Faculty members named MacVicar Fellows for 2002


Three professors from the School of Science and one each from the Schools of Engineering and Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences were named MacVicar Faculty Fellows Friday in recognition of their innovative teaching practices and accomplishments.

Professors Alan H. Guth of physics, Steven R. Hall of aeronautics and astronautics, Kip V. Hodges of earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences, Nancy G. Kanwisher of brain and cognitive sciences and the McGovern Institute for Brain Research, and David Thorburn of literature join an elite group of 46 MacVicar Fellows named from 1992-2001.

The formal presentations were made by Provost Robert A. Brown at the MIT Corporation luncheon in 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 11th 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. Dean MacVicar died in 1991.

Before the 2002 Fellows were introduced, President Charles M. Vest acknowledged the presence of Dean MacVicar's mother, Margaret; her sisters, Anne and Victoria; and Victoria's husband, Robert Howell. He also noted that Edward Ahnert, president of the Exxon Mobil Foundation, was in the audience.

"A very generous gift from the Exxon Education Foundation helped launch the Fellows Program," Vest said. "The vision and generosity of Exxon and other supporters allow the MacVicar Faculty Fellows to enhance and enrich the undergraduate experience at MIT. In doing so, they carry on the work which made Margaret MacVicar so important in the lives of our students and faculty."

The fellowships provide an annual scholar's allowance to assist each Fellow in developing ways to enrich the undergraduate learning experience. MacVicar Faculty Fellows serve 10-year terms.


Guth (S.B. and S.M. 1969, Ph.D.) joined the MIT faculty in 1980 as a visiting associate professor. He published the first satisfactory model of the universe's development in the first 10-32 second after the Big Bang in 1981, the same year he became an associate professor. He was promoted to professor in 1986. Guth was the first holder of both the Jerrold Zacharias Professorship of Physics (1989-91) and the Victor F. Weiskopf Professorship of Physics (1992-present). Before joining the MIT faculty, he was an instructor and researcher at Princeton, Columbia, Cornell and Stanford universities.

In 1998-99, Guth received the School of Science Prize for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching for his 8.01 (Introductory Mechanics) lectures. He has taught an undergraduate course on the early universe (8.286) every other year since 1986. Guth is the author of the book, "The Inflationary Universe: The Quest for a New Theory of Cosmic Origins," published in 1997.

In accepting the honor, Guth recalled wondering if he'd ever get the opportunity to join the MIT faculty. When seeking opportunities in 1980, he opened a fortune cookie while being wooed at dinner by the University of Maryland and read: "An exciting appointment awaits you if you're not too timid." He wasted no time calling his alma mater. "Within 24 hours, they called me back to tell me they had a job for me," said Guth.

In comments to the MacVicar Nominating Committee, a colleague said of him: "Professor Guth is a full professor in the most literal meaning of the title and a perfect example of what a professor at MIT should be. He is a distinguished scientist, originator of a major branch of cosmology and member of the National Academy of Sciences. At the same time he is an outstanding and dedicated teacher and educator."

A student told the committee: "I came to MIT hoping to find professors like Alan Guth. I was lucky to meet him during my freshman year."


Hall (S.B. 1980, S.M., Sc.D.) joined the MIT faculty in 1985 as an assistant professor. He was promoted to associate professor in 1991 and full professor in 2000. Hall was a visiting professor at the University of Mich-
igan during the 1992-93 academic year.

He was named the first Bipslingoff Faculty Fellow in 1997, serving a three-year term during which he investigated innovative teaching techniques and the use of technology to improve classroom effectiveness. Hall was the Finmeccanica Career Development Assistant Professor in 1990-91 and the Finmeccanica Career Development Associate Professor in 1991-92.

"I'm fortunate to work in a department in which innovation is not only encouraged, it is expected," said Hall.

A colleague said of him in comments to the MacVicar Nominating Committee: "He goes the extra mile in thinking seriously about education at the Institute, in coming up with solutions and new techniques, and in sharing them both directly and by example with other faculty at the Institute."

A student told the committee: "Apart from his exceptional traditional teaching skills, Professor Hall introduced a number of as-yet-unfamiliar teaching devices to the classroom that aided the learning process immensely. Most notable were the 'Muddiest Part of the Lecture' cards we were given at the beginning of each lecture. These cards were to be filled out at the end of the lecture with two pieces of information: the part of the lecture that was least clear to the respondent and what the respondent thought the key point of lecture was. Professor Hall was meticulous in answering every student's question on a daily basis and placing those answers on the course web page."


Hodges, a 1978 geology graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, received the Ph.D. from MIT in geology in 1982. He was an assistant professor at the University of Wyoming for a year before joining the MIT faculty as an assistant professor in 1983. He was promoted to associate professor in 1987 and professor in 1993. He received the MIT Graduate Student Council Award for Teaching Excellence in 1986.

