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MIT and Knight Foundation complete six-year, $7.5 million endowment drive

MIT President Charles M. Vest and officials of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation met in Miami January 20 to celebrate completion of a $7.5 million drive to endow the Knight Science Journalism Fellowships at MIT.

The program appointed the first of 12 groups of fellows in 1983. The fellowships bring experienced science journalists to the MIT campus for nine months of individual and group study. Scores of MIT faculty members have been guest speakers at the fellows' twice-weekly seminars on current work in engineering and science.

At a breakfast with Knight Foundation President Creed Black, Chairman Lee Hills and other officers, Dr. Vest said, "Public understanding of science and technology is an increasingly significant educational mission for MIT. The Knight Science Journalism Fellowships, now established permanently, are an important way for us to carry out that mission."

Visiting Knight Foundation headquarters, Dr. Vest presented the Foundation with a portfolio of letters from 104 of the 120 former fellows and progress reports from the current Knight Fellows. Entitled "A Year That Made A Difference," the portfolio was produced by MIT Design Services. Dr. Vest was accompanied by Victor K. McElheny, director of the Knight Fellowships.

The Knight Foundation launched the drive by committing $5 million in March 1989 on condition that MIT raise an additional $2.5 million. Because the fellowships were supported under the Knight Foundation's 1987 commitment of $3.257 million for operations over seven years, the endowment funds could accumulate until July 1, 1994. The endowment's income now meets approximately three quarters of core expenses.

MIT raised its quota from sources such as alumni, foundations, news companies and former fellows. As each of five annual goals was met, Knight Foundation added $1 million to the growing Public Understanding of Technology and Science Fund at MIT.

Among the donors to the MIT effort were the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations of Jacksonville, FL; Cox Newspapers of Atlanta; Media General of Richmond; The McGraw-Hill Foundation of New York; the Garfield Foundation of Philadelphia; and Robert C. Cowen '49, a science journalist and advisor to the program. Some 70 former fellows also contributed.

The program began operations in 1982 with a total of $1.5 million in commitments from the Alfred P. Sloan and Andrew W. Mellon Foundations, both original sponsors of the STS program. The fellowships are part of MIT's Program in Science, Technology and Society in the School of Humanities and Social Science.

Recent prizes awarded to former fellows include the 1994 AAAS-Westinghouse Science Journalism Award won by David Baron, a fellow in 1989-90 and now science reporter at WBUR-FM, Boston, and who also won the award in 1992; the Bradford Washburn Award of Boston's Museum of Science won by Paula S. Apsell, a fellow in 1983-84 who is executive producer of NOVA at WGBH and a former AAAS-Westinghouse winner, and the first John B. Oakes Award for Distinguished Environmental Journalism won by Joseph B. Verrengia, a fellow in 1986-87 who is science reporter for the Rocky Mountain News in Denver.

On January 25, the current Knight Fellows met with Deborah Blum, science reporter for the Sacramento Bee, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1992 for her reporting on the use of monkeys in medical and psychological research. Ms. Blum addressed a forum at MIT in 1992. Her book, The Monkey Wars, was published by Oxford University Press in October 1994.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on February 1, 1995.

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