When Gene Mutschler ’69 was in high school and thinking about colleges, two things played heavily in Rice’s favor: its excellent engineering school and a generous scholarship.
“I went to high school in Victoria, so Rice was literally right up the road,” the electrical engineering graduate said. “And I had basically decided my major before I set foot on campus—I was taking apart radios when I was 10 years old. And the school was very liberal with the scholarship it offered (thanks to an endowment that had allowed it to be tuition-free until then), which was not unimportant for the oldest of six kids from a working-class background.”
Mutschler was also excited for the work Rice researchers were doing in computers. During the 1940s and 1950s, when computers were first being developed, Rice had its own mainframe, something Mutschler said spoke to the school’s commitment to this new field.
“I ran across computer programming in high school and realized what it could do. And here was Rice, which had developed a copy of the kind of computer they had at Los Alamos. Rice was really the place to be.”
Mutschler and his classmates never called the school’s computer the R1, which is what it would become known as in subsequent years. He said they would often comment, “Let’s go over to the Rice computer,” when they wanted to work or do research. That experience laid the groundwork for his career path. Mutschler left Rice and spent the next four decades in computer programming for large mainframe machines and in developing software.
In his schooling and career, Mutschler has been on the leading edge. He was also a leading edge developer Rice’s radio station, KTRU. He said the station’s beginnings happened in his four-man suite at Hanszen College. Originally, the station could only be picked up in Hanszen; the homemade transmitter that carried the signal wouldn’t go any further.
“We patched into the electric signaling system,” he recalled. “And we moved to a former closet in the Hanszen game room.”
After those first efforts, he and his friends received funding to grow the station, buying a mixing board and creating a control room in a portion of a room in the Rice Memorial Center. A few short years later, KTRU had become a campus tradition.
Mutschler believes that Rice gave him the opportunities to grow to prepare for life outside the classroom. He’s been a generous donor to the University and has made the school a beneficiary of his retirement fund.
“I was a beneficiary of Rice’s scholarship, and its belief in me as a student,” he said. “I really believe I should give as much as I can so others can have those kinds of opportunities.”