mre Toker (BS ’84) has been appointed managing director of the Skandalaris Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at Washington University in St. Louis. Toker most recently served as entrepreneurship senior mentor-in-residence at the University of Arizona’s Eller College of Management.
An accomplished entrepreneur, Toker is the founder or co-founder of five Arizona- and California-based technology companies.
“We are ecstatic that Emre Toker has accepted our offer to lead the Skandalaris Center,” said the univeristy's provost H. Holden Thorp (PhD ’89), also a graduate of Caltech. “With his passion for innovation and proven ability to develop, nurture and successfully launch startup enterprises, I am certain that he has the vision and ability to harness the creative energy of the university and the community to further our efforts to become a vibrant hub for entrepreneurship.”
When Bobby Johnson (BS ’98) was the director of engineering at Facebook, he was responsible for growing the social networking site from hundreds of thousands of users to nearly one billion. And he needed to hire a team of engineers to do that.
His favorite people to recruit? Techers.
“I loved hiring fellow graduates from Caltech, regardless of their specific majors,” says Johnson, who branched off in 2013 to start his own company, Interana. “I knew how they were trained to think.”
The problem was that he had trouble finding enough graduates to fill the ranks of his team. When Johnson organized networking socials—which overflowed with engineers in Palo Alto eager to hobnob with Facebook insiders—few Techers turned out. Johnson knew that when he could make contact with Caltech graduates, it was often a great fit. Why, then, did it seem difficult to make that first connection?
“For whatever reason, I think there’s a kind of stigma amongst Techers against professional networking,” Johnson says. “Maybe it’s that we’re introverted by nature, maybe we’re focused on the work. We tend to think, ‘Oh, networking is something business majors do. Not us.’ But experience has taught me that no matter the industry or how qualified you are, you still need to leverage your contacts. You have to jump in.”
Does the old and clichéd adage, “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” really apply to the sciences, where the bar for required knowledge and competence is set so high?
Techers boldly tackle problems that change the world. Solving the challenge of your own career requires another set of skills that may feel foreign, but with a little effort, can be acquired.
We asked alumni for their opinions and experiences. Here, in no particular order, are five common Techer preconceptions about networking.
1: "Good work speaks for itself."
“We’re trained to focus on our work” says Debbie Bakin (BS ’86). “If we’re rigorous about our work, then the thinking is it will help you to land the next job.”
There can be no denying that the quality of one’s work product is essential to unlocking future career opportunities. But how will the right people find out about your work?
“Good work is certainly important,” says Elayne Chou, a career consultant in the Bay Area who advises a number of academic clients, including graduates from Caltech. “But to have the most effect, that work needs to be presented at the right moment.” Managers hire because they are looking for a certain skill set to address a need, Chou explains, and no matter how good the portfolio—it must still reach the right person at the right time.
Search for people in your area of expertise and learn about their priorities, then find appropriate ways to make them aware of your own work and how it addresses their needs. Rather than assume they will make the connection, count it as your job to do it for them.
2: "A Caltech degree can work as well as networking."
There can be no doubt that a Caltech degree is a mark of significant accomplishment.
“One of the things that makes Caltech special is that it is, in many ways, a meritocracy. We had to do so much to earn our degree. It’s evidence not just of our training but also our determination,” says Johnson. “For those who know—it speaks for itself.”
But it can be difficult to know exactly how well a hiring manager understands the specifics of an institution, or to what degree they value education versus other factors like work experience.
The advantage of a Caltech degree is the ability to solve difficult problems. Discover the problems that hiring managers are trying to solve, and then educate them on how you—using the methods learned at Caltech—can best help them find the solution. And your degree offers another benefit—access to a broad network of fellow alumni who are placed in positions to help.
Like Johnson, there are people looking specifically for Caltech graduates. Rather than waiting and hoping for them to find you, make it your role to find them.
3. "People don’t want to hear me talk about myself."
“I think that, as Techers, one of the things we prize is authenticity,” says Dave Tytell (BS ’99). “Which may be why many of us tend to shy away from ‘selling’ ourselves.”
Here’s a fact: networking is uncomfortable for most people. Some worry that by communicating their accomplishments, they may sound boastful or arrogant.
