02/07/2011 08:00:00

From the President's Outbox: A Message from Jean-Lou Chameau

As in my year-end message in December, I plan to continue sharing personal communications with the Caltech community at various times throughout the year. From the President's Outbox will feature a variety of topics involving Caltech students, faculty, and staff.

I would first like to applaud Coach Eslinger and his players for their hard-fought game against La Verne Wednesday night, and I know I'm not alone. The Beavers have played great team basketball and have been very competitive all season. I believe that our first conference win is coming soon, with many more to follow.

It will be a proud day, of course, when the Beavers get that victory, but on Wednesday I was excited just to see Braun gym full of students, faculty, and staff cheering in support of Caltech student-athletes. A further demonstration of that Caltech spirit came at halftime, when women's basketball player Teri Juarez was presented with a framed copy of the latest edition of the NCAA's Champion magazine. It featured a cover story on Teri profiling her successes on and off the court, including her studies in mechanical engineering and an internship at JPL last summer.

Participating in athletics is just one of the many ways that Caltech students can take advantage of extracurricular activities, giving them a well-rounded college experience and strengthening the sense of community on campus in the process. There are also many opportunities related to community service, the arts, and just plain having fun. For example, during spring break, the Caltech Concert Band will be traveling to China to perform at the Great Wall, and the Caltech Prank Club is planning...well, to be honest, I have no idea what they are planning. 

For Caltech students, extracurricular activities are not really "extra" at all. Through these activities, students develop skills such as teamwork and ingenuity that help them achieve their greatest victories in the classroom and the lab. It is there that our undergraduates collaborate with faculty and graduate students on research that is not only revolutionary but also highly relevant to society. For instance, many of our students take part in the transformative solar energy research that President Obama cited in the State of the Union last week. In his address, the President stated that cleanly powering the planet would be "our generation's Sputnik moment." This called to mind another time when Caltech played a key role at a critical moment in U.S. innovation: when engineers at JPL designed and built Explorer I, which led our country into the Space Age.

At Caltech, students not only contribute to cutting-edge faculty research; in many cases, they take the lead. In one recent course, students from Caltech and a university in southwestern India collaborated via the web to develop engineering innovations that could be easily implemented to improve quality of life in the developing world. One team created a tiny device, intended to be strapped outside the window of a commuter bus, that uses a wind-driven turbine to provide enough power to charge a cell phone battery.

On March 8, look for this year's ME 72 Engineering Design Contest on Beckman Mall, which is the culmination of an engineering design laboratory for undergraduate students. The theme for this year's contest is "Extreme Recycling," and student teams will design and build robotic vehicles that travel over varied terrain to pick up and deposit recyclables. And this summer, Caltech's microgravity research team will attend NASA's Microgravity University, where the team members will perform--aboard a converted DC-9 aircraft--a deployable-structures experiment that they designed.

It's clear that Caltech students enjoy an educational experience unlike what can be found at any other school in the world. Where else could student speakers present their ideas on a global stage shared by Bill Gates, as they did at the tremendously successful TEDxCaltech event last month? And where else could students prepare dinner for Stephen Hawking and then enjoy the meal together with the rock-star theoretical physicist, as a group of undergraduates in the Cooking Basics class did last week?

Whether it's on the court, in the lab, up and down the Olive Walk, or at the Great Wall, our students continue to take full advantage of the tremendous opportunities that Caltech offers. And because these incredibly bright young people are further strengthening their intellectual, creative, and collaborative abilities during their time here, I am confident that the Caltech torch of discovery will continue to burn bright in the years ahead.

Yours in discovery,

Jean-Lou

Written by Jean-Lou Chameau