INTERVIEWER: Stu Schmill is MIT's Dean of Admissions, a post he has held since 2008. His career at MIT began in 1982 when he enrolled as a freshman. Following his graduation in 1986 with a degree in mechanical engineering, he spent a year designing cars at General Motors before returning to MIT.
During his long tenure at MIT, Stu served the Institute in a variety of positions, including Director of Crew, Director of Parent, Student, and Young Alumni programs in the Alumni Association, and Director of MIT's educational council. He joined the admissions office in 2002, was appointed interim director in 2007, and dean in 2008. Stu has been honored with the MIT Dean for Undergraduate Education Infinite Mile award for leadership. He was named coach of the year in the Eastern Association of Rowing Colleges, the most competitive rowing league in the country and has won numerous medals as a coxswain in the head of the Charles regatta.
Beyond MIT, Stu served as trustee, founder, or adviser to a variety of organizations, including the College Board, University of Cambridge International Examinations, Wayland-Weston Rowing Association, To the Water Inc., and the Mandela Townhall Health Spot. He lives in Needham with his wife Debbie and two daughters Sammy and Becca. Stu, thanks a lot for coming in today.
SCHMILL: It's my pleasure. Thanks for having me.
INTERVIEWER: So let's just start at the beginning. Tell me a bit about where you were born and where you grew up.
SCHMILL: Well I grew up in New York City, in Queens, on the far Northeastern side, in a place called Little Neck. And I grew up playing stickball and paddle ball, a lot of New York City kinds of things. My playground was a cement schoolyard. So that's where we
used to play and hang out. Went to a big public school in Queens. And my graduating class at Cardozo High School was about the same size as my freshman class here at MIT. So it wasn't such a big transition for me.
INTERVIEWER: What about your family? Your parents, what did they do? What were they like?
SCHMILL: So neither of my parents had gone to college. They both grew up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in tenements there. And after they got married, was when they were able to leave, move out to the country of Queens. But they always appreciated education and gave me every opportunity when I was growing up to pursue the things I wanted to do.
INTERVIEWER: So it sounds like a pretty big transition for you, deciding to go to MIT, thinking about college in general. How did that happen? Were you really interested in math and science in school? Or how did that decision process take place?
SCHMILL: Well I certainly was interested in math and science. And I think I can even pinpoint the moment that really sparked my interest. In ninth grade, which where I grew up, was still in junior high school. So my high school for me was 10 through 12.
So in ninth grade during the winter break, one of our assignments was to go to the Museum of Natural History on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and answer bunch of questions about-- I remember going through a few of the different halls, but particularly the earth history. And I remember going through that and just being completely absorbed in it and thinking it was just absolutely fascinating.
And from there forward, it really sparked an interest in learning about science and the way the world worked. And so I carried that into high school, and started doing things like math team, and took all the AP science classes that I could, and all of that, and just really loved it. It was great. Yeah.
INTERVIEWER: As someone who's ended up spending their career in admissions, it seems like this would be a great question to ask you. How did you become aware of MIT as an option when you were in high school and you're trying to think about where you wanted to go?
SCHMILL: Yeah. So MIT, I guess I had heard of it. And my guidance counselor had mentioned it. It wasn't something-- It was far off in my consciousness. I hadn't really traveled outside of Queens to visit colleges.
I did participate for two summers when I was in high school, back in the late '70s, early '80s, 1980s, the National Science Foundation used to sponsor the summer programs for students. And I did two of them. I did one in Wichita, Kansas at Wichita State University and another one down in Charleston, South Carolina. And those were summer programs focused on science and math. I learned how to program computers at the one in South Carolina.
And so MIT, people had been conscious of MIT. And so I'd heard of it. Never come up here to visit. And so basically I applied-- When I was applying to colleges, I applied to three schools, the local state university of New York at Stony Brook, which was on Long Island, near my house. And MIT was the second. And the third was a school that had actually given me a merit scholarship before I had even applied.
And it was one of these-- It's a school that offers these high school awards for students. And if you get admitted to the school, you get a merit scholarship. So it was in my consciousness. So I applied to three schools fully planning that I was going to go to the State University and would have been very happy with that. And that would've been great.
But somehow I got into MIT. And even after I got in, first of all I thought it was a mistake. I thought maybe somebody had misplaced, put my application in the wrong file. But once I realized I'd gotten in, I still wasn't sure I was going to go, because it was going to be a lot more expensive. And now we did receive a lot of financial aid. But still it was a bit of a stretch.
And I actually remember my father sat me down and he said, if you have a shot to go to a place like MIT, we'll make it work. And I'll always remember that and really appreciate it. And so I did. And that's what we did. I went to MIT. And the rest, I guess, is history here. I've been here for very long time.
INTERVIEWER: So you mentioned that you hadn't visited MIT. Did you visit MIT then in between as you were making the decision or before you actually enrolled?
SCHMILL: Right so the first time I actually set foot on campus was for orientation week. I had not visited. I remember my parents taking me into the middle of Queens. I got on a Greyhound with a big duffel bag. And I took the bus up here, got into South Station. Somehow I found my way on the "T" to make it here. And that was it.
First time I saw the campus was walking here from-- Actually I just got off the "T" at Central Square. And so went through down Mass Avenue and somehow found my dorm. And that was it. Yeah, I hadn't been here beforehand.
INTERVIEWER: So what were your impressions? Was there culture shock?
SCHMILL: Well I had no idea what to expect, really no idea what to expect. And so yeah, it was a bit of culture shock. Not so much in the size of it, but really I was intimidated by just the notion of being here at MIT. A lot of students have that sense that MIT seems a little bit more exalted in people's minds, certainly before you get here.
And it took me a little bit of a while to actually feel comfortable, like okay, maybe I actually belong here. And I think it was after meeting a lot of people who felt the same way that I did. My two roommates freshman year felt similarly like, what are we doing here at MIT? And you just you meet a lot of people.
And then ultimately you realize that well, people around here really aren't all that different. I mean we're all from very different places. And that was certainly true for my roommates and a lot of people that I knew here as a student. But in reality, we all were just good, regular, normal people who were just trying to do the best we could here.
INTERVIEWER: Tell me a bit more about that first semester, settling in, learning your way around. It must have been a challenge.
SCHMILL: Yeah. Well I remember the first class I ever took, the first class I went to, I don't remember if it was a 9 AM or 10 AM class. But it was Spanish class. And I had taken Spanish as my language all the way through school, middle school and high school. So I was in Spanish 3 my freshman year, Professor Morgenstern.
And I remember going to that first class. And I remember just really being unprepared. We had a pre-assignment for the class. And I didn't do it, which wasn't all that uncommon. Because in high school, often I could show up to the class, and on the fly, figure out what I needed to figure out. And it would be fine. So I figured, okay, first class, how important was this pre-assignment anyway?
So I remember walking into the class and looking at the classroom. And there were a lot of other people in there already. I noticed in the back there were a couple of guys sitting back there with Greek letters. They were in some fraternity. And they had baseball hats on backwards. And I figured, okay I'd go sit near them, probably be safe. Nobody would call on me and it would be fine.
And as the class went on, it became pretty clear that everybody else in the room had done their homework. I was the only one unprepared. And Professor Morgenstern, what he used to do people when they were unprepared, was he brought a water pistol to class. And he would shoot you with a water pistol if you were unprepared. So I was the one who got doused that day. I will never forget it.