“There is an art to speaking up such that others recognize your valuable contributions,” says Chou, who recommends focusing on how your work benefits others. “That’s a way of taking the focus off you and relating it to your work.”
Practice helps you gain comfort. It may help to think of career networking like research. If a couple of experiments don’t yield the results hoped for, it’s not time to declare the entire theory invalid. Rather, take the opportunity to learn what didn’t work and refine your methods.
“You won’t develop your ability to appropriately self-promote unless you do it regularly,” says Chou. Small, regular interactions can make a big difference. Share information on your projects, ask advice from colleagues, or drop a note just to catch up. Chou advises setting a goal to meet at least one new person per quarter to broaden your base.
4. "I don’t know enough people."
One of Caltech’s distinguishing features is its incredibly selective student body. Once in the marketplace, however, many Techers observe that larger schools have very broad professional networks. It’s easy to feel eclipsed sometimes.
But the same advantages that make Caltech a superb place to study also amplify the power of its alumni network.
First, there are fewer degrees of separation. “Caltech’s alumni community, which numbers more than 23,000, has an outsized impact on science, academia, industry, and society relative to its size,” says Heather Dean (BS ’00, MS ’00), president of the Caltech Alumni Association. The smaller population means that there are often just one or two degrees of separation between a new graduate and an alumnus/a who is a recognized leader within his or her chosen field.
Second, the strength of ties between contacts is often tighter. “There’s a real sense that we were in the foxhole together,” says Tytell. “And even if I didn’t know you personally, I know your experience.” As a result, Techers often express a willingness to be of assistance to fellow graduates.
“It’s not just about having a high volume of contacts,” says Dean. “It’s about having the right ones. Most Techers will find that they are uniquely positioned to make meaningful—and actionable—connections very quickly.”
5. "My contacts will be annoyed if I ask for help."
One of the larger challenges many Techers express with networking is the fear of imposing.
“Rather than asking for a job, it can be more comfortable—and more successful—to ask for information or advice,” Chou advises.
Not sure where to start?
The Caltech Alumni Association, in partnership with the Career Development Center, launched a new online mentorship initiative on LinkedIn: the CHAT Network (Career Help: Ask a Techer).
“More than 16,000 Caltech alumni are registered on LinkedIn. But it can be hard to know whom to approach,” says Alexx Tobeck, executive director of the Caltech Alumni Association. “The CAA is committed to helping Techers connect professionally. We created this dedicated group to make reaching out as easy as possible.”
By joining the group, alumni agree to respond to requests for advice from fellow alumni and current students.
“It’s not necessarily the place to ask for a job,” says Lauren Stolper, director of fellowships advising, study abroad and Caltech’s Career Development Center. “But it’s a good opportunity for Techers to learn more about a field of work, get recommendations, and expand their field of contacts.”
“The hardest part about networking is knowing where to begin,” says Dean. “The CHAT group is a great place to start. ”
NEED CAREER HELP? ASK A TECHER.
Whether you’re looking for advice—or have guidance to give—join the Caltech Alumni Association’s dedicated career advice network on LinkedIn. Look for alumni displaying this green badge, then go ahead and ask. You’ve got the green light.
Never mind that back-of-the-napkin calculation. Robert Lang will take your napkin and turn it into an origami masterpiece. The Distinguished Alumnus (’09) has several new exhibitions throughout the country over the coming months. You'll never look at paper the same way.
- Folded, displaying more than 100 of his pieces at the Williamson Gallery at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, through August 20.
- Folding Paper: The Infinite Possibilities of Origami at the Bellevue Arts Museum in Bellevue, Washington through September 21
- Kevin Box/Origami in the Garden sculptural exhibition at the Santa Fe Botanical Garden in Santa Fe, New Mexico through October 25
Lang achieves his work through the assistance of computers. Last year, he collaborated with professors from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Cornell University, and Western New England University to develop the world's smallest origami sculpture—a programmed self-folding polymer the thickness of five human hairs. The sculpture was part of a $2 million grant from the National Science Foundation to investigate structures that could one day construct themselves in space.
To: All Members of the Caltech Alumni Community
From: Edward M. Stolper, Interim President and Provost
Re: 2015 Distinguished Alumni Award Nominations
Nominations are now being accepted for the 2015 Distinguished Alumni Awards.
