MIT 1958 to 1964
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Last update May 12, 2020

Chapter 8 : MIT after Freshman Year, 1958-1963

I had torn a cartilage in my knee in my junior year in high-school.  The army doctor assigned to the U.S.Army mission to Venezuela, Colnel Bonsignore, happened to be one of the top orthopedic surgeons in the army.  As things worked out I went to stay with the Bonsignore family in the summer of 1958 and Dr. Bonsignore repaired my knee.  They were living at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds, a U.S. Army base in Maryland.  I think Dr.Bonsignore was in charge of the hospital there.  I had known Michael Bonsignore and his younger sister, Celeste, in Caracas and I enjoyed my stay there.

I returned to our home in Atlanta, on crutches, a week or so after the operation and spent the summer there.   My leg healed and I got a job as salesman, in training, with Wearever Aluminum.   We were all college age men and our primary market was young single women in the Atlanta area to whom we would sell aluminum cookware and related products.  I think Wearever was a subsidiary of Alcoa.  We got no salary and would earn only the commission on whatever we sold.  We went through hours of training every week and each had to buy a complete set of cookware to use as samples.  My guess is that the company profited from each of us whether we sold anything or not.  I had a few sales, but not many.  I did enjoy seeking out and visiting the young women. I dated one for a few weeks. 

I got my first driver’s license that summer and enjoyed driving around Atlanta and being friends with the other trainees.

I had a friend from Caracas, Jerry Schnur, who was a freshman at Georgia Tech that year and I had gone to classes with him while home for an earlier break.   I spent time Jerry that summer and we had some interesting experiences, including sailing on a lake North of Atlanta with his girlfriend.

I returned to MIT in the fall of 1958 and continued my job for the Walker Student Staff.  The job consisted mainly of cleaning tables in the large dining hall in the Walker Memorial building, and breaking down the racks of dirty dishes to feed into the dishwashing machine.

Our fraternity, Theta Delta Chi, was at 314 Memorial Drive, next to the Graduate House dorm on the corner of Mass Ave and Memorial drive.   I think here were 3 fraternities on Memorial drive (DKE, Phi Beta Epsilon and us) and we were the closest to school.  All of the other 23 fraternities were on the other side of the Charles River in the Back Bay area.   Our house was small and only the freshmen and seniors lived in.  All the others lived in rented apartments in Back Bay.   I lived in a room with two other fraternity classmates on Marlboro Street, a few blocks from the river.  Out landlady was Mrs. Gilgunn and she kind of looked after us for the two years I was there.  I think there 5 of us from my fraternity pledge class who lived there.  She had young girl, Bernice, seven or so, living with her.  I think she was a niece or granddaughter.

We would normally walk across the Harvard bridge crossing the Charles river at the start and end of each day.  The bridge was a mile long.  Sometimes we would hitchhike.  It was a bracing experience on cold winter days.

All the fraternity brothers, and a few brothers who were now in graduates school, would eat three meals a day, Monday through Saturday, at the fraternity house.  We were required to wear coats and ties for the evening meals.  Saturday was always extra nice and brothers often brought dates.  We kind of tried to have a date every Saturday night but few succeeded.  I would guess I had a date about one weekend out of every four, if that.

Our cook was Frank Crosier, probably in his 50’s.  He had retired from a career as a cook in, I think, the merchant marines and was an earthy gregarious man who got along well with most of the boys in the house, including me.  There were two waitresses, both from the Boston area, probably in their 40’s, who we treated with respect and liked.  Frank and those waitresses were there all the time I was at M.I.T. until Frank died of a heart attack in the spring of 1963.  I remember that Frank would tease me, and others, about whoever they were dating.  He would ask improper questions and the waitresses (Irene and ?) would reprimand him.  I loved it all.

We also had a maid, Frances Swain, a black woman from Cambridge, who was very much part of our family.  I, and many others, related to her as a kind Aunt or second mother.  She was held in high regard by generations of TDC brothers and honored at her funeral, probably in the 1970s or 80’s. I regretted not being able to attend that event.

