Resident Pete Jackson shares his memories of the intensity of his studies at Carnegie Tech in a two-part article.
In 1954, I graduated from Michigan State College with a degree in electrical engineering. I went to work as a civilian for the Navy at a research and development laboratory at NADC in Warminster, Pennsylvania. I started out in Anti-submarine Warfare but moved into the field of radar development after a couple of years. I was moving around just to find an area that I liked. After I had been there about four years (in 1958), an opening came up which interested me. The military was interested in equipping aircraft with nuclear reactors. This would theoretically give them very long airborne time and enable them to more effectively perform their mission. To anticipate research and development in this area, the military decided to train a number of engineers in nuclear physics. The military already had some personnel with that knowledge, but if the effort took off like expected, many more would be needed. I saw an opportunity for advancement here so I applied. The training was six months at one of several colleges and six months of practical experience at the AEC’s research laboratory at Oak Ridge, Tennessee. There were several other applicants, but I was chosen.
I chose Carnegie Tech primarily for its reputation. I packed up my stuff and moved out to Pittsburgh. I found a place to live within walking distance of the school since I still didn’t have enough money to buy a car. The area where I lived was a veritable cultural and sports center. Within a couple of blocks from my apartment were the University of Pittsburgh Cathedral of Learning, the Carnegie Museum, Forbes Field and Carnegie Tech. The house I lived in was occupied by four other students, all going to the University of Pittsburgh. We all got along pretty well. We had a lot in common; we were all trying to pass our courses, and none of us had any money. The couple who owned the house were nice but wouldn’t tolerate any noise, parties or girls up in the rooms.
I found my way over to Carnegie Tech and realized that my registration, schedule and tuition had already been worked out. My workplace had taken care of all of the details. During our time there, a group of us had our own little area of the school set aside. There were eight of us. We were all about the same age but of varying backgrounds and from various organizations. I got to know them well in a short time since we had the same classes, instructors and schedules.
Classes were intense. We had a lot of material to cover in six months. I took courses in physics, advanced calculus, fluid flow, thermodynamics, engineering analysis, chemistry and metallurgy. The six months was divided into two terms. One term coincided with Carnegie Tech’s summer term. During that time the campus was devoid of students except for us. We ate in the professor’s lounge along with our instructors. We got to know each other quite well before the classes finally ended. The homework was relentless. Each instructor gave homework assignments like his was the only course being given.
Fridays were always bad days. All the professors would give us exams that day. Hardly anyone slept the night before; we were up cramming. Every once in awhile I would take a break in the middle of the night to go to a nearby White Tower and grab a hamburger and some coffee – just to be doing something other than cramming. The White Tower was open all night, and more than once I would meet another student there.
Because of our heavy workload, social life was virtually nonexistent, but I still managed to sneak out for some “me” time. I went through Carnegie Museum, took in some baseball games, a couple of football games and visited University of Pittsburgh’s famous Cathedral of Learning. The Pittsburgh sports teams were not doing well at the time so I had no trouble getting a seat. I would just go when a game was scheduled and I was little stir crazy from school. The University of Pittsburgh Cathedral of Learning, for those not familiar with it, is a 42-story skyscraper that houses the university.
At the end of our six months we had an exam that was required for our degrees. The exam consisted of one problem and was open-book. The problem was: given certain initial parameters, to design a power plant that would meet those parameters. We were allowed all day in the classroom to do the test. We all passed and were glad to see the end of term. The fact that the exam was open-book didn’t matter a bit. Either you knew your subject or you didn’t.
…To be continued.