The Caltech Distinguished Alumni Award is the highest honor the Institute bestows upon a graduate, and is in recognition of "a particular achievement of noteworthy value, a series of such achievements, or a career of noteworthy accomplishment." Since the award's inception in 1966, Caltech has recognized 244 alumni in science, engineering, business, and the arts.
A living alumnus or alumna who has attained any degree (B.S., M.S., Engineer's Degree, or Ph.D.) at Caltech may be considered for this award. Selections are made by the president of Caltech based on recommendations from a committee comprising faculty, staff, and alumni; the president’s recommendations are confirmed by the Board of Trustees.
Graduates who currently are on the faculty or staff of Caltech are not eligible, with the exception of those who have achieved the rank of Professor Emeritus. Awarding the DAA to a retired Caltech faculty or staff member has been and is expected to continue to be a rare occurrence. Sitting members of Caltech’s Board of Trustees are not eligible until they have achieved the rank of Life Trustee.
Self-nominations are not accepted.
To nominate an alumnus or alumna for consideration, please complete the online application by September 7th. The Distinguished Alumni Awards will be presented at Seminar Day, in May 2015.
Jay Melosh, a distinguished professor of geophysics at Purdue University internationally known for his work on impact cratering, planetary tectonics, and the physics of earthquakes and landslides, received the 2014 Herbert Newby McCoy Award, the school's most prestigious research honor in the natural sciences.
Melosh is part of NASA's Deep Impact mission that created a 50-m diameter impact crater on Comet Tempel 1 on July 4, 2005, the NExT mission that returned to Tempel 1 in 2011, the DIXI mission to comet Hartley-2, and the GRAIL mission to obtain high-precision data on our moon's gravity field. Asteroid #8216 was named "Melosh" in his honor.
"I'm certainly honored and humbled to join the fraternity of past McCoy Award winners at Purdue University who share a love of research and celebrate those days in the laboratory with our students when we realize we might be onto something that will provide a deeper understanding of our universe," Melosh said.
Caltech alumnus Jonathan Tsai (BS '10) has been awarded a 2014 Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans. At Caltech, Tsai worked in the laboratory of David Baltimore, Robert Andrews Millikan Professor of Biology, where he developed and patented a technology to isolate T-cell receptor genes from single tumor infiltrating cells, creating new proteins able to kill melanomas.
The Soros grant, given annually to the most accomplished and promising immigrants and children of immigrants in American graduate education, provides each recipient with tuition and stipend assistance of up to $90,000. This year's group of 30 winners was selected from more than 1,200 applicants.
More than 1,500 Caltech alumni and guests returned to campus May 15–18 to celebrate Caltech's Alumni Reunion Weekend, featuring the 77th annual Seminar Day. Techers took part in more than 80 events and activities over the four-day weekend, including class and house reunions, social events, tours, networking opportunities, lectures, family activities, and more.
The 77th annual Seminar Day, held on May 17th, featured presentations by Jamie Bock, Caltech professor of physics and principal investigator with BICEP 2, Carver Mead (BS ’56, MS ’57, PhD ’60), and the presentation of the Distinguished Alumni Awards.
"The primary way that an institution like Caltech impacts the world is through its people, especially its students, and alumni—you," said Edward M. Stolper, interim president of Caltech. "We celebrate your achievements and welcome you back to campus."
"Reunion Weekend and Seminar Day are the premier events for the Caltech Alumni Association," said Heather Dean (BS ’00, MS ’00), president of the CAA for 2012-13. "We thank all the alumni who returned to campus as well as the volunteers and friends who helped to make this weekend such a success."
Janet Nelson was named the new associate vice chancellor for research for the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.
As associate vice chancellor, Nelson will initially oversee three groups—the research development team, the faculty development team, and the research informatics group.
“I am extremely excited about the terrific opportunities that await me at UT, and I am looking forward to working closely with the Office of Research and Engagement team,” said Nelson.
Nelson, who earned her doctorate in chemistry from the California Institute of Technology in 1991, has broad research-related experience across academia, government, not-for-profit organizations, and industrial communities.
Nelson is a member of the American Chemical Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, and the Society for Biological Engineering.