My best friend as an undergraduate was Jim Kee.   He was from Memphis, Tennesee, and was a pledge with me at the fraternity.  Jim got me to attend some events at the Baptist Tremont Temple in downtown Boston and we went on a weekend sponsored by the temple.  We arranged to ride in a car with others going to the weekend and met two girls our age in the car. Jim dated Sally Wicklund until he graduated from M.I.T. and moved away.  I dated Liz Marsh off and on through the spring of 1963.  I hope to write more about Liz. I often wonder if I would have been happier had I married her rather than marrying Bonnie and ending up divorced.  Sally and Liz were both in a nurse training program at Mass General Hospital in Boston.  Both were smart and attractive.

I don’t remember anything special about my sophomore year.  I was busy with my job, social life, and, of course, studying and working hard to get the best grades I could. 

I do not remember what I did during the summer of 1959, between my sophomore and junior years.  Perhaps that was the summer I worked as a Wearever salesman.

My junior year was a little more eventful.  I was the fraternity Social Chairman that year and tried to do the best job I could at scheduling and overseeing various parties and events.

At some point I began to have some troubling experiences where I would wake up but be more or less paralyzed.  I could hear other people in the room but could not move or speak.  This would last for 5 minutes or so, I don’t think it lasted longer but it’s hard to recall.  These worried me and I arranged to see a school psychiatrist.  We met several times and he ran some tests to rule out epilepsy. 

After several visits he told me that he thought my problems were stress related and he advised me to see a counselor rather than a psychiatrist.  After several meetings the counselor told me that in his opinion I simply had too much on my plate and would have to drop something.  He said that though some people might be able to handle all the responsibilities I had, he thought I was overloaded.  He said that in his opinion it would unwise to try to continue with the Fraternity, and my job, along with R,O.T.C, a normal course load and any kind of social life. The main choice was whether to drop my participation in the fraternity or my job on Walker Student staff.

This was a serious problem for me.  I was quite attached to my job on the Walker staff.  I was one of the few fraternity members who worked on the staff.  I think there were over 100 of us.  I had been promoted to be a shift captain (I don’t remember the exact title) which was an honor.  I wore a jacket with a blue collar while the shift member’s jacket was all white.  I was in charge of managing the hour long shifts I worked.  That mainly meant deciding when people due for a meal break would get their 20 minute break.  I also decided who would work what part of the room and who would be assigned to breaking down the carts and putting dishes in the dish washing machine.   It also meant keeping an eye out for any problems.  As shift manager I would also fill in as a worker when needed.

This also meant I was part of the management team and attended management meetings, probably every two weeks.   I also participated in the social life of the Walker staff which included beer parties and sponsoring the annual “Assemblies Ball”, a formal dance we used as a fund raiser and our main public event each year on campus.  One year I was in charge of the ball.  We also had other occasional events such as a Beatnik party one year. I remember we got a very popular professor, Bill Green, to read Beatnik poetry from a bathtub on a pedestal.

I was on the committee for the Beatnik party and we got the bathtub from a junkyard a few blocks East of M.I.T. on Memorial drive.  That turned out to be particularly interesting because the brothers who ran the junk yard were MIT graduate.

Anyway, I had a hard time dealing with the choice to leave that job.  I was far more attached to the fraternity, so the choice was clear.  However, following through was emotionally painful.  I also had several good friends on the Walker staff and I did stay in touch with some of them after I left that job.

My junior year was also the first year I was actually able to take a course in computers.  One of the reasons I had chosen to go to MIT was my interest in computers.  I hope to write more about this part of my life at some point.  For now I will mention that in spite of my interest the first course I took related to computers was in the second term of my Junior year, the spring of 1960.  The course was 1.05, “Computer Approach to Engineering Prolems” which was offered in the Civil Engineering department.   So far as I know this was the first course on computers offered to MIT undergraduates.   Part of the course was to learn to program in Fortran on a IBM 650 machine. 

I just Googled it and learned that the main memory of the IBM 650  was a rotating drum that contained, at most, 4000 words.  Each word was a signed 10 digit number ( five characters per word).  Doing a rough calculation I would say this was around 20K of memory by today’s standards.  The Wikipedia entry also said that the machine had a “fast memory” consisting of sixty 10 digit word of magnetic core memory.  I guess this means what we now call RAM of  about 1K.  I have some stories about my experience with that machine.

