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Six new MacVicar Fellows honored at luncheon

The teaching excellence of six professors and their "exemplary and sustained contributions" to undergraduate education have been recognized by MIT with their appointments as MacVicar Faculty Fellows. They are:

  • Thomas J. Allen Jr. of the Sloan School of Management
  • Monty Krieger of the Department of Biology.
  • Charles Stewart III of the Department of Political Science.
  • ������Irene Tayler of the Department of Humanities' Literature Section.
  • ������James H. Williams Jr. of the Department of Mechanical Engineering.
  • ������August F. Witt of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering.

The appointments were announced by President Charles M. Vest and Provost Mark S. Wrighton at a MacVicar Fellows Reception and Luncheon Friday, Feb. 5.

The MacVicar Faculty Fellows Program was established by MIT following the death in September 1991 of Margaret L.A. MacVicar, MIT's first dean of undergraduate education. The program honors the late dean's untiring efforts, at MIT and nationally, to enhance undergraduate education. Dean MacVicar was 47 when she died.

MacVicar Fellows-the first six were named last year-serve 10-year terms. The fellowships provide an annual scholar's allowance to assist each fellow in developing ways to enrich the undergraduate learning experience. When the program was announced last year, Provost Wrighton said that MIT will ultimately commit at least $10 million in endowment to support it. MIT's goal is to have 60 to 80 MacVicar Faculty Fellows when the program is fully implemented, appointing six to eight each year.

In his luncheon remarks, President Vest acknowledged important support for the MacVicar Faculty Fellows Program from the Exxon Education Foundation and from Cecil Green.

Dean MacVicar served as a director of Exxon Corporation from 1985 until her death.

In describing the program, President Vest said at the luncheon: "We take our inspiration, of course, from our beloved Margaret MacVicar, whose name graces the program and who, I believe, would wholeheartedly approve of its goals and purpose."

President Vest recognized members of Dean MacVicar's family, including her mother, sister and brother-in-law, who attended the luncheon.

The initial group of MacVicar Faculty Fellows also attended the reception and, with one exception, the luncheon. They are Harold Abelson of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Edward F. Crawley of the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Daniel S. Kemp of the Department of Chemistry, Arthur P. Mattuck of the Department of Mathematics, John B. Southard of the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, and Graham C. Walker of the Department of Biology.

President Vest noted that Professor Mattuck asked to be excused from the luncheon. "Last year, when he received a Fellowship, he felt the occasion justified missing a major lecture for the first time in 35 years. But today, as we speak, he is back in front of his large differential equation class doing what he does so well-teaching."

Professor Wrighton, as he introduced the new group of MacVicar Faculty Fellows, said the honor is a recognition "of exceptional and creative undergraduate educational contributions, with emphasis on recent and current activities." Fellows are selected on the basis of merit alone, he said. There are no formal quotas for schools or departments.

Appointments are made by the provost with advice from a committee appointed after consultation with the chair of the faculty. The advisory committee included two undergraduate students, Kathleen A. Bergeron and Brooks C. Mendell, as well as Dean Arthur C. Smith and Professors Crawley, Walker, Linn W. Hobbs and Pauline R. Maier.

Provost Wrighton read excerpts from communications he had received supporting the nomination of the latest MacVicar Faculty Fellows:

Professor Allen: In his Managerial Psychology Lab, the term `lecture' does not characterize his classes very well. Professor Allen filled the room with excitement. He ran up and down the aisles, speaking, at one point or another, to each student directly. He turned the largest lecture hall at Sloan into a small recitation. Tom is sought out by many of us for aid in moving tough projects forward. His course has long been one of the most popular undergraduate electives. giving young scientists and engineers their first dose of the human side of enterprise, while exposing them to their first (usually only) experience in personally carrying out rigorous social science research. [His] on-campus endeavors are complemented by his off-campus involvement with both precollege and undergraduate life in the Greater Boston area, through his longtime energetic work with Catholic education, as well as with interfaith programs. While his great success as an undergraduate teacher has been more obvious, his leadership in undergraduate research has been equally phenomenal, even if less visible. I could not imagine what awaited me (after enrolling in his Managerial Psychology Laboratory) as I was repeatedly advised, `Whatever you do don't miss a lecture.' . Professor Allen is very willing to talk to his undergraduate students. After class students swarm around Tom as though he were the pied piper. He captured my attention in a manner no other instructor at the Institute has done. I had never imagined that me, a Course 6 diehard, would be so completely captured by the science of organizational behavior.

Professor Krieger: He was, by no small margin, the most stimulating lecturer I encountered at MIT. I still remember the way Krieger reduced the (conventionally) complicated pathways of photosynthesis and glycolysis to some simple bookkeeping concerning the number of carbons and the energy of metabolites. Lectures like those made the concepts of biology accessible to introductory students in a way that I had not seen before or since. He has a contagious enthusiasm for his subject. What I found impressive was how seriously he took teaching and how hard he worked at it. He was the most enthusiastic, captivating and invigorating professor I had ever had, helping us to master a very difficult subject not only in our heads, but also in our souls. I feel that the course at MIT was superior to many of the physiology courses taught at medical schools. and even though my research is in molecular biology and immunology, I still use the thought-processes taught to me by Monty years ago. He went well beyond the traditional level of excellence at MIT. Professor Krieger was always accessible, eager to talk to me about medicine and to give practical advice on medical-school applications. I greatly appreciated his seemingly endless enthusiasm and constant encouragement. He always made a special effort to involve individual students in his lectures, even if classes contained hundreds of students. Monty's enthusiasm in the classroom is near-legendary. He would arrive 10 minutes before the class started to draw complicated pictures or pathways on the boards so as not to waste class time.

