A planetary scientist, a biochemist, a design engineer and a coastal engineer have been recognized by MIT for their teaching excellence and their "exemplary and sustained contributions" to undergraduate education with their appointments as MacVicar Faculty Fellows. They are:
- Richard P. Binzel, associate professor of planetary sciences in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences.
- Gene M. Brown of the Department of Biology, the Whitehead Professor of Biochemistry.
- Woodie C. Flowers of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, the School of Engineering Professor of Teaching Innovation.
- Ole S. Madsen of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.
The appointments were announced by President Charles M. Vest and Provost Mark S. Wrighton at a MacVicar Fellows reception and luncheon on Friday, Feb. 4.
The MacVicar Faculty Fellows Program was established by MIT following the death in September 1991 of Margaret L.A. MacVicar, MIT's first dean of undergraduate education. The program honors the late dean's untiring efforts-at MIT and nationally-to enhance undergraduate education. Dean MacVicar was 47 when she died.
MacVicar Fellows, of which this is the third group, serve 10-year terms. The fellowships provide an annual scholar's allowance to assist each fellow in developing ways to enrich the undergraduate learning experience. When the program was announced, Provost Wrighton said that MIT will ultimately commit at least $10 million in endowment to support it. MIT's goal is to have 60 to 80 MacVicar Faculty Fellows when the program is fully implemented.
In his luncheon remarks, President Vest acknowledged important support for the MacVicar Faculty Fellows Program from the Exxon Education Foundation and from Cecil Green, an MIT benefactor and Life Member Emeritus of the Corporation . Dean MacVicar served as a director of Exxon Corporation from 1985 until her death.
Among those attending the luncheon was Edward F. Ahnert, executive director of the Exxon Education Foundation. Also attending were Dean MacVicar's mother, her two sisters and her brother-in-law.
Professor Wrighton introducing the new MacVicar Faculty Fellows, said the honor is a recognition "of exceptional and creative undergraduate educational contributions, with emphasis on recent and current activities." Fellows are selected on the basis of merit alone, he said. There are no formal quotas for schools or departments.
Appointments are made by the provost with advice from a committee appointed after consultation with the chair of the faculty. The advisory committee included two undergraduate students. Faculty members of the advisory committee were Professors Monty Krieger, Alan Lightman, Marcia McNutt, John Vander Sande and Dean Arthur Smith. Student members were Kevin Frisch and Crystal Reul.
Provost Wrighton read excerpts from communications he had received supporting the nomination of the latest MacVicar Faculty Fellows:
"The jewel of his undergraduate teaching is the development of 12.400, The Solar System. He has set a goal that this class reach a significant portion of the MIT student body, and efforts have been successful. The enrollment has risen by a factor of three, making it the most popular course in our department. What really impresses me with Professor Binzel as an educator is that in addition to his outstanding teaching work at MIT, he finds the time for public education. A few years ago a 14-year-old high-school student wrote to him about selecting a science project. He had some suggestions and the student began working with him. The result of this association was a second place for her in the Westinghouse Science Talent Search. In gratitude, her parents established the Richard P. Binzel Prize in Physics at her school. Wondering how she could ever repay Professor Binzel's efforts, the student began helping to teach astronomy in a fourth grade class. His commitment to teaching is contagious.
"I have carefully watched Professor Binzel's progress in teaching since his appointment in 1988 and have found him to be unusually skilled and motivated in communicating the excitement of planetary astronomy. Professor Binzel is one of the most dedicated teachers of undergraduate students that I have known. The welfare and educational prerogatives of those students are protected through his devotion and commitment. En route to establishing himself as a leading researcher, he has kept education at the forefront of his life at MIT."
"His effective use of the blackboard in 10-250, filling all nine panels to present a complicated biochemical pathway in such a way that the students could see it all in front of them as it was being discussed, and with never a mistake in it, is legendary. In teaching general biochemistry, Gene developed a framework of problem sets, short quizzes and exams that became the template followed by all other faculty members who also taught that subject. The Brown-inspired system of constant problem-solving from basic principles is followed closely by everyone because it works so well. As a result, many people have felt that 7.05 at MIT, while designed for sophomore, junior and senior undergraduates, was equivalent to or better than the semester-long intensive postgraduate biochemistry course at the best medical schools. Intimidation of students was not tolerated.
"Gene has been the strongest advocate for not hiring new faculty solely on the basis of their research abilities, but also for their ability and willingness to communicate in an instructional setting. Thus, he became a department role model and eventually a statesman for a value system centered around excellence in the nurturing and instruction of MIT undergraduates. For a significant fraction of the faculty in the biology department, Gene Brown set the standards for our role as educators. He demonstrated time and again, to his students and to his colleagues, that a professor could be supportive and still demand the highest level of academic rigor and ethical conduct. I have found that many professors at MIT like to give lectures, but leave the rest of the responsibility for teaching solely to the teaching assistants. Professor Brown was exceptional because he took a very active role in offering extra assistance for the course."
"His gifts and accomplishments as a designer seem to translate directly into his instantaneous awareness of where the students in his courses-and more generally in his department, university and country-stand in their knowledge and their need for instruction. These are his customers and he hears their voices as he plans and presents each of his lectures. For Woodie, engineering education is as much a process, demanding of attention and creativity, as design. No other mechanical engineering faculty person has had the overt impact on teaching and undergraduate education, both in the department and across the Institute, that Woodie has had through his role in 2.70, Introduction to Design. It was Woodie's charismatic style that brought 2.70 into fruition in its present form.
"A discourse on Woodie's contributions to undergraduate education would not be complete without explicit recognition of the enormous and far-reaching role he has played in educating the public, including college entrants, on the joys and challenges of engineering. Woodie is without doubt MIT's best ambassador for engineering, both to students and to the outside world. Now that I am at another university, the breadth and depth of his influence on design education has truly come to light. The New Products Program is perhaps the most outstanding example of how Woodie has led the way in design education and design research. His love for students is matched only for the respect he holds for the mission of this institution. He is one of the greatest spokesmen in defense of education. He speaks effectively to all constituencies: to students, corporations, his colleagues, the public at large. He does it effortlessly and with grace. He derives his message straight from the values he holds. "
"For nearly a quarter of a century he has been the object of admiration and envy for every faculty member in our department because of his excellence in the craft of teaching. Madsen is the world's ranking authority on the mechanics of sand transport and beach erosion. He is versatile in both theory and practice. Despite all his gifts he constantly works to find more effective ways to stimulate his students. His energy in the classroom and his ability to captivate the students' attention while explaining complex physical processes in simple-to-visualize terms is unequaled in my experience. He taught me how to teach.
"Ole Madsen is not your typical MIT professor. Yes, he can do research. Yes, he is well recognized in his field. Like many of us he enjoys the supervision of graduate students. What makes him different is that his true and real love is in the classroom. He is the quintessential lecturer and loves every minute of it. During my four years as a graduate student working under Ole's supervision I was constantly impressed by his dedication to all students, both graduate and undergraduate. He is extremely adept at incorporating his research experience into his classroom instruction. The quality that makes Ole such a good teacher is his consistency. He goes to great pains to spell out what is expected of students in his class. He ensures that the students adhere to these standards and he abides by them himself. There are no surprises. The underlying theme in Ole's classes is fairness."
A version of this article appeared in the February 9, 1994 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 38, Number 22).