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Kaiser, Vale, Slocum named MacVicar Fellows

Associate Professors Chris A. Kaiser of biology and Lawrence J. Vale of urban studies and planning and Professor Alexander H. Slocum of mechanical engineering have been named 1998-99 MacVicar Faculty Fellows.

The appointments were announced at the annual MacVicar Fellows reception and luncheon hosted by President Charles Vest and his wife, Rebecca, at the President's House last Friday. Provost Robert A. Brown made the formal presentations at the event, which also included a talk by Dartmouth College President Emeritus James O. Freedman. Thirty-four Fellows have been named since the program was established to honor Margaret L.A. MacVicar, MIT's first dean of undergraduate education, who died in 1991 at age 47.

The program was designed to create an elite group of MIT scholars committed to excellence in teaching and innovation in education, causes championed by Dean MacVicar at MIT and nationally. The fellowships provide an annual scholar's allowance to assist each Fellow in developing ways to enrich the undergraduate learning experience. MacVicar Fellows serve 10-year terms.

Professor Kaiser came to MIT in 1981 to study for his PhD in biochemistry. A graduate of Harvard University, he joined the MIT faculty in 1991. When he arrived, he was assigned to teach 7.03 (Genetics).

"In the first couple of years we probably made every mistake possible," he said, crediting an IAP course taught by MacVicar Fellow Daniel S. Kemp with providing a blueprint for making a large course interesting and relevant. "He was an inspiration to me," said Professor Kaiser, who continues to teach 7.03 and finds new ways to improve the class that are very rewarding. He was also instrumental in developing a series of high level seminars for undergraduates taught by postdoctoral fellows. The highly successful program is in its fourth year.

Professor Vale, a graduate of Amherst College who did postgraduate work at Oxford University, Harvard and MIT, heads the undergraduate program at the Department of Urban Studies and Planning. Under his direction from 1992-94 and 1996-present, he has guided the department toward increased undergraduate enrollment, broadening the curriculum by introducing a series of magnet subjects aimed at a broad audience. An example of these magnet subjects, "Big Plans," is an attempt to bridge urban planning, politics, economic development and civil engineering.

Professor Vale, who served on the MacVicar Advisory Committee in 1997, suggested in a memo that Professor Lawrence Bacow, now the chancellor, be nominated for a MacVicar Fellowship. Once Professor Bacow was named chancellor, Professor Vale joked, "I assumed that the chair read the memo quickly and he saw the name Larry..."

Professor Slocum earned the SB, SM and PhD from MIT and joined the faculty in 1985. He has primary responsibility for 2.007 (Design and Manufacturing), one of the best-known college courses in the world. Known for his energy and enthusiasm, Professor Slocum said he was inspired by MacVicar Fellow Woodie Flowers, his first UROP adviser and a faculty member he encountered early in his undergraduate career -- "a thermonuclear-powered professor," he said. He described his own educational philosophy: "Get them to never stop asking questions. I know I've succeeded when they realize, 'I can do anything if I keep asking why.'"

Appointments as MacVicar Fellows are made by the Provost from recommendations forwarded by an advisory committee of MacVicar Fellows, faculty members and undergraduates. The committee for 1999 was chaired by Dean of Students and Undergraduate Education Rosalind H. Williams.

The program has received key support from the Exxon Education Foundation -- Dean MacVicar had been an Exxon Corp. director for six years at the time of her death -- and from Cecil Green (SB 1923), life member emeritus of the Corporation who supported many of Dean MacVicar's initiatives. Gifts to the program have also come from alumni/ae, including a 25th reunion gift from the Class of 1968 to endow a Fellowship.