Johns Hopkins University Professor Andrea Prosperetti, an authority in the area of fluid dynamics and underwater acoustics, has been awarded the 2014 EUROMECH Fluid Mechanics Prize by the Council of the European Mechanics Society.
Prosperetti, the Charles A. Miller Jr. Distinguished Professor of Mechanical Engineering in the university's Whiting School of Engineering, received the award "in recognition of his profound, seminal contributions to fluid dynamics and acoustics in general and to bubble dynamics and rain noise in particular," according to a statement by the society. The group also cited his development of novel numerical techniques and his world leadership in those fields along with his brilliance in their applications to engineering.
Excerpt from the New York Times
by Alexandra Jacobs
A perpetual darling of the ever-beleaguered Los Angeles intelligentsia (“queen of the shoe box,” as she characterized her public-radio stardom) and constant candidate for that publishers’ holy grail, “the female David Sedaris,” Ms. Loh, 52, was given a national platform a decade ago as an essayist in The Atlantic magazine. From this she effectively performed a triple somersault with “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” (2009), in which she announced that she was leaving her husband of 20 years and questioned the very idea of modern marriage; “The Bitch Is Back” (2011), a paean to menopause; and “Daddy Issues” (2012), a declaration of her fervent wish, yet-ungranted, that her nettlesome 90-something father, Eugene, would just die already.
Ms. Loh has expanded these pieces, with emphasis on the least gasp-inducing middle one, into a new book, “The Madwoman in the Volvo,” and a one-woman show, with petite “Greek chorus,” that she will perform on Monday at Joe’s Pub in downtown Manhattan. In both, she distills from the work of Dr. Christiane Northrup that, contrary to conventional wisdom about hot flashes and hurled crockery, it is actually the fertile phase of a woman’s life that is one, literally, of lunacy.
“It’s like you lived on earth, and then you went to the moon, and lived there for a while,” Ms. Loh said. “Now you’re back where you started” — the hormone levels of a preadolescent — “and it’s, like, ‘Welcome home.’ ”
In 1970 Caltech opened its doors for the first time to undergraduate women. This year, Caltech celebrates the graduation of those pioneers, who went on to forge new paths across science, technology, and engineering.
Jacqueline Barton, the Arthur and Marian Hanisch Memorial Professor of Chemistry and chair of the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, speaks with five alumnae who were among the first women to graduate from the Institute about their time at Caltech, their experiences in the decades that followed, and the role of women in the sciences today.
Arthur and Marian Hanisch Memorial Professor of Chemistry; Chair of the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering
Sharon Long (BS ’73)
Professor of Biological Sciences, Stanford University
Rhonda L. MacDonald (BS ’74)
Former Director of Structures and Mechanisms Products, Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems
Louise Kirkbride (BS ’75, MS ’76)
Cofounder of CADRI and Answer Systems and Trustee, Caltech
Lauretta Carroll (BS ’77)
CEO, Practice Today
Suzanne Shea (BS ’79)
Cofounder and Executive Vice President, Praxis Engineers
Barton: First of all, let me say that it’s an honor to speak with you all. Each of you was part of a class of pioneers. I’m curious to know why you chose Caltech, knowing that it had only just begun to accept women.
MacDonald: I was interested in math and wanted to attend a school where I could try some engineering courses. I was attracted to Caltech for the same reasons many are—its reputation for excellence in science and engineering, its small size, and its excellent faculty-to-student ratio. My high school guidance counselor actually tried to cancel my interview with a Caltech professor because, he said, “You will be going to Smith College.” I told him that I was interested in engineering and that I would be going forward with the Caltech interview.
Long: I loved science as a child; I collected rocks and minerals and especially enjoyed chemistry. I first read about Caltech in Reader’s Digest and fell in love with its culture and tradition of pranks. I just thought, “What a creative, imaginative, and interesting place.”
Kirkbride: Once I heard that Caltech was the hardest school to get in to, it was irresistible. Harry Gray [Arnold O. Beckman Professor of Chemistry] actually interviewed me. You usually think of scientists being so stuffy—but I couldn’t imagine a more engaging, dynamic person. After I met him, I would have crawled over broken glass to get to Caltech.