And it really taught me that at MIT, everybody really is engaged in their academics and therefore really prepares and does everything they can. And I think I'm glad I learned that on the first day, because it really motivated me to say, okay I'm going to have to put my head down and do my work here. Because that's what everybody does. It was a different experience. It was nothing like high school.
High school was a much broader arrangement of people who were engaged or not. So that was a real eye-opening experience. And it really was true here at MIT. Everybody, you look around, it's really a densely packed with people who are really focused on doing as well as they can academically.
INTERVIEWER: Gives you some great material to draw on when you give advice to prospective students and incoming students.
SCHMILL: Yeah, it's certainly true. And it's funny because MIT, I found it to be an intense academic experience. That's a pretty universal thing. Students here think it is a really intense academic experience.
So now in my role in the admissions office, I go out and talk with students all the time and really want to portray it accurately. We don't want students coming here if they don't want that kind of an intense academic experience. So we try to let them know.
Every year in the fall, I'll go off and talk to as many freshman as I can. And I'll ask them, so what do you think? Did we accurately portray MIT? Did you know what you were getting into? And invariably students will say, it all seemed accurate except it's a lot harder than I thought it was going to be.
And I think it's because you really cannot appreciate it until you go through it. There's certain experiences like that in life that you really can't experience, you can't have somebody explain it to you and understand it. You have to really experience it. And the academics here at MIT are like that. You have to go through it.
And so no matter what anybody would have told me, I'm sure there were people during orientation week telling me it's not going to be like high school. It's going to be more intense. You have to learn it on your own. And I did.
INTERVIEWER: So to tell me how your interests evolved, both your economic interests and also whatever extracurricular interests you developed.
SCHMILL: Yup. So interestingly, I came here wanting to be a computer science major. I had done programming in high school. I had learned it initially at one of the summer programs I did. But then I did science fairs. I did a whole bunch of other things, really liked programming.
And so I came here. And my freshman year, I took a computer science class, a seminar, not 6001, which was an introductory computer science class. I just took a random seminar. But at the same time, I really liked my physics class, took 8012.
And so I decided just to take a mechanical engineering class in the spring of my freshman year and just compare the two. Because I figured, all right, just to take a sense for what maybe I'd like to do. And I wound up really liking mechanical engineering, that 2001 class, a lot. So I just decided to major in mechanical engineering and wound up really loving that.
The biggest surprise though for me was not about the academics. But it was what happened outside the classroom. And again, during orientation week, so much happened during that first week and a half that I was here. But during orientation week, I remember being in New House, which is where I lived. And there was a pool table in House 6. And I was playing pool with a couple of other guys.
And one of them was on the crew team. He was a senior and he was on the rowing team. And he said to me, hey, you're kind of little. You're from New York. You get a big mouth. You'd make a good coxswain.
And I had no idea what that was. I had never really heard of crew. I vaguely had some notion of rowing in a boat. But I didn't really know what it was. I never heard of what a coxswain was. So I asked him to explain
it. And he explained it to me. And said, why don't you come down to the boathouse on registration day, which was the first meeting, and give it a try. I said, all right. Why not? I did. Went down to the first meeting, met the coach and the team. And that was it.
I don't think I missed a day from there till I graduated and really loved it. And that was a total surprise. Had no plan on playing a sport. I had done a few sports in high school, but I had no plan on doing it here, certainly not rowing, if anything. And it turned out to be one of the most intense and transformational experiences that I had here at MIT, was being on the crew.
INTERVIEWER: What was it that you loved so much about crew?
SCHMILL: Well first of all, the team. It's very much a team sport. And I really liked my teammates. And I liked the notion that we all were working really, really hard to do something really, really hard. And you have to work very hard. And my freshman year, none of us had ever rowed before coming to school here. And we were in a very competitive league.
And I would say, we didn't do that well generally, at least my freshman year. And that didn't seem to matter. What really was the essence of the experience was the fact, that here we had a chance to do something as well as we possibly could. And it was in an environment where we didn't have any preconceived notions of how good we were supposed to be.
So it was very different from the academic side. Coming here, I had all these preconceived notions about how good was I in math, in science, in writing, all my other subjects. I had some notion of how good I was supposed to be. And I was either supposed to be good at something or not. But I had these preconceived notions about it or expectations around how I was supposed to do.
And down at the boathouse, there were no expectations, no preconceived notions, and there were no limits on how good we could be. And we could really see ourselves improving simply by working hard. So it was a really clear relationship between how much effort you put in and how good you got. It was just really clear, unlike anything I'd really had seen or done before.
And so the combination of that and the fact that it was a really solid group of guys that I became very close friends with and still am. And it was just a great experience. I learned an awful lot about life in general, about trying something and failing it, and keeping going. And now I learned as much being on the crew that helped me in my future life as I did in the classroom.
INTERVIEWER: So tell me a little bit about being a coxswain. You mentioned you got identified as one because you were from New York and you had a big mouth. What--
SCHMILL: Well, so what being a coxswain is, it's like being a jockey on a horse, if the horse were eight people or four people. And you really have to motivate. Really what the coxswain does is some technical things, like steering and helping with the technique of the boat. But the essence of what a really good coxswain does is motivate the crew to push themselves as hard as they possibly can. In essence, that's what the coxswain really needs to do.
And so in order to do that, you have to build up trust. It's really all about trust. So you have to build up a really deep, trusting relationship with your crew. Because in a race, you're going to ask them to pull a little bit harder, to work a little harder than they even think they can. And if they're going to actually do it when you ask them to, they've got to trust that you know what you're doing. And that when you ask them to do this, that it's all going to come out okay.
So a couple things about that. One is this trust you have to build up, it's becomes a really powerful relationship that you have with your teammates. And number two, you realize that you have to really use it well. You have to be thoughtful about when you're asking your crew to push themselves and when you're not. And so there's a lot to it. So yes you have to use a strong, powerful voice. But the end of the day, it really you live and die, or you're a good or a great coxswain by how much trust you can build up with your crew.
INTERVIEWER: So you mentioned that in your freshman year at least, you and your crew weren't that good. But it didn't matter. You were just doing your best. As your career developed and progressed, were there memorable races, achievements, competitions that you participated in that you'd like to talk about?
SCHMILL: So yeah. So as my undergraduate days moved on-- Freshman year we really weren't all that good. But as I said, we had a great experience for all these other reasons. As my time went on, by the time I was a junior, we started winning races. And as senior, also we won some races. And my junior year, we went the national championships in a four person boat and won a silver medal, which was a neat thing.
After graduating, I wound up coaching back here at MIT. And maybe at some point I'll relate how all that happened. None of my career has been step, step, step, step. There's been some amount of waywardness to it, in a good way. But probably the result that I can point to the most happened when I was a coach. So maybe it's worth talking a little bit about how I ultimately became a coach and then I'll--
INTERVIEWER: Sure. Yeah.
SCHMILL: So when I graduated from MIT, degree in mechanical engineering, I went to work for General Motors at the Chevrolet headquarters north of Detroit in Warren. And enjoyed it. It was a really interesting thing to do. I was living in Detroit for about a year, little over year working there.
While I was there, I didn't know anybody. I decided to volunteer my time at the Detroit Boat Club, which at the time was a very prominent boat club. There were a number of athletes there who were on the US national team. And I decided I'd just go down and help out, see if they needed a coxswain. And got involved, got to know everybody.
Few months after I got there, the person who was coaching their high school junior program left, asked me if I wanted to coach. And I said, okay sure. I'll try it. Never done it before. But I'll give it a shot. Didn't really know what I was doing. But learned a lot. I wound up having a crew that turned out to be pretty good. We went to the national championships.
