Immanuel Lichtenstein: Remembering Columbia Engineering

Alumni Photo

“In September 1940, the Class of 1943 engineers all started their engineering education with the dreaded course, Power. It was given by the great ‘Lucke,’ Professor Charles Lucke, then in semi-retirement. We thought of him with awe. The first day we entered the large lecture hall in the old Engineering Building quietly apprehensive. The tiny man sat on a high stool behind the lecture table, with one hand on his key instrument, a wooden yardstick. Bang went the yardstick on the table. Lecture started—nonstop. It was a three-hour lecture, and the famous bang went down after each hour, signaling a 10-minute break. Rarely was any interruption for questions allowed. However, never will I forget the rare time when he asked a question. I got it right! He pronounced, ‘That man will be an engineer.’

“Camp Columbia was required for all. It was a one-month stay. The main course was surveying, of course with transit, chain, and dumpy level. With these now-antique instruments, a contour map of the camp had to be completed by each team before that team could leave. On the last night the slower surveyors were desperately using flashlights to find the last stations. To our surprise, all left on time. Looking back I can hardly imagine that the faculty would really have stayed one extra day.

“Descriptive Geometry, given by Professor Lee, had the reputation of being the hardest course in the entire curriculum and it was required for all of us. Professor Lee was fierce and tough in class, but after hours he loved to play with the party boys. Some remember him with affection; I with reluctant gratitude. With trepidation, I brought my final answer book to him and showed him his marking errors. With a gruff grunt, he changed a ‘C’ to an ‘A’.
“Joseph Barker had the title of Dean, but he was on leave for war work. His daughter, whose first name escapes me, was admitted to the school as the first woman undergraduate. What a different world it was! Right after Pearl Harbor, the Dean, now James Kip Finch, called us together to tell us not to rush out to sign up for service. Our use to the country as engineers would be far greater than anything we could do in uniform. We all obeyed him.

“On Class Day, Dean Finch addressed the graduating class. He was a man of great dignity, who spoke to us rarely, and only in grave tones. On this day he said, ‘Gentlemen, today you are seniors; tomorrow you will be alumni. There are two kinds of alumni, serious alumni, and rah, rah alumni. God save me from the serious alumni!’ As far as I know, none of the class of ’43 can be called serious.”

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