Six outstanding teachers at MIT have been named MacVicar Faculty Fellows, recognizing their "exemplary and sustained contributions" to undergraduate education under a new program named for the late Margaret L.A. MacVicar, MIT's first dean of undergraduate education. Dean MacVicar died last September 30 at the age of 47.
The Institute also announced that it has received a $1 million gift from the Exxon Education Foundation to support the MacVicar Faculty Fellows Program. Dean MacVicar served as a director of Exxon Corporation from 1985 until her death.
President Charles M. Vest announced during his inaugural address last May the creation of an endowed Faculty Fellow program to underscore "MIT's commitment to enhance its undergraduate education program." MIT's educational success, he said then, "depends, above all else, on the commitment and inventiveness of our faculty. Excellence in undergraduate teaching must be rewarded and encouraged. To this end, we are establishing an endowed program to recognize faculty members who have profoundly influenced our students through their sustained and significant contributions to teaching and curriculum development."
Provost Mark S. Wrighton, announcing later that the new program would begin in the spring term, said faculty fellows would be appointed for 10-year terms and receive $5,000 each year in discretionary funds for support of educational activities, research, travel and other scholarly expenses. MIT has committed $10 million in endowment to the program, Professor Wrighton said.
The new MacVicar Faculty Fellows are:
Professor Harold Abelson of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.
Professor Edward F. Crawley of the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics.
Professor Daniel S. Kemp of the Department of Chemistry.
Professor Arthur P. Mattuck of the Department of Mathematics.
Professor John B. Southard of the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences.
Professor Graham C. Walker of the Department of Biology.
The program was named the MacVicar Faculty Fellows Program to honor the late dean's untiring efforts, at MIT and nationally, to enhance undergraduate education.
"Margaret L.A. MacVicar was one of MIT's most dedicated educators and scientists," a booklet describing the program said. "An internationally recognized leader in shaping policies both for undergraduate education and for science education in the nation's primary and secondary schools, Professor MacVicar laid the groundwork for many important changes in education at MIT. As a youthful and deeply committed teacher, she founded and guided MIT's Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP). Many believe this to be the most important and influential educational development in this half century at MIT. . ."
President Vest and Provost Wrighton announced the names of the first MacVicar Faculty Fellows at a luncheon on Friday, February 7. The luncheon followed the monthly meeting of the MIT Corporation's Executive Committee.
Attending the lunch as guests of MIT were Dean MacVicar's mother, sisters and brother-in-law; Exxon Corporation's senior vice president, Robert Wilhelm; Edward Ahnert, executive director of the Exxon Education Foundation; the new MacVicar Faculty Fellows; and members of the MIT Executive Committee.
In their luncheon remarks, both President Vest and Provost Wrighton expressed the appreciation of the Institute for support from the Exxon Education Corporation.
Established in 1955 by Exxon Corporation and supported by Exxon Corporation, the Exxon Education Foundation is a nonprofit organization aiding education in the United States. The Foundation's principal areas of interest at this time are mathematics education and the restructuring of elementary and secondary schooling, and it has sponsored a number of innovative, nationally oriented projects in these areas.
Other Foundation activities include programs of support for university-based scientific research and for major national education associations. The Foundation also provides significant general support to higher education by matching 3-to-1 the gifts that Exxon employees and retirees make to colleges and universities. Total Foundation giving in 1991 exceeded $19 million.
When the MacVicar Faculty Fellows program is fully implemented, Provost Wrighton said, there should be 60 to 80 Fellows. The plan is to appoint six to eight new faculty fellows each year.
"Appointment as a MacVicar Fellow is a recognition of exceptional and creative undergraduate educational contributions, with emphasis on recent and current activities," Professor Wrighton said. Fellows are selected on the basis of merit alone. There are no formal quotas for schools or departments.
A call for nominations was issued several months ago. The first MacVicar Faculty Fellows were appointed by the Provost upon the recommendation of a selection committee appointed after consultation with the Chair of the Faculty. The selection committee included two undergraduate students.
The new MacVicar Faculty Fellows include a pioneer in electrical engineering teaching techniques, an aeronautical engineer with a strong interest in space, an organic chemist, a mathematician, a geologist, and a microbiologist.
