Six members of the faculty were named last Friday as MacVicar Faculty Fellows in recognition of their outstanding teaching innovations.
The formal presentations were made by Provost Robert A. Brown at the Corporation luncheon at the Faculty Club. The Fellows were chosen by a special committee headed by Dean of Undergraduate Education Robert P. Redwine.
The program, now in its 10th year, is designed to create an elite group of MIT scholars committed to excellence in teaching and innovation in education -- causes championed by the late Dean of Undergraduate Education and Professor of Physics Margaret L.A. MacVicar, whom the program honors.
The fellowships provide an annual scholar's allowance to assist each Fellow in developing ways to enrich the undergraduate learning experience. MacVicar Fellows serve 10-year terms.
Forty-six MacVicar Fellows have been named since the program was established. The first Fellows were named in 1992, a year after Dean MacVicar's death at age 47.
The 2000-01 MacVicar Fellows are:
MARY C. BOYCE
A professor of mechanical engineering, Mary C. Boyce received the BS from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in 1981 and the SM (1983) and PhD (1987) from MIT. Dr. Boyce was named an assistant professor in 1987, associate professor in 1992 and full professor in 1999.
She has received the Joel and Ruth Spira Teaching Award and the Keenan Award for Innovation in Undergraduate Education. She also has received several awards for her research, including a Presidential Young Investigators Award in 1991 and the first ASME Special Achievement Award for Young Investigators in Applied Mechanics in 1998.
Professor Boyce developed home experiment kits to help students in Mechanics and Materials II to understand simple and complex concepts. The kits, distributed to students in small shoeboxes, contain springs, plastic I-beams, weights, polarizing film for viewing photoelasticity and other items.
"I really enjoy teaching," said Professor Boyce. "I try to reach out to the students and be actively engaged in the teaching process."
Comments from colleagues and students to the MacVicar Nominating Committee about Professor Boyce:
Colleagues: "A superb mentor to all of her students and UROPs, and a valuable role model to the female students in the department... Mary coaxed, cajoled and encouraged us into thinking 'outside the box'... No idea was too radical or ambitious."
From students: "One of the best instructors I have had... She has a great ability to convey relevant information in a classroom setting. She is a great teacher and continually strives to become a better one... Another of Professor Boyce's strengths was her ability to relate the current lecture topic to real-life applications."
An associate professor of materials science and engineering, Anne Mayes received the SB from MIT in 1986 and the PhD from Northwestern University in 1991. She returned to MIT as an assistant professor in 1993 and was promoted to associate professor in 1997, the same year she received the inaugural Joseph Lane Award for Excellence in Teaching in her department.
Professor Mayes received the 1999 John H. Dillon Medal from the American Physical Society Division of High Polymer Physics for "her unique combination of theoretical and experimental insight into polymer self-organization." The previous year, she received the Outstanding Young Investigator Award from the Materials Research Society.
Professor Mayes noted that she shared many traits with Dean Mac-Vicar, including the fact that both were MIT alumnae. Partially as a result of that experience, she said she has "formed a very strong bond with the undergraduates here today." In addition, she said, "I share her vision of the critical role of hands-on laboratory practice in bringing to life lessons from the classroom."
Comments from colleagues: "In a time when many faculty seem to be willing to accept the notion that the capabilities of our students are declining, Professor Mayes maintains the highest standards in her classes and pushes her students to strive for excellence... She has a special quality of not only getting students motivated but in challenging them to think deeply and to work beyond the normal standards. This is primarily due to her extraordinary dedication."
From students: "A lot of classes at MIT made me more knowledgeable, but I am convinced that Professor Mayes's approach to teaching actually made me smarter... I credit Professor Mayes with helping me to learn to think like a scientist, present like a scientist and write like a scientist... She inspired creativity and innovation in her students by challenging them to always think beyond the scope of the current studies."
DAVID A. MINDELL
The Frances and David Dibner Associate Professor of the History of Engineering and Manufacturing, David A. Mindell received the BS in electrical engineering and the BA in literature from Yale University in 1988. He earned the PhD from MIT in 1996 and joined the faculty the same year as an assistant professor in the Program in Science, Technology and Society (STS). He is a visiting investigator at the Deep Sea Submergence Laboratory of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
Professor Mindell's research is in the history of technology and in technology, archeology and the deep sea. He teaches "The Structure of Engineering Revolutions," a joint course with STS and the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. He is the second junior faculty member to become a MacVicar Fellow, joining Associate Professor Dava Newman of aeronautics and astronautics, who received the honor last year.
Professor Mindell said the fellowship "is a wonderful affirmation of MIT's commitment to teaching that blends science and engineering." He said the stipend would allow him to include additional UROP students on this summer's expedition in the Mediterranean. "My experience tells me that it will blow their minds and they'll never think about their careers in the same way again."
Comments from colleagues: "He represents a new breed of educator who possesses dual competence in engineering and the humanities, and is intent upon bringing out the best in students by engaging them in the complex intersections of disciplinary expertise and everyday practice... He wants to introduce undergraduates to the larger world of science and engineering so they can relate what they are doing now to what they might be doing later."