Now the chair of the Committee on the Undergraduate Program, Hodges served as dean for undergraduate curriculum from 1997 to 1999. He is an ex-officio member of the Committee on Curricula and the Faculty Policy Committee.

On MacVicar Day last year, Hodges conducted a teaching demonstration based on Mission 2004, a cross-disciplinary problem-solving collaborative learning experience in which 49 freshmen were asked to develop a viable plan for the exploration of Mars. The program was titled "Inciting the Learning Process: Can Solving Complex Problems Invigorate the Freshman Year?"

Hodges told the Faculty Club at last week's gathering, "I'm gratified just to be part of innovative education at the Institute."

A colleague commented to the MacVicar Nominating Committee: "Since becoming a faculty member at MIT, Kip Hodges has been a consistent proponent of, and contributor to, quality undergraduate education. He has truly distinguished himself through his exceptional and creative service to undergraduate teaching and education."

A student told the committee: "Kip Hodges teaches students truly how to create and explore. He is a demanding teacher because he inspires his students to demand much of themselves."


Kanwisher (S.B. 1980, Ph.D.) joined the MIT faculty as an associate professor in brain and cognitive sciences in 1997. She was named to the faculty of the McGovern Institute and promoted to professor in 2001. Before returning to MIT, she held the John L. Loeb Professorship of the Social Sciences in Harvard University's Department of Psychology.

She previously had affiliations with UCLA, the University of California at Berkeley and Columbia University.

Kanwisher received an Alumni Fund grant in 2000 to design a 16-unit laboratory class in which students will design and run their own brain-imaging experiments using MRI, then analyze the results. In 1999, she received a $35,000 Troland Research Award from the National Academy of Sciences "for her innovative research on visual attention, awareness and imagery, including the characterization of a face perception module and discovery of a place encoding module." She was a MacArthur Foundation Fellow in Peace and International Security from 1986 to 1988.

"It is a great privilege to do these experiments" and include undergraduates in the process, Kanwisher said. "Where else but MIT could you get support for a course this wacky and wild?"

Comments from colleagues to the MacVicar Nominating Committee about Professor Kanwisher included the following: "Kanwisher is an innovator in course design. Her undergraduate subject in neuro-imaging, developed at great personal effort, is ahead of its time. I predict that within five or 10 years the best programs in neuroscience will all want to have such courses and will look to Kanwisher for guidance in designing and implementing them."

A student told the MacVicar Nominating committee: "Professor Kanwisher is the best professor I've ever had in my whole life. I enjoyed every single class."


Thorburn received an A.B. from Princeton and an M.A. and Ph.D. from Stanford and taught in the English Department at Yale for 10 years before joining the MIT literature faculty in 1976. He has held visiting appointments at the University of Illinois, the University of California at Santa Barbara, George Washington University and the Bread Loaf School of English.

Thorburn was the founder and for 12 years the director of MIT's Film and Media Studies program, the precursor to today's Comparative Media Studies (CMS) program. He serves on the governing board of CMS and is a former director of the Cultural Studies Project. He is currently director of the MIT Communications Forum.

His course on American television was one of the first in the country to examine the medium in a humanistic context. He has lectured widely in the United States and abroad, with special emphasis on media culture and on the teaching of literature. In 1996 he was named Distinguished Lecturer to the National Literature Project of the National Council of Teachers of English.

He is author of "Conrad's Romanticism" and many essays and reviews on literary, cultural and media topics. He has edited collections of essays on romanticism and on John Updike, as well as a widely used anthology of fiction titled "Initiation." He is editor in chief of the new MIT Press book series, "Media in Transition."

"I'm deeply grateful for this recognition, but I'm conscious as well of how arbitrary it is for me to be singled out from a group of teachers as gifted and committed as my colleagues in the literature faculty," he said. "They--we are truly a special group. Better than any faculty I know of in this country, they keep alive the ideal of the teacher-scholar. I accept this award on behalf of my comrades in the Literature Section of MIT."

He then read the names of the other 16 professors in the group: James Buzard, James Cain, Peter Donaldson, Howard Eiland, Mary Fuller, Diana Henderson, John Hildebidle, Noel Jackson, Henry Jenkins, Wyn Kelley, Alvin Kibel, Christina Klein, Ruth Perry, Shankar Raman, Stephen Tapscott and William Uricchio.

A colleague said of Thorburn: "He has devised, instituted and overseen lasting and influential curricular change in literature and in media studies at MIT, change that has become the basis for a rich intellectual community of teachers and students and has led to the successful launch of MIT's first graduate program centered in the humanities sections, the Comparative Media Studies Program."

A student told the MacVicar Nominating Committee: "As undergraduates, we all know that MIT is the best place for us to get that top-notch science education that we've dreamt about. However, there's also this suspicion that we're giving up something to come here, that we'll only get a second-rate education in the humanities. David Thorburn is one of the main reasons why this is simply not the case."

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on March 6, 2002.

Topics: Faculty

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