When I arrive today to hear a talk given by Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, I very much hope that it will be impossible to get in the front door. I hope that I will have to duck, weave and nudge my way past the throngs surrounding the ballroom’s door, so that when I finally make it past the entrance, the only available space will be wedged in between a gaggle of graduate students and a potted plant.
It would make sense for there to be this kind of excitement for a man placed on Time Magazine’s 2006 list of influential people and whose creation has become nearly as ubiquitous as Google or YouTube. And if none of those reasons are good enough, the talk should be crowded because, in this school of geeks and nerds, we just all find this Internet media and free culture stuff really neat and cool, right?
But sadly, if I get to the TSRB Ballroom and can pessimistically describe the room as half empty, I will be reluctantly happy, because I will definitively know that Tech has no idea that it allows opportunities to excite and engage students slip through its fingers everyday—and all because of Tech’s independent culture. This wouldn’t be the first time this supposed strength has kept us isolated from one another.
This is a school where the students find new technologies fascinating and where the conversations can always turn to talking about the latest and greatest this or that. The founder of Wikipedia coming to campus to speak about his latest endeavor is the type of event that gets the senses all tingly with excitement.
However, if you take the time to look around campus for a sign, notice or smidgen of evidence that the founder of Wikipedia is coming to give a talk, all you will find is a foam core poster in the CoC and three more hidden in the atrium of the Klaus Building. Oh, and there’s the email that got blasted to the CS lists. Estimating liberally, maybe 1,500 people got the message in a school of 20,000 plus.
There are no signs in the Student Center, no posters in the Library, no chalkings on Skiles, not even a notice posted in the halls of the LCC department. With this level of publicity, it’ll be a surprise if anyone from the greater campus community shows up, and that’s the problem.
The automatic assumption that a speaker of Jimmy Wales’ magnitude should be shared with the rest of the campus community, the inherent belief that his presence would enrich the academic experience of the school’s entire student body, is simply missing from Tech’s culture. This isn’t a knock at the CoC, for they did their job getting the message out to their students. I am knocking the fact that the smaller sections of Tech society don’t find it normal to share their little victories with everyone else.
It is told to us students from on high that we must be better communicators in this—pardon the cliché—newly flat world. We will need to work with far off cultures and share ideas at the corner cafe with people of so many different colors that we might as well be added to Disney’s It’s a Small World attraction. And yet in practice, I hear about professors in different colleges having no idea that they are working on essentially the same research or administrators looking to provide services for their students that another school has already been providing for years.
I propose greasing the wheels of communications with a concerted, Institute-wide effort to make the appearance of distinguished speakers known to all departments. These include speakers like Wales, Maya Angelou, Jim Cramer and Tom Friedman, who have all visited during my four years at Tech.
It should become a commitment by all divisions of the Institute to provide students with exposure to the best and brightest minds who don’t already call Tech home. We should dare to be so ambitious and bring speakers to campus like those that contribute to Technology, Entertainment, Design (TED) conferences or [email protected]. This confluence of intellectual diversity has already attracted millions to watch these lectures.
As a university, if we are able to pull off this less-than-humble feat, we will stand out to potential students as a destination where exposure to next generation ideas is the norm, where every month they can expect to hear a talk given by tomorrow’s movers and shakers and where the culture visibly strives to energize each and every student’s intellectual curiosity.