The fourth annual Career Fair Free Stuff Awards

by Matthew M. Lug - Tech News Staff

Yes, that's right, I'm still here and I'm still doing the Free Stuff Awards. After five career fairs, three awards articles, and some occasional criticism, I'm back one last time. Unless they make free stuff judging an olympic event, you'll never see my awards again.

What is the career fair?

Every September, representatives from over 100 companies set up tables in Harrington and sometimes Alden on a Wednesday afternoon to promote their companies and take resumes from students looking for jobs. Most companies give away items of some sort in order to attract the attention of students. More recently, the company representatives have started trying to attract my attention and get mentioned in these awards - many even ask what they can bring next time to win an award.

A little history

Five years ago, I attended my first career fair after seeing what my roommates brought back. The next year, I spent a lot of time at the career fair and brought back a lot of free stuff. I did the same three years ago, and it was then that I came up with the idea of the Free Stuff Awards. The large pile of assorted items was sorted into categories and I decided the winners and runners up for each category. I wrote up the results and submitted the article to Newspeak (the successor of and predecessor to Tech News). Though the categories have changed a little over the years, the format has remained the same. Each year, the awards have gained more recognition from WPI students, faculty, and staff, as well as company representatives. Last Spring the Free Stuff Awards placed third in the Newspeak Readers' Poll for favorite Newspeak article/feature, tied with the April Fools issue. Maybe next time it could place a little bit higher (hint, hint...). All of the past awards articles can be found in my personal archives at

The Process

The actual award decision process is a closely guarded secret that has cost many people their lives. The truth is so horrific that I wouldn't even be allowed to write about it in this article. Instead, I'll just give you this description. I spend most of the afternoon at the career fair, going from table to table to talk to company representatives and collect whatever they have to offer. I usually explain what I'm doing and hand out copies of the previous years' awards. After a few trips, I'll probably have several large bags of stuff to sort through. At this point I'll have about 48 hours to finish the article. I spend that time sorting items and deciding winners. Occasionally I'll find time to sleep, eat, or tend to other matters. After the article is done, the free stuff ends up in boxes in my closet, where it shall remain for all eternity.

So many companies, so little time

The official number of companies this year was over 160. 4 hours, 160+ companies - you do the math. I returned with 5 bags of stuff, as well as sore shoulders, an aching back, and assorted other aches and pains. If you do it right, a career fair can be a full body workout. There was a lot of stuff that I probably didn't get due to the number of companies and the limited time. Companies in Alden are probably poorly represented in the awards, since I only spent half an hour there at the very end of the career fair. Still, I managed to get a wide variety of items. This year's career fair had a lot of new items, but many weren't unique - three companies had the lightweight discs that seem to have replaced plastic frisbees and five companies had bouncing balls that light up when you bounce them. Two companies had what can only be described as bendy things and two others had promotional CDs that came in compact single CD cases that could actually be useful. Several companies had prepaid calling cards, which I had only seen once at a career fair. Translucent plastics were also common, and one type of pen (the same kind Tech News gave away at the activities fair earlier this year) could be found in five different colors that were all strangely similar to the first five iMac colors. Pencils were rare, there was more of a variety of stress relief balls, there weren't enough mouse pads for an award, and silly putty was plentiful.

It's late and I'm tired

This concludes my final Free Stuff Awards article. I am now officially retired from free stuff judging, so you'll just have to somehow learn to move on and live your lives without my awards to satisfy your free stuff informational needs.

The Awards

Best Pen
Winner: Sanders, for their black, gold-trimmed metal pens.
Runner Up: Rational, for their puzzle pens.

Best Pencil
Winner: IBM, for their clear and blue rear-click pencils.
Runner Up: IBM, for their white and black side-click pencils. No matter how you get your clicks, IBM has you covered.

Best Highlighter
Winner: Alphatech, for their two-color triangular erasable highlighters, combining the design of the runners up in 1997 and 1998 with the erasability of last year's winner and this year's runner up.
Runner Up: Texas Instruments, for their yellow erasable highlighters, which won in this category last year.

Best Key Chain
Winner: Watson Wyatt Worldwide, for their carabiner/LED light combos.
Runners Up: BASF, for their thermometer key chains and Stanley, for their tape measure key chains.

Best Note Pad
Winner: C&M, for their note sheet cube.
Runner Up: Stratus, for their large white sticky note pads.

Best Magnet
Winners: and Mercury Computer Systems, for their computer word magnets.
Runners Up: GE, Foxboro, and CDM, for their mood selector magnets, which Raytheon has had in previous years.

Best Stress Ball
Winner: Event Zero, for their small, heavy, gel-type stress balls.
Runner Up: Primix, for their slightly different gel stress balls.

Best Flying Object
Winners: Rational, Cisco, and General Dynamics, for their lightweight discs. Rational had these at the last summer job fair, and Cisco had theirs in five colors.
Runner Up: Factset, for their foam planes.

Best Toy
Winner: Breakaway, Cadence, Gemstar, Teradyne, and Viant for their bouncing balls that light up when bounced.
Runner Up: SilverStream, for its silly putty.

Best Electrical Device
Winner: Raytheon, for their electric fans.
Runner Up: StorageNetworks, for their large flashlights with removable magnetic clips.

Best Beverage Container
Winner: Agilent, for their large plastic mugs.
Runner Up: Schlumberger, for their sports bottles.

Best Candy
Winner: Stratus, for their home made chocolate bars.
Runner Up: Phoenix Technologies, for their Nestle Crunch bars, Hershey's chocolate bars, and Reese's peanut butter cups.

Most Useful
Winner: EMC, for their CD cases.
Runner Up: The Hartford, for their collapsible coolers.

Most Useless
Winner: Natural Microsystems, for their plastic stick figure things.
Runner Up: GE, for their folding cubes that feature the cast of Friends for no apparent reason.

Strangest Looking
Winner: Verizon, for their black and white padded clip things that look like bugs.
Runner Up: APC, for their alligator clips anchored in clear blocks.

Most Annoying
Winner: Texas Instruments, for their plastic clapper noisemakers.

Most Original
Winner: Raytheon, for their electric fans.
Runner Up: NAV AIR, for their beach balls.

Honorable Mentions Allegro, for their coasters. Impress your parents with coasters under every can of beer, er, I mean soda, yeah, soda...
TASC, for their golf ball with five colored tees.
Mitre, for their 6" rulers with built-in puzzles.
SeaChange, for their playing cards.

Person it was strangest to see as a company representative
Winner: M/A-COM: Greg Snoddy. No longer on the WPI staff, he knew enough to make sure I wasn't ignored at the M/A-COM table.
Runner Up: Texas Instruments: Wes Blackstone. After so many years as a WPI student, he finally left and got a job, although he didn't get a shirt to match the other TI representatives.

Tech News Editors' Choice Award
Winner: Clairol, for their bottles of Herbal Essences shampoo.

Most Colorful Assortment
Winner: Schlumberger - black sports bottles, blue bandannas, six-color yo-yos, and six-color puzzle balls made for a colorful table.
Runner Up: General Dynamics - different colored pens, three-color highlighters, blue and purple bendy things, and blue discs.

Best Overall Assortment
Winner: Stratus - pens, chocolate bars, prepaid calling cards, note pads, sunglasses, eyeglass cords, plastic bags - they had a nice variety.

Least Visible
Winner: Microsoft. I don't try to give Microsoft the booby prize every year, they earn it. I didn't actually see Microsoft's booth, but those who did reported that it was easy to miss.

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