Professor Stewart: He is a talanted and ingenious professor. Anyone who has been in a class mixed with graduate and undergraduate students knows that getting the undergraduates to speak up can be quite a trick. Professor Stewart overcomes this difficulty with witty style. I can think of no one more deserving of this award than Professor Stewart. His comments on my papers were humane and made me think more; they were not dry, didactic and downright wounding, like some other professors I have had. Professor Stewart dazzled me. His lectures were concise and thoughtful, incredibly insightful and detailed, across an expansive sweep of American political history. I think I learned as much from him in that `basic' course as I learned in his specialized graduate seminar on Congress. As a freshman, his lectures helped me and the rest of the class understand the significance of what we were learning in our daily lives and how the events of the past affect the events of present-day. He taught with enthusiasm which was contagious. After taking this class I decided to minor in political science. In addition to short segments of lecture, he played agent provocateur in class to lead our discussion. Through this process we learned not only from Professor Stewart, but from other students, and from ourselves. He is a superb teacher in many respects. From week to week, the course is structured so that the readings build on each other and the student's understanding of works previously read is enhanced by new readings. Charles Stewart is the kind of teacher we ought to be growing at MIT, one for whom the challenges and pleasures of research and teaching are mutually supportive.

Professor Tayler: She is one of the most gifted, committed and compassionate teachers in the humanities. Her contributions to the Burchard Scholars Program are but one example of her selfless dedication to undergraduate education. Her classroom artistry is legendary. She enjoys a national reputation as a teacher, spread through the profession by generations of devoted students to whom she has given generously of her knowledge, her wisdom, and often, her friendship. Irene Tayler has been a precious asset and students have recognized her value by ranking her, several times, near the very top of the evaluation ratings, Institute-wide. Her teaching is marked by sensitive, personal concern and undivided attention to students' intellectual development. Her wide interest and comprehensive knowledge of Romantic literature, art, and music have carried over into course offerings that are refreshingly integrated in their attention to several arts and several national traditions. She has become that exceptionally rare being, the scholar-teacher, nationally acclaimed in both activities, who has retained a fresh and vital interest in students at all levels. Professor Tayler brought an excitement and enthusiasm to every topic we covered. She has been a great advisor, teacher and supervisor, and a positive influence on my life. Professor Tayler's expertise and mastery in academic outreach to K-12 teachers should be tapped. Her sense of responsibility for students and her gift for intellectual nurture and intellectual challenge is manifest in every aspect of her teaching. . .

Professor Williams: Jim Williams is the best undergraduate teacher in our department. His dynamics course is a major high spot in the experience of our students. He inspires and enlivens the class by a unique combination of theatrical style, insistence on high standards, and genuine sympathy with each individual student. He has done considerable tutoring, not only for MIT undergraduates, but also for those from Harvard who come to MIT for his course. His patience and willingness to work with undergraduates in their first encounters with research has been of great importance to them and to the department. As both a role model and a dedicated mentor, Jim has spent a great deal of time and effort in working with African-American students, not only in mechanical engineering, but across the campus. His efforts have not only meant that more minority students have been retained at MIT, but that their time here has been a more positive experience all around. Jim works with his TAs and RAs to help them get teaching experience, which will help with finding good undergraduate teachers in the future. Jim is a key resource for MIT's black undergraduate community. He is adviser, mentor, friend, and frequently acts in loco parentis for a large number of undergraduates. His radius of influence extends way beyond his home department. Word has gotten around that Jim can help. He is a valuable role model. The process of education goes on beyond the formalized space of a classroom. Other, more personal spaces can also be used. Jim's space is a particularly clear example.

Professor Witt: Over the last 20 years, Gus has taught one half of all MIT undergraduates. He carries on a sizable research activity of quality, but teaching undergraduates students, especially freshmen, is his first love and primary focus. Many students delight in his lectures to the point that they have their parents sit in on a lecture when they visit campus. Gus Witt's contributions to my undergraduate education were truly exemplary. I cannot conceive how Professor Witt could improve upon his virtuoso teaching performance. It is amazing to me that he can sustain this effort year after year while at the same time managing a world-class research group in electronic materials. He is accessible, innovative and caring. His teaching commitment is absolute. He wants the students to learn and will do anything to achieve that end. His course was my first intense learning experience, which I found so enthralling that I changed my major to Materials Science and Engineering based solely on my experience in Professor Witt's course. I was impressed 11 years ago, and still am today, by Professor Witt's willingness to help any student who walks into his office. The last 10 minutes of every class contained an example from `real life' which related to the material presented during that particular lecture. In addition to being a superior lecturer, Professor Witt also enjoys the company of his students. Gus Witt has uniquely welded his diverse subject matter into a beautifully coherent and exciting story.

A version of this article appeared in the February 10, 1993 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 37, Number 22).

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