PRISM - American Society for Engineering Education - 2006 Annual conference - June 18-21 FEBRUARY 2006 - VOLUME 15, NUMBER 6 - SPECIAL ISSUE: 2006 Annual conference
conference features
My Kind of Town - Whether it's baseball, King Tut's treasures, a one-of-a-kind exhibit with working models of Leonardo da Vinci's inventions or the Magnificent Mile, Chicago has something for everyone. By Alan Solomon

In June, there is no finer city in America, no city more beautiful, more alive, more accessible, than Chicago—the site of this year’s annual conference. That probably sounds like irrational hype. Well, it may be hype, but it’s not irrational. June is when Lake Michigan is at its most blue, the Wrigley Field vines are at their most green, the city’s public gardens at their most colorful and its temperatures at their most comfortable. Could throw in that it’s when its famous steaks are most easily chewable and its glorious hot dogs most silently digestible, but that would be silly.

Welcome to Chicago.

More than a century ago, when Chicago’s power elite were lobbying to host a World’s Fair celebrating the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ discovery of a new world, they sounded a lot like that—to the dismay of a certain New York journalist. “Don’t pay attention,” Charles Dana wrote in the New York Sun, “to the nonsensical claims of that windy city.” Windy, as in blowhard. Windbag. Well, Chicago got the World’s Columbian Exposition, which was held in 1883, and New York had to settle for Ruth and DiMaggio, but the nickname stuck.

That same year in Chicago, the American Society for Engineering Education was formed. The exposition was a natural place for engineering faculty members to gather, and 70 individuals from across the country met to discuss the problems facing engineering education and to hear papers and talk about their implications. And now, 113 years later, some 3,000 will be making the pilgrimage for pretty much the same reasons.

Today’s Chicago, though less windy than Boston, San Francisco or even Amarillo, embraces the name and its history with a swagger that would delight (or, at the very least, amuse) the chroniclers who have spread the tale in all its textures. No longer is it the hog butcher, toolmaker and stacker of wheat that Carl Sandburg described in the early 1900s. But even as the city’s collective collar has turned whiter, the immigrants who came here to work its stockyards and foundries and rail yards have shaped this place and left their mark.

“The neighborhood-towns,” the late columnist Mike Royko wrote in “Boss,” his great 1971 study of then-Mayor Richard J. Daley, “were part of larger ethnic states. To the north of the Loop was Germany. To the northwest was Poland. To the west were Italy and Israel. To the southwest were Bohemia and Lithuania. And to the south was Ireland.” So it remains, with some ethnic adjustments, today. Right now, there are whole neighborhoods in Chicago where Polish is still both the prevailing language and the dominant sausage—and visitors are urged to hop on “the el” (for elevated railway) and experience both.

The architects and visionaries, too—among them, Frank Lloyd Wright and Daniel Burnham (“Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood.”)—left their legacy, and much of it is right out the door of the Hyatt Regency Hotel and an easy stroll (or an easier architecture river cruise) away; Wright’s early studio and home is just beyond the city limits. It was Burnham, the architect-planner, who pushed for a lakefront defined by parks and gardens and public works instead of warehouses, and the lakefront today is Chicago’s pride. It was his firm that designed the Field Museum—which today is host to a T. rex named Sue and, in time for June, a sparkling exhibit of treasures from the tombs of Egypt, including King Tut’s, which will be offered as a special tour for ASEE members.

The King Tut exhibit will bring more than 130 treasures from the tomb of the celebrated pharaoh Tutankhamen, other Valley of the Kings tombs and additional ancient sites to the Field Museum. Visitors will be drawn back in time with inventive design and innovative technology as they explore the world of King Tut. Top: Chicago’s blues and jazz clubs play all night long. Middle: The Water Tower anchors the Magnificent Mile shopping district. Bottom: An exhibit shows airplanes, a train and a rocket car at the Museum of Science and Industry.They will come face to face with his contemporaries, see and hear about the fascinating times in which the young king lived and learn how his short reign changed history. This exhibition will take museum visitors beyond the shimmering gold, making them part of Tutankhamen’s legacy.

