Bill Layson ’56 (II), Ph.D. ’63 (VIII) heard Dean Kastner give a talk in Boston entitled “Amazing People Doing Amazing Things: The MIT School of Science” and enjoyed it so much that he volunteered to host the Dean if he would take the talk on the road. On April 1, 2011, Bill, his wife, Lex Layson, his son Erik Briceño, and Erik’s wife, Karen hosted the Dean at the Tower Club in Tyson’s Corner. Over 45 friends from the area attended the talk. In this talk the Dean not only spoke about the faculty and their scientific research but also told their individual stories and shared the steps that ultimately brought them to MIT. And those stories are amazing. His talk began with Professor Gigliola Staffilani who grew up on a farm in a small Italian town reading her brother’s old issues of Scientific American. He told of another member of our faculty, Professor Lenny Guarente, who was considered precocious in his hometown because he quit smoking in the third grade. He also had an aptitude for math and science. He was awarded tenure at MIT in just five years – an amazing feat even by MIT standards. Dean Kastner also spoke of Professor Guoping Feng, who spent a year as a farmer during the Cultural Revolution before being randomly selected to attend college.
At the end of his talk, Dean Kastner reflected on some common themes. One theme that emerged from all these stories was the importance of the American university system. He noted that U.S. universities have made it possible for talented, ambitious individuals, many from families of modest means, from all over the world, to pursue careers in science. And these same universities have been the source of ideas and inventions that have produced our high level of health and high quality of life. This has been achieved in collaboration with the federal government and with the strong support of alumni and friends. However, the landscape is changing in Washington. The huge budget deficits may lead to budget cuts that will likely impact research universities like MIT for the next decade. The support of MIT’s alumni and friends will be ever more important.