Leo Beranek's 99th Birthday

We celebrated the ninety-ninth birthday of one of Cornell College's very accomplished alumni on September 15, 2013.

Leo Beranek built a satisfying career on the foundation he established at Cornell College. His experience has included entrepreneurship and invention, teaching and research, applications of engineering in an artistic field, and leadership in business, learned societies, and philanthropy. The spectrum of opportunities open to a student of the liberal arts is wide. Work in business can be our means of helping to make a better world.

Let's imagine a conversation with Leo.

Question: What can you do with a Bachelor of Arts degree earned at Cornell College?

Answer: Direct a laboratory at Harvard, teach at MIT, start a company, play an important role in the introduction of jet travel, interview the world's greatest conductors and use the knowledge gained to design concert halls all over the world, chair the Boston Symphony Orchestra's board of trustees, establish a precedent that leads to the break-up of AT&T's monopoly, create “America's best TV station,” earn an invitation to join the National Academy of Engineering, and receive the National Medal of Science from the President of the United States.

Question: But what if your grades are not good enough for Phi Beta Kappa?

Answer: Build the nucleus of the Internet and invent e-mail!

What else?

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (the IEEE) presented Leo with its Founders' Medal this summer. In his acceptance speech, Leo urged us all to seek out the company of people who are smarter than ourselves. He credited his own success to a habit of doing the same. If you're the smartest person in the room, you're in the wrong room.

Leo's career has intersected with the careers of other alumni near its beginning and end.

To learn what he needed to know to direct a laboratory at Harvard University during the Second World War, Leo Beranek sought the help of Lee DuBridge, Class of 1922. DuBridge was at MIT directing the national effort to develop radar. DuBridge later became the first presidential science advisor and the president of CalTech.

In the 1990s, more than 20 years after Leo Beranek's company built the first pieces of the Internet and shortly after the National Science Foundation opened the Internet to commerce, George Strawn, Class of 1962, led efforts at the NSF to boost the speed of the Internet.

More evidence of the value in the kind of education that we offer at Cornell College!

Read Leo Beranek's autobiography and take notice of his name in many histories of computing.

At the Berry Center, we introduce students to people who work in many kinds of organizations and in diverse roles. We help students make connections between work in their classrooms and the work of their lives. And we show students how they can invest their energy and creativity in the solution of important problems, just like Leo Beranek.

Want to learn more?

See this timeline of Leo Beranek's life and read Riding the Waves: A life in sound, science, and industry , Leo Beranek, MIT Press, 2008.