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MIT Professor Williams to help develop writing courses for engineering students

MIT Professor James H. Williams Jr.
MIT Professor James H. Williams Jr.
Photo / Edward McCluney

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- MIT Professor James H. Williams Jr. has received a joint appointment in the School of Engineering and the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (SHASS).

He will collaborate with colleagues, including Professor James G. Paradis, head of the Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies, to develop writing courses for engineering students. The two have already begun several projects aimed at engineers and scientists.

"I believe we have the most intellectually diverse and gifted undergraduates in the world," said Professor Williams. "As a faculty, we could do significantly better at tapping into their rich collection of talents in order to guide them to where they want to go as well as to where we want to take them. We too frequently forget that they are less like buckets to be filled than rockets to be lit."

Professor Williams will be the Professor of Writing and Humanistic Studies in SHASS and the School of Engineering Professor in Teaching Excellence. He was reappointed to the latter position, which he has held since 1991. His appointments were announced in separate letters by Deans Philip S. Khoury of SHASS and Thomas L. Magnanti of the School of Engineering.

"Please accept my sincere appreciation for your efforts to strengthen the ties between engineering and humanities and for applying your interest in communications to help the Institute to implement the Communications Intensive Requirement," Dean Magnanti wrote.

"I would like to express my deep appreciation to President Charles M. Vest and the MIT administration for this acknowledgment of my broad interests and their encouragement of my continuing contributions to the Institute," said Professor Williams. "I am also grateful to Dean Thomas L. Magnanti, Dean Philip S. Khoury, Professor James G. Paradis, and Professor Nam P. Suh for their supportive roles in facilitating this appointment, which has been a year-long tenure-like process."

Professor Williams has been a longtime advocate of placing greater emphasis on humanistic subjects and developing better communication skills among MIT students. His textbook Fundamentals of Applied Dynamics interweaves the historical and technical aspects of the subject. He has written numerous papers, reports, and op-ed articles and is currently working with Kenneth R. Manning, the Thomas Meloy Professor of Rhetoric and of the History of Science, on a series of writing projects on historical and contemporary issues.

"During the past year, I have gotten to know many of the faculty in writing and humanistic studies and read a small portion of their work," he said. "I am delighted to have the opportunity to be affiliated with such an ingenious and versatile group of scholars, whose depth and breadth of work should be better known within our community. For example, Professors Alan Lightman, Cynthia Wolff, Anita Desai, and Robert Kanigel, among others, are eminently accomplished colleagues who are known worldwide to millions of readers."

Professor Williams, who received undergraduate and graduate degrees in mechanical engineering at MIT in 1967 and 1968, respectively, joined the MIT faculty in 1970 after earning the PhD from Trinity College, Cambridge University. He is a Margaret MacVicar Faculty Fellow and a Charles F. Hopewell Faculty Fellow.

He will continue to conduct research and supervise graduate students primarily on theoretical ultrasonics and thermography in the Composite Materials and Nondestructive Evaluation Laboratory.

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