This exhibit has not been in the United States in 20 years, and Chicago is only one of three cities where this exhibit will be displayed.  Waiting lists and long lines typically accompany this display, but they won’t for ASEE members who sign up for this tour. So take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and register early.

And Leonardo da Vinci, too

It was also architect Daniel Burnham’s firm that designed the Palace of Fine Arts for the 1893 World’s Fair—which today is the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago’s favorite museum and the venue for a groundbreaking exhibition on Leonardo da Vinci, also an ASEE tour (sidebar, below). It was that ’93 fair that introduced the Ferris wheel to the world—and today, a reproduction thrills thousands every year at Navy Pier, one of Chicago’s most popular attractions and a terrific place to view the city’s fabulous skyline.

An Engineer Extraordinaire

Before he was a code, he was the most brilliant man ever to set foot on the face of the Earth. With timing that seems almost too good to be true, the Museum of Science and Industry’s “Leonardo da Vinci: Man, Inventor, Genius”—he was the quintessential engineer—will be on exhibit during the convention.

Here, among other things, will be working models of many of his inventions, models of a few inventions that didn’t work then and won’t work now and drawings and interactive elements that add humanity to a character few of us truly know.

“Most people think of him as the guy who painted the ‘Mona Lisa’ or ‘The Last Supper,’ or they think of the book,” says John Beckman, the museum’s manager of temporary exhibits. “We’re looking at him as an inventor, as a genius, as a man who was ahead of his time.” The museum building itself, on Chicago’s South Side, is a vestige of an event that celebrated genius and invention. Built originally as the Palace of Fine Arts for the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, its deteriorating plaster shell was restored in stone from 1929-33, just in time for another Chicago world’s fair, the 1933-34 Century of Progress Exposition.

For generations, the Museum of Science and Industry has been one of Chicago’s most popular attractions, a museum essentially dedicated to how things work. That makes the da Vinci show a natural. “Our mission here in the museum,” Beckman says, “is to inspire the inventive genius in everyone who visits, and there really is no better inspiration for inventive genius than Leonardo da Vinci. He had a huge interest in flight. He was looking at the idea of human-powered flight and underwater breathing apparatuses in a time where they didn’t have good clocks. When you look at a lot of his other inventions—he has excavation cranes and suspension bridges that were way ahead of their time—they are not dissimilar to what we use today.”

Leonardo, born near Florence, died in 1519 in France. He was 67. He left a legacy. “There are modern-day people that are working in his spirit and are interdisciplinary in their study,” Beckman says. “There’s robotic engineers who, like Leonardo, dissect human wrists to see how the joints work and can make very agile robotic arms for use in space. There are people doing amazing things with airplanes and changing the way we think about flight right now, both in material composition and aerodynamics. They’re engineers.” The museum’s “Leonardo da Vinci: Man, Inventor, Genius” exhibit will be on view through Labor Day and then gone forever. –AS

And that’s a skyline—in the home of the world’s first steel-frame skyscraper—that features North America’s tallest building, Sears Tower (with its Skydeck) and the elegant John Hancock Center (with its Observatory). The latter anchors the Magnificent Mile, which is on Michigan Avenue, the retail street that’s this nation’s finest outside New York. And some would argue the “New York” part. By the way: The Chicago River flows backward. Engineers did that in 1900 to stop the flow of waste into Lake Michigan, the city’s source of drinking water. Instead, thanks to locks and a canal, it now flows, eventually, into the Mississippi where—well, it’s someone else’s problem. And, in the 1920s, they worked out how to convert busy Wacker Drive—the Hyatt Regency is on Wacker Drive—into a double-decked thoroughfare. They also figured out how to raise all the city’s streets—and many of the buildings on them—in the 1850s to eliminate a problem of near-constant, disease-incubating mud. In at least one case, thousands of men (5,000, according to once source) simultaneously turned jackscrews to lift an entire hotel. Sewers were installed, and dirt was rushed in to cover the pipes and fill the gaps.

