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Monday, May 19, 2014

TRANSITIONS Part #6: On to Stanford


I was fortunate that my older brother was a structural engineer with the Naval Civil Engineering Laboratory (NCEL) at Port Hueneme, California.  He got me a slot as a draftsman there and I also stayed with he and his family the whole summer (and repeated this two more times, with the summer between my junior and senior years in Hilo, Hawaii with C. Brewer--where the little league baseball team playing next to my apartment made it to the 1961 Williamsport World Series as an international representative).  This was the first time I had ever left Hawaii, so this transition might have been the most monumental of all.

Went to Disneyland, fishing for yellowfin tuna and had a whole bunch of new experiences.  The smog in Los Angeles was horrendous.

I remember at NCEL a recent high school graduate like me, Gary Chamness, who clearly had a better mind than mine, went on to CalTech, and in our second year at this lab, related to me that he was having a really tough time, which reassured me that Stanford was the better choice for me.  I always wondered what happened to him, so I went to Google, and there he was, a Professor of Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.  Kind of looks like how I remembered him, except that was 54 years ago.

Then I got to the Stanford campus in September of 1958:


The mascot was still an Indian:


Well, that ended after I left to what now appears to be a tree:


The most difficult part of being here was that from being among the smartest, I suddenly became very average.  These were student body presidents, young entrepreneurs, football stars, and students with perfect scores on their college board exam.

Silicon Valley had not yet formed, for the name was invented in 1971.  Thousands of high tech firms began here, many linked to Stanford professors and their graduates...Google, Apple, eBay, Intel, Yahoo and Hewlett-Packard.

David Packard, Jr., was on my floor in the next building, and he gave all of us an opportunity to invest in Hewlett-Packard, which was not quite yet known.  If I did, I would be very rich today, for they did not start selling their stock until about the time we graduated.

Silicon Valley itself has more female than male technical level employees, with an average salary of $144,800.  The total population is around 4 million.

I probably took and audited more art than chemical engineering courses, here with some of my charcoal etchings to the left.  Best as I can remember, there were, maybe 75 of us in ChE at the beginning, and I found myself scoring around the midpoint in exams.  Over the next few years the bottom kept changing majors into economics, psychology, sociology and the like.

Stanford has a philosophy that everyone they accept has some role in society.  Very few flunk out.  However, I recall early in our second quarter, a friend who was doing poorly stopping by to shake hands, relating to us that he was called in and told that the admissions committee made a mistake and shouldn't have admitted him.  He was asked to drop out.  Wow, can you imagine going home under those conditions?  There were rumors of suicide attempts and I just saw an article from Stanford about a crisis with this problem today, and specifically at Wilbur Hall (left), where I lived in my freshman year.  Each floor had a resident assistant, a super nice guy, plus a faculty family for each wing of the dormitory, also really pleasant, who are there to prevent these incidents.

In our junior year, David Mason, chairman of this department, barged into our classroom and proudly announced that we were just accredited.  None of us knew we were until then not accredited.  However, in ten years, the Stanford  Chemical Engineering Department was ranked #1 in the nation.  Today, it is #3 to MIT and CalTech.  Back to 1962, there were only around ten of who actually graduated in four years, and I was still in the middle.

If I had gone to the University of Hawaii in engineering, I most probably would have ended up spending all of my life in Hawaii and comfortably retired in Honolulu.  While my actual ending  is similar, Stanford no doubt affected my life choice, and well prepared me for success.  I can note that something on the order of 1% of my classmates were non-white, and my subsequent jobs involved a similar disparity:  sugar industry (administration), NASA Ames Research Center, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, University of Hawaii faculty and U.S. Senate.  Stanford taught me how to relate and compete in this environment.  One especially important trait I acquired was confidence, as mentioned in the next paragraph.

The Stanford Class of '62 had a 50th year reunion two years ago.  They actually published a thick classbook on our doings, and I responded to the question:

MOST VALUABLE THINGS I LEARNED AT STANFORD:

Upon graduation I observed tht my high school classmates were better engineers from their education at the University of Hawaii.  However, I was able to communicate at a higher level--better appreciated music, art and culture in general--had a more worldly view of things--and, most important of all, had the confidence to be innovative and enterprising.

As none of my close classmates chose to participate, neither did I, but we did subsequently have our personal mini-reunion towards the end of My Ultimate Global Adventure last year in Napa Valley:


Many of them (and two of the three above) were inspired by President John F. Kennedy's creation of the Peace Corps, but I just could not see myself being sent to some impoverished developing nation for $99/month.  My arts interest had me leaning towards attending Sophia University in Tokyo to study art, for the classes were taught in English.

However, partially to also sacrifice for humanity  (Hawaii qualified) like my classmates, but mostly for reasons of security, I decided to accept an offer by C. Brewer to work in the sugar industry for something like $500/month.    My next transition took me to the southernmost community in the USA, Naalehu, where there was no radio in the daytime, and within a year I got married, went through six months of basic training in the U.S. Army and found myself working at Kilauea Sugar Company, where I made an initial link with my roots.

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