Last week, the Drexel University Archives and Drexel University Libraries joined forces to present a screening of Going National, a 1985 film directed by Dave Jones, Ph.D., dean of the Pennoni Honors College, which documents the Drexel Microcomputing program, the initiative that first brought the Macintosh to Market Street.
In March of 1984, Drexel University became the first member of the now-forgotten Apple University Consortium to require the use of the Macintosh 128K of all newly enrolled freshmen. The film followed visionaries William Walsh Hagerty, who was serving his 21st and final term as Drexel University president, and Vice President of Academic Affairs Bernard Sagik, Ph.D. as they set into motion a plan to bring microcomputing to academia — a concept that poised the University to enter the national stage as a budding center of experiential education.
“The film is sort of this amazing snapshot of time,” Youngmoo Kim, Ph.D., assistant dean of Media Technologies for Drexel’s College of Engineering said as he opened a panel discussion that immediately followed the screening. “Drexel was really in a very different place at that time than we are now.”
Panelists included Dean Jones; Paula Cohen, Ph.D., distinguished professor of English; Sheldon Master, a member of Apple’s first dedicated sales force; as well as Drexel alumnus and noted local tech blogger John Gruber.
Requiring students to buy microcomputers, said Kim, was unprecedented at the time, a fact that is often overlooked when tracing Drexel University’s growth as an innovative center of technology, as well as Apple’s rise as a fledgling company to a corporate behemoth.
“Steve Jobs was a unique individual,” Master said. “He looked at the University level as a good avenue to start selling product. It really launched Apple into the business market.”
“There was a lot of excitement around campus [at the time],” Jones added. “It was energizing Drexel quite a bit. And that was the most important thing.”
“It was known to everyone that if you went to Drexel you had to get a Mac. And to me that was a huge draw,” said Gruber, who attended Drexel in the mid-1990s and credits his technical education for his current career running a technology weblog Daring Fireball.
The film coincides with Access Everywhere: Computing at Drexel, 1984 – Present, a Drexel University Archives exhibit currently on display at W.W. Hagerty Library until December 10.
A feature article documenting the history of the Drexel Microcomputing Program will be published in the inaugural issue of Market Street, which will be circulated next month.
Watch the panel discussion here.