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My College Years (1969-1974)

Updated on December 30, 2016

Sheppard's Hall


I attended CCNY from 1969 to 1974. I was enrolled in the Engineering program majoring in Electrical Engineering. It was a four and a half year program and I honestly confess it was one of the best period of my life. It was a time of turmoil for our country. The Vietnam war was still going on and yet, I found my career and friendship that lasted a lifetime.

-Sept. 2015


For most young people today, they don't know what they want as a career. I was different in that regard. Ever since my junior year in high school, I know what I wanted to do. I was enrolled in a pre-engineering curriculum at Newtown HS. Once in College, I choose Electrical Engineering over the other disciplines (Mechanical, Civil or Chemical).

As a child, I was always curious about how things work. I would take apart a toy and in the process break it just to see what was inside. I was good at Math and Science and that was also an advantage. I remember in the summer of 1969, gluing to the TV screen watching Apollo 11 landing a man on the moon. I wanted to be a part of that. My believe at the time is that technology will be the future salvation of mankind. It will solve hunger around the world...

At CCNY, I learned programming in PL1 on the IBM 360 Mainframe computer. It was a punch card system that you would type and create a deck to submit for processing. It would take a few hours before getting the printout. How far have we come in 50 years.

I also learned about integrated circuits and logic design. In the primitive IC lab, we were able to design a transistor and make a chip on silicon. The whole process was fascinating. It also paved the way for my career in IBM.

A side note that I just recalled while writing about my past at CCNY. I was a member of the Fencing team and my weapon was the epee. This is one of three weapons that composed the team. The epee requires an electronic registry to score a touch. The machine was expensive and only used during competition and limitted practice sessions. I had the idea of a project to create a low cost home grown version of the scoring machine. I went to Radio Shack and put together the parts and I made a working machine with less than $20. It worked and I used it to help with our private practice sessions. It was satisfying for me to combine my engineering skills with a sports activity that I cherish. Recently, I was disheartened to learn that Radio Shack is closing it's doors. There is a lot to be said about learning by doing. Who knows how to use a soldering iron today?

Varsity Fencing Team

My experience on the Fencing team is extraordinary. I learned so much from our coach and I wrote a whole (Chapter) hubbook on this topic. I will add that it was also a great place where I made some of my long lasting friendships. The comradery of teammates in competition is a great feeling.

A side comment regarding race relations. Our team was truly international. We had members from Greeks, German, Spanish, Puerto Rican, Asian, Blacks, Jews, Moslem, Christians and many other heritages. We had no problems with regard to race or religion. We had individual differences and some disagreements and personality conflicts but they were not based on race. Our campus was located in the heart of Harlem. If you know anything about NYC, Harlem was one of the main black neighborhoods in upper Manhattan. I commuted by subway everyday. I had experienced very little problems attending CCNY in the 1960's.

A Team Photo 1972 (3rd from left, top row)

Summer Trip To Taiwan

In my freshman year, I was lucky to make a trip to my home country of Taiwan over summer vacation. At the time, the government of Taiwan has a program for overseas students. The China Youth Corp would provide free room and board for four weeks to oversea Chinese immigrants youths. The program was very popular and it offered an education program for promoting Chinese language and culture to foreign born students. I made some friends and got to see my extended family and toured the island of Taiwan. We were treated like celebrities as we were driven around town. I have many fond memories from that trip. It only cost my family the price of an airfare.

China Youth Corp

College Finances

I remember to this day and I tell it anytime the subject came up. My college tuition was $58 per semester plus cost of books. The CCNY was part of the CUNY system and at that time, it was one of the few "free tuition" public colleges around the nation. Unfortunately for me, it was also the beginning of "open admissions" experiment at CUNY. The open admissions policy in effect dropped the high standards required to get in. Anyone wishing to attend, regardless of their academic grades were given the chance to attend. This was the start of a slow down hill slide of CCNY's reputation as one of the top public school in the country. It was also the reason CUNY was put on probation by the NCAA committee. It affected me directly because I was not given the chance to earn an All American title in Fencing. I may not have won in any case but at least I was a contender. It was one of the few disappointments in my life.

The "free tuition" policy was a good one. It opened the door for many poor and disadvantaged students to reach their potential. I was one of the beneficiary of that policy. My family was not poor but middle class. I chose to attend CCNY for it's excellent program. My second choice would have been one of the State Colleges. Going to CCNY saved my family not only tuition but also room and board. CCNY does not have a dormitory. I commuted to school everyday.

Political Views (Side Bar)

I want to make a side comment regarding political views and higher education. It is a testament to the balanced education that CCNY provided all of us at the time. As part of our curriculum, we had to take philosophy, economics and history and English literature. To this day, it amazes me how two individuals from similar backgrounds, attending the same school can have so different opposing world views and political leaning. I am referring to one of my teammate. I won't name names but he knows who he is. We are friends due to our common interest in Fencing but our politics are as different as night and day. He is Progressive and I am Conservative. How does that happen? Perhaps it is due to our working careers. He worked for a Government agency and I worked for a private Corporation.

Graduation - 1974


College education for me was not just about getting a career or learning a trade. It was about finding ourselves and exploring who we are, who we want to be, what we want to do with the rest of our lives. I found all that and more during my years at CCNY. I will always be grateful for the many professors and colleagues and teammates who helped me along the way.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2015 Jack Lee


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