From students: "Professor Mindell actively encouraged and elicited feedback and conversations, seeking not only to teach students, but also to have the students teach each other... Mindell is a professor whose lessons will never leave us. We put them into use daily, whether as engineers or simply as people."
HEIDI M. NEPF
An associate professor in civil and environmental engineering, Heidi M. Nepf received the BS from Bucknell University in 1987 and the MS (1988) and PhD (1992) from Stanford University. After a year as a postdoctoral scholar at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, she joined the MIT faculty in 1993 and was the Henry L. and Grace Doherty Professor from 1995-97.
A recipient of the School of Engineering's Junior Bose Award for Excellence in Teaching in 1999, she is a three-time winner of her department's teaching award. Professor Nepf received a National Science Foundation Career Award in 1997 and has produced a series of cable and public television shows on environmental issues for high school students.
"This award inspires me to work harder to engage and enliven the experience of my undergraduate students," said Professor Nepf, noting that 1994 MacVicar Fellow Ole S. Madsen had shared his lecture notes with her early in her career. "I got all my jokes from him," she said.
Comments from colleagues: "Her excitement and love of her subject and her research come through loud and clear to every student who comes in contact with her... Professor Nepf's uncanny ability to gauge the level of her audience's understanding of the subject matter and reflect this insight in her presentation is extraordinary... She has been a leader in developing our new curriculum in Environmental Engineering Science."
From students: "She peppers her lectures with anecdotal examples that give her students the ability to relate with her as a person, not just an academician... We as students are the real grades for a teacher. From my experience, Professor Nepf has passed her test with flying colors."
An associate professor of theater arts, Janet Sonenberg joined the MIT faculty as an assistant professor in 1992 and was promoted to associate professor in 1997. She has been director of theater arts since 1996. A 1971 graduate of Tufts University, she earned the MFA from the New York University School of Fine Arts in 1978.
Professor Sonenberg received the Baker Undergraduate Teaching Award in 1996. She has extensive experience in directing, productionand casting for the stage, television and movies. At MIT, she has directed productions of Beirut by Alan Bowne (1993), Escape From Happiness by George F. Walker (1996) and The Illusion by Pierre Cornielle (1997). She is on the Comparative Media Studies admissions committee.
Professor Sonenberg recalled a student early in her teaching career who said she had a learning disability in which she could not understand abstract concepts. In order to teach this woman, Professor Sonenberg had to phrase and rephrase each explanation a minimum of three distinctly diffferent ways, always changing the language and metaphors. "I learned that my objective as a teacher is to explain the same darn thing in different ways until everyone in the class understands it," she said.
Comments from colleagues: "Janet's greatest asset as a teacher of theater arts is her ability to demystify the creative process for her students. She cuts through sloppy notions of mere instinctual talent and inspiration and affords her students bedrock tools with which to build a solid intellectual and emotional foundation to their work as directors and actors... I cannot imagine anyone who more embodies Margaret MacVicar's vision of the teacher/scholar/practitioner than Janet."
From students: "She is not just a great teacher, a great explainer or a great motivator; she is a greatly different teacher. She explores the boundaries of how to teach with care, grace and inquiry... Janet brings a charismatic and refreshing spirit to her teaching, and creates intense, vibrant learning environments during theatrical production."
J. KIM VANDIVER
The dean for undergraduate research since 1999, Professor J. Kim Vandiver received the BS in engineering from Harvey Mudd College of Science and Engineering in 1968 and the SM in ocean engineering from MIT in 1969. He returned to MIT after a tour in Vietnam as a first lieutenant in the US Army Corps of Engineers and earned the PhD from the MIT-Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute joint program in 1975. He joined the ocean engineering faculty in 1975 and was promoted to full professor 10 years later.
Dean Vandiver was the founding director of the Harold E. Edgerton Center, created in 1992 to provide hands-on resources and skill-oriented training for students. From 1984-89, he was director of the Experimental Study Group, which employs a system of undergraduate and graduate tutors, lecturers and professors to teach core freshman subjects in small self-paced groups rather than in large lectures. He was chair of the faculty from 1991-93.
Professor Vandiver noted that Dean MacVicar would be delighted that the program honoring her encourages innovation in the classroom. He said he learned three lessons from "Doc" Edgerton, one of MIT's legendary teachers: a good teacher must be a motivator, a showman and an enabler. "I enjoy being an enabler," he said.
Comments from colleagues: "Kim is one of the best teachers in the Institute. He inspires students to learn, he provides students with a firm base in fundamentals, and he gives students an appreciation for the practice of engineering... He is the bedrock of undergraduate hands-on education at MIT... Kim is an advocate, an activist, a doer when it comes to getting undergraduates involved."
From students: "He interacted with each student, working one on one, and encouraged a friendly atmosphere to foster learning and development through class participation and teamwork... It is obvious that Kim loves to teach... What I value most was the interest he showed in my personal development as a leader."
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on March 8, 2001.