June 18th, 2010

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FINALLY Someone Understands Us

As Some Of You Know...

I did my undergraduate work at Northwestern University. I thought I wanted to get a degree in Astronomy, but for some reason which no one can explain I received not one, but TWO brochures for this new Integrated Science Program. The NSF and NU were concerned in the mid-70s about undergrads overspecializing too soon, especially as there was some real pull at mixing disciplines in science and engineering. So starting for September 1976, NSF helped fund the creation of ISP.
Since 1976 the Integrated Science Program (ISP) has selected some of the brightest science students for a challenging, tailor-made honors curriculum that integrates mathematics with the sciences. We believe that the most effective way to prepare for a career in one science is to be immersed in all of them. No program better prepares students for the increasingly interdisciplinary world of science.

For me the appeal was obvious. An advanced accelerated all honors program in ALL of the sciences, plus mathematics and computers? For someone like me whose brain is something of an absorbent sponge, this sounded like the best of all possible worlds.

To give you an idea of how radical this three-year program was, we started classes during New Student Week, so that we could get on the university's CDC-6400 mainframe computer early -- and as freshmen we were given unlimited accounts! That first day we started with 30 students. One quit on the first day after taking one look at the collection of crazies who'd sign up for a program like this. But we were able to pull a person off the waiting list on Day One and so were back up to full strength. Over the three years we lost people to traditional majors. Those who stayed usually combined ISP with another major. Six of us from that first entering class (EC76) actually earned the B.A. in Integrated Sciences. I worked on a second major in Physics, but despite NU thinking I had finished that program for a while, I actually ended up like one two-course math requirement shy. So I may have been the only person in EC76 who has only the ISP degree from NU. (grin)

And Now We Can Reveal The Secret Of Our Success



xkcd is one of the finest webcomics I've encountered. Randall is a genius at hitting that perfect note about geeky things and how the hell can you draw stick figures with personalities and emotions? (grin)

What A Time We Had

I loved ISP. I loved NU. Did not necessarily get the best grades in the world -- for one thing I was too damn smart and had never learned to study before college. That took until I was 25 and in grad school. (sigh) It took a special breed of person to sign up for a program like ISP in the first year. Later, as the program matured, they managed to run with the concept of ISP undergraduate research -- we were supposed to have an advanced ISP lab in the third year but it never materialized and so I took the Physics advanced lab course. ISP students do a lot of amazing things now and I'm glad they get that opportunity. I like to think that we had to prove to the science departments that such a thing as ISP could exist, so we were the trailblazers. (But I think it would be fun to be in the program today, too.)


May 2001 ISP Reunion Commemorating the 25th Anniversary of the program. Four EC76 members were in attendance along with many other years. Dr. Phil is the large guy in the hat in the second row -- Mrs. Dr. Phil is in front of him.

Dr. Phil