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Three Professors Honored as MacVicar Fellows

By David D. Hsu
News Editor

Three professors were appointed Feb. 1 as MacVicar Faculty Fellows for their exemplary contributions to undergraduate education.

The faculty honored this year were Professor and Associate Head of the Department of Chemistry Rick L. Danheiser; Professor of Materials Science and Engineering Michael F. Rubner PhD '86; and Professor of Chemistry Robert J. Silbey.

"The overall aim [of the MacVicar Fellows Program] is to recognize and enhance outstanding contributions to undergraduate education at MIT," according to the MacVicar Faculty Fellows Program announcement.

The MacVicar Faculty Fellows Program was established in 1991 to honor Margaret L. A. MacVicar '65, MIT's first dean for undergraduate education.

The appointments were made by Provost Joel Moses PhD '67 with advice from a committee chaired by Dean for Undergraduate Education Rosalind H. Williams.

While the fellows were not chosen using any specific set of criteria, the committee looked for "sustained contributions" to undergraduate education, Williams said. "What that means depends on the department and the discipline No one model will fit all cases."

The appointments took effect Feb. 1. The president of the Washington Post Co., Alan G. Spoon '73, spoke about education and leadership at a reception honoring the fellows.

"I'm convinced that MIT's already large contribution to our society would sharply expand if its graduates were ever better advocates and raconteurs for their views and labors," Spoon said.

This year's MacVicar Fellows are the fifth group chosen so far. The fellowship is a recognition of their excellence with no further obligations on the winners, Williams said. All the MacVicar fellows attend an annual dinner to discuss ways to improve education. "I think in a voluntary, collective way they want to do more."

Rick L. Danheiser

From the nominations: There are four essential qualities for a great teacher: a flair for presentation, a concern for the learner, a scholarly command for the material, and a constant striving to improve on what one has done before. Rick has all of these.

While known for teaching Organic Chemistry II (5.13), Danheiser also has the responsibility for overseeing the entire undergraduate program of the department.

He has the "overall coordination responsibility with a department under a great demand," Williams said. He must make the most out of limited resources; his contributions extend beyond the classroom.

"I think it's a fantastic honor," Danheiser said. The program also demonstrates that MITvalues education as well as excellence in research.

The MacVicar Fellows Program benefits both students and faculty, Danheiser said. MacVicar Fellows act as role models for other professors. Danheiser cited Professor of Chemistry Daniel S. Kemp, a past MacVicar Fellow, as a role model for him.

Michael F. Rubner PhD '86

From the nominations: In 1990 he was the winner of both the Baker Award for undergraduate teaching and the Graduate Student Council Teaching Award. How often does that happen?

He played a key role in revamping the undergraduate materials laboratory from four different materials-specific laboratories to a single materials-general laboratory.

In the old system, each laboratory focused on a different material, Rubner said. The new system unifies the separate laboratories so that students can understand the general principles while learning about many materials in a single course.

Rubner also worked to "introduce more design and focus on teamwork," he said.

This new program was implemented about four years ago and has met positive student feedback, Rubner said.

"It always feels wonderful to be honored for teaching," Rubner said. "I feel teaching, education, and research go hand in hand. It all fits together in my mind."

Robert J. Silbey

From the nominations: His proficiency as a teacher is beyond question, but more important is the respect he earns from his students. He was my first professor at MIT and was successful not only in communicating the subject matter, but also in projecting his enthusiasm for the field of chemistry.

Bob Silbey's lectures are electric with his excitement about the material and his enjoyment of the act of teaching. He is simultaneously entertaining and serious, larger than life and approachable, spontaneous and focused.

Besides teaching such classes as Thermodynamics and Kinetics (5.60), Silbey has served on several Institute-wide committees that have had an impact on undergraduate education, Williams said.

Silbey is on sabbatical this year.