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Professor Eric Grimson named next chancellor

Current head of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science to succeed Phillip L. Clay.
Eric Grimson
Eric Grimson
Photo: Dominick Reuter

Today, MIT President Susan Hockfield announced the appointment of Professor Eric Grimson as the next Chancellor of MIT. He succeeds Phillip L. Clay, who in November announced his decision to step down after serving in the role for nearly 10 years.

Grimson is the Bernard Gordon Professor of Medical Engineering and Head of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

“I am very pleased that Professor Grimson has agreed to take on this critical post,” said Hockfield. “He has demonstrated in every imaginable way his commitment to ensuring the fullness of the educational experience of our students. His record of scholarship, teaching and service to MIT is measured not only in decades, but also in the thousands of students he has taught, advised and mentored.”

“Professor Grimson will inherit an office strengthened by Chancellor Clay’s wisdom and vision and that carries his legacy of connections and collaborations across MIT and around the world. We are all greatly indebted to the Chancellor for his service,” Hockfield said. Professor Clay will assume the role of Senior Advisor to President Hockfield and will continue his leadership of the Campaign for Students to its conclusion in June. He will also continue to serve as an MIT ambassador to the region and the world.

Grimson’s selection is the product of a process that called on the Institute’s faculty, staff and student leaders. The Office of the President reached out to the presidents and vice presidents of the Undergraduate Association, the Graduate Student Council, the Dormitory Council, the Interfraternity Council and the Panhellenic Association to solicit their recommendations. Those student leaders formed a committee of students to propose recommendations, which the student leaders presented in a meeting with President Hockfield. In addition, Hockfield met with dozens of faculty and staff leaders from across the Institute to hear their thoughts on qualities and attributes most important in the role. 

Professor Grimson’s appointment as chancellor will become effective March 1, 2011.

“I am honored and thrilled to be given this opportunity,” said Grimson. “MIT has been my home for 35 years, and students have sustained and engaged me for all that time. Teaching them has been both an honor and a pleasure. In fact, I plan to continue to teach as long as my schedule allows, because I know no better way to stay close to students and to understand how best the Institute can serve them.”

A long record of service to MIT

A leading expert in computer vision, Grimson has served as the Head of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) since 2005. As a member of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, Grimson led the computer vision group as it pioneered state-of-the-art systems for activity and behavior recognition, object and person recognition, image database indexing, image guided surgery, site modeling and many other areas of computer vision. Grimson previously served as the Education Officer for EECS and as Associate Department Head.

Grimson and his students have designed systems to recognize objects, to find images on the Web, and to build 3-D models from images. Since 1993, he and his students have applied vision methods to medical image analysis; they have built systems used to help neurosurgeons plan and execute minimally invasive surgeries; and they have designed methods to measure changes in brain structures caused by diseases such as schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s.

Grimson has long prized teaching as much as research — and he has drawn particular satisfaction from teaching introductory classes. For 25 years he lectured 6.001 (Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs) and is now engaged in teaching 6.00 (Introduction to Computer Science and Programming) and 6.01 (Introduction to EECS). He has also taught undergraduate subjects in computer architecture, software engineering and signal processing. In all, Grimson has taught some 10,000 MIT undergraduates and served as the thesis supervisor to almost 50 MIT Ph.D.’s.

Grimson has also long been active in service to the MIT community and, in particular, to students. He has served on the Commencement Committee for 20 years, chairing it for the past 13. He chairs the Faculty Advisory Committee on Student Support Services, serves on the governing board of the Gordon Engineering Leadership Program, and co-chaired the Education Working Group of the Provost’s Budget Task Force. He currently is academic advisor to 26 EECS students.

“From the moment I came to MIT, I have enjoyed a life rich in cross-disciplinary thinking and collaboration,” said Grimson. “When I pursued my Ph.D. in mathematics, I worked in the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory — and my thesis supervisor was a professor of psychology. Since joining the faculty in 1984, I have found that many of the most profound achievements in research are made across fields — and that the key to making students comfortable in stretching out across the Institute and beyond is to nurture not only their technical and analytical ability, but also their ability to build teams, communicate, and make personal and intellectual connections. In my new role, I want simply to help our awe-inspiring students reach their full potential and, as a major part of that, to know themselves as leaders.”

Grimson has enjoyed nearly two decades of collaboration with colleagues at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, where his students interact closely with clinicians.

Grimson is a recipient of the Bose Award for Excellence in Teaching in the School of Engineering at MIT. He is a Fellow of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI) and a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).

Grimson received a B.Sc. (High Honours) in Mathematics and Physics from the University of Regina (Canada) in 1975 and a Ph.D. in Mathematics from MIT in 1980.

Grimson lives in Lexington with his wife, Ellen Hildreth, a Wellesley College Professor. Their two sons are a RISD-trained freelance artist and a sophomore at the University of British Columbia.

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