Chapter 26 Summary

They Just Blew Me Away

Pausch is an “efficiency freak,” always preferring to do two or—even better, three—things at one time. This prompts him to wonder how he can help a larger group of students achieve their childhood dreams in addition to what he is currently doing. He figures out a way after he arrived at Carnegie Mellon.

He creates a course called “Building Virtual Worlds” (BVW, for short). It is open to fifty undergraduates from all different departments and majors. The group is eclectic, and most of the students would never connect with one another outside of this class. He puts them in random groups of four and gives them a simple two-week project: build a virtual world. They imagine, program, and create new worlds to show their classmates. Every two weeks they begin the process again with new “playmates.”

The only two rules Pausch imposes on their creativity are no shooting and no pornography. The first year Pausch teaches the class he is not sure what to expect; however, the products are amazing, especially since they were created on weak computer programs. He is so impressed, in fact, that he did not know how his students could improve. He calls Andy van Dam for advice. Van Dam tells him to walk into class the next day and tell his students they did a good job but he knows they can do better.

Pausch is not convinced that will be effective, but it is. Because the class is new, he is not sure how high he should set the bar, but he was about to find out. The projects continue to amaze him, and on “show-and-tell” days, fifty people routinely show up to see the projects, including parents, friends, and roommates. Soon they have to move the class to the auditorium on presentation days, where more than four hundred people assemble to cheer for their favorite projects.

Pausch is always able to tell when a presentation is going to be effective because the group members stand huddled closely together; it is clear they connected as they worked on their project. They may or may not ever fulfill their dreams, but they do learn to work together to create something none of them could have created on their own.

Carnegie Mellon allowed Pausch and drama professor Don Marinelli to develop The Entertainment Technology Center and a master’s degree program in which artists and technologists work together on amusement park rides, computer games, animatronics, and anything else they can imagine. Art and technology professors certainly do not always agree, but students benefit from both approaches and learn how to work with people different from themselves. Freedom and teamwork keeps the energy level high, and employers begin offering commitments to hire these students, even before the students had been admitted into the program. Marinelli started a satellite program, and now Pausch is part of helping students all over the world fulfill their childhood dreams.