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Opinion | SEAS needs to project universal school identity

Published: Monday, February 4, 2013

Updated: Monday, February 4, 2013 22:02

There’s a kitchen that’s caught some attention recently. Maybe you’ve heard of it? It’s called the “Idea Kitchen,” and it’s the very visible—and very exclusive—new territory for the Lockheed Martin Leadership Institute (LMLI). The workspace occupies what used to be a public study area on the second floor of the engineering building. A lot of students, myself included, feel indignant about the whole ordeal.

The Idea Kitchen’s inception says a lot about the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS). SEAS has been fostering a Lockheed Martin branding for the past two years. Regardless of who has been driving this corporate relationship, it’s obvious that the school has embraced it; logos on the website, the display in the lobby, and the new “Idea Kitchen” say it all. This school wants this corporate partnership as part of its identity.

This is understandable, as an undergraduate degree means less today than it once did. As a result, the university’s performance in job placement is important to both current and prospective students. Publicizing corporate partnerships shows prospective students that the university takes job placement seriously, and the LMLI achieves this for the engineering school in particular.

It’s not that I believe the LMLI acquisition of a once public study space is territorially unfair. To be honest, I never used the area, and the most use it ever got was always around finals week. This new configuration is possibly a more efficient allocation of the building’s space, though others may disagree. What really bothers me is the accumulating one-sided identity to which it contributes. There are over 2,500 students in the engineering school—40 of them belong to the LMLI. The magnitude of advertisement the program receives would suggest much larger involvement among students.

The engineering school is a very diverse place. There are experts in everything from navigation signals to nanotechnology, bioinformatics to structural engineering. There are diverse partnerships too—the Air Force sponsors GPS research, IEEE and ACM pervade ECE and CSE departments, and GE and Seimman’s have a consistent recruiting presence. To promulgate each of these divisions and partnerships would be impractical. The school’s identity would become cluttered and logo-infested.

But identity has so much power, and the people most influenced by the identity that SEAS broadcasts are the students that walk its halls. When I walk past the LMLI logos each day, I am subliminally annoyed because it is not part of my identity, but is projected as if it were. The larger identity of the engineering school is one that many students embrace, but that identity is getting too closely tied to something unrelated to most of us—the LMLI.

The school needs to project a more universal identity—as a place of learning, where the people are passionate about acquiring knowledge so they can make society a better place. That is the sort of identity I think we can share in equally, and even one that will make the engineering building a more exciting, inspiring, and encouraging place to prospective and current students.

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