And no engineer will want to miss one of Chicago’s more amazing shows—a chorus line of Chicago River bridges rising in succession, snarling traffic in one of the planet’s most dynamic cities, to make way for … somebody’s sailboat. Then, in succession, settling back into position.
If the famous architecture inspires and the engineering intrigues, it will be the city’s diversions, many of them free to all, that will win your hearts. Architecture meets the lively arts at Millennium Park, an easy walk south along Michigan Avenue. Check the events schedule; the free evening concerts will make you tingle. Enjoy the gardens. A little farther south is the Art Institute of Chicago, with a world-class collection featuring Grant Wood’s “American Gothic” and Seurat’s iconic dot-portrait of a Sunday afternoon in France. Dotting the Loop—the central business district roughly defined by the “el” tracks—is public art, mainly statues, by Picasso, Oldenburg, Marc Chagall, Joan Miro and others. Chicago is a sensational town for live theater, large and small, classic and experimental. And improvisational: A visit to Second City, home of the comedy troupe whose alumni range from Ed Asner and Peter Boyle to John Belushi and Bill Murray, is almost obligatory.

And in June, it’s a baseball town. The Cubs close out an interleague series with the Detroit Tigers (combatants the last time the Cubs were in a World Series, waaaaay back in 1945) on June 18. The game is sold out, but there’s a thriving “secondary market” (at your own risk) around Wrigley Field; tours of the historic (1914) ballpark are sometimes available on off-days, so check with the hotel concierge (who may also be able to arrange tickets for the game through a licensed broker). The World Champion White Sox return to U.S. Cellular Field June 20 for a series with the St. Louis Cardinals; that, too, could be a tough ticket, but, again, check with the concierge. After dark, jazz and blues (and the “el” of course) are the sounds of the city. There are places to hear them all over town; some are within walking distance.

Now, because you’ll ask: gangsters. Gangsters? In Chicago? Is there fog in San Francisco? Sorry. The machine-gun battles over South Side beer distribution rights ended decades ago. If you do want to see the site of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre garage—it’s a little park alongside senior citizens housing now—or the alley where the FBI dropped Dillinger, tours are available.

McCormick Place, just south of the Loop, along the lakefront

But here’s what truly sets Chicago apart from the rest. First, there are the neighborhoods. We talked about them earlier. Polish, Mexican, Greek, Italian, Jewish, Chinese, Ukrainian, African-American, Vietnamese and more, all with good eats. If you’re not ready to hop the “el” and seek them out on your own, there are tours that can get you to some of them. That’s one. The other: All truly great cities, the ones that have their own unique feel and personality, are at their sweetest in the morning, just before dawn, when the light is soft and tentative and the streets are mostly deserted and the air is still. Chicago’s lakefront is always special. But it’s at its most Chicago extra-special before the city is fully awake. Head up Michigan Avenue to Oak Street and the beach. Then just walk along Lake Michigan. If you’re a jogger and brought your stuff, jog it leisurely. Or just stop for a while and enjoy the sun rising over the lake and peace in the heart of a city. It will be cool and quiet, except for a few other joggers and walkers and dreamers. The water is usually calm on June mornings. You will hear the sounds of birds. You’ll know when to turn back. Civilization has a way of reminding us. Duty will call. But this is the Chicago that will stay with you long after you’ve forgotten da Vinci and the architects and the river that flows backward … one thing.

On the way back—hold on to your hat. Wind tends to pick up a little.

Chicago native Alan Solomon is a travel writer with the Chicago Tribune.


Chicago is one of America’s very best restaurant towns. This is a selective list; since I’m doing the selecting, I’ve avoided franchises. If you want Ruth’s Chris or Buca di Beppo, you’re on your own. Arranged by proximity to the Hyatt Regency (and, within categories, alphabetically).

A short walk

Barro. 73 E. Lake St. (312) 346-8457. Mexican standards in a convivial atmosphere. Inexpensive to moderate.

