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Institute to Name MacVicar Fellows

Donna Coveney--MIT News Office
Robert L. Jaffe and Sylvia T. Ceyer

By Shawdee Eshghi
staff reporter

Today, the Institute will name two new MacVicar Fellows for excellence in undergraduate teaching. At a luncheon sponsored by President Charles M. Vest, Professor of Chemistry Sylvia T. Ceyer and Professor of Physics Robert L. Jaffe will be named this year's MacVicar Fellows.

The MacVicar Fellows program was established in 1991 in memory of Margaret L. A. MacVicar '65, MIT's first dean for undergraduate education.

The MacVicar Fellows program is a cooperative effort between several administrative departments at MIT. The Office of the President provides the financial support for the stipend awarded winners, while the Office of the Provost is responsible for the administrative aspects of the program. Finally, the Office of the Dean of Students and Undergraduate Education is the reason for the program's existence, said Rosalind E. Wood, administrative assistant in the Provost's Office.

Dean for Undergraduate Education Rosalind H. Williams chaired the selection committee that included MIT undergraduate students, previous MacVicar Fellows, and other faculty members.

The selection process begins in the fall when the provost sends letters to all of the department heads asking for nominations. The committee then meets several times to select the Fellows. The number of MacVicar Fellows changes every year, as the committee recognizes "absolute excellence in undergraduate teaching," Wood said.

The Committee looks at several different criteria, including sustained commitment to specifically undergraduate teaching, a set of interactions that usually go beyond the classroom, and an impact that reaches beyond the Institute, said Williams. "We try very hard to recognize that there are different models of excellence in different disciplines," Williams said. "All of the MacVicar Fellows are innovators in some way or another."

Robert L. Jaffe

Jaffe has a long and distinguished list of accomplishments that includes several previous teaching awards from MIT. He said that in order to be an effective teacher one must be able "to love the material, to know your field, to possess a vision of nature, and to feel that this vision is worth conveying to other people."

Jaffe is third MacVicar Fellow from the Physics Department and he notes that the Physics Department has made a real effort to improve its undergraduate teaching. "There was time in the now faded past when many regarded the physics department as too aloof in regards to undergraduates, and in the past decade, we have worked very hard on our undergraduate teaching program."

Jaffe has been on the Physics Department Education Committee since 1986. "I feel that the MacVicar Fellowship is a great program, especially because we too often get caught up in research. I feel that we cannot have good teaching without first rate research, but we must continue to award good teaching visibly."

Sylvia T. Ceyer

Ceyer has received several previous teaching awards, including the School of Science Teaching Prize in 1995, and the Baker Memorial Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching in 1988.

Ceyer is one of only three women among the 31 MacVicar Fellows. She is also the only woman from the School of Science. Professor of Literature Irene Tayler was named a MacVicar Fellow in 1993 and Professor of Foreign Language and Literature Margery Resnick was honored in 1995.

"There are only 3 female MacVicar Fellows because, unfortunately, the demographics of the faculty here at MIT change much more slowly than that of the student population," Williams said.

Ceyer could not be reached for comment.