Harvey Mudd College, the premier liberal arts college of engineering, science and mathematics, conferred bachelor of science degrees upon 180 students at its 55th commencement ceremony May 19 in Claremont, Calif.
Nobel Laureate and physicist Carl Wieman gave the commencement address, sharing scientific evidence that the graduates’ college education had actually boosted their brainpower.
An expert on atomic physics and science education, Wieman focuses one area of his research on teaching scientific thinking.
“Acquiring expertise is a process of brain development that only comes about through strenuous and prolonged exercise of the brain in the right way,” Wieman said. “Just like a muscle develops when it is used strenuously, the brain, when pushed hard, responds by changing and getting better. And, similar to a muscle, it is that process of putting great demands on [the brain] that causes it to respond and improve.”
He said research has revealed that it takes about 10,000 hours of intense, concentrated mental practice to become a world-class expert in any established field, whether or not a person shows early talent in the field.
“There is a real value to all that very hard work you did, that straining to make sense of those strange, new ideas at 2 in the morning,” Wieman said. “Your brain has literally grown and rewired itself as a result, so that it is different and better, with new capabilities it did not have when you first arrived on campus.”
Senior keynote speaker Alec Storrie-Lombardi talked about the close friendships and mentoring relationships that impacted his experience at HMC.
“Reputation-wise, Mudd is seen as a place that molds students into exceptional professionals in industry or academics through use of a very rigorous curriculum,” Storrie-Lombardi said. “But the important thing is that we do it together, whether it’s working in a team, or side by side; whether stopping by for office hours for help, or Professor Dodds responding to an email of yours at 3 in the morning when you are freaking out over why doesn’t the code work.”
He encouraged his classmates to tackle their next challenge eagerly. “What we’ve accomplished so far is no small feat. Be proud of what you’ve done and confident in what you are going to do,” he said. “…We are about to take a plunge off the pier, except, this time, we are ready. This time we are prepared. This time, I say ‘waters of the world beware, because the Harvey Mudd Class of 2013 is going to make quite a splash.’”
Glen Hastings ’93 welcomed the new graduates into the HMC Alumni Association.
“Mudders are professors and teachers at all levels of education from the sciences to the humanities, engineers and scientists across hundreds of disciplines around the globe, entrepreneurs, business leaders, futurists, doctors, attorneys, astronauts, Oscar Award winners and Tony Award winners,” Hastings said. “As you look at the Mudders to your left and to your right, remember, these are people that will change the world.”
President Maria Klawe described the values and attitudes students develop at HMC that prepare them to take on major challenges and succeed: lack of fear of failure; commitment to everyone’s success; excellence without arrogance; delight in learning; and, a willingness to challenge accepted ideas and approaches.
“Fear of failure is what stops many people from trying to do great things. But, at Mudd, everyone gets many opportunities to fail and to learn from those failures. And to learn to ask for help, and to learn to give help,” Klawe said. “That understanding—of helping others succeed, and being a part of a group that succeeds together—is probably the most valuable thing you can take with you for the rest of your life.”