Concourse Instructor Jim Bredt Wins APO’s ‘Big Screw’ Contest

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Teaching assistant and researcher James F. Bredt ’82 stands behind his 4-foot aluminum screw trophy after winning Alpha Phi Omega’s annual Big Screw competition.
Steve Howland—The Tech

Last week, Alpha Phi Omega held its annual Big Screw competition. On April 14, James “Jim” Bredt ’82 was crowned the winner, having received $699.29 in monetary votes. All the proceeds from the event, which topped $1500, will be given to the Environmental Working Group, a charity chosen by Bredt.

The Big Screw competition was first held in 1967 as a spinoff of APO’s nationwide Unholiest Man on Campus event, whose contestants traditionally consist only of students. The co-ed fraternity wanted to have an event specific to MIT, where the community could nominate and select a faculty member who has contributed the most to making the lives of students miserable. Because faculty members are more well-known across campus than students, the Big Screw event has become an even bigger success than the Unholiest Man of Campus competition, said Big Screw Coordinator Iolanthe K. Chronis ’08.

Furthermore, the name of the contest and its trophy seem to fit the honor’s criteria.

“The honor is given to whoever has screwed over the most students over the past year,” said Alpha Phi Omega president Zev A. Benjamin ’08.

The winner of the annual competition receives a four-foot screw etched with the names of past winners. He or she gets to keep the screw until the following competition is held. This year, a group of students from the Concourse Program created a similarly sized screwdriver. After Bredt was announced as the contest’s winner on Monday, the students exacted revenge by using the screwdriver to appear to drive the screw into him.

When he received the award, Bredt, who served as a teaching assistant for the Fall 2007 Introduction to Solid State Chemistry (3.091) section for Concourse, explained his path to victory: “It’s very difficult these days to effectively screw students, but 3.091 provided a lot of material.” At this point, Bredt took out the chemistry textbook he used in college and compared it to the current 3.091 textbook, which is a compilation of multiple texts.

Later, he explained students’ and the faculty’s dissatisfaction with the large book, suggesting that it might be replaced next year. As a result, current 3.091 students, due to the unique nature of the book, “may just end up with a boat anchor.” Although he does not know who nominated him for the Big Screw, he firmly believes the nominator came from the freshman class, given they are “just getting used to drinking from the fire hose.”

Said Bredt, “I’d like to thank the little people — the freshmen.”

Prior to the voting period, APO received nominations from students; self-nominations are not accepted. Afterwards, nominees were, as usual, contacted to see if they were willing to participate in the contest. Some faculty members are open to showing their humorous side, while others are weary of the perception the award might give. There were twelve participants this year, but about twice that many were actually nominated.

All last week APO was stationed in Lobby 10, where passersby could vote for a candidate by dropping money in the appropriate jar. Among the candidates this year was Michael D. Ernst ’89, who stood out this year because he has not taught at MIT, nor been in the country, over the past year. Chronis also noted that this year’s event saw more instructors from small classes being nominated. Michael S. Cuthbert, for example, was nominated even though he has only about fifteen students in his class. Ernst came in last place, with only $2.26 donated overall, while Cuthbert was able to secure the fourth-place position with $175.38.

Some of the participants also received donations in unorthodox forms. Michelle D. Mischke, who placed third overall with $181.58, received some of her votes in euros. Bredt received two tokens for the T, although they were not considered to have any value and thus contributed nothing to his total. His victory was instead sealed by a $500 donation, which was placed in Bredt’s jar on Thursday. Even without the large donation, however, Bredt would have still been in second place; David W. Miller ’82 was the only other contestant to top $200, with a grand total of $281.01.

All of the money placed in the jars of contestants will be given to The Environmental Working Group, the charity chosen by Bredt with the help of APO organizers. He was looking to give money to a cause related to chemistry, given his field of expertise, and he was pleased with the work of the environmental watchdog group. He also mentioned that most of its proceeds go directly toward its work.

“Eighty-four percent of the money goes to the organization; not much goes toward advertising,” he said.