Who are you?

Question: Who are you?

Vest: I’m Charles Vest. I’m currently the President of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering, and I’m President Emeritus of MIT. I grew up in Morgantown, West Virginia, at that time a small college town. It was actually an extraordinary time and place to grow up. I had many wonderful dimensions to my life which was in the late ‘40s and through the ‘50s into the very early ‘60s in the sense that my father was actually a mathematics professors, and that I was living in pretty typical small town America and going to public schools with kids who grew up on the farm or who were doctors’ children. I was in about ninth grade at the time that the schools in West Virginia were integrated – a little bit before the Brown decision. And so it had real great economic and motivational diversity, social diversity – sort of the great combination small school, beautiful physical area, and yet having the advantages of being in an academic family. Both of my parents, not surprisingly, were terrifically influential on me. My father was a very precise mathematician, and also a truly extraordinary classroom teacher of a rather formal type. When I went to West Virginia University as an undergraduate I actually took two courses to my father. And he in the classroom, unlike at home, was such a disciplined kind of teacher that my fellow students actually didn’t find this odd. They never gave me a hard time. It was the only class I ever took that I didn’t ask a question all day. My mother was what would, at that period of history, been a fairly typical housewife. She was very intelligent. She was extremely well-read. Looking backward I sometimes have said that she didn’t grow up in the later era because I think she could have actually been a fine scholar or teacher herself. She was particularly interested in history, and a lot of our summer vacations and so forth were trooping around the old battlefields and cemeteries up and down the east coast, particularly in the South. So this kind of combination of a wonderful, warm home and two very influential parents. I also had a few people as I went on. There was a professor at West Virginia University named Bob Schloniger who really was the person who convinced me I should become a mechanical engineer when I had been planning to probably be either a physicist or an electrical engineer. And I always think back. You know in the ’40s and ‘50s it was a big thing in this country to always take aptitude tests to figure out what you should be, and engineer or scientist never really went very far up the scale. I usually was told I should be a psychologist or a journalist or a historian. So I think all these influences kind of came together. And after following a rather straightforward engineering education career, I later moved off into administration. I think maybe some of those other influences and maybe latent interests and talents helped out. Recorded on: 12/5/07


Coming up from typical small-town America.

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

Why 'upgrading' humanity is a transhumanist myth

Upload your mind? Here's a reality check on the Singularity.

  • Though computer engineers claim to know what human consciousness is, many neuroscientists say that we're nowhere close to understanding what it is, or its source.
  • Scientists are currently trying to upload human minds to silicon chips, or re-create consciousness with algorithms, but this may be hubristic because we still know so little about what it means to be human.
  • Is transhumanism a journey forward or an escape from reality?
Keep reading Show less

Steven Pinker's 13 rules for writing better

The Harvard psychologist loves reading authors' rules for writing. Here are his own.

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 21: Steven Pinker speaks onstage during OZY Fest 2018 at Rumsey Playfield, Central Park on July 21, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Brad Barket/Getty Images for Ozy Media)
Personal Growth
  • Steven Pinker is many things: linguist, psychologist, optimist, Harvard professor, and author.
  • When it comes to writing, he's a student and a teacher.
  • Here's are his 13 rules for writing better, more simply, and more clearly.
Keep reading Show less

Dead – yes, dead – tardigrade found beneath Antarctica

A completely unexpected discovery beneath the ice.

(Goldstein Lab/Wkikpedia/Tigerspaws/Big Think)
Surprising Science
  • Scientists find remains of a tardigrade and crustaceans in a deep, frozen Antarctic lake.
  • The creatures' origin is unknown, and further study is ongoing.
  • Biology speaks up about Antarctica's history.
Keep reading Show less