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Dennis Freeman appointed dean for undergraduate education

Electrical engineering and computer science professor has lengthy record of leadership in teaching, advising and curricular innovation.
Dennis Freeman, professor of electrical engineering, has been appointed as MIT’s next dean for undergraduate education.
Dennis Freeman, professor of electrical engineering, has been appointed as MIT’s next dean for undergraduate education.
Photo: Greg Hren/Research Laboratory of Electronics at MIT

Dennis Freeman, professor of electrical engineering, has been appointed as MIT’s next dean for undergraduate education, effective July 1, Chancellor Eric Grimson announced today. Freeman succeeds Daniel Hastings, the Cecil and Ida Green Education Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics and Engineering Systems, who has served as dean for undergraduate education since 2006.

In describing Freeman’s commitment to undergraduate education, Grimson said, “He brings to the job many years of dedication to undergraduate teaching, curricular innovation, thoughtful advising and mentoring and creative experiments in lab-based, lecture-based and online-based education.” Freeman served as education officer in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) from 2008 to 2011, and currently serves as the department’s undergraduate officer.

Freeman has a lengthy record of leadership on committees charged with supporting and governing the undergraduate experience at MIT. He has served on the Committee on Curricula, the Task Force on the Undergraduate Commons, the Educational Commons Subcommittee, the Committee on Global Educational Opportunities for MIT Undergraduate Education, the Corporation Joint Advisory Committee and the Institute-wide Planning Task Force, and has chaired the Committee on the Undergraduate Program.

An exceptional educator, Freeman has received numerous teaching awards, including the Ruth and Joel Spira Award for Distinguished Teaching, the Irving M. London Teaching Award and the Bose Award for Excellence in Teaching. He has been a MacVicar Faculty Fellow since 2006, and has on three occasions been the students’ selection as the best academic advisor in EECS.

He recently contributed to the development and teaching of 6.01 (Introduction to EECS I), which introduces software engineering, feedback and control, circuits, probability and planning in a series of hands-on activities involving a mobile robot. Last fall, he worked with EECS department head Anantha Chandrakasan to launch the department’s new “SuperUROP” program, which attracted 77 students to complete yearlong research projects.

Freeman is a member of the Research Laboratory of Electronics, where his group studies cochlear micromechanics. His group was the first to directly measure sound-induced motions of cells and accessory structures in the inner ear. Earlier this spring, the group discovered a new mechanism that could help explain the sensitivity and frequency selectivity of human hearing.

Through leadership of the offices that comprise the DUE — the Admissions Office, Global Education and Career Development, the Office of Experiential Learning, the Office of Faculty Support, the Office of Minority Education, the Office of the Registrar, the Office of Undergraduate Advising and Academic Programming, ROTC Programs, Student Financial Services and the Teaching and Learning Laboratory — the dean for undergraduate education holds a wide range of responsibilities that support and enhance integrated student learning inside and outside of the classroom.

Grimson described the importance of the dean’s role in reimagining the future of an MIT education. “With the evolution of MITx under the new Office of Digital Learning,” Grimson said, “I expect Professor Freeman to play a key collaborative role in furthering the development of new approaches to residential education.”

Freeman will also work to bring a recent faculty resolution on freshman advising to fruition. At last month’s Institute Faculty Meeting, the faculty approved a motion that calls on the administration — and the dean for undergraduate education, in particular — to partner with the faculty governance system to ensure that every freshman is paired with an MIT faculty member.

Freeman believes that technological advances are enabling entirely new ways to think about teaching and learning. “The potential of MITx is not only improved access to content,” he said, “but also the development of entirely new modes of interaction for members of the MIT community.” A strong advocate of MIT’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP), Freeman envisions a future in which MITx can enable even more opportunities to learn by doing. "If we can rely on a solid foundation built on MITx, then faculty will have more freedom to interact with students in projects and UROPs.”

Freeman also believes that technological advances could transform other important aspects of the undergraduate experience. “Students want and deserve information about the best possible subjects to achieve their career goals,” he said. “Imagine a system in which students and faculty could access not only comments from end-of-term surveys, but also access advice from successful alumni about the kinds of experiences that were helpful in their careers. Such a system is not technologically difficult, but could add new dimensions to student advising.”

Freeman is a fellow of the Acoustical Society of America. He received an SB degree in electrical engineering from Pennsylvania State University, and SM and PhD degrees in electrical engineering and computer science from MIT.

Professor of Biology Graham C. Walker chaired the search committee, whose members also included faculty members Steve Graves, Anette “Peko” Hosoi, John Ochsendorf, Christine Ortiz, Julie Soriero, Gigliola Staffilani, Collin Stultz and Kai von Fintel; students Chris Smith, Grace Young and Anu Sinha; and senior associate dean Elizabeth Reed.

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