Montana State University

Ross Perot, other pioneers urge students to follow dreams

October 17, 2005 -- By Evelyn Boswell, MSU News Service


Ross Perot (MSU photo by Jay Thane.)   High-Res Available

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BOZEMAN -- Texas billionaire Ross Perot and two other pioneers in the computer industry encouraged Montana State University students recently to use their imaginations and follow their dreams even if others discourage them.

"Let your imagination roam. Think about other possibilities," said John Blankenbaker, inventor of the first personal computer.

"You don't have to go to a fancy Eastern school. You don't have to come from third generation wealth," added Perot, the former presidential candidate who pioneered the data processing industry and founded Electronic Data Systems. "But you have to have character, integrity and leadership skills. Treat other people like you would like to be treated."

Perot, Blankenbaker and Paul Baran received the 2005 Stibitz Computer and Communications Pioneer Awards Oct. 14 during the 7th annual conference hosted by the American Computer Museum in Bozeman and the MSU Department of Computer Science. Baran pioneered the concepts that laid the foundation for the Internet.

"Our guests have changed the world with their ideas and their commitment to excellence," said MSU President Geoff Gamble. "Each man has pushed the boundaries of gaining new knowledge."

George Keremedjiev, director of the American Computer Museum, likened the men's presence to having Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and George Westinghouse in the same room. He added that he appreciated their optimism, accessability and modesty.

"Their egos are put aside when they talk about science and the future of young people," said Keremedjiev who received his own accolades for the computer museum located at 2304 N. 7th Ave.
Perot, Blankenbaker and Baran spoke to students and others during an afternoon forum. That night, they received the awards that were named after George R. Stibitz, the father of the modern digital computer.

Each honoree forged ahead despite naysayers and other challenges, said Paul Ceruzzi , Curator of Aerospace Electronics and Computing at the Smithsonian Institution.

"In all three cases, if they would ask somebody,

Baran's work was rooted in the Cold War when the United States and Soviet Union were pointing nuclear weapons at each other. Realizing how easy it would be for communications systems to fail, Baran and his colleagues designed a stronger communications network using "redundancy" and digital technology. The Air Force was all for it, Baran said, but AT&T, the world's best telephone system at the time, said it wouldn't work. They gave good reason after good reason until they ran out of reasons.

"Eventually, the systems of this type came into being," Baran said.

Baran's work laid the foundation for the Internet, but he said he hardly created it alone.

"No one person should say they built a cathedral, but they laid down a block or two," he said.

Blankenbaker said the invention of the personal computer grew out of his experiences as a 19-year-old physics student. He read an article about a computing device that only used two digits, began studying binary computer systems, went on to work for the National Bureau of Standards and Hughes Aircraft and eventually invented the personal computer.

The day of discoveries hasn't ended, Blankenbaker told his audience.

"There's plenty of opportunity," he said, predicting that DNA will be the hot topic this century. "You didn't come late. There's still room for you, so have your dreams and work on them."

Perot agreed, saying, "You can reach for the stars. If you dream it, you can do it."

Perot said his parents taught him valuable lessons during the Depression about character, integrity, leadership and the treatment of others. He credited hard work, luck and tenacity, too.

"Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never," he said, paraphrasing a quote by Winston Churchill.

Creativity is vital in this country and needs to be encouraged at home and in business, Perot continued. To build connections in the brain, parents should foster creativity and turn off the television.

Contact: Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or evelynb@montana.edu.