I happened to see my old coach there, my coach from MIT, who saw that I was coaching. And he though, oh interesting. OK. Great. So we talked a little bit about that. A few months after that, he wound up leaving, my old coach left MIT. So there was an opening for a position to coach here at MIT.
Person who became the head coach called me up and said, hey would you like to coach the freshman crew here at MIT? So at first I laughed. I thought, yeah I would love to. But I have a job already. And I live 1,000 miles away, can't really do it. But he said, well, think about it.
And I had already been thinking that I didn't love living in Detroit, didn't know anybody there. Enjoyed the job, but didn't love the job. And was thinking it might be fun to come back to MIT, or at least to the Boston area to work and live, because I had a lot of friends here.
So I decided, well, I would take the job and see if I could find an engineering job that I could do. And I could coach on the side. And so I decided, okay.
I took the job. I came back here to coach and started looking for an engineering job at the same time. Turns out that I loved coaching enough that I forgot about the engineering and became a full time coach and wound up becoming the head coach here after a couple of years. And I wound up coaching at MIT for 13 years and really loved it.
So now, the experience that I wanted to talk about was with a team-- so when I first started coaching, I coached the freshman heavyweight men. That was great fun. And about in the fall of 1996, the coach of the lightweight men's crew had retired. And I became the varsity lightweight coach.
And the lightweight crew at that time was a crew that hadn't done very well the last few years. In fact, they had finished last in the league, both at the varsity, the second varsity, the freshman. And so I came in, started coaching the team, some very good athletes on the team. And we worked hard.
The beginning of the year, I remember setting a goal for ourselves to make the final, which would be the top six at the Eastern Sprints, which is our big championships. And I remember walking into practice that first day, setting that as a goal for ourselves, and everybody looking at me like, okay, that's a good goal to have. Probably not going to happen, but that's fine.
And we ere working at it, working at it, working at it. We worked all year. And in the spring, which was our main racing season, we started racing. And we actually were pretty fast.
But the first couple of races, we would get a lead. And then, I think the guys would get in their head. Like, oh, wait a minute. We're not supposed to be winning this race. So they would back off a little bit and let the other crews win. And this was a pattern. We would get a lead the first half of the race, and then the other crews would row through us. And then, we'd lose the race. And this happened a number of times in the beginning of year.
And I remember racing-- we went down to Yale one weekend. And Yale was one of the top ranked crews in the country. So we had no expectations of beating them. And it was-- I remember we gathered together, the crew. And we said, okay, look, we're not going to beat Yale, and that's fine. So what I want to do is make sure when we race the first half of the race, let's just not slow down the second half. And the guys, we started the line.
We actually had a pretty good start. Yale was ahead of us. But we actually followed them all the way through. We didn't slow down that day. So the guys actually learned, okay, well, maybe we can row a race without slowing down.
So the next week, we raced against Rutgers. It was here on the Charles River. And Rutgers had a fast crew. But it was one we thought we might be able to beat. So we had the same pattern happen as the prior week's in that we had gotten a lead. And right at the moment when in the past we used to just let the other crews walk on through us, the guys remembered their race the weekend before against Yale and saying, we don't actually have to slow down, and they didn't.
So they sped up. And they kept going. And they actually wound up winning that race, which was the first race we'd won all year. And it was a really mind-shifting thing for the crew.
So two weeks later, it was our Eastern Sprints championship. And we were lined up in the morning heats. And we had to finish in the top three in order to make it to the final. And so similar pattern as to all these other weeks, in fact, against the same crews that we had lost to through most of the year. We wound up getting a lead on all these other crews. And the guys had actually learned that they didn't have to back off. And they wound up coming through. And they made the final, which was just an incredible experience.
It's, I think for me, the most memorable experience that I've ever had. And I've had a whole bunch of really great races in my life. I've won a lot of things. I've raced internationally. But that particular race was particularly meaningful. It was a time when these guys, just a few weeks earlier, had thought one thing about themselves and about their place in the universe, right? They're not supposed to beat a lot of these crews.
And with just a little bit of a click in the mind, they were able to perform just a whole step function better. And it really points out how important your self-image and all of what happens in your mind is to allow you to achieve things. Forget about whether it's just a sport. Because the reality, whether you win or lose in a sport, doesn't affect the universe or the world. Doesn't make the world a better place, doesn't make you a better person whether you win or lose.
But it's the lesson that you learn around what your potential is, what the possibilities are, and how just your attitude about things can really make all the difference. And it was just an unbelievable learning experience for me, for the guys. It was really a pretty remarkable thing. And it's something I'll never forget.
INTERVIEWER: That must be something that's pretty good for you to draw on as someone who spends a lot of time now advising young people in things that are actually pretty significant and pretty serious for them.
INTERVIEWER: In their life.
SCHMILL: Well, it's certainly true. And a while ago, I talked about how when I first came here, number one, I thought I was admitted by mistake. Number two, I felt like I didn't deserve to be here. And it's all just in your mind-set and your attitude.
And it took me a little while to warm up to the fact that, okay, maybe MIT is a place where I do belong, and I'm comfortable. But for a lot of kids, it's not true. And it's certainly true of high school students who are thinking about applying to colleges. There are many who are just intimidated by the thought of applying to a place like MIT. Oh, I'm not that good. I'm not that smart.
In fact, many of them are. But they don't realize it. And so it's really just in your attitude and how you think about things. And a lot of that can be pretty powerful because how you think about things is built up from a whole set of experiences that you've had.
For us on the crew, the reason the guys never felt they could win races is because they never had. So that's pretty powerful. So for a lot of these high school students, particularly those who haven't had the teacher, or the mentor, or the counselor that has really helped instill in them some confidence of who they are and what their potential is, it can be a really daunting thing.
And so it's something that I like to do. And I think our staff really likes to go out and talk with students who are really, really talented and to try to break down this notion of MIT as this inaccessible place that is just too intimidating. We really try to break that down for students.
INTERVIEWER: So what kind of place do you think MIT is for students of-- and we'll talk about diversity and how the student body has changed in a bit-- but what kind of place is MIT for students of varying backgrounds? And I don't just mean ethnic. But I also mean economic class, social experiences, education. You mentioned that your parents hadn't gone to college. You certainly weren't born and bred to go to an elite institution. What is MIT like for students like that? And is there a way of distinguishing MIT from other top schools? Is there something different here?
SCHMILL: Well, I think yeah. I think MIT is a little bit different in that the pace is really high pretty much right away. So I think many students come in with this notion that they don't belong here yet. They feel like they're at MIT, but maybe they're not a part of MIT. Sort of a different-- almost like it's a privilege for them to be here at MIT. And of course, many of us feel that it is a privilege.
But the sense of belonging-- I think it can be harder for students who come from places where many of their peers don't go to places like MIT. Because they think, ooh, this is not my world. And I think that is certainly true. So it's harder for some students to adapt and become comfortable.
The thing that becomes hard about MIT in particular is that the pace is really hard. So the academics are tough. And there are some things in place that MIT has done to try to help ease the transition. The pass/no record system, I think, is critical and really important for students. The fact that there's actually a credit limit so that you can't take more than a certain number of classes your first semester, or even your second semester here, as well. So I think those are helpful.
And I think the classes are hard. But it's also the fact that the students, the culture of the students, is one where everybody is revved up and working hard. And I think that's different than at many other places where there's more of a balance between the academics and other activities.
