of the graduates were white males. In 2002, 29 percent were white males.
- Think we live in a rigid, economically stratified society? Then explain why 40 percent of the class of 2002 is first-generation Americans, the children of immigrants.
The class of 2002 represents a family income distribution that nearly duplicates the national distribution. After graduation day, however, they take their first job at $60,000 to $70,000 a year, up tenfold from the $6,000 starting salary typical for the class of 1962.
"What I've concluded," Ms. Jones says, "is that a new generation is fully enrolled. They were reared in peacetime in relative affluence. They were raised by baby boomers. Most of them have been in day care since they were very young. They've been trained in group-ness. They know how to lead and how to follow. It's a very useful skill set.
"They want to save the world and solve problems. They want to prevent bad things from happening — but they are almost wildly exposed to the world. They demand community.
"It's a remarkable generation."
Fasten your seat belt.