Shea: My mother first tried to dissuade me, warning me that I was heading in a direction where there would not be very many women, which would be tough. I said: “I know. I think it’s going to be part of my job in life—to be one of the first women in these fields.” When I made my choice, she was very proud of me attending Caltech, and extremely supportive.
Carroll: I was a product of the Los Angeles public school system in 1972, when it was really in disarray and we joked that it was a feat just to graduate without a criminal record. I had my sights set higher. To be placed at Caltech was a real achievement, of which I’m very proud.
Barton: So when you arrived at Caltech, did you feel different? Were you aware of being the first women on campus?
Kirkbride: You were certainly aware that this was a momentous change for Caltech, yes. Most of the campus was very supportive, but there were some rough edges—some professors, including my first advisor, who voiced their opposition.
Long: You heard some rumblings that people considered it an experiment—and that if the experiment didn’t work, they would just “undo it.” But these changes were happening at many campuses, and we knew there really was no going back.
Carroll: My first advisor said, “Well, Carroll, you know you have to pass AMa 95 [now ACM 95/100],” in such a way that I knew he doubted that I would. I found that unfortunate, but in a strange way, it made me stronger. I became absolutely determined to do the work—and I did very well.
(click on images to expand)
Barton: Despite some of the doubts and opposition, each of you stayed and stuck it out. What drove you?
Kirkbride: You had to expect some of that resistance. But at the top, the Institute was completely committed to and accepting of us. [Former Caltech President] Harold Brown was very supportive, and his help meant a great deal. Carver Mead [Gordon and Betty Moore Professor of Engineering and Applied Science, Emeritus] was just tremendous. He was the reason I got out of astrophysics and into electrical engineering.
Long: I agree—there were so many who supported us. I remember Elsa Garmire, who was a research associate in physics. She helped to organize a series on women in science, bringing in outside speakers such as [the Columbia physicist and winner of the Wolf Prize] Chien-Shiung Wu. That was so important and is to Caltech’s credit.
Barton: Were there other mentors who helped you?
Shea: Robert Cannon [then chair of Engineering and Applied Science] was hugely supportive. He was very interested in advances in undergraduate education at the time and so was enthusiastic about finding ways to have more women at Caltech. I really benefited from that.
MacDonald: Rolf Sabersky [Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Emeritus] was my undergraduate advisor at Caltech. He was there for me through thick and thin. When my mother had to sell her business due to her poor health, we weren’t sure how we would pay for Caltech. He stood ready to help in any way needed so that I could continue.
Barton: What were some of the early experiences and challenges you faced as women once you went out into the professional world?
Carroll: I went into a very small group at Hughes Aircraft that was filled with nothing but Caltech graduates—so it was just like being on campus. It was a very special and supportive environment.
MacDonald: My first job was in structural engineering in the petrochemical industry, at a company where I was the first woman engineer. I had to buck some silly company dress codes—women had to wear dresses—which were impractical for visiting job sites and steel fabricators. At one time, my salary significantly lagged behind those of my male peers. I provided my supervisor with current salary data and said that I expected the inequity to be rectified or I would have to seek employment elsewhere. The adjustment to my salary was made, and I never faced inequitable compensation again.
Carroll: Wow. You were lucky. That didn’t happen for everyone.
Kirkbride: I went to work in aerospace. I remember a lead engineer said he “simply wouldn’t work with a woman.” I just sat there in his room cooling my heels. A lot of this sounds outrageous today—but that’s the way the world was. I didn’t necessarily feel that people were evil; they were products of their time. You just had to push on.
Shea: I completely agree. The fact that some people wouldn’t work with me led me to start my own company with a colleague, combining my expertise in computer and controls with his in the energy field. We created our own work environment and set our own standards for professionalism.
Barton: I’ve noticed confidence is often a big issue for the many young women who come through my lab. Did Caltech help you to achieve more confidence? Did it help to have the Caltech imprimatur?
Kirkbride: I certainly think so. I took one year off to work for the Burroughs Corporation in Santa Barbara, where I learned just how highly my peer engineers regarded Caltech. When you’re inside the Caltech bubble, you don’t understand how respected the Institute is. It opened so many doors. It just put to bed any questions about my competence.
