So much has changed around here since I first visited WPI back in 1995. Aside from the members of the faculty and staff and the perpetual students among us, most of you probably have no idea what WPI was like just a few short years ago. It was a land of mostly male students, excessive drinking, incomprehensible lectures, and insufficient parking. Ok, so maybe not everything has changed, but this place sure isn't the same anymore.
As freshmen entering our first year at WPI we were greeted with the encouraging sign of an increasing female population. Estimated at 6 to 1 only a couple years earlier, the male to female ratio had fallen to less than 4 to 1. Little did we know that the ratio wasn't going anywhere anytime soon. The dorms were far from the modern and elegant living arrangements students are familiar with today. This was before all of the dorm renovations. Furniture was old, just how old could be determined by checking behind the drawers in the desks and dressers for old papers and letters. Windows didn't close right, resulting in a nice draft in the winter to offset the heat that wouldn't turn off. Doors didn't lock automatically, which was good for roommates who couldn't keep track of their keys, floormates who wanted to use my computer while I was asleep, and that person who took my cheap phone the day before I moved out. Morgan was all male, a very dangerous situation in a male-dominated school. Those who survived that particular "experience" will undoubtedly require counseling for the rest of their lives. The network was, by today's standards, god-awful slow. We didn't notice because the computers were slow and multimedia porn wasn't common. The food service known as DAKA was actually run by DAKA. There was no Burger King, no fancy foods in the dining halls, no coffee cart in Fuller. The bookstore was just the bookstore, not Tatnuck@whatever. Student mailboxes could be accessed any time, day or night. The wedge was a dark and scary place, its odd-color booth-like seating filled with the strange and unusual. The Rileybugs were fruitful and multiplied.
All this has changed since then. The dorms and the areas around them are bright and cheery places. First Riley was renovated, adding such modern wonders as an elevator and handicapped-accessible toilets and showers. The other dorms and on-campus apartments soon followed. Morgan became the last dorm to admit females - no longer would shouts of "There's a girl in Morgan!" have any significance. Food service improved dramatically, but people still complain. The network was made faster and faster, but it was never fast enough for some people. So much was changed to please the students, but they wanted more. First came the petitions, then the discussions with the administration, then the open meetings. Eventually, ground was broken and the upper Higgins lawn became nothing more than a memory. What was once a peaceful place to relax beneath the trees on an autumn evening became a giant hole in the ground. Then a metal skeleton. Then an enclosed structure. Soon, it will be a functioning campus center.
Elsewhere on campus
The new campus center, while probably the most visible, was not the only change to the WPI campus in recent years. There was a time not long ago when you could drive straight through campus without having to knock down barriers or go through a column of water. You could take a road past Stratton Hall, Higgins Labs, the Project Center, Olin Hall, Salisbury Labs, Goddard Hall, and AK, running down students as you went; you wouldn't even have to worry about getting arrested or anything. Then the stone pillars were installed. Then one was broken and reinstalled. After a year of having an asphalt pedestrian walkway in the middle of campus, it was torn out to make way for a brick walkway, complete with a central meeting area and spurt of water. Foot traffic was diverted to the grass on either side of the new walkway. Then the rain came. With the rain came the mud. Getting to class became an adventure, ducking past bushes, sidestepping puddles, balancing on wooden boards in the middle of a mud bog. Countless bricks were confiscated by students, to be used as doorstops and souvenirs. When it was finally finished, it was a relief to be able to walk on solid ground once more. The centerpiece of the new walkway was activated, and passers by wondered "What the hell is that supposed to be?" Many wonder that same thing even today.
Most of the other changes weren't visible from outside, aside from the large antenna perched atop Higgins Labs and the greenhouse that Salisbury Labs sprouted. Academic buildings were refurnished, remodeled, renovated, and just plain redone. Lounge areas became classrooms, classrooms became offices, and labs were upgraded, moved, or removed. The last of the 8086-based PCs were phased out, followed by 386s, 486s, and increasingly more powerful yet obsolete computing devices. These days, a professor who only wants to send e-mail probably has more computing power than the entire world had just a couple of decades ago. Faculty and staff members have come and gone, students graduated, flunked out, came and went, or just stayed around. Some even say that if you listen closely on a calm, moonlit night, you can hear the sound of the eternal student circling campus in search of a parking space...
There are plenty more changes to come. The campus center was just the first of the new structures to be built on campus. Someday, a parking garage and a new academic building might be added, but only time will tell how and when they will take shape. More and more people will undoubtedly pass through this place we know as WPI, some will remain only briefly, some long enough to receive degrees or other recognition, and others for years and years and years. Traditions will be continued, revived, created, and forgotten. Life will go on, at least until it stops.
In the news
Much has changed with this paper lately as well. I attended one of the first meetings in the current Newspeak/Tech News office, which was moved from its previous location because of the installation of the Riley elevator. Soon, the office will again be moved, this time to the new campus center. The staff has cycled a few times and the name has changed, but this is still WPI's paper. Overall, things have improved quite a bit, aside from the occasional controversy. Membership still falls off sharply after the first few meetings each year, but each year more and more people stay involved, so much so that meetings can no longer be held comfortably in the office. A few more people couldn't hurt though...
Over the years, I have submitted articles to Newspeak/Tech News under six different editors-in-chief. The length of these articles has varied from small to full-page, with some spread across several pages. They have been on the front page, buried in the back, and everywhere in between. The topics have ranged from urinals to politics, but one thing has remained constant - I never wrote an article assigned by the editors. I've had a photograph, a club corner, and an entry in Police Log that I can claim credit for, but I've never worked on editing or layout on the weekends, I've never helped run the paper, and I've never really tried to do much else beyond writing. The reason for this is simple - there are many different ways to be involved with WPI's newspaper. I chose to submit occasional articles on topics I selected; others have dealt with news, features, sports, photography, graphics, business aspects, or combinations of these. There's more to a paper than writing, but the writing is still there for those who have an interest in it.
Newspeak/Tech News has provided me with a great way to vent excess creativity. Despite the occasional editing errors (misspelled names, missing chunks of text, typos, etc.), intentional editing changes (I have never used the word "dang" except in quotes to say that I don't use that word), layout peculiarities (I have no idea what happened to my article last week), and letters to the editor saying that I'm wrong (this has happened with two completely different articles), I have found my newspaper-related experiences to be quite rewarding. Writing articles for the paper can get you noticed by students and professors, usually in a positive way. I even managed to create something that received a significant amount of positive feedback over the past four years, including a spot in the 2000 Newspeak Readers' Poll awards (there's probably going to be another readers' poll in a few months, hint, hint) - the Free Stuff Awards. Even though that's all I may ever be remembered for, it was still worth it to throw together an article every once in a while. Finally, this last article wouldn't be complete without a shameless plug for my personal archive at http://www.wpi.edu/~mttlg/stuff/, which contains everything of mine that has been printed in Newspeak/Tech News (with the exception of a photograph) and much, much more.