But MIT, the academic side, it's like a really-- the treadmill is on high. And there's no way, really, to step off the treadmill for a little bit. You just have to stay on it. So I think that is one of the things that really makes it a little bit more challenging for some students.
Now, we do have a decent number of students here from different backgrounds, right? From backgrounds-- lower socioeconomic backgrounds, and also students geographically from other places, so kids off of farms, and in inner cities, from all over the place. So there's a large enough percentage of students that I think that helps people to feel a little bit more at home. So it's not as though-- while students on their way in here may feel like they are going to be different from everybody else, they may feel a little bit isolated. Once they get here, they do find that there are other people like them, from similar backgrounds to them. And I think that helps.
INTERVIEWER: So to return to your undergraduate experience here just briefly because we follow the crew thread for a bit-- and that was totally fascinating-- talk a bit more about your academic experience. So you ended up studying mechanical engineering. A lot of students in my experience who study mechanical engineering grew up building things, tinkering. Were you one of those kids? And if not, what was it like getting into mechanical engineering? What were some memorable experiences that you had?
SCHMILL: Yeah. So I grew up not really tinkering with things. I grew up liking science. I was good in math. And I was somewhat advanced. And I had done things like math team, and I had done science fair, math fair type projects. That included computer programming and math theory. That was more of my thread growing up.
And so when I got here, that's when I had said I had thought about computer science as a possible major, but liked mechanical engineering better. So there were a couple of threads, or a couple of different paths, you can take through mechanical engineering.
And the one that I-- well, actually, I pursued two of them, really. One was control systems, which is a little bit more of a theoretical type of path, a little bit more heavy on mathematical modeling, and basically control systems, and robots, and those kinds of things. But I also did enjoy design. A big eye-opening class for me was the 270 contest. Woodie Flowers was my professor.
And that class, I will say I did not do very well in that class. But I learned an enormous amount. And I actually think that shifted paths for me towards thinking about going into design. That class for me was-- I didn't have a lot of experience in actually machining things and building things.
And so the project that year, or the contest that year, there were ping pong balls in the middle of the table. And we had to harvest them and get them behind us, more than our opponent. And the machine I built, number one, I was the only one in the entire class that actually came up with the strategy that I came up with-- which should have been a red flag to say, don't do that. But I was a little bit stubborn, and I persisted.
And also, I wasn't that good at machining. And so when you looked at, you kind of-- it was like, what is that? A good friend of mine built this really simple little robot that could go in. It was like a little vehicle. And he really cared about how it looked. So he painted it. He lined up although the screw grooves so that they were in line with the actual member that it was up against. So everything was really immaculate on that.
Whereas you looked at my machine. And there was epoxy everywhere, and screws, and scrap pieces of metal in the wrong places. It was just awful.
But I actually really liked my machine. And when it came time for the contest, it actually worked. Unfortunately, I came up against the eventual winner in the first round. So I got knocked out. And also, the one thing I had missed was not testing early enough because my machine would have worked. But there was one thing that didn't work quite. And it took me all of that last weekend to try to actually get it to work. And in fact, I was still building it when I was on line getting ready to actually compete. So if I had another 20 seconds, I feel like I could have done it better.
But I wound up but actually getting the thing to work a little bit. And if I had actually gotten it started earlier or gotten it to work, I actually think I could have won the whole thing. But anyway, it didn't work. But it got me excited about the possibilities of this.
In other words, you could actually design something to do something. And when it worked, it was just a really amazing feeling. And so that class, I took my junior year. And after that, my senior year, I was still taking a control systems class, and in fact did my thesis on a control systems project.
But I also took a mechanical engineering design class my senior year. And then, wound up when I got a job, looked for jobs in design. So it was really that class that sparked my interest in going to work for General Motors designing cars. And just this thought that you can actually create something from nothing. And there are whole different ways of coming up with solutions to problems. It was just really interesting to me. I just really enjoyed it.
INTERVIEWER: So you mentioned Woodie Flowers and the 2.007 contest. Obviously, Woodie's an MIT legend. Were there other professors-- or maybe you could talk about Woodie a little bit-- just who were very memorable, larger than life characters, who either you learned important things or are worth talking about?
SCHMILL: Yeah. I think, Well, Woodie certainly. And I think in terms of if I think of my trajectory at MIT, the two people that really stand out, one is Woodie. And he actually steered my academic career. But my coach, my crew coach was someone who I think I learned more from here as an advisor and as a mentor than anyone. And ultimately, if I look at the big arc of my life, I think really bent that arc.
INTERVIEWER: Who was your crew coach?
SCHMILL: Pete Holland was my crew coach for most of my-- I had a separate freshman coach. And I had another coach my senior year, as well. But Pete Holland really was the guy who I think really gave me confidence and just taught me a lot about the way the world actually operates and really bent the arc of my education here, and ultimately my life, as well.
INTERVIEWER: Not long after leaving MIT, you returned to MIT as a coach, and then ultimately went on to fulfill a lot of other positions at the Institute. Talk a little bit about how that happened.
SCHMILL: So I came back to MIT to coach and did that full time for 13 years. And I was getting to the point where I loved it and was thinking, okay, well, maybe I'm just going to be a coach for my entire career. And that would've been great. That would've really been great, I think.
But a couple of things also rattled around in my head. Number one, in 1999, my first daughter was born. And coaching is a tough profession from a time commitment point of view. I know it sounds odd for an admissions officer to be saying that some other job is a big time commitment. But it is true. Coaching, early mornings, late nights, weekends, and then most of your summers are gone, as well. So you can be gone a lot. So I was thinking about that.
And the other, I was just curious of whether I could actually do something else besides work a stopwatch and use a megaphone. And it wasn't clear whether that was true or not. So I started thinking about it and had some really informal-- I wasn't really planning on doing anything or making a change.
But I just started having some informal chats with various folks that I had known around MIT. One of the folks I talked with was Bill Hecht, who ran the alumni association at the time. And coaching crew, it's an expensive sport. And it's one where we really rely on the support of our alumni. So I'd gotten to know a number of alumni over the years and really enjoyed interacting with them.
And as it happened, as I was having these conversations and thoughts, a job opened up in the alumni office. And somebody that I had known let me know about it. It was working for her. And she let me know about it. And said, hey, is this something you might be interested in?
So we start talking about it. And I decided, well, I would do it. I would make a change. I would retire from coaching and go to work for the alumni office. And did that for about 2 and 1/2, three years. I really enjoyed it quite a bit.
I had a whole range of responsibilities there. One of the things I did was I organized, coordinated family weekend for MIT, which is a big Institute-wide event that pretty much everybody on campus gets involved with, which I thought was a really interesting thing. It's also interesting for me because I had gone from coaching a sport to-- I was doing fundraising as well.
But this planning family weekend, I would never have thought of myself as an event planner. It wouldn't have been a thing that I would have thought would have been something I would have enjoyed or got into. But I wound up really enjoying it. And it really struck me that the thing that I really enjoy about that is very similar to the things that I enjoyed about coaching. And that is that the opportunity to lead a team of people to do something really, really hard.
And given those kinds of conditions, in some ways, it doesn't matter what the thing is. I got a lot of satisfaction out of that. And so it really helped clarify for me what kinds of steps would be good to take next.