Carroll: The way I look at it: If someone finds out you went to Caltech, their opinion of you changes. If they don’t know about Caltech—then your opinion of them changes.
Barton: Many people say that “Caltech teaches you how to think.” Do you agree?
Long: Absolutely! Caltech gave me a foundation in how to think through problems. If a question is important enough, then I have both the hunger and the confidence to go back to fundamental principles and solve it.
Barton: What is your sense of where women are today in science and engineering?
Kirkbride: Statistically, Caltech still lags a bit behind our peer institutions in the number of applications from women. But when you look nationally, studies indicate that once women are admitted to college, they graduate at a higher rate than the men do. We need to persuade more talented and ambitious young women to consider Caltech.
Carroll: Personally, given my background, I would like to see more women of color at Caltech. I think we could do better there: Because if we’re interested in raising women, then we want to see all women succeed and flourish—both at Caltech and in science as a whole.
MacDonald: Beyond Caltech—I’d say women have made inroads in a number of scientific areas. But in many other fields such as mechanical, electrical, and aeronautical engineering, women still represent only a small percentage of the number of contributors. I’d love to see more women take on the technical challenges in these exciting industries.
Barton: How do you maintain your connections and your involvement with Caltech?
MacDonald: There are numerous opportunities to stay connected and involved with Caltech. I’ve been heavily involved through the Caltech Alumni Association, the Caltech Associates, Caltech’s Gnomes, and the Caltech Y. It gives me great pleasure to support an undergraduate scholarship, since I greatly appreciate the financial aid that Caltech made available to me during my undergraduate years.
Kirkbride: I now serve as a trustee. Caltech was a formative experience for me, and I’m grateful for the leadership of those who pushed the Institute to open its doors to women, making it possible for me to attend. I think it’s important to stay involved and help shape Caltech for future generations.
Barton: Would you recommend Caltech to aspiring female scientists and engineers?
Carroll: Oh, absolutely. One hundred percent.
Long: The knowledge and content that you get from any school or major is going to be of some use, but its usefulness will vary. Caltech teaches you the courage and discipline to work through things you don’t know. That endures a lifetime.
Shea: That’s true. The ability to tackle new problems, break things down, start from first principles, apply what you’ve learned to different disciplines—it’s incredibly powerful and was one of the greatest things that I got from Caltech.
Kirkbride: A Caltech degree ends all discussion about whether you’re competent or not. Period. If you are interested in science and engineering, I don’t think you can do any better.
Women at Caltech Today
Photos: Stephanie Diani, Lance Hayashida, Ben Tomlin
Four Caltech alumni have been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, one of the most prestigious scientific organizations in the country.
Jeffrey A. Harvey (PhD ’81), Enrico Fermi Distinguished Service Professor, Enrico Fermi Institute, University of Chicago, Chicago
Thorne Lay (MS ’80, PhD ’83), Distinguished Professor, Earth and Planetary Sciences Department, University of California, Santa Cruz
Stephen Shectman (PhD ’73), staff member, Observatories of the Carnegie Institution for Science, Pasadena, Calif.
Howard Stone (PhD ’88), the Donald R. Dixon and Elizabeth W. Dixon Professor in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Princeton University
The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit institution that was established under a congressional charter signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. It recognizes achievement in science by election to membership, and — with the National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council — provides science, technology, and health policy advice to the federal government and other organizations.
In 1970 Caltech opened its doors for the first time to undergraduate women. This year, Caltech celebrates the graduation of those pioneers, who went on to forge new paths across science, technology, and engineering. Join us for a special event.
Celebration of Women at Caltech (’73 through ’79)
Friday, May 16th
Professor of Mathematics, Emeritus
Physics, Math & Astronomy Division
Honorary Member of the Caltech Alumni Association
JeniJoy La Belle
Professor of English, Emeritus
Humanities & Social Sciences
Anneila Sargent (MS ’67, PhD ’77)
Ira S. Bowen Professor of Astronomy
Vice President for Student Affairs
Professor of Literature, Emeritus
Humanities & Social Science Division
Catch up with fellow classmates from your era and learn about their remarkable lives since graduation. Meet extraordinary young women attending Caltech today. As the event approaches, we would like to hear your story.
