In the summer of 1966, Francesco Piatti, better known to his friends as Chip, stood on the stage of Kresge Little Theatre on the MIT campus. In front of hundreds of students and dozens of teachers of the Summer Studies Program (SSP), he was presenting a summary of what classes he would teach that summer.
Chip was not a stranger to the Summer Studies Program. He had attended SSP as a high school student and then worked as the secretary; a few years later, as a Boston College undergrad, he started teaching.
Chip planned on teaching two classes that year and, having finished introducing his Biology course, was up on stage for the second time of the night. This time around he introduced his English class and as he got off stage, three MIT students looked his way and sneered, “Damned Hum major.”
“Well, they didn’t know what my major was,” Chip would recall decades later, “turns out it was philosophy, but they did not know that.”
He was not surprised by this attitude towards the humanities. The SSP class offerings were very prejudiced towards Mathematics and the Physical Sciences, which was a consequence of it being organized mostly by MIT students. However, what did surprise Chip was the level of interest for his English class from the students of SSP.
SSP had 300 students attend that summer and around thirty classes. While most classes had anywhere from eight to thirty students each, ninety students showed up to Chip’s English class which most SSP organizers thought would not be attended at all. The classroom was packed. All the seats were taken and there were people left standing.
Chip continued teaching for SSP the next year with a more ambitious goal: to teach a hands-on class in Stagecraft. Sixty students signed up and together they put on an adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s play, Major Barbara. Piatti’s students, most of whom had no experience with theatre, took part in the cast, worked as stagehands, sewed costumes, and became makeup artists for a production that ran in the Kresge Little Theatre in front of large public audiences.
Charles Manski, chairman of SSP, reflected on these courses in a 1967 SSP program report: “Our feelings about the value of Liberal Arts to our program were borne out as enrollment and retention rates in these courses surpassed those in their science counterparts.”
Since then, SSP has evolved into the organization known today as the Educational Studies Program (ESP). As our programs have grown over the past few decades into a community of thousands of students and hundreds of teachers, the legacy of Chip Piatti lives on in our mission to let participants teach anything, learn anything, do anything. Scrolling through our catalog today, not only will you see a diverse offering of classes in the humanities and sciences, but you will also see classes that defy categorization. And despite the virtual nature of Splash this year, our teachers have continued to innovate new ways to teach hands-on and interactive classes.
During ESP’s early years, Chip was a mentor to other administrators, contributing to the groundwork for our organization. After his time in ESP, he continued to inspire others as both an arts and sciences instructor in Medford and Boston public schools. Even at our last Alumni Dinner in 2019, his stories resonated with us. Chip passed away in early October 2020 but he leaves behind an immense legacy of education and inspiration.
We dedicate Splash 2020 to Francesco (Chip) Piatti for his contributions to ESP.