And in fact now, when I'm in the Admissions Office, I find the same thing. I've got a really, really terrific group of people that I work with. And we do something really, really hard every year. And so I really like helping to organize, and motivate, and coordinate really good people together to do something really, really hard. So I learned a lot in my job in the Alumni Office, really enjoyed it. Did a combination of this event planning, fundraising, tried to connect current students with our alumni, a whole range of things.
And I think the MIT Alumni Association really does a terrific job at getting alumni connected back here. In many ways, we're really lucky to be at a place like MIT where everybody acknowledges the level of excellence that really occurs here with the educational program, the research enterprise. And there's a really large amount of pride that people have to be associated with the place. So I really, really appreciated my time with the alumni office. I was also very, very happy doing what I was doing. And a couple of years into that, the guy who had been running the alumni interview program, the Educational Council for MIT, was leaving MIT. And he had a conversation with me. He told me he was leaving. He asked me if it would be something I'd be interested in applying for.
And I decided, well, sure, why not? The thing that really intrigued me about this job in the Admissions Office was the chance to work with students that much more. I mean, I really enjoyed working with alumni. And in fact, this role leading the Educational Council, our volunteer alumni interviewing program, was almost a perfect sort of bridge, because I'd still have an opportunity to work with alumni, but also get to work with students a little bit more, which was something I had missed a little bit from my days coaching.
So it was a really good sort of neat fit. And so I applied for the position and wound up getting it. And I really love doing that role as well. And I thought, really, it was a really great fit for things that I like to do. And so I wound up leading the Educational Council for some number of years, and then became the dean.
INTERVIEWER: So tell me a little about the admissions process. I mean, you're the person to ask about this. I mean, clearly it's a huge challenge logistically, and in terms of just managing everything that has to happen. But how has that grown over the years? How has that changed?
SCHMILL: So the admissions process in some ways has changed a lot over the last just 10 years. And in some ways, it hasn't changed at all probably over the last 50 years. So the ways that it's changed has been largely in volume.
So we now have over 18,000 applicants from all over the world. And that's a big increase. So you double the number of applicants that we had maybe 12 or 13 years ago. And we don't have double the number of staff, so logistically there's a lot to try to allow us to actually get through reading all those applications, making the decisions that we have to make.
Technology has entered into it, so there are some things that have changed. Certainly, students have changed a little bit. Maybe we'll talk about that a little bit more in a little bit. But I want to talk about what really the core and the essence of what hasn't changed, because I think that's really important, because I think often you hear about all the changes in college admissions, how, oh, it's impossible to get into college these days, and everything has changed. There are some important changes.
But the core of what has not changed for us here at MIT is that we are still trying to bring the best students that we can who are a good fit for MIT, those who are interested in math, science, technology, engineering, those core interests. We're trying to bring the best students that we can to MIT, students that have demonstrated potential, who have a real interest in being creative and free-thinking, who aren't constrained by what's come before but really are willing to break boundaries and create new things, students that have shown some kind of initiative, so students that are motivated because they are interested in what they're doing, not motivated because they're doing something that they feel like they have to.
So these sort of free, motivated, really engaged, enthusiastic students, we're trying to bring here to campus. And I've done a lot of reading over time to see how MIT's philosophy has been over the years, and I think that's always been true. We've always been looking for those students that we feel are going to come to MIT, use the opportunities and experiences that they have here at MIT, and go off and make a big, positive difference in the world.
I think that's always been true, and it remains true. Now, of course, the fact that we get so many more applicants these days-- and it is true that students have changed. I mean, the environment that students have grown up in has changed quite a bit over the years. So that certainly makes the admissions process a little bit different. And I think it makes the educational experience a little bit different here.
INTERVIEWER: So we were just talking about how the admissions process, and also the student body itself has both changed and not changed. Just go on with where you were at there.
SCHMILL: Yeah. So, certainly, the environment that students have grown up in has changed quite a bit over the last number of years. And so let me highlight a few things. First of all, the demographics have changed quite a bit. So if you look at the US, and you see that the demographics of the country have changed.
So students that traditionally have been under-represented in universities like MIT are now attending colleges like MIT. And so you look at the student body, it's a much more diverse place here than ever before, and particularly with students not just from US minority backgrounds, but also students who are not just international students, but who may be first generation in this country as well.
So the student body has changed quite a bit. And the demographics of the country have changed. And that's going to continue, in fact, into the foreseeable future. So that's one. The second thing is that parents really have changed quite a bit. And so parents these days are more involved and engaged with their students or their children's lives, in some cases from birth all the way on up. And so you see students that have done a lot more structured enrichment over time.
And it's true inside schools. So in the last generation, on average, students graduate taking 1/3 more classes in high school than they used to just a generation ago. So even in high school, students are doing more, but outside high school as well. Sports are now structured. So I grew up playing stickball and paddle ball at the schoolyard. My daughters grew up playing in soccer leagues. And one of them does kung fu at the local place.
And so it's very much more structured, with instructors that are actually helping raise their ability. I mean, when I grew up, we didn't have a stickball coach or a paddle ball coach. We just played. But now coaches are helping, on top of all of the other things that students are doing, between music and community service and all of these other structured activities. So some of that is great. Students are getting opportunities that they've really never had before. And some of it is a shame, because there are students that are pursuing all these other enrichment opportunities, and in some cases really overloading more than they ought to.
A lot of students out there don't have the kind of downtime that we once had. And I think the balance is not always right for students. This is a problem generally. For some students, cranking up all these activities is fine. They have the bandwidth to be able to do that, and they can go do that. There's a whole set of students who don't have the same kind of capacity, really, to just keep cranking all the time and have that be productive for them. And yet, there's this sort of cultural push for them to do it.
It's not good for those students. So unfortunately, there's this one-size-fits-all kind of attitude about childhood and how to prepare yourself for college that is not good for all students. And that, I think, is a hard thing. Nonetheless, many of the students that we see coming into MIT-- because, remember, we're only taking a really small sliver of the great students that are out there in this country. Many of those students have done an awful lot of things in high school, and so they're used to doing all kinds of activities.
And I think that's played out on our campus as well. The number of student activities has grown enormously over the last 20, 30 years, even in the last 10 years. And think about the Public Service Center. The number of students getting involved in service has also just exploded here. I mean, students these days are incredibly busy. When I was an undergraduate, I took my classes, I was on the crew, I had a job. But I also just wasted an enormous amount of time.
I mean, I lived in New House, and in one of the lounges there, I used to go and sit in the lounge, and just talking with friends. In fact, whole groups would come in and leave, and I'd just be sitting there just for huge amounts of time, just kind of doing nothing, or not nothing, but just hanging out, talking with folks. And I think students these days don't have the time to do that just sit around and shoot the breeze kind of thing. And I think they don't come here with that make-up. And once they're here, there are so many things to get involved with, they just keep cranking up.
So again, I think it's good and bad. I mean, on the one hand, students are taking advantage of so many more opportunities than ever before. On the other hand, it's important for them to make sure that they do keep some balance in their life. And it's a hard balance. So there's good and bad there.
INTERVIEWER: Also, it seems like kind of a culture of multitasking. I mean, you or maybe I, when we were undergrads, would sit in the lounge and talk, and now people are texting or tweeting while they're doing other things at the same time.
SCHMILL: That's right. So they may be sitting around in the lounge talking, but they've got their laptops out. So they're emailing somebody else, or Facebook, or whatever they're doing. Yeah, because they always feel like they have to be accomplishing something. It's really a culture of accomplishment. I mean, in fact, to get to a place like MIT, kids feel like they have to have accomplished things. And to some extent, that's true.
