Archive for June, 2010


Massachusetts Institute of Technology

June 16, 2010

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is a private research university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts. MIT is a land-grant, sea-grant, and space-grant university devoted to the advancement of knowledge and education of students in areas that contribute to or prosper in an environment of science and technology. World-renowned for its research in the physical sciences and engineering, MIT’s endowment and annual research expenditures are among the largest of any American university.

Founded by William Barton Rogers in 1861 in response to the increasing industrialization of the United States, MIT adopted the European university model and emphasized laboratory instruction from an early date. MIT’s School of Architecture, founded in 1865, was the first university architecture program in the world and a leader in progressive building design. MIT has in the past 40 years greatly expanded its programs in other fields including biology and cognitive science. MIT has a total of five schools (Science, Engineering, Architecture and Planning, Management, and Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences) and one college (Whitaker College of Health Sciences and Technology).

MIT students refer to both their majors and classes using numbers, so the course which many colleges would designate as “Physics 101,” at MIT is simply “8.01.” MIT’s major fields of study are numbered in the approximate order of when the department was founded. For example, Civil and Environmental Engineering is Course I, while Nuclear Science & Engineering is Course XXII. Students majoring in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, the most popular department, collectively identify themselves as “Course VI.”

Undergraduates at MIT are required to complete an extensive core curriculum called the General Institute Requirements (GIR). This includes two semesters of physics, two semesters of math, one semester of chemistry, and one semester of biology. Some of the pressure for first-year undergraduates is lessened by the “pass/no-record” grading system. In the first (fall) term, freshmen transcripts only report if a class was passed, while no external record exists if a class was not passed. In the second (spring) term, passing grades appear on the transcript while non-passing grades do not.

Between the Fall and Spring semesters, the Independent Activities Period (IAP) is a four-week long “term” offering hundreds of optional classes, lectures, demonstrations, and other activities throughout the month of January. Students also have the opportunity of pursuing “externships” at companies, many of which were started by MIT alumni. In fact, MIT alumni have founded or co-founded over 85 companies including Intel, McDonnell-Douglas, Texas Instruments, 3Com, Qualcomm, Bose, Raytheon, Koch Industries, Rockwell International, Genentech, and Campbell Soup.

MIT employs about 1,000 faculty members (198 of whom are women), enrolls over 4,000 undergraduates, and has more than 6,000 graduate students. During World War II and the Cold War, MIT students and staff were actively involved in efforts to develop computers, radar, and guidance systems in connection with defense research. MIT’s on-campus nuclear reactor is one of the largest university-based nuclear reactors in the U.S. It is also one of the most visible, since the reactor’s containment building is situated in the middle of a densely populated area. Other notable campus facilities include a pressurized wind tunnel, and a towing tank for testing ship and ocean structure designs.

MIT students and faculty members developed the predecessors to modern computing and networking technologies, wrote some of the earliest computer games like Spacewar and Zork, and created much of modern hacker slang. The GNU project and free software movement originated in the mid-1980’s with Richard Stallman at MIT’s Artificial Intelligence Lab. The World Wide Web Consortium was founded by Tim Berners-Lee at MIT’s Laboratory for Computer Science in 1994. MIT’s OpenCourseWare project has made course materials for over 1,800 MIT classes available online free of charge since 2002.

The MIT Media Lab, founded in 1985 and known for its unconventional research, has been home to constructivist educator and Logo creator Seymour Papert, as well as Lego Mindstorms and Scratch creator Mitchel Resnick. The MIT Toy Lab was founded in 2004 with research funding provided by Hasbro Inc. The initial project of the Toy Lab involved developing new concepts for Nerf™ and Supersoaker® brand products. The Nerf Atom Blaster, a variant of a toy developed in this lab, is now currently on the market.

The MIT student athletics program offers 33 varsity-level sports, one of the largest programs in the U.S. In addition, MIT has over 380 recognized student activity groups including a campus radio station, “The Tech” student newspaper, a model railroad club, an annual entrepreneurship competition, and weekly screenings of popular films. MIT even boasts the “world’s largest open-shelf collection of science fiction.” MIT students traditionally have also engaged in elaborate student pranks and technological tomfoolery, such as reconstructing a Wright Flyer atop the Great Dome of the Engineering Library.

