Boyce Rensberger of The Washington Post has been named director of the Knight Science Journalism Fellowships at MIT, effective July 1, Dean Philip S. Khoury of the School of Humanities and Social Science announced.
A winner of the Alicia Patterson Fellowship and a two-time winner of the AAAS science journalism award, Mr. Rensberger has been a science reporter for the Detroit Free Press, The New York Times and The Washington Post, where he served as science editor. He also was head writer for the public television series "3-2-1 Contact," and a senior editor of the monthly magazine Science 81-84.
For the last seven years, he has been co-director of the Science Writing Fellowships Program each summer at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, MA. He created in 1994 and is editor of Horizon: The Learning Section, a monthly supplement to The Washington Post.
Mr. Rensberger, 55, received the BS in zoology and journalism at the University of Miami and a master's degree in journalism and mental health information from Syracuse University. He has been a guest lecturer on science writing at Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland.
He will succeed Victor K. McElheny, founding director of the Knight Fellowships, who is retiring. Mr. McElheny started the mid-career program for science journalists at MIT in 1982, capping a career as a science journalist with The Charlotte Observer, Science magazine, The Boston Globe and The New York Times. He was director of the Banbury Center at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory before coming to MIT.
Mr. McElheny, 62, will continue to be associated with the Program in Science, Technology, and Society (STS). His biography of Edwin H. Land is scheduled for fall publication by Addison-Wesley.
Mr. Rensberger has written four books: The Cult of the Wild, 1977; How the World Works: A Guide to Science's Great Discoveries, 1986; Instant Biology, 1996; and, in 1997, Life Itself: Exploring the Realm of the Living Cell, published by Oxford University Press.
Dean Khoury commented, "Boyce Rensberger brings to MIT and the Knight Science Journalism Fellowships enormous talent and experience as one of America's most distinguished science journalists. He has demonstrated innovative leadership at The Washington Post, where he established the much-lauded Horizon section, and at the Marine Biological Laboratory's summer mid-career science journalism program which he has co-directed for many years. I am convinced he will take the Knight program to the next level and beyond.
"Boyce has big shoes to fill in replacing Victor McElheny, who founded the program at MIT and has been its stalwart leader for 16 years," Professor Khoury added. "Victor raised the generous gifts of $8 million from the Knight Foundation. The foundation's late chairman, James L. Knight, said the gift to MIT 'reflects our conviction that better-educated journalists are essential to public understanding of the complexities of modern science and technology.'
STARTED IN 1987
"The Knight Foundation support began in 1987 with a $3.25 million grant for seven years of operation, followed by a five-year, $5 million challenge calling for $2.5 million in matching funds from MIT. The Knight gift is one of the largest and most important endowments to come into the School of Humanities and Social Science in the past 20 years," Dean Khoury said.
Serving with Dean Khoury on the search committee were Professor Michael Fischer, director of STS; Associate Professor Deborah Fitzgerald of STS; Alan Lightman, Burchard Professor of Science and Writing, and Professor Robert Weinberg of the Department of Biology and a member of the Whitehead Institute.
Since their start in 1983 with support from the Alfred P. Sloan and Andrew W. Mellon Foundations, the Fellowships have brought a total of 154 science journalists (70 women and 84 men) from around the world for nine months of study at MIT. Non-US Fellows have numbered 41. The Fellows, currently six Americans and a varying number of international journalists each year, work for newspapers, magazines, wire services, radio and television.
The 15th class of Knight Fellows arrived at MIT last September. Scores of MIT faculty members lecture in the program's twice-weekly seminars, and welcome Fellows to courses and laboratories. The seminars concern current developments in science and technology and their societal implications.
At the recent Philadelphia meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), two former Knight Fellows received awards. Jenni Laidman (1995-96) of The Bay City Times in Michigan received the AAAS science journalism award in the small-newspaper category for her series, "Unnatural Resources: Playing God in the Great Lakes." Peggy Girshman (1991-92) of National Public Radio shared in the AAAS radio award for the series, "How the Brain Works."
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on February 25, 1998.