So that's sort of the mindset. I never thought about that when I was in high school. Like, what do I have to accomplish so that I could get into college? I really didn't think about that. I was able to do things because I really enjoyed doing them. And so kids come here, and they have this sort of accomplishment mindset. So they feel like they've got to always be doing something, can't be wasting time. So you're right.
And the technology, of course, is an infrastructure that feeds it. If students feel like they have to always be doing something, well, now they have a platform, in a way, to always be doing something. They could be emailing somebody, or they can always be doing something. And I think the technology really feeds that. Again, it's good and bad. I think, obviously, technology has been an enormously positive thing in so many ways. But unchecked, it can also lead someone into a less balanced life than maybe they ought to be leading.
INTERVIEWER: I wanted to ask you about the aspect of this that is basically just increasing competition. Obviously, the number of applications has exploded at MIT and at other schools. Students feel like they need to stand out more than perhaps you or I might have when we were going through the whole process.
SCHMILL: Yes. So it's certainly true that with so many more applicants, students feel like they need to stand out. I should first say that-- and the press reports this as though it's harder to get into college. In general, in the US, it is easier to get into college than at any other time, meaning the number of college seats per high school graduate is higher now than at any time it's ever been.
So it's actually not harder to get into college unqualified, even though I think many students are afraid that they're not going to get in anywhere. The reality is that it's easier to get into college now than it has ever been, because there are more college seats than ever before, or per student. But what everybody focuses on are the 40, 50, 60, 100 colleges that are a little bit more selective, or in MIT's case, very selective, that, as students, may be their first-choice colleges. Those schools are harder to get into. There's no question about that.
And I think sometimes students lose the first part, that they're going to get into college, in thinking about the fact that they may not get into a place like MIT. But of course, what that has fueled is the revving up of high school years, students making choices for themselves that are unfortunately not always the best choice for them to make.
So I hear about this all the time, students not wanting to do activities even though they would love to do them, but choosing not to do them because they don't think they're going to look as good to colleges. And so what they'll do is load up and take more AP classes, because that's what they feel like colleges are really going to want to see. Or they'll do a lot more SAT prep training. They'll do all these other things that they feel are going to give them a stronger resume to get to college and forgo some of the things that they would really rather be doing.
The unfortunate reality is that they're making often the wrong choices, because the very things that they're choosing not to do are the things that we want to see. We want to see students who are pursuing the things that they love and that they really want to pursue. We don't want to see students just doing things because they feel like they have to. The reality is that we do wind up admitting students that have taken a lot of classes and done a lot of different activities, but it is almost never because they've taken all those classes and those activities that we wind up admitting them.
We wind up admitting them because we saw some sort of spark that I talked about earlier, this notion that these students are fully engaged, doing things that they love to do, being creative, showing initiative, taking risks-- educated risks, not personal safety risks, but academic risks-- not being daunted by failure, trying things that they don't know whether it's going to work or not. Those are the kinds of things that we really try to look for.
And so the students who are able to resist the urge to load up on a million different activities and yet focus on the things that they love to do, they wind up being very, very successful in the process, because that's really what we're looking for. The hard part for students is that they're a little bit lost. They don't really know. And because we get so many applicants who are really strong, and we could admit a large number of our applicants, students will see that and they don't necessarily understand how we make our decisions.
They see some kid maybe who's a senior. Let's say they're a sophomore or a junior. They see somebody in their school who's a senior who applies to MIT, who's a terrific applicant, winds of not getting admitted, though. So those kids think, whoa, if that kid didn't get in, what do I have to do to get in? And so they rev themselves up even higher without really realizing that revving themselves up even more is not going to help, and it may even hurt their chances, because this is the first time for students that they can do all the right things and still not have the outcome they want.
All through their lives beforehand, they're told, if you do this, you will get this reward. Parents set that up. You tell your kids, if you do this, that, and the other thing, you can have your cellphone, or we'll get a dog if you do all these things, or you can have an extra half an hour on the internet or watching TV, or whatever it is. So students learn, if you do this, you get that. The college admissions process at selective schools doesn't work that way. You can do all the right things and still not get in.
And it's the first time that these kids have ever really experienced this. Now, of course, we all know that the world is like that. So after college, the world is going to be like that. You can do all the right things and still not get the job you wanted, or have other things happen that you wanted. But this is the first time that these students have experienced that. So what winds up happening is they wind up revving themselves up even more, thinking, well, I can just do more of it and that will make me be admitted. And of course, that doesn't work.
But I think that dynamic, it's ultimately an unhealthy one. It's unsustainable, and it seems to be getting worse.
INTERVIEWER: So I'm going to ask the follow-up question that everybody would want me to ask. And this is the part of the interview everyone's going to fast-forward to who's looking at MIT as a prospective student. So you talk about 18,000 applicants. You talk about this process. Tell me about the process. What is the process for winnowing down the applications? How do you make your selections? And you've touched on this, but what's the secret?
SCHMILL: Yeah, okay, so the secret. Well, see, we may run out of time before I actually get to the secret. We'll see. But there is a secret. All right, so first thing is that we gather information on our applicants. And the first thing for applicants to know is that that's what we're making our decisions on, on the information we gather on them. And that is, hopefully, a good representation of who they are, but it's not perfect. So that's the first thing for all students to know, is we can't possibly know them fully inside and out.
So we get information, really, from three different sources. One is from what the students themselves, the applicants themselves, tell us through the application, through their essays, through their actions, meaning we look at what they do in high school, how they choose to spend their time, what their activities are, what classes they've taken, the grades they've gotten in their classes, their test scores, all of those things. Those are things that the applicant really is responsible for presenting to us.
The second way is information we get from other people who know the applicant. So we get recommendation letters from teachers, from guidance counselors, in some cases from others, music teachers or employers, and so forth. So we gather information from recommendations from others who know them. So that's another slice of how we get to know our applicants.
And the third for us at MIT, we have an interview. And we have alumni all over the world who do interviews, and they will interview applicants and talk to them about what their interests are, their motivations, their activities are, and will write a report to us. Not all colleges use interviews, but we do. So we take all of those inputs, and we have staff members. Every application gets read fully. And when we're reading, we're trying to form a picture of who the applicant is.
So we're taking the different inputs. We're corroborating them. So does what the interviewer says match what the math teacher is saying? And does that match what the student is saying? So we're trying to put all this together. And then we synthesize all of this into a picture of who the applicant is. And our staff member will write some kind of a summary and notes, and with an eye toward some of the things that we look for.
And so maybe I'll just mention what some of those things are now, rather than keeping everybody in suspense. We look for, well, first of all, academic ability, talent, and promise. So we look at what the student has achieved academically, what their grades are, if they've done some other academic kinds of things, like science fairs, and debate team, robotics, those kinds of things. So we look at how they've done. We try to map that onto where they're coming from, what opportunities their high school had.
So if a student is coming from a high school where they don't have very many AP classes, we're not going to expect that they will have had very many AP classes. So we have to map all of that together from where a student has come from. And then we try to form an opinion as to their academic ability and their promise-- in other words, how good we think they're going to be. So it's a measure not just of an accomplishment to where they are at this moment, but what their potential is as well.
And for us at MIT, the academics really is a primary notion for us. Of course, we look for deep interest in science and technology and engineering, because MIT's education is centered on that. It doesn't mean that all students have to want to study a science or engineering field.