I think that the summer of 1960, between my Junior and Senior year must have been the one where I went to ROTC summer camp and then worked for my Uncle Harry at the Harry Baya construction company in Tampa.  I lived with my grandmother Baya (Elva Jessie Bending Baya) at 2009 Bayshore blvd and had a car that Uncle Harry bought me, a beat up old (it seemed to me) grey 1952 Plymouth.  I enjoyed the summer.  I had a few dates, but not much of a social life.  I got along well with grandmother Baya and we went out to eat occasionally.   She had a Kasier car with a straight shift.  She did not like shifting gears and would drive in 2nd gear, never using 1st or 3rd.

I mostly ran errands for Uncle Harry and did not learn much about the business.  I think it was a missed opportunity.  I think Uncle Harry, and my father, were hoping I would become involved in the business but that did not happen.  I think it’s just as well because I don’t think I was, or am, suited to something as concrete and practical as house building.  I hate to say it but I think I just don’t have the kind of common sense it takes.  I tend to be more theoretical.  There was, at that time, no real way that the work could involve the computers of that era.

In my senior year I took mostly course XV (Industrial Management) courses and did well.  I was elected to the Tau Beta Pi honorary engineering fraternity and was happy with my life.   My parents and my sister came up to Cambridge for my graduation.

In the spring of 1961, my senior year, I took the law school entrance exams and the business school entrance exams.  They were very similar.  The business school exam was held on a Saturday and the Law school exam was held exactly one week later.  My feeling was that the practice on the first exam helped me do extra well on the second.  I scored very well on both exams.  I think I was in the upper 5% or so on the business school exam and in the upper 2% on the law school exam. [ If I find the papers I will put in the correct numbers.  I’m pretty sure of the 2% number ]

I had decided to stay at  MIT to get a Masters degree in Industrial Management.  I considered applying the Harvard Business school and the Harvard Law School.  My primary advisor, Professor Zenon Zannetos, discouraged me from going to law school unless I was committed to becoming a lawyer, which I was not.  He also offered me a position as a teaching assistant in the School of Industrial management and that was enough to convince me. 

I also agreed to be the treasurer of my fraternity, Theta Delta Chi.  This meant that I could live in the fraternity house for the fall of 1961 and the spring of 1962.  I would be  with the senior class of 1962 and the pledges in the class of 1965.  I believe I attended rush week and, for most purposes, was treated as a member of the class of 1962.  In some ways this may have been limiting as I was not as involved with other graduate students, or the new life I would have had if I had gone to a different school, like Harvard.  On the other hand, I had a good life and enjoyed the experience.

In retrospect I cannot help but wonder if it would have been much better for me to have gone to the Harvard Business School.  Keep in mind that in many ways I was still focused on working with computers as much as possible and the School of Industrial management did have opportunities for that.  

If I could have gone to graduate school in something like software engineering that would have been ideal, but no such program existed, not even at MIT.  The Electrical Engineering department at MIT, where most of the computer work was focused, was primarily interested in hardware at this time, so far as I knew.  I was not particularly interested in computer hardware.  The term software was only then coming into usage among computer experts and the concept was not well understood as a separate field of work.  

During the summer of 1961, between my senior year at MIT and my first year of graduate school I had a summer job at the Laurens Mill in Laurens, SC    My memories of that experience are in a separate document  

My first year of graduate school, from fall of 1961 to spring of 1962, went well.  I was living in the fraternity house because I was the treasurer.  Though I enjoyed the community and was active participant in everything from pledge week to house meetings, I suspect it would have been better for me to have been immersed with graduate students, especially those in my major.  I was then working as a teaching assistant for Professor Zenon Zannetos.  He was also our house advisor for finance and he checked my treasurer work periodically.  He and I got along well but I was not a shining star. 

