Terrascope Alumni Mentors Share Mission 2016 Experiences

Alfredo Kniazzeh '59 and Hal Gustin '73, Terrascope Alumni Mentors

Mentor's Take on Mission 2016
Alfredo Kniazzeh

Alumni Mentor Alfredo Kniazzeh This year’s class project on strategic elements taught me about mining and about the skills of the students in learning to organize, delegate, negotiate and lead.  They were given the usual support and resources so they quickly came up with a broad understanding of the elements of their ‘solution’.  Observing this process through class and team discussions, lunch meetings and email blizzards impressed me as they got to the final web site, presentation before the world, and resulting congratulations.  Mentors help this by being present, occasionally asking about an exaggerated claim or ambiguous statement, and appreciating the effort put in by the class.

For me this year was special because I jumped into the class trip to the southwestern desert to visit mines and geological marvels.  Some mines processed brine to extract lithium and boron salts, others were hard-rock mines for borax, gems or silica sand.  Following the sand mine we toured the sandstone carved by the Virgin River in Zion National Park and later the canyon holding Hoover Dam.  Along the 2000 mile road we also saw in Death Valley a crater blown clean by magma mixing with water and a beautiful canyon created in just forty years as a consequence of diverting water.

The trail walks, van conversations and group meals were great for letting me feel like a grateful grandfather to this group of bright and energetic students.  Learning some geology was also cool.  

Being an Alumni Mentor for Terrascope 12.000
Hal Gustin

Course 12.000 “Solving Complex Problems” is a freshman class more commonly known as Mission 20xx, where the number is the class year of the freshman class.  For example, the current freshman class is the class of 2016, so the class was Mission 2016.

Hal GustinMost people only take this class once, but I’ve now taken it seven times, and haven’t passed yet.  I’ve been an Alumni Mentor for the class for that long.  So what does being an Alumni Mentor mean?  First, I’m not normally in Cambridge (I live in Colorado), so for the most part, my participation is remote.  I try to build a relationship with the class participants from 1000 miles away.  Mostly, I communicate by e-mail, but sometimes by text message, and even actual phone calls sometimes.  I can’t claim to be a technical expert in any of the topics that the class studies:  usually by two weeks into the Fall semester, the class members are way ahead of me.  Fortunately, it is not my job to direct the development of their project.  Instead, I get to share my wisdom (that takes maybe 5 minutes each semester) and ask stupid questions (I’m good at that).  I also act as a general consultant on how to approach complex problems, since after 7 times through the class, I have a pretty good list of what not to do.  More importantly, I get to be a cheerleader for the class, especially as they get near the end of the project and are being overwhelmed by the immensity of the project and by the Institute itself.  That last task applies both to the class as a whole and to individual members.  It is not unusual for me to get personal calls from students, just seeking some reassurance.

Over Spring break, the class goes on a field trip to a location that’s relevant to whatever the topic was in the Fall.  I’ve gone along on some of those trips.  I always appreciate the great technical content provided on those trips.  But these trips also give me a chance to get to know the people who sent all of those e-mails in the Fall, and just to hang out with the students.  I get to find out who they are outside of class, and they learn a bit about me.  My only problem is that I really miss all of my student friends after the trips are over. 

My involvement as a mentor gives me the satisfaction of feeling like I’ve contributed to the development of some people who are much brighter than I am, and lets me stay involved in a very personal way with life at MIT.  I get to learn about fascinating social, political and technical issues along with the class participants.  I am allowed to provide outside-of-MIT support to the freshmen, and to give them someone to check ideas with.  I also try to give individual class members one view of life beyond MIT.  Over the course of my involvement in Mission 20xx, I’ve also made several friends, including students, faculty, and other mentors, with whom I maintain on-going contact.  And for me, watching the final Mission presentation each year is a high point, sort of my personal version of watching the Super Bowl.

I believe that my participation as an Alumni Mentor contributes to the class each year.  But I also believe that, whatever the value of any contribution of mine, I get much more in return.

Read MIT News article written by Terrascope students who were on the Mission 2016 Trip