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January 28, 2004: On the Campus

Illustration: RON BARRETT

There he is . . .
Mr. Engineering

By Sara Mayeux ’05


With a vocal, poster-waving group of fans yelling his name, Brandon Rogers ’06 took the stage in a purple and turquoise tracksuit, and, ribbon in hand, knelt solemnly. The opening strains of the theme song from Chariots of Fire resounded through the auditorium. For five minutes, Rogers skipped about the stage, waving his arm in graceful arcs in a performance as exquisitely choreographed as any fourth-grade gym class ribbon-dance demonstration.

It was a Friday night, and 200 students were in a lecture hall to watch Rogers, a mechanical and aerospace engineering major, and 10 other strapping young engineers-to-be show off their talents in the hopes of being named Mr. Engineering. (Tom Reichel ’04, who wore a cow suit and performed barnyard noises, took home the title; for the record, Bryan Christopher Cattle ’07 did not dress in a cow suit.)

The event was the first foray into pageantry for the E-Council, which represents undergraduate students in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and was the brainchild of E-Council copresident Miram Okun ’05.

The ostensible goal of the Mr. Engineering pageant, whose judges were female engineering students, was to show that their male counterparts are not just nerds. And some of the candidates seemed to take this charge to heart. One junior began many of his statements with “my fraternity” or “one time when I was drunk” or “one time at Cottage.” Another, in the talent competition, demonstrated his prowess at drinking games involving quarters and pitchers. But then again there was the sophomore who was introduced as “cooler than a cryogenic superconducting magnet,” and a contestant who rode a 20-foot unicycle around the auditorium.

A few days later, a letter appeared in the Daily Princetonian in which one engineering student responded to the Prince’s coverage of the event. “Should there be such a need to justify myself? What if I do spend all my time in the E-quad? What if my best jokes are those about seg faults and Fourier transforms? What if I fulfill every engineering stereotype known to mankind?” He expressed his concern that “by saying ‘not all engineers are nerds and geeks’ and parading around exceptions to the rule, we only emphasize the social stigmatization of those who genuinely are ‘nerds and geeks’ . . . ”

Without putting too fine a point on it, I’ll just say that I don’t think this troubled student needs to have worried so much about “exceptions to the rule.”

On a cold December evening 10 students gathered over garlic naan and chicken curry at a local Indian restaurant to discuss sovereignty, national security, and justice with professors Stanley Katz of the Woodrow Wilson School and Carol Greenhouse of the anthropology department. In particular, the students wanted to talk about these issues in the context of recent developments concerning the Guantánamo Bay detainees. Alison Epting ’04, founder and head of the recently formed Students for Liberty and Security on campus, had organized the dinner as the first in a series of events leading up to a daylong conference April 30 on post-September 11 security issues called “Nothing to Fear: National Security, Civil Liberties, and Non-Citizens.”

Epting began S.L.S., which has been named a committee of the A.C.L.U. chapter on campus, this fall, after learning there were a number of students who were concerned about the issues, but there was little constructive dialogue taking place.

The students still had more questions than answers by the time the waiter had brought around the galub jamun (deep-fried honey-soaked Indian treats), which is probably a sign that Katz and Greenhouse had done something right.

The first Saturday in December always brings winter formals; this year was little different, except that the girls and boys drinking cheap champagne with lamb chops, dancing to U2 cover bands and hip-hop D.J.s, and filling their cups with cheap beer in the taprooms into the early morning were wearing mukluks under their evening gowns and sneakers with their tuxedos. The willowy coeds who had pranced from class to sorority meeting in Australian wool snow boots and miniskirts throughout New Jersey’s sunny Indian summer had woken up the first Saturday of December to about a foot of snow, and so those trendy boots – all the rage this winter, even earning a page in the New York Times Sunday Styles section – really came in handy. But I couldn’t help wondering if maybe Princeton students could use a gentle reminder to be careful what they wish for.

Sara Mayeux ’05 is a history major from Atlanta, Georgia.

On the Campus Online: Click here to read “Out to lunch,” by Ashley Johnson ’05.



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