MIT’s 168-acre campus extends over one mile along the north side of the Charles River. Many of its buildings are connected above ground via an “Infinite Corridor” linking the east and west ends of campus, as well as through an underground tunnel system. An extensive labyrinth of side tunnels, utility ducts, and stairwells into sublevels – though technically off-limits – also invite investigation by adventurous students. It’s a tradition that those who secretly gain access to these hidden places mark their accomplishment by “signing in” with their logo and the date, for future explorers to find.

Undergraduates are guaranteed four years of dormitory housing on the MIT campus, with live-in graduate student tutors and faculty housemasters. Students are permitted to select their dorm and floor upon arrival. MIT also has five dormitories for single graduate students, and two apartment buildings on campus for families. The Cambridge neighborhoods surrounding MIT are a mixture of residential housing and high tech companies occupying both modern office and rehabilitated industrial buildings.

MIT’s proximity to Harvard University has led to a substantial number of research collaborations. Students at the two schools can cross-register without any additional fees, for credits toward their own school’s degrees. MIT also offers cross-registration programs with Wellesley College, Boston University, Brandeis University, Tufts University, Massachusetts College of Art, and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

The MIT admissions rate for freshmen applicants is about 12%; approximately 65% of admitted applicants choose to enroll. Over 95% of the freshman class end the year in good standing and return the next year; 82% graduate within four years, and 94% graduate within six years. Female students account for 45% of undergraduates. MIT is expensive, averaging $50,000 per year for tuition, books, room and board. The majority of undergraduates receive need-based financial aid packages in the form of MIT scholarships amounting to $34,000.

MIT has a long history of admitting homeschooled students, and a liberal homeschool admissions program, so it has earned a reputation for being a very homeschool-friendly college. [Homeschooled students who attended MIT include Reid Barton and Eric Demaine, featured in previous issues of Homeschooling Teen Magazine.] A diploma or GED is not required, although they do require all applicants to submit ACT or SAT results, as well as two SAT Subject Tests (Math and Science).

Matt McGann, Associate Director of Admissions, says “Over the past 5-10 years, we have seen a surge in homeschooled applicants. Homeschooled applicants still make up less than 1% of our applicant pool (and less than 1% of our student body), but these numbers are growing…. At MIT, we do not have separate requirements for homeschooled applicants. Homeschooled applicants, like all of our applicants, are considered within their context, which includes schooling choice, family situation, geographic location, resources, opportunities, and challenges. However, we do have some tips for homeschooled students, based on successful applicants we have admitted in the past.”

MIT looks for students who are self-motivated, enjoy learning, and show entrepreneurial spirit. They also like to see students who are active in their communities, involved in extracurricular activities, and taking advanced classes through a local college or online school. More helpful tips for homeschooled applicants can be seen at:

Many of MIT’s alumni and alumnae have had considerable success in scientific research, public service, education, and business. 27 have won the Nobel Prize, 47 have received the National Medal of Science, 44 have been selected as Rhodes Scholars, and 55 have been selected as Marshall Scholars. Among current faculty and teaching staff, there are 80 Guggenheim Fellows, 6 Fulbright Scholars, and 29 MacArthur Fellows. Many MIT graduates went on to become presidents of other universities.

Famous MIT alumni include: Hugh Lofting (author of Dr. Doolittle), Louis Sullivan (architect), Buzz Aldrin (Apollo 11 astronaut), Ray Tomlinson (e-mail innovator who pioneered the use of the @ symbol), James McDonnell (co-founder of McDonnell Douglas), Donald Douglas (co-founder of McDonnell Douglas), John Dorrance (founder of the Campbell Soup Company), William Boeing Jr. (founder of The Boeing Company), Ken Olsen (founder of Digital Equipment Corporation), Cecil H. Green (co-founder of Texas Instruments), William R. Hewlett (co-founder of Hewlett-Packard), Tom and Ray Magliozzi (the Car Talk guys).