One of my primary responsibilities as a teaching assistant in the Sloan School was to be in charge of the workshops accompanying the basic accounting course taught to all Sloan Fellows.   These were young men, often in their early 30s who had been selected by their employer to go to a kind of honors program at the Sloan school that would give them a Master’s degree in industrial management in one year.  Though some of them had either had courses in accounting, or even become CPAs, there were many, especially engineers, for whom this was a completely new and somewhat daunting task.  I enjoyed the work, became very knowledgeable in basic accounting/”double entry bookkeeping”  ( debit, credits, assets, liabilities, balance sheets, income and expense statements etc. ).

I like to think that I was, and am, good at helping people one on one. I listen to them and try to put myself in their shoes and communicate what they particularly need.  I have had some confirmation of this over the years, but I guess I was just “good” at it, not exceptionally talented (which is true of most of my talents – music, programming, sports.. )

Programmed Learning Project – My Masters Thesis

At some point I read about work going on in a new field called “Programmed Learning”.  This had nothing to do with computer programming, or computers at this point.  It was a field being pioneered by a world famous psychologist, B.F.Skinner, at Harvard, and by others around the world.  The basic idea was that a learning task would be broken down in very small pieces and then taught in sequence.   The student would not go on to the next piece until he or she had mastered the one at hand.  A subject, such as basic bookkeeping would be broken into granules.  Initial studies indicated that a lot of topics could be taught better (more efficiently, more effectively ) using this approach.  I suggested to Prof. Zannetos that we might try it with the basic accounting/bookkeeping course taught at M.I.T.   He thought it was a good idea and a portion of my work time was devoted to developing a programmed learning “book” for the course.  I spent a lot of time with this and it eventually became the subject of my Master’s thesis.  Prof. Zannetos was my thesis adviser.

My approach was to put the basic learning steps into a sequence of  cards ( I think I used both 3”x5” and 4”x 6” cards at times).  Each card contained a question or a problem that the student was to deal with.  On the back of the card was a written answer to whatever was on the front.  I think most of these cards were hand printed – though I did have a portable typewriter and may have typed them.  The way I developed and improved these cards was a process I now recognize as “debugging”.  I would arrange for a volunteer to go through the cards with me.  I did not seek or have funds to pay students for this.  The ideal student had little or no prior exposure to accounting.  As the deck of cards grew to encompass the entire introductory course it grew in size to hundreds of cards.  A student working alone would spend from 8 to 15 hours if they worked conscientiously through the deck. 

When the student worked with me they would read the card and respond to me, verbally or in writing – whichever was more appropriate for the card.  I would then either confirm that they were right, and turn over the card, or, if they were wrong – of off a little bit, I would ask them for the reasoning they used to come up with their answer.  I guess it was somewhat close to a Socratic dialog at best.  My goal was to learn enough from their mistakes to modify the card or, often, break it into two or more cards, so that the error rate was as low as possible.  Based on what I was able to learn about the field, especially from B.F. Fisher’s work, I thought the error rate should be close to zero. 

Another feature of the deck was that I could send some students to a kind of remedial sequence of cards to help them with a particular problem.  I don’t think I used this a lot – but I should have.  This process would mean that those who picked up a concept sooner would be able to skip over cards that the slower ones would need to take.  All of this was a lot like computer programming and I think it helped me in programming I have done over the years.

Getting volunteers, especially as the deck got longer, was a challenge.  In general a student had to start at the beginning and work through.   Starting in the middle required prior knowledge.  I don’t know how many volunteers I got.  Maybe I’ll look at my thesis,  It’s on the shelf here in this room.  I think it was on the order of 30 or 40.  Going through the cards with the students probably took me over 1000 hours, and then there was the work to modify the cards.  I enjoyed this a lot.  It was a fascinating trip into people’s thinking.  I was given a lot of personal experience in how thinking about the same thing would differ from one person to the next. 

