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Four Profs Named MacVicar Fellows

By Eva Moy
Editor in Chief

Four professors were appointed as MacVicar Faculty Fellows for their teaching excellence and contributions to undergraduate education. President Charles M. Vest and Provost Mark S. Wrighton will formally announce the fellows at a luncheon today.

This year's recipients are Richard P. Binzel of the earth, atmospheric, and planetary sciences department; Gene M. Brown of the biology department; Woodie C. Flowers PhD '73 of the mechanical engineering department; and Ole S. Madsen ScD '70 of the civil and environmental engineering department.

The MacVicar Faculty Fellows Program was established in 1991 in honor of Margaret L.A. MacVicar ScD '65, MIT's first dean of undergraduate education. The program honors the late dean's untiring efforts, at MIT and nationally, to enhance undergraduate education.

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 first announced, 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.

Wrighton made the appointments with advice from a committee, which included two undergraduate students, three professors, and two deans. The committee reviewed about 20 dossiers overall.

The MacVicar Fellows Reception and Luncheon will be held today. Edward F. Ahnert, executive director of the Exxon Education Foundation, will be attending the luncheon. MacVicar's mother, her two sisters, and her brother-in-law will also be present.

`The best of the best'

The committee considered two major criteria in choosing the finalists to recommend to Wrighton, explained committee member John B. Vander Sande, associate dean of engineering.

"One is certainly teaching effectiveness," including amount of time a teacher spends on preparation and his availability. The second criteria is the extent the professor is involved in teaching enterprise, innovation, and imagination, Vander Sande said.

"Being a good teacher, in a sense, is not enough to be awarded a MacVicar fellowship," he said. The fellows have to look at teaching as something to be researched and improved.

Vander Sande added, "There are very complete portfolios on these individuals," which included a letter of sponsorship by department head, standard biographical information, and a large number of supporting letters from faculty and graduate and undergraduate students

In recommending candidates, the committee considered the professors' contributions to education as leaders, mentors, and entertainers, and in determining curricula, according to committee member Monty Kreiger, professor of biology.

"Out of the original group, in my own opinion, there was no one in that group that was unworthy of consideration," Vander Sande said. "I think it's just unquestionable that they're people highly deserving of this [award]. The best of the best."

Professor Richard P. Binzel

From the nominations: 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.

Binzel received accolades for the development of his course, The Solar System (12.400). "I've tried to gear that class to reach an Institute-wide audience, to try to give students a sense of how our place on the earth fits into the entire solar system," Binzel said.

As scientists broaden their study of the earth on a global level and narrow their focus of other planets, "it's funny how the paradigms of those two systems are merging," Binzel said. "By understanding other planets, we can better understand the earth itself."

"I'm really excited about [the fellowship], and it's a great honor," Binzel said. "Margaret MacVicar was a great legend at MIT, and to be associated with her name ... gives anybody a tremendous feeling."

Professor Gene M. Brown

From the nominations: Gene has been the strongest advocate for not hiring new faculty solely on the basis 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.

Brown was especially noted for his work in developing the class, Biochemistry (7.05). One person wrote in his recommendation, "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 post-graduate biochemistry course at the best medical schools."

"I like to teach. I like to deal with undergraduates, in part. I like to talk with them," Brown said. "All I do is try to do my best, and if somebody thinks that that's sufficient, then I'm very happy."

"I think that it's a beautiful subject, and I like people to feel the same way, so I do my best to make them feel the same way I do."

Professor Woodie C. Flowers

From the nominations: 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. ... For Woodie, engineering education is as much a process, demanding of attention and creativity, as design.

"I think I really enjoy watching students learn that they can do things, and I think teaching is a process of enabling," Flowers said. "Teaching at MIT is an absolute luxury."

The New Products Program, Introduction to Design (2.70), and his entrepreneurship classes are "all examples of my pride in engineering," Flowers said. He tries to include as much "hand-on experience" as possible, because he thinks "that's a very nice way to learn."

"It's an honor to be a MacVicar fellow," Flowers said. "I remember Margaret MacVicar very well and have tremendous respect for her and what she did. ... I hope I can live up to the standards that she set."

Professor Ole S. Madsen

From the nominations: 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.

Madsen's Fluid Mechanics (1.05) class is required for all students in civil and environmental engineering. "There is going to be a fraction ... that are in there just because they have to be there," Madsen said. "That's a challenge, because you have to win them over ... so they can see it's not as bad as they think it will be."

"From the comments that I have seen, [students] seem to appreciate the humor in my lectures, that I keep them awake," Madsen said. "I do care about how they feel, and I am willing to go the distance to make sure that they learn."

"You want to make it enjoyable for yourself and your students," Madsen said. He compared teaching to acting: "You are the actor, you are the playwright, and you are the director."

A professor cannot depend on the lecture he prepared the previous year, or 10 years ago, Madsen said. "Get the adrenaline flowing before you go [into class]."

"It's always nice when you get a pat on the back and somebody does recognize that you're doing a good job," Madsen added.