Scroll down and leave a comment, below.
by Liz Lawler ’15
The California Tech (download »)
Last Wednesday night, 13 Caltech students flew to Massachusetts in preparation for MIT’s Campus Preview Weekend (CPW). Their mission: prove which institute is hot and which one is not. Their arsenal: 800 heat sensitive mugs that at first read “MIT The Institute of Technology” but under the influence of heat change to read “CALTECH The Hotter Institute of Technology.” The mugs came in boxes with a card with the instructions to “tweet the most MIT-proud picture of yourself with the MIT mug @MITmug2018 to be entered in a drawing to win a pair of Google Glass.”
Techers handed out the mugs to unsuspecting prefrosh right outside of CPW’s formal welcome event Thursday night. They scoped out the gym in which the event was held in advanced, discovered three different possible exits, and then staged six people at the main door and teams of four and three at the other doors. Thirty minutes before the event let out, they were poised and ready. At 9:30pm prefrosh began to trickle out, but then a couple minutes later a massive wave hit.
As the prefrosh flooded out, officers from MIT’s admissions department tried to thwart the Techers’ efforts. The Caltech students were told they would need to stop handing out mugs unless they could prove they were a registered event.
Senior and Caltech Prank Club President, Julie Jester cunningly stalled the antagonizing admissions staff for 20 minutes with a fake story that their event was registered through the MIT Alumni Association and that they were simply ignorant pawns told to pass out the mugs. When pressed for a name of the person who approved their event, Jester acted forgetful, fumbled on her phone, pretended to have trouble accessing MIT’s wifi as she “searched” for the email thread containing their permission to hand out the mugs.
However, the MIT admissions staff was relentless. They demanded a name. Jester called up Tom Mannion while he was mid-lecture in his cooking class and casually asked him for the name of official who sanctioned the mugs.
Initially confused by the abrupt call, Mannion pulled through by questioning his class for a name of a member of MIT’s Alumni Association which he delivered to Jester.
While Jester kept the MIT admissions inquisitors occupied, the prefrosh continued to pick up the mugs.
To accommodate the numerous prefrosh, the Techers began putting out boxes in the walkway that the prefrosh ferociously attacked in a primal quest for free swag. Prefrosh gleefully took the mugs, but admissions officers refused to let the prank go on. They vainly attempted to shut it down by ripping the mugs out of prefrosh’s hands, proving MIT hates fun and all things awesome rather than accomplishing their goal.
Despite MIT’s best efforts, Caltech’s prank went through beautifully. They were able to pass out all the mugs and proved that if you mess with Caltech, you're going to get burned.
The U.S. Senate has approved astrophysicist and Caltech alumna France A. Córdova (PhD '79) as the new director of the National Science Foundation (NSF). Currently the chair of the Smithsonian Board of Regents—the Smithsonian Institution's governing board—Córdova will succeed former director Subra Suresh and will replace acting NSF director Cora Marrett on March 31.
After receiving her doctoral degree in physics from Caltech, Córdova spent the next decade at the Los Alamos National Laboratory as a staff scientist and eventually as a deputy group leader. In 1989, she joined the faculty at Pennsylvania State University as head of the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics. She served in this position until 1993, when she was selected as NASA's chief scientist—becoming the first woman ever selected for the position.
Córdova has also served in additional research and leadership positions including vice chancellor for research and professor of physics at UC Santa Barbara from 1996 to 2002, chancellor and distinguished professor of physics at UC Riverside from 2002 to 2007, and as president of Purdue University from 2007 to 2012.
President Obama nominated Córdova for the NSF directorship in July 2013; the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions approved the president's nomination on January 29, 2014.
With her recent confirmation, Córdova joins several other Caltech alumni who have been nominated to lead or now lead federal research agencies, including the current director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Arati Prabhakar (MS '80, PhD '85), and Ellen Williams (PhD '82), who, in December 2013, was nominated by President Obama to be the next director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency—Energy.
Written by Jessica Stoller-Conrad
Caltech Media Relations
Steven C. Frautschi, professor of theoretical physics, emeritus, at Caltech, has been awarded the Richard P. Feynman Prize for Excellence in Teaching—Caltech's most prestigious teaching honor.