And there's some number of students who come to MIT and who major in things other than science and engineering. And that's great. We value that. We really look for that. But even though students who are going to major in business or political science or something that is not in the School of Science or Engineering, we still look for a deep interest and appreciation of science, because, again, they're going to have to take a lot of it when they're here, and, really, MIT is centered on that.
So that's important. Now, the reality is a lot of our applicants are academically well- qualified and would do really well here. So that's not all that we look for. We also look for personal qualities, so things like character, integrity, leadership ability, communication skills, those kinds of things, teamwork, these sort of personal skills that help a student be successful, both here at MIT and afterwards. So we're looking for those kinds of things as well.
And so as our admission staff are reading applications, that's another one of the things that they will look for. Another thing that we will look for in applicants is the sort of talents that may not be academic, but they may be extracurricular, so things like sports and music, and things that aren't necessarily academic, but other talents that students might bring to campus, because MIT, it's a vibrant place. We've got a terrific symphony. We've got a really good sports program, student government. We have all of the things that a vibrant campus community should have. And we want to support that.
It's important that we bring students here with certain interests and talents so that we can continue to have a vibrant community. So we look at all of those things. We wrap all of that around, looking for students who are a really good match for our culture. Our culture is one where it's an intense academic environment, so we want to make sure that students are going to be okay with and thrive in an intense academic culture. And in high school, some students are up for that and some are not.
And it's not a value judgment as to who is better or worse. It's just a recognition that this is what MIT is. And so if we're going to admit somebody, we want to make sure that we feel comfortable that they're going to thrive in the intensity of the place that MIT is. So there's the notion that students should be ready for the MIT education, but there's also, we like students who are creative, who like to build things, who like to create new things, who are willing to try something new that they don't know whether it's going to work or not, and who are okay with the fact that it's not going to work the first time, those kinds of characteristics, the resilience, initiative, those kinds of things.
And lastly, we really want to bring students to campus who have a real enjoyment with what they're doing, a real enthusiasm, students who get positive energy from working hard on the things that they're doing, because we want to fill MIT up with students who are engaged, enthusiastic, positive, helpful to each other. And so we look for students that may exhibit those qualities in high school.
So those are some of the things that we really look for. Our staff will read with an eye towards those things. And once our staff reads all the applications, we make our decisions by committee. So it's never just one person making the decision to admit somebody. And this is true for all of our students. There's no fast track to admission here. Everybody goes through the committee process.
A group of staff will sit around, chaired by a senior admissions officer, and make decisions on who we're going to admit. And the reality is still that we have many, many more applicants who fit the bill that we would love to admit than we can possibly admit. So we have to go through several rounds of this, continually winnowing down the number until we get to the number that we're ultimately going to admit. And that's really the hard part, is the understanding that there are a lot of really terrific applicants, and we've got to ultimately get down to a number.
One of the things, of course, that we try to ensure when we finally settle on that final number is that the pool is relatively diverse in interests, so that we have students who are athletes and who want to do student government and write for The Tech and do the dance troupe and those kinds of things. We like to have students with a variety of different backgrounds and interests, because ultimately that's what we want to fill MIT up with.
INTERVIEWER: I remember a couple of years ago I ran into Matt McGann from your office, pushing a huge set of file folders down the hall on a dolly. It's like you were getting ready for that first round, and they were moving all of the applications. It was quite an incredible sort of visual image that I'll always remember. What's the minimum attention that an applicant gets? I mean, you talk about the several rounds. I mean, it's hard to sort of wrap your head around somebody reading all of those files.
SCHMILL: Right. Well, it's true. We get about 18,000 applications, and there are, I don't know, 16 or 17, maybe 18 staff who are reading. So if you do the math, that's about 1,000 files per staff member. And I would say our senior staff tend to read a bit more, or see more of the files. And also, I think newer staff take a little bit longer to read a file. And every application gets read fully. It takes about 15 to 20 minutes for a seasoned staff member to read a file, and new staff members often take a little bit longer than that.
It's one of the things that I was incredibly amazed by when I first started, was the thoroughness, that we go through and read every application, and not just read every application, but if ever we have a question-- so let's say there's something that a teacher says about a student that we don't quite understand. Well, what do you mean by that? We'll call the teacher. Or if, let's say, the interviewer says something that doesn't seem to appear anywhere else in the application, we'll investigate that. We might call the interviewer and say, can you tell us a little bit more about this? Or we might call the school and say, how do we reconcile these things?
So we do an awful lot of follow-up, which, when I first started, I couldn't believe it, because I really imagined, well-- first of all, it was hard to imagine we read every application, but we do. And it's because test scores and grades really aren't-- first of all, most of our applicants have test scores and grades that are very, very good. But even those that are a little bit lower, those aren't a reason in and of themselves that we're not going to admit someone. And you never know, there might be something in that file that says, this kid is going to be fantastic, and you have to read it all the way through in order to know that.
I was amazed at the thoroughness of it. And actually, I think it's something that we all take great pride in, the fact that we really put the student and the applicants at the center of our process. And all the things that we do with our policies, our decisions, we try to benefit the applicants and the students with that. And I think it's something that we're all really proud of that we do.
INTERVIEWER: So the cliche description of an MIT student used to be-- maybe the nice of way of putting it is less well-rounded than students at other top institutions, the nerdier, less interested in the social worlds. Is that kind of outdated? Is that less true now? I mean, how have things shifted?
SCHMILL: Yeah, I think it is outdated. So when I came to school here in 1982, fall of 1982, there was no communication requirement, no writing requirement. And in fact, my freshman year, they gave us a writing test, and I think we had done so poorly on it that the next year they instituted the writing requirement. So, sorry about that, although actually it's a good thing.
And I will also say that I took a writing class, even though I didn't have to, my freshman year. And it was probably the most useful class I ever took at MIT, in terms of my future life, without a doubt. The ability to organize and convey my thoughts turned out to be-- which I don't think would surprise a lot of people, but it certainly did surprise me in my freshman days.
So of course now it's clear that communication skills are an important part of an education here at MIT, and an important part of what an educated person needs to have anywhere. And some of this is an outcropping of the fact that we have so many more applicants. We can be a little bit more selective in who we're admitting. But the students we are bringing here really do have broad interests. And while, yes, students are interested and focused universally on science and engineering, many of the students who come here also have other interests and other talents and other skills.
So while our math SAT scores are very high, our verbal SAT scores are as high. And if you look at rankings around, through the Ivy League, our verbal scores are amongst the highest, even among Ivy League schools. And not that SAT scores are in any way a full measure or picture of a student, but it does give you a bit of a clue as to the kinds of students that we're bringing here. They really do have multiple talents.
INTERVIEWER: So you have maybe an almost unique perspective for answering this next question. Thinking back to 1982, when you first came to MIT with your duffel bag, to the present, as dean of admissions, how has the student body changed? And I know there are a lot of ways to answer that question. How do you see it continuing to change? What about the future?
SCHMILL: So I think I've mentioned how it's changed. It's a much more diverse set of students. You can walk down the hallway at MIT and you can see that immediately. So there are students coming with different experiences, different backgrounds. And that, I think, helps any individual student learn about the world in a better way. So that's one. Number two, students come here having been busier in the past, and so they're doing more activities, even once they're here.
And I think those two things, coupled with the internet, wrap around to the fact that I think students themselves are more aware of the world and more conscious of the fact that they have the potential to make a difference in the world. It gets talked about a lot more. College admissions officers talk about, you know, we're looking for students who are going to change the world. Now, 30 years ago, you never really heard that.
