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CUP Nears Approval of Alternative MAS Program for Freshman Year

By Frank Dabek
News Editor

An alternative freshman year program in Media Arts and Sciences is expected to win approval of the Committee on the Undergraduate Program within the next two weeks.

The CUP will likely approve the program for an experimental period of five years beginning in fall 1999.

The MAS program will be similar in form to the existing Integrated Studies Program: the approximately 24 students in the program will attend mainstream lectures in the core freshman subjects but will attend recitations sections taught by MAS professors. During the spring semester, students will be strongly encouraged to participate in Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program offerings at the Media Lab.

The program "takes the community of students who are already here" at the Media Lab and formalizes it, said V. Michael Bove '83, a principal research scientist at the lab.

Dean of Students and Undergraduate Education Rosalind H. Williams said that the program was "really exciting and very promising." It "plays off existing strengths in a very good way."

"We have seen is that there is a segment of the MIT undergraduate populace that is hungry for more contact with the research topics addressed within the Media Lab," said Alex P. Pentland, academic head of the Media Lab. "By linking [mainstream courses] with hands-on research experience in relevant areas we can significantly enrich the freshman year experience."

Program includes MAS HASS

Freshmen in the program will take Introduction to SolidState Chemistry (3.091) rather than Principles of Chemical Science (5.11) since, according to Bove, ongoing research at the lab involves material in 3.091.

Freshmen will also participate in a freshman advising seminar at the lab. The Media Lab already offers several Freshman Advisory Seminars which they will be "rolling into the program," Bove said. Outside students may still enroll in MASfreshman seminars if space is available.

Other courses in the program include Fundamentals of Computational Media Design (MAS.110), which will be a 12 unit course that should qualify for Humanities Arts and Social Sciences elective credit pending approval, and Introduction to Doing Research inMedia Arts and Sciences (MAS.111).

A for-credit UROP is also recommended to allow students to work in "smaller, more focused groups" during the Independent Activities Program and the spring semester, Bove said. The lab will be "matchmaking" students with UROPs during the fall term, he added.

Williams said that the UROP experience will be beneficial because it gives students the "ability to work with a wide range of people" including faculty, staff, and graduate and post-doctoral students. She said that students will benefit from the social atmosphere of the lab.

The program will not offer any mathematics programs since "we realized we'd probably have to offer 18.01, 18.02, 18.03," Bove said.

Bove said that admittance to the program will be by some combination of summer contact and face-to-face contact.

Program mentions MAS major

The program's draft proposal calls the proposal a "trial step in the direction of a full undergraduate major or joint major in MAS."

Bove, however, denied that the program is a recruitment effort. The lab is "immune from criticism that we are trying to recruit" since MAS currently does not have a major, he said.

Bove added that the program is designed to be broad enough that participating students could pursue any major.

A freshman year program directing students into a particular major would have both advantages and disadvantages, Williams said. On the positive side, it gives students focus and an intellectual home early in their careers at the Institute. Such a program could deny students the ability to explore a wide range of majors, however.

Williams said that the program could be seen as "trawling for researchers maybe." She fully supported students doing research early in their studies, however.

Trend away from unified core

This program also signals a continued move on the part of MIT away from a common, shared core academic experience towards more specialized, unique programs.

Williams said that while the Institute has moved to weaken the core experience we still have "much more common [academic] experience" than other institutions. In the past, MIT required two full years of core courses, including four semesters of physics. We are"not in any danger of losing our common experience," she said.

However, "something that creates specific experiences for students is a good thing," she said. MIT excels in giving students an analytic basis for their work, but is not as good at promoting "motivation a sense of excitement." This program is "a step in the right direction."

Bove said that at some point there may be "no standard freshmen year."