The Loh Life

A Modest Proposal

Sandra Tsing Loh's modest proposal.

Let's face it.  Many college alumni of my generation - I graduated in 1983?  We're not good alumni.  We tend to throw our alma mater's alumni newsletters and requests for donations right into the trash.

It seems especially so for my college, Caltech.  It's not its fault.  Caltech has been designated the number one university in the world, on several occasions.  But, of course, it became that way because it attracts people who are brilliant in science, rather than people who are nice.  Caltech undergrads -think "The Big Bang Theory" - are known for building hazardous machines in their dorm rooms, wearing hobbit capes over their boxer shorts, and living in the computer lab for months on nothing but snack machine Doritos.  At least we used to be.  I am quite sure that the current Caltech people are wonderfully well-adjusted.

But, back to my generation.  "Oh!  Oh!  Did you see this?" my fellow alum, whom I'll call "Tom" - because our class is so small I'm afraid you could trace him - Tom is a rather angry Menlo Park engineer, father of two violin geniuses, and a folk dancer.  An angry folk dancer.  He forwarded me something I had missed or possibly deleted.  It was an official Caltech email inviting alums to participate in something called "The Caltech Strategic Identity Project."  It read:

"When you are asked to describe Caltech, how do you reply?  This year we have embarked on a new initiative - the Strategic Identity Project - to define and articulate what differentiates Caltech from other research institutions, and ensure that we can all answer the question "What is Caltech?" in the same way.  We have engaged an independent research firm, King Brown Partners, to survey Caltech faculty, staff, students, and alumni... The purpose of the Strategic Identity Project is to create a shared messaging program that will help increase awareness."

Tom is apoplectic.  Spittle is flying.  "Can you say gravy train?  This is a massive boondoggle by a Sausalito consulting firm - I Googled them! - that is being paid several hundreds of thousands of dollars to quote unquote 'shape messaging' in a Mail Chimp type situation!  It's a waste of Caltech dollars!"

"Sure," I say.  "But why should you complain?  You don't give them money anyway!"

"'Tis true," he said.

So, we decided to shape some messaging that might work.

"Dear Caltech Alumnus.  We know 30 years later, you're still mad at a certain professor, and that you're too ashamed to return to our fine institution without a Nobel Prize, the lack of which haunts you even in midlife.  That said, there is a renegade building project on campus, and if you give money to it the administration will be furious.  What say you, old sir?"

We humbly submit that to King Brown Partners!  No charge.


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