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2009 News Releases



Parsons Lab holds 34th annual Halloween party and pumpkin carving contest

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By Debbie Levey
Civil & Environmental Engineering

For the 34th consecutive year, Parsons Laboratory students, faculty, staff and family members celebrated Halloween with a pumpkin carving party and dinner. Close to 120 people attended this year’s party Oct. 30, creatively transforming 58 pumpkins into glowing art.

Babies in elaborate costumes watched the events from their parents’ arms, while older children and even teenagers enjoyed the tradition of creating scary faces. Many children of faculty and staff have attended the parties for years, with some now bringing their own children.

“The students love the party. A lot of foreign students who have never been exposed to Halloween will just watch the carving the first year, or else they’ll partner with someone else, and then they’ll carve their own pumpkin the next year. My kids grew up coming here, and so did the kids of many faculty members,” said Parsons Lab Associate Director Sheila Frankel, who organized the party along with administrative assistant James Long. At the end of the party, Long presented Frankel with a glass pumpkin crafted in the MIT Glass Lab in honor of their 10th year working together on the Halloween party.

After an hour of sculpting, students and staff broke for dinner. Wearing white curly wigs in British jurist style, graduate students Rebecca Gianotti and Greg Kettler, and postdoctoral associate Hector Hernandez appraised the pumpkins for creativity and appearance with and without candle illumination.

Ellen Kiorboe, wife of visiting scientist Thomas Kiorboe from Denmark, captured first prize in the adult carving category. Working meticulously, she sliced her pumpkin in thirds and cut a lattice-like pattern of small identical isosceles triangles over the whole surface. Each section could be rotated separately to change the pattern of the triangles lit up by the candle inside. All child pumpkin carvers received a prize and an elaborate bag of candy decorated by Frankel, who put in long hours attending to the food and decorations and cleaning up afterward.

Attending the party for the seventh year, administrative assistant Gayle Sherman said that her two children always look forward to the event. “They like it because there are so many ‘big kids’ (graduate students) doing the same activity. Everyone is relaxed and admires each other’s work, and the room looks beautiful with all the lit pumpkins.”

Kenneth Strzepek ’75, S.M. ’77, Ph.D. ’80 and Pat Dixon, now the CEE administrative officer, established the first annual pumpkin party in 1975 when Strzepek was the graduate student social chairman. “All the Parsons Lab directors over the years have been very supportive,” said Dixon. “It’s an unbelievable sight with 60 illuminated pumpkins in a dark room. It’s such a beautiful tradition, and I’m so glad that Sheila Frankel has carried it on.” Dixon’s son attended the first carving, and her grandson enjoyed the most recent event.

The Parsons Hall of Jack-o-Lanterns.
Photo / Mitul Luhar

Professor Heidi Nepf (bent over a pumpkin), her husband Professor Ian Waitz, head of the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and their daughters Izzi (left) and Ava are intent on carving their jack-o-lanterns. Photo / Mitul Luhar