June 6, 2007: On the Campus
Farewells, pirates, and startups
By Jocelyn Hanamirian ’08
To Princeton seniors who have completed their thesis work and are finishing classes, the spring seems like a season of lasts. Supporting this theme are the Last Chance Lectures, talks by some of the University’s most famed professors and open exclusively to the Class of 2007.
With lectures like “Intuition: Marvels and Flaws” by retiring psychology professor Daniel Kahneman and “Natural Law, God, and Human Rights” by politics professor Robert George, the program was based on a series that was last offered to the Class of 2001.
This year, English professor Jeff Nunokawa free-associated moments from popular films with passages in Victorian literature. No pens scribbled, no papers flipped, and students — though clad in breezy spring attire — listened attentively.
For some students, the lectures were an opportunity to hear about topics they hadn’t had a chance to explore. For others, it was a chance to hear a favorite professor for the last time.
“Professor [Gary] Bass was the professor who convinced me to become a politics major,” Chris Berg ’07 said, “and Professor George has been my mentor and adviser throughout senior year. I think it’s a great idea to give the opportunity to students who haven’t had a chance to experience some of our best professors.”
How better to finish 43 years of teaching than to walk the plank? For organic chemistry professor Maitland Jones, the invasion of a band of pirates in his last Princeton lecture was the perfect way to go out with a bang.
The originator of Princeton’s small-group, problem-solving course in organic chemistry, Jones began his lecture with a characteristic caution that his students appreciate the detail of a proof.
“It’s one of the great intellectual achievements that humankind should be most proud of, so I ask for you not to think of it as easy, but to see it for the glorious messiness of it all,” he said.
As Jones drew a molecule’s structure on the chalkboard, he was interrupted by a band of costumed students entering Frick’s lecture hall.
“Avast ya blaggards and tortured souls of organic chemistry small-group problem-solving,” sneered Jon Miller ’07, in full pirate garb, followed by about 20 other costumed alumni of Jones’ class. Before Jones would head “to New York to drop harbor for new adventure,” Miller explained, he must “walk the plank into the Woodrow Wilson Sea.”
Opening gifts delivered in a treasure chest, Jones lapsed into a pirate growl of his own. As a wooden plank was brought into the room and Jones was about to be led outside to the Scudder Plaza fountain, Miller asked, “Be ya ready to surrender, sir?”
With a final demonstration of the perseverance he encouraged in students struggling with a particularly difficult problem, Jones retorted: “Never surrender!”
“Twelve Companies. One Hour. Three Winners. One Champion.”
This was the tagline that inspired 15 students to compete in the First Annual Startup Spotlight May 3 and present their entrepreneurial ideas to a panel of five judges. From online
tailoring (a body scan taken by a Webcam would generate a holographic form for fitting clothes) to an airport-kiosk system for downloading music to an iPod, every idea was only as good as its appeal to investors.
The day’s winner was Rethos, a Web site started by Alexander Salzman ’07 that is meant to connect individuals concerned with social and environmental issues with companies that also are engaged in these issues.
Second-place honors went to Jason Aramburu ’07 for EcoVolve, a company that would provide an incentive for recycling. EcoVolve would transport organic waste from homes and sell it as fertilizer to organic farms used by local restaurants. Home users would receive gift certificates based on the amount of waste they provide, and the restaurant owners would benefit from wholesale fertilizer for their farms. Aramburu already is working with two eating clubs to implement his idea.
The event was meant to encourage students interested in starting their own companies who didn’t have a means of doing so, said Joseph Perla ’09, president of the Entrepreneurship Club. “The ideas aren’t the problem,” Perla said. “[Students] just need to get working on it, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Jocelyn Hanamirian ’08 is an English major from Villanova, Pa.