Named after Caltech physicist Richard P. Feynman, the prize is awarded annually to a Caltech professor "who demonstrates, in the broadest sense, unusual ability, creativity, and innovation in undergraduate and graduate classroom or laboratory teaching."
This is the first time the Feynman Prize has been awarded to an emeritus faculty member and also the first time it has been awarded to a teaching assistant.
After screenings around the world, filmmaker
Iram Parveen Bilal (BS ’04) returns to Caltech to speak about her first feature, Josh: Against the Grain.
Following Caltech, Iram Parveen Bilal traversed disciplines to become a filmmaker and activist. For her first feature, Bilal returned to her home country to film Josh: Against the Grain, a mystery thriller set in Karachi. The award-winning film comments on class structures, social movements, and patriotism in Pakistan. Since its first showing in Mumbai in 2012, the film has screened around the world. Bilal speaks about her unique story, and the surprising connections she finds between science and art.
Caltech Alumni Association: What was it like to attend Caltech as an international student?
Iram Parveen Bilal: I came to Caltech when I had just turned seventeen. It was a huge culture shock. I remember going back home after the first term and saying “I want to transfer out,” because it was really hard. I was alone and had no family in the US. But I usually put myself against the harder odds and then I try to win people over. It’s just how my life has been. And Caltech is the kind of place that if you rise to the challenge, it makes you stronger. I eventually found my place at Caltech.
CAA: How did you make the leap from engineering to filmmaking?
IPB: I got into USC and I didn’t know what I was in for. Being this kid who had grown up on Bollywood, and then sitting alongside classmates talking about Citizen Kane, I had this steep learning curve.
And now I’ve gotten to a point where I think, “You don’t have to know all the classic films in order to be a filmmaker. You have to make films.” That’s not arrogant; I just feel like I have my own point of view, now.
CAA: Tell us about the film.
IPB: I was working on a documentary about Benazir Bhutto [the 11th Prime Minister of Pakistan] when I heard about a woman who runs food kitchens in Karachi. My producing partner at the time wanted to also make a documentary about her, but I I felt Pakistan had enough documentaries—I wanted to make a fiction film. The script eventually evolved into something different, but that was the genesis.
Josh is a mystery thriller set in Karachi that follows an upper class woman who becomes determined to find out what happened to her missing caretaker. Her journey takes her to a nearby village run by a feudal lord, and in the process endangers herself and others. The story tackles themes of feudalism, youth movements, poverty, and the challenges of trying to do good amidst social unrest.
CAA: What was it like to film in Pakistan?
IPB: It was tough because there was no infrastructure for film, really. There were no equipment houses where you could easily rent. I had access to resources in the US. But as a Pakistani, I was tired of people coming in with foreign crews only to leave. So we took a lot of local media students and trained them. After we wrapped, a lot of films started shooting, hiring many of the crew members we trained. I’m proud that Josh is at the forefront of a new Pakistani wave.
CAA: How have audiences responded to the film?
IPB: When our film was screened in Melbourne, one audience member was so moved by the story of the food kitchen (and the woman who was the genesis of the film), that he launched a fundraiser. He solicited donations from around the world, enough to provide food for a 140 families in Pakistan. I was able to go and help ditribute the food. It was a powerful moment of real humility. I thought, “I had no idea where this story would go and here it is actually translating into change. Here are all these women who are going to be feeding their kids and they have no idea or care who I am. They just want their food ration bags.” That’s the power of story.
CAA: You started in science, but transitioned to art. Do you see any connections between them?
IPB: Both science and art are really about curiosity of the world, and curiosity of human behavior. I think that in making a film—just like in science—your gut instinct is very important. The research that you go through when you’re writing a screenplay, when you’re thinking about characters, and when you’re thinking about emotions, is so similar. You’re absorbing from the world around you. Your evidence is the people you interact with. And then you put forth a hypothesis, which is a character in this environment and this circumstance. What happens? On that level, I feel that writing is very similar to research.
CAA: What advice can you offer to current Caltech students?
IPB: I think when one comes to an institute like Caltech, it’s important to give yourself space and the leverage to study a variety of things. Try and strive for as balanced of an education as you can get here and to expose yourself to as diverse an environment as you can. You never know what will ultimately resonate the most with you.