Billy Goat Tavern. 430 N. Lower Michigan Ave. (312) 222-1525. Belushi borrowed its “Chee-borger, Chee-borger” mantra, but ask for the double chee-borger instead. Cheap.

Harry Caray’s. 33 W. Kinzie St. (312) 828-0966. Here, Harry lives on. An Italian steakhouse with food better than it has to be. Moderate to expensive.

La Strada. 155 N. Michigan Ave. (312) 565-2200. Upscale Italian at mid-upscale prices, right around the corner from the hotel. Expensive.

Morton’s, the Steakhouse. 65 E. Wacker Pl. (312) 201-1410. Newest (and closest) local outpost of the prime chain. Very expensive.

Pizzeria Uno and Pizzeria Due. 29 E. Ohio St. (312) 321-1000 (That’s for Uno; Due is a block up, at (312) 943-2400). What’s come to be known as “Chicago pizza”—locals debate who does it best now—was born in these two sister restaurants; Due is less claustrophobic. Inexpensive.

Shaw’s Crab House. 21 E. Hubbard St. (312) 527-2722. A contender for best downtown seafood, with an exceptional raw bar. Expensive.

A little farther, but still easy

Berghoff. 17 W. Adams St. (312) 427-3170. One of the few German restaurants left here (once, there were many), this is a Chicago landmark. Great? No. Doesn’t matter. Moderate.

Chicago Chop House. 60 W. Ontario St. (312) 787-7100. Some consider this the city’s best steakhouse. Maybe they’re right. Maybe. Expensive.

Coco Pazzo Café. 636 N. St. Clair St. (312) 664-2777. Authentic Northern Italian just off Michigan Avenue. Moderate to expensive.

Mike Ditka’s. 100 E. Chestnut St. (312) 587-8989. A mix of sports bar and steakhouse (though da pork chop is the signature). Moderate to expensive.

Portillo’s. 100 W. Ontario St. (312) 587-8910. Good bet for Chicago’s real local specialties: hot dogs (just order one with everything) and the Italian beef sandwich (sweet peppers, dipped). Cheap.

Spiaggia. 980 N. Michigan Ave. (312) 280-2750. Chicago’s elite Italian, with a price tag to match (the less-dear Spiaggia Café is down the hall). Very expensive.

Tru. 676 N. St. Clair St. (312) 202-0001. A wonderful restaurant. Outrageously expensive and worth every traveler’s check. Very, very expensive.

Walk one way, taxi the other

Gibson’s Steakhouse. 1028 N. Rush St. (312) 266-8999. These days, the quintessential Chicago power steak joint. Expect a wait, even with reservations. Very expensive.

Hugo’s Frog Bar and Fish House. 1024 N. Rush St. (312) 640-0999. Gibson’s (same ownership; it’s next door) with fins. A seafooder worthy of New England. Expensive.

Morton’s, the Steakhouse. 1050 N. State St. (312) 266-4820. Where the empire began. Very expensive.

Papa Milano. 951 N. State St. (312) 787-3710. In a neighborhood full of impress-your-client places, a pocket-size, easy-on-the-pocket veteran Italian. Moderate.

Topolobampo. 445 N. Clark St. (312) 661-1434. Authentic regional Mexican specialties you never heard of turned into exciting Rick Bayless specialties Mexicans have never heard of. Expensive.

Worth the $10 (or so) cab ride

Charlie Trotter’s. 816 W. Armitage Ave. (773) 248-6228. Too esoteric for some; for those who understand carefully chosen ingredients (gently caught fish, etc.), this is heaven. Very, very expensive. –AS

For the most current program please visit


My Kind of Town - Whether it's baseball, King Tut's treasures, a one-of-a-kind exhibit with working models of Leonardo da Vinci's inventions or the Magnificent Mile, Chicago has something for everyone. - By Alan Solomon
Conference at a Glance
Conference Highlights
2006 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition - June 18-21, 2006 - Chicago
SPECIAL DOUBLE ISSUE: February 2006 - A CHALLENGING MATCHUP - Time-consuming wrangling with industry over intellectual property issues are making negotiations more difficult.


ASEE logo