And the internet has allowed students, as they've been growing up through middle school and high school, access to news about the world that we never had before. I mean, I will say when I was growing up and I was in high school, I didn't really read the newspapers very much. That was your way of learning about the world. I suppose we could have watched the evening news on one of the three stations, but didn't really do that. But now with the internet, students have much easier access to learning about the world.
And I think students come here with much more of a sense, a global awareness, much more sense of the world and their ability to actually have an influence. So let me give you an example of why I think this, beyond the fact of what I see students doing here. But on our application, one of the questions we ask is, what program most interests you about coming to MIT, or what are you most interested in doing when you come here? And we usually get answers in one of two ways.
One, either they will say, well, I would like to study math, or I want to study electrical engineering, or political science, something very specific. Or students will say, I want to help solve the energy crisis, or I want to help get climate change under control, or I want to cure cancer-- in other words, students who are thinking about a problem they want to solve, less connected to a specific discipline that they want to study.
And I think there's a really key difference. And I think the shift that we've seen over time is, 30 years ago, students were thinking about, what do I want to study? And now students are more thinking about, what do I want to work on? What kind of problem do I want to work on? And if you think about it, things like cancer research or energy or climate, these are things that you can study just about anything and have an effect on that. So I think students these days have a bit more of a sense of the bigger picture of the problems, and so I think just have a little bit more of a heads-up view of the world, which I think is a really good thing.
I mean, I think that's going to help. And I think the MIT education has evolved. It's become more project-based, and I think more interdisciplinary. You see an awful lot of collaborations for degrees. So the most recent one is courses 6 and 7, computer science and biology, making a computational biology degree that students can pursue. But some of these engineering programs, the flexible engineering degrees that students can pursue, I think are very attractive for students these days, because it allows them the freedom to work on problems and not be locked into specific disciplines. I think that's one of the changes that we've seen driven by-- I mean, the internet has really helped fuel this a lot. And I think that's a really good trend.
INTERVIEWER: So where do you see things going in the future, both for the admissions process and then the resulting student body and educational experience?
SCHMILL: Starting with the educational experience first, I think this trend is going to only continue. And the other piece of it that I hadn't mentioned is that the students are learning more online. And I think even here at MIT, you're seeing online tools helping to augment the residential base education that we have. With the announcement of the start-up of MITx, one of the real focuses of that, not just the fact that it's going to be outward-facing to help learners all around the world, but also the inward learning piece, where it's a move to try to help, again, enhance the education that students get while they're here, using online tools.
It may change the nature of classes, or semesters, even, or where students have to be when they're learning. I don't know how that will all shake out, but I think that will certainly change. And I think students are getting ready for that. I think they're ready for that. I mean, I think in high school, you see an increase, or we've seen an increase, in the number of students who are taking online courses in high school.
So I think it's not going to be anything that's going to be a big shock for students. So I think that's something that's going to be probably the biggest revolution over the next decade or two in the education here. How that will affect the admissions process, well, hard to know. I mean, I always hesitate to try to predict too much, because it's a hard thing to do. I have the sense that, with 18,000 applications now, we're getting a fairly good portion of the number of students highly qualified and interested in an education like MIT for MIT.
And I'm not sure I see that number increasing in really large form much over the next several years, at least from students studying in the US. Now, I think it's likely that we will see growth in applications from students from overseas, because while we do have a fairly high portion of our applicant pool are international, the world is a really big place, and there are a lot of really talented students out there. And especially as the MIT online presence has really been reaching people all over the world, I think there's a potential for the number of international applicants to continue to grow.
I think we're going to continue to look for students, so regardless of what happens with the applicant pool. And the one thing I want to be clear about is that we're not trying to build the number, the size of the applicant pool simply by recruiting students who we don't think we'll ever admit. We're trying to reach out to students who we think are really strong applicants for us, and make sure they're aware that MIT is a good place for them. And I think with that, the size of the applicant pool may not grow, but the quality of it may continue to improve.
But as far as the decisions that we'll make, I'm not sure we're going to make very different decisions going forward, because I think the decisions we want to continue to make in a very human and subjective way, looking for students who are going to thrive here, who are going to take most advantage of the opportunities that MIT has to offer, and who will contribute most to our community. And I think that will always be true.
So I think, at heart, our intent is to really maintain the same kind of admissions process that we ever have, regardless of-- you know, we may have more and better information on students coming in. And certainly if MITx continues along, we may have information on students who have already passed 18.01, 8.01, and 18.03, and all-- you know, we'll have more information on students. But at heart, we're still going to make the same kinds of decisions that we ever have.
INTERVIEWER: So one thing I wanted to do as we wind down is just ask you, or give you an opportunity to talk about any other memorable colleagues, professors, MIT personalities that might have had a major influence on you, or are particularly memorable. I mean, we've talked about Woodie Flowers and a couple of other people. Anybody that you haven't had a chance to talk about?
SCHMILL: Well, I'll tell you, I know, certainly, Woodie and my old coach from my undergraduate days, those two really stand out. And the thing about MIT is it's a science- and technology-centered place, but when we go out talking about MIT, we really talk about the people, because it's the people in this institution that I think make it great, make it really meaningful and enjoyable to work here.
I don't know that I can single out individuals. But I think right on down from Susan Hockfield, and Eric Grimson, and Rafael, and Dan Hastings, everybody that I've worked with here I think has a real commitment to being a leader, number one, to making sure that MIT is going to be a place where breakthroughs are going to occur. And whether that's in the labs or in the educational environment, both of those, I think, we're interested in, and I think are committed to doing the right thing for the right reasons. And it's one of the things that I really appreciate and love about being here.
INTERVIEWER: So my last question, unless you have anything to add, are you still involved in crew at all? Do you get out on the water as a coach or in any other capacity?
SCHMILL: Well, not nearly as often as I would like. Again, it's hard to steal time. When I can, I do race in the Head of the Charles every year, which is good fun, with folks that I've been racing with for a number of years now, not MIT folks, but people who come in from all over the world. And we race in masters events, so that's a lot of fun. I still keep up with the crew, although making sure that I remain objective and impartial in the whole admissions process, so that they don't get any-- and they would probably be the first ones to tell you that we're certainly not favoring them.
But I know the coaches well and talk to them, and certainly have an appreciation for what they do, and really an appreciation for what all of the coaches at MIT do. I think coaching at MIT is particularly hard, because the Admissions Office holds our student athletes to a much higher standard than you'll find anywhere else, maybe with the exception of Caltech, but anywhere else with the kind of broad-based and successful program that we have. And I think it really makes it tough for the coaches. Also the fact that our students are so involved in their academics and other parts of life I think make it hard for the coaches.
So I have a real deep appreciation for that. And so I still stay connected to it all, but just hard to find the time to actually do much more.
INTERVIEWER: But you do race in the Head of the Charles.
SCHMILL: I do race in the Head of the Charles every year. And it's been fun. And actually, I raced with a bunch of guys, and we tend to do pretty well. And that's the beauty of being a coxswain, is I don't have to stay in great shape, although I do run, maybe not every day, but most days. And I just have to stay light, and I've got to make sure I don't lose my voice. And beyond that, the guys I race with are good enough, we just come in and go for a practice the day before, hop in the race and go. And it's a lot of fun.
INTERVIEWER: Well, Stu, thanks a lot for coming in. This has been really wonderful. Appreciate it.
SCHMILL: It's been my pleasure. It's been a lot of fun, so thank you.
INTERVIEWER: Thank you.