I want to mention one particular recurring experience in the process of working with volunteers to go through the cards.  Basic bookkeeping is, as I see it, built around one fairly simple “paradigm” for lack of a better word.  It’s one concept that ties together six sub-concepts.  These are : Debits, Credits, Assets and Liabilities, Income and Expense.  These are used in higher level concepts called “Balance Sheets” and “Income and Expense Statements”.   Students learn these concepts piecemeal.  There is no way to present the entire picture without first explaining the smaller pieces.  In the process of learning – about 2/3rds of the way through the deck I now guess, their comes a moment when the student sees how it all ties together.  In particular they see how debits and credits affect the main statements (Balance Sheet & Income Statement) to both reflect financial events in the entity (a company, a bank, an individual’s finances) and keep the staements “balanced”.   I apologize if this sounds like gobbledygook to you.  It does take some time to learn. 

Ok, so a moment occurs when the student sees the full paradigm, understands how all these thing interact in this perfectly logical system called “bookkeeping” ( or more specifically – “double entry bookkeeping”).    Correct accounting for a financial transaction, such as the sale of a product to a customer, results in a number of offsetting debits and credits that will update both Balance Sheet and the Income and Expense statement.  Everything MUST stay balanced.  If things don’t “balance”  (more gobbledygook) then a mistake has been made and must be corrected.  It’s a very tight, utterly unforgiving system. 

OK again – that moment occurs to every student who was successfully going through the cards.  Admittedly the moment may have occurred when they were not with me, and it may not have seemed like a moment, it may have seemed like a slow dawning of awareness.  However, in many cases that moment occurred in an instant while the student was working through the cards with me.  That’s the “Aha” experience referred to in teaching and learning.  To some teachers, and I am one of those, this is a gloriously satisfying moment.  YES!  For people like me being with a student when they experience that moment is worth a lot of hard work.  I learned a lot of things working with this project but I think the one I value most is related to having had many of these experiences and knowing to seek them out in the future.  Thank you kind universe for that gift.

In retrospect I can now see that I was probably often modifying a card to deal with learning/understanding issues that might have been applicable to only a small percentage of the students.  The result was that many students found that the learning process was over-simplified and therefore, somewhat annoying, or even boring.

Among my volunteers were fraternity brothers who I talked into working with me – usually spread over a few weeks so that they only had to spend an hour or two with me each week.  A few years ago one of them wrote me that they had indeed learned bookkeeping from working with me and that it had been valuable to them in their career.  I worked on this project a lot during the spring semester of 1962.  I think I continued to work on it, on my own time, during the summer while I had a summer job ( maybe that’s wishful thinking). 

In any case I did have a “finished” set of cards to use to prepare a book to be sent out to the young men who were coming in as Sloan fellows in the fall of 1962.  We sent each of them a large mimeographed volume with the complete set of questions and answers.  They were to cover the answer while reading the question and to write down their answer on a separate form we had sent them.  I think there were about 50 of these students (again I need to look at my thesis) and we got close to 100% participation.  The process was for them to do these things:

  1. Take a pretest to find out how much prior knowledge they had of basic accounting and bookkeeping
  2. Go through the entire text book of cards, filling out the answer form along the way.
  3. Take a post-test to determine how much more they knew now than when they took the pretest
  4. .Mail the pretest, answer forms, and post-test to the Sloan school.


My thesis consisted of analyzing the results of that process.  Here is a brief summary.  Most importantly to me – it did work.  Nearly all of the students did well on the post-test, well enough that they had only to take a kind of review course in basic accounting, a course that took far fewer hours than the one I had worked with in the prior year.  I left MIT after my thesis was completed in the spring of 1963.  However the programmed learning text, with modifications, was used with the Sloan fellows for at least a few years after that – for all I know something like it is still being used.

That’s the good news.  Here’s the bad news.  Along with the post-test the students were invited to send in any comments on their experience of working with this programmed learning text.  Wow.  That was an earful.  Many commented that they would never have slogged through such an annoying, and often boring, process if they were not somewhat frightened by the process of going to an intensive academic year at MIT after having been out of college for ten or more years.  They felt they had to do this just to prove they were committed, would show up, and were willing to work hard.  Those who were also CPAs were especially brutal.   They were not only bored to tears they were also very dismissive of what seemed to them absurdly simplified, and sometimes just outright incorrect, questions and answers in the course.  Many others, including those who had no prior knowledge of the subject, commented that it was one of the most boring and annoying things they had ever done.  Still, I said to myself, it did work.  Nearly everyone did OK on the post-test.