Professors Kaiser, Vale and Slocum join 31 previously named Fellows. They are:

Harold Abelson, electrical engineering and computer science (EECS); Thomas J. Allen, Sloan School; Richard P. Binzel, earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences (EAPS); Gene M. Brown, biology; Wit Busza, physics; Edward F. Crawley, aeronautics and astronautics; Sylvia T. Ceyer, chemistry; Rick L. Danheiser, chemistry; John M. Essigmann, chemistry and toxicology; Woodie C. Flowers, mechanical engineering; Thomas J. Greytak, physics; Robert L. Jaffe, physics; Daniel S. Kemp, chemistry; Monty Krieger, biology; Paul A. Lagace, aero/astro; Lowell E. Lindgren, music; Ole S. Madsen, civil and environmental engineering; Arthur P. Mattuck, mathematics; Alan V. Oppenheim, EECS; Margery Resnick, foreign languages and literatures; Michael F. Rubner, materials science and engineering (MSE); Donald R. Sadoway, MSE; Robert J. Silbey, chemistry; John B. Southard, EAPS; Arthur Steinberg, anthropology and archaeology; Charles H. Stewart III, political science; Irene Tayler, literature; Marcus A. Thompson, music and theater arts; Graham C. Walker, biology; James H. Williams Jr., mechanical engineering; and August F. Witt, MSE.

Following are excerpts from the comments of colleagues and students to the committee about this year's Fellows.


A MacVicar Fellow: "A wonderfully gifted teacher loved by his students and a truly outstanding candidate for this award. Chris cares about his teaching with the quiet passion that marks the best of the master teachers at MIT and there is no question that many of the students sense this. Their comments in the course evaluations describe him as 'always prepared, friendly, sensitive to questions,' as 'enthusiastic and funny,' as having 'excellent board technique,' and constantly praise his 'beautifully organized lecture notes.'"

Other faculty: "The overall effectiveness of Chris as a teacher is reflected by his sterling student evaluations, which make me quite green with envy."

Students: "One of the best lecturers I've ever had in three years here. If there were more lecturers like him, this place would seem less like a hellish factory for engineers and more like an institution that actually cares if the students learn anything... Professor Kaiser has contributed to my undergraduate education more than any other professor. He is a superb educator and mentor... Professor Kaiser was one of the best teachers I have ever learned from. He inspired me to begin teaching myself...

"I may not remember every last detail about genetics, but I do remember having an excellent professor who gave us understanding, something far more important than facts. Some professors enter the lecture hall and teach the subject; Professor Kaiser enters the classroom and teaches the students."


Faculty: "He is gifted with the instincts of a born teacher; this means he is wise, creative and sensibly caring in the way he enables learning. Add then to those instincts an enthusiasm for the teaching task and a rigor that insists it is done well. Then add his deep intelligence as a problem solver and his intellect as a scholar. Finally bring to that mix a deep commitment to MIT and to its highest expectations for undergraduates and you have a faculty member embodying the ideals Margaret MacVicar so eloquently sought to see at MIT."

Students: "Professor Vale has proved to be an exemplary academic counselor, a knowledgeable and forthcoming departmental source of information, a tireless champion of the undergraduate curriculum, and a valued friend... Professor Vale valued the opinions of his students, even on issues which he had greater knowledge. He treated his students as equals, which encouraged them to learn and to express their opinions. This made the class much more fun than the typical undergraduate class, and greatly enhanced the educational process."


A MacVicar Fellow: "Professor Slocum is a creative powerhouse. He attracts students with his own energetic blend of analysis and creativity. Students listen to him."

Faculty: "Alex is driven to teach. He has a passionate commitment to the idea that mechanical engineering students must be able to design... He is idolized by his students... Alex is truly one of the gems of the MIT faculty who can inspire students with his enthusiasm and then direct this liberated energy towards active and fruitful learning experiences."

Students: "His clear and uncompromising dedication to the quality and value of the undergraduate experience is a tremendous asset to MIT. He is an inspiration... His contagious enthusiasm (it is impossible to be bored in his class!), passion for improving students' understanding, and patient, but motivating oversight, make him an indispensable asset to MIT... His crazy sense of humor leaves you no choice but to get excited about design. His door is usually open, and that's without an appointment, and he actually does care about students, seen in his willingness to be a freshman advisor!"

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on February 10, 1999.

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