Two former Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Visiting Professors will receive Leadership Awards at MIT's 27th annual MIT Celebratory Breakfast to honor the life and legacy of Dr. King on February 8.
Junior Desiree Ramirez, who has devoted herself to racial and cultural interaction in the MIT community, will also be honored along with Professor Wesley Harris of aeronautics and astronautics and Harvey Gantt, a civil rights leader and the former mayor of Charlotte, NC. Professor Harris was an MLK Visiting Professor in 1995-96, Mr. Gantt in 1999-00.
The MIT community is invited to the 7:30am breakfast, hosted by President Charles M. Vest and his wife, Rebecca M. Vest. Seating is limited, with reservations required by Monday, Feb. 5. For information, see
PROFESSOR WESLEY HARRIS
Professor Harris, an expert in the field of helicopter rotor aerodynamics and acoustics, is currently on sabbatical as the Goldwater Professor of American Institutions at Arizona State University in Tempe, AZ.
An MIT faculty member from 1972-85, Professor Harris was the first director of the Office of Minority Education from 1975-79. He left MIT to become dean of engineering at the University of Connecticut and was later vice president of the University of Tennessee and head of its Space Institute. Before returning to MIT as an MLK Visiting Professor, he was NASA's associate administrator for aeronautics. He rejoined the faculty in 1996.
A member of the National Academy of Engineering, Professor Harris holds the BS (1964) in aerospace engineering from the University of Virginia and the MA (1966) and PhD (1968) in aerospace and mechanical science from Princeton University. He also holds an honorary doctorate (1995) from Old Dominion University. He is a Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and of the American Helicopter Society.
Confirming the nomination, Professor Emeritus Leon Trilling of aeronautics and astronautics described Professor Harris as "an articulate spokesman for the causes of minorities as students and staff."
Professor Trilling, who received an MLK Leadership Award in 1996, continued: "I want to highlight what is not necessarily obvious from the formal record. That is his outstanding presence as a role model -- professionally to be sure, but more to the point, personally and morally. I have seen him counsel students with a mixture of sternness and support, and a degree of follow-up which motivated the students to do what needed to be done."
After attending Iowa State University from 1960-62, Mr. Gantt enrolled at Clemson University in 1963 under a federal court order, becoming the first black to attend the previously all-white school in South Carolina. He graduated with honors in 1965 and went on to earn the MCP from MIT in 1970.
A partner in Gantt Huberman Architects in Charlotte, he served as the city's mayor from 1981-87 and ran against longtime incumbent US Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC) in 1990 and 1996. He was a visiting professor in the Department of Architecture.
In nominating Mr. Gantt, Professor Bish Sanyal, chair of the Department of Urban Studies and Planning, noted his "courageous and historic efforts as an activist mayor and senatorial candidate." He also cited Mr. Gantt's "exceptional commitment to addressing the problems of our nation's inner cities, and the unique roles that architects and planners can bring to this process."
Ms. Ramirez, a chemical engineering major from Carmichael, CA, was president of LUChA (La Uniï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½n Chicana por Atzlï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½n) last year. She has been a teaching assistant and freshman associate advisor to Dr. Clarence C. Williams for the past two years, leading discussions on racial and culturally sensitive topics. In confirming her nomination, Dr. Williams wrote: "Her leadership in the freshman seminar was one of the finest examples of student teaching and individual growth in the arena of race and culture that I have witnessed during my tenure of teaching in this area."
Dr. Williams, a special assistant to President Vest and an adjunct professor of urban studies and planning, was Ms. Ramirez's freshman advisor. "After her freshman year, she was determined to make a difference in the MIT Latino student community," he said. "She, along with several other female students, founded a Latina sorority (Phi Delta Upsilon, La Fuerza de Damas Unidas) aimed at creating positive interaction among female students in the Latino community, and the MIT general community. Desiree's leadership has been in the forefront of this movement."
Dr. Williams's book, Technology and the Dream: Reflections on the Black Experience at MIT, 1941-99 (MIT Press, $37.95), will be on sale for $31.36, a 20 percent discount, at the breakfast. The book contains interviews with African-American alumni and alumnae, faculty and others who were instrumental in changing the face of MIT.
The Leadership Award winners were selected by the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Committee, co-chaired by Dean Leo Osgood Jr. of the Office of Minority Education and Professor Michael S. Feld of physics.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on January 31, 2001.