Emerson Spartz

June 16, 2010

“I founded MuggleNet 10 years ago. I was 12. I was bored. And homeschooled. I figured I could always go back to school if I don’t like it, but it turned out to be the best decision I ever made. I had way too much free time on my hands, so I started [the website] a few months after I began home schooling. I never expected it to get so big. Now I’m 22. I graduated from Notre Dame. I have two brothers, Dylan (20) and Drew (10). They are awesome. I play lots of sports. I am a HUGE nerd. I read between 100-200 non-fiction books a year. I’m a pathological optimist.” ~Emerson Spartz

Emerson Spartz, born in LaPorte, Indiana on February 17, 1987, is the founder of, a Harry Potter fansite. Spartz started the MuggleNet website in 1999 as a homeschooled 12-year-old. By 2005, the MuggleNet network was generating a six-figure income through advertising revenue. In 2007, Spartz incorporated Spartz Inc. to serve as the legal entity representing his MuggleNet e-business. As CEO, Spartz writes less of what’s on the site, and instead delegates much of the day-to-day operation of MuggleNet to his staff of 120 people, including six paid employees, who contribute from around the world. contains news, editorials and synopses of the Harry Potter books and films, an encyclopedia of the books, a chat room and discussion forum. There is also a fan fiction section, a weekly caption contest, and other occasional contests and polls. Spartz benefits from friendly relations with J. K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books. She praised MuggleNet on her website and awarded it her “Fan Site Award.” Warner Bros., producers of the Harry Potter films, have regularly sent movie stills and theatrical trailers to Spartz in advance of the movies’ release. In the summer of 2005, MuggleNet launched a line of clothing, toys, and other merchandise.

MuggleNet has grown to be the largest Harry Potter-related fan website with 20 million page views every month. Spartz says of his site, “I wanted it to be the best and I worked hard at it. When I do something, I like to do it well.” He says when the site first started thriving, “I think it worked because I began to act more like an administrator,” and “It just exploded after that.” His younger brothers and even his parents started helping with the site while he was in college. The straight-A student enrolled as a freshman business major at the University of Notre Dame in the fall of 2005. In May 2009, Spartz graduated with a degree in management concentration from the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business.

In the summer of 2009, Spartz went on a cross-country book tour to promote “’s Harry Potter Should Have Died: Controversial Views From The #1 Fan Site,” which he co-authored with Ben Schoen. As of February 2010, Mugglenet FanFiction authors were writing an anthology of short original fictions to be published to benefit the Room to Read charity. Mugglenet Fanfiction – a subsite of Mugglenet – also released a self-help guide to creative writing entitled “Sharpen Your Quill.” The book offers advice on writing plot, characterization, poetry, specific genres and other useful information including grammar and fluent style.

Spartz and his fiancée Gaby Montero launched the website on May 31, 2009, because “we’re completely exhausted by the negativity of the mainstream media. We’re tired of hearing about what’s wrong in this world.” is like a Twitter-style version of Chicken Soup for the Soul. It’s where people share with the world their most hopeful, uplifting moments and allow others to draw strength from their experiences. The website receives approximately one million unique visitors per month. Emerson and Gaby also launched a spin-off site,, for those “who can’t get enough of the love stories” on The website’s slogan is “Stories That Make You Go ‘Aww!’”

On June 23, 2009, the two launched another site,, a website that raised money for the American Cancer Society with every search. The website had more than one million monthly visitors and raised a total of $6,569.89 before it was shut down on February 11, 2010. Apparently Google’s lawyers forced the site closure because it violated Google’s terms of service. was replaced with, a search engine powered by Google, but which supposedly uses less energy than Google due to its black background. SavesWatts is based on the fact that different colors consume different amounts of energy on computer monitors. The color black requires the least amount of energy, and although the energy savings per search are small, Spartz estimates that “if just 0.01% of people currently using Google switch to SavesWatts, we can save enough energy to power entire neighborhoods!”

Whether or not you like the Harry Potter series, you have to admire this homeschool teen’s entrepreneurial success!