After returning from my two years in Germany I visited Professor Zannetos at MIT, partly to get advice on my job search and to get his permission to use him as a reference in that process.  While there we discussed the programmed learning bookkeeping course.  He told me that based on the comments we had received he had greatly shortened the course.  My memory is that the average time to complete it went from around 11 hours to something like six hours.   I was amazed that this could be done.  I asked “Didn’t that cause the error rate to go up?”.  He said that this indeed had happened, but there was almost no decrease in the scores on the post test and student comments were far less negative.  He said that if I took a job in the Boston area he would like to have me continue working on this project in my spare time.  I would have done that.

A PDF of my MIT transcript showing the courses I took each semester and the grades I received, with some related notes, is included as an addition to these memories.


Tau Beta Pi?  You’re kidding, right?

While I was a student at M.I.T. the institute used a 5.0  grading system.  I assume it still does.  An “A” was a 5, a “B” was 4 and so forth.  When we got our report card for the semester it showed our average grade for that semester and our “Cumulative Average” for all our grades while at M.I.T.  The computation weighted each grade with the number of credit hours assigned to each course.  

The cumulative average was referred to as the “cum” (cum is pronounced as in “cumulative”).  M.I.T. was very grade conscious and we would ask each other “what’s your ‘cum’”.  If someone had a 5.0 cum for a semester that was hot stuff.  Shortly after the end of the semester a list was published with that semester’s “cum” for each living group.  Fraternities strove to have the highest possible “cum” for their house.

M.I.T. did not (and I assume still doesn’t) have any designation like “graduated with honors” or “Magna Cum Laude” etc.  However, M.I.T. did have a chapter of Tau Beta Pi, the National Engineering Society. There was also an honor society for science majors. 
As an “Industrial Management” major I was eligible for “Tau Beta Pi”. 

My understanding is that students were eligible to be elected to “Tau Beta Pi” each semester starting with the first semester of their junior year. The “cum” requirements were highest in the first semester and got lower each semester.  In the last semester before graduation the eligibility requirement was that you had to be in the upper 15% of students graduating in your major. However there were a few other requirements such as being in student activities and somehow qualifying as a “good citizen” of the M.I.T. community.
For reasons I won’t go into, my major, Industrial Management (AKA Course XV), had a somewhat lower average “cum” than most other majors at M.I.T.   I don’t know what the average “cum” at M.I.T was in those days but it may have been 3.0 (a “
C”), or maybe as high as 3.5.  I think my “cum” was around 3.6 when I finished my sophomore year.  After that I took more courses in my major than in other subjects and by the end of the first semester of my senior year my “cum” was around 3.9.  As it turned out this put me in the upper 15% of those graduating with me in “Industrial Management”.

Ahh, now the fun part.  My grades made me eligible for Tau Beta Pi.  I had also been involved in a number of student activities and, I infer, thereby met all the requirements to be elected to the honor society.  However, it turned out that there was a problem.   I knew nothing about this at the time and learned about it later.   For all I know this is an unfounded rumor.  It’s kind of fun anyway.  I’ll tell it to you the way I heard it and we just won’t worry about the possibility of  “fake news”.
The problem was that no one had ever been elected to “Tau Beta Pi” at M.I.T. with less than a 4.0 “cum”.  I heard that there was considerable debate on this issue and the winning side successfully argued that I met all the criteria, even with my 3.9 “cum”, and should be elected.  They argued that those who though that a 4.0 “cum” should be required should change the chapter’s by-laws for future elections.  So, I was told, I was elected and the by-laws were indeed changed.  If this is true, I may be the only person in the history of M.I.T. to be elected to Tau Beta Pi with less than a 4.0 average.

Ta Da!

End of Tau Beta Pi section

During the summer of 1962 I worked for an MIT project studying the NASA organization at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. That experience is (will be?) described in a separate document.

Planned Additions


dating Bonnie and Mary, Clare’s visit, having to move apartments, trip to Montreal