Each is recognized by current and former students, fellow faculty members and colleagues at other universities and in industry as an outstanding teacher.
Provost Wrighton made available comments from communications he received in support of the six nominations:
Professor Abelson: A distinguished computer scientist with important contributions and publications. . . The award is fitting recognition for his many years of pioneering teaching techniques. . . [His] course, now widely emulated in this country and elsewhere, has introduced several generations of computer scientists to a way of thinking that is a far cry from the usual pedagogy. . . The universal feedback is always that he is a patient mentor, inspired teacher and insightful scientist. . . Some of my most memorable lectures are those in which he and the 6.001 staff put on skits to illustrate important concepts. . . He was not only interested in how we were doing in his course, but he was also genuinely concerned with our well being at MIT.
Professor Crawley: He exemplifies the term teacher. . . His emphasis on teaching and on the importance of the students has been remarkable. . . He has served as a strong role model to [teaching assistants] about how to teach effectively. . . Rather than sitting on his laurels Professor Crawley has continued to make changes to help students to learn as much as possible and at the same time to make that learning as enjoyable as possible. . . Not only an excellent lecturer, but also an instructor who is obviously concerned with the students' welfare and who is open to students' concerns and questions. . . He is always thinking of ways to bring excitement, substance and effectiveness to teaching at all levels. . . I know of no one who better typifies and lives up to the ideal of an MIT professor.
Professor Kemp: Organic chemistry did require a lot of time, but Professor Kemp was such an excellent lecturer that the material was actually fun. . . His goal is for 80 percent of his class to receive an A and he is carefully documenting and compiling his progress toward this goal so that others may learn from his success. . . The finest and most dedicated teacher in our department. . . He is probably the most dedicated undergraduate teacher whom I know and his rapport with students is nearly unparalleled. . . He is a superb educator of our next generation of academics. . . My freshman organic class with Professor Kemp was the best course in my undergraduate career. When I talked with friends from other colleges, even those majoring in chemistry, and told them how much I enjoyed my organic class, most of them were shocked. At other schools, it seems, organic is one of the most disliked classes in the whole undergraduate curriculum.
Professor Mattuck: . . . A teacher with a personal style that is inimitable, unforgetable and inspirational. . . When he speaks to calculus students, you have the feeling that he was up until three the night before working on the problem set with them; how else could he understand so completely what needed to be explained?. . . We have one of the major prophets of teaching walking among us. . . He spent over an hour with me, a confused, incoming transfer, one on one, at an unannounced visit. I was struck by his sincerity. . . He has been active for years in teaching many of the large core courses and has given advice to many young faculty instructors and teaching assistants. . . Professor Mattuck was not only well prepared and clear in his presentations, he was funny.
Professor Southard: Through my UROP project he convinced me to pursue geology as a course of study. He gave me enough freedom to work with my own ideas that I could call the project my own, and at the same time he was able to guide and teach me with such subtlety that my learning experience seemed to be my own discovery. . . He is an excellent teacher because he is not only a good instructor of academic material, he also interacts with his students as a caring human being. . . In a class of 80 students he made an effort to learn everyone's name and succeeded only a couple of weeks into the term. . . When I took his courses, I was amazed to hear that he conducts the research of a full professor as well as teaching his courses. I still don't know how he manages it. . . I never met a student who did not appreciate his concern for teaching and his superior technique.
Professor Walker: Although many undergraduates come to him for help, he really makes each individual feel important. . . There are precious few professors who are as genuinely concerned about the experience undergraduates receive at MIT to the degree that Professor Walker is. . . My experiences with Professor Walker were undoubtedly the most positive part of my undergraduate education. . . He is an exceptional teacher with the rare ability to help students comprehend theoretical concepts and to apply this learning in laboratory situations. . . He has a talent for encouraging each student to develop his or her own potential, giving direction where needed but allowing students to work at their own pace. . . His technique and style of lecturing brought the material to life. His patience and clarity promoted comprehension.
A version of this article appeared in the February 12, 1992 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 36, Number 20).