Former Air Force Head Named Institute ProfessorBy Neena Kadaba
Associate News Editor
In December, Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics Sheila E. Widnall '60 was named an Institute Professor.
The title of Institute Professor, given to a professor that has "demonstrated exceptional distinction by a combination of leadership, accomplishment and service, in the scholarly, educational and general intellectual life of the Institute or wider academic community," is the highest honor awarded to faculty at MIT.
Professor Widnall received her BS in 1960, her MS in 1961, and PhD in 1964 in Aeronautics and Astronautics, all at MIT. She was the first woman appointed to the MIT engineering faculty in 1964, and became the first woman to chair the faculty in 1979. She was appointed as the Abby Rockefeller Mauze Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics in 1986. From 1992 to 1993, she served as Associate Provost.
From 1993 to 1997, Widnall served as the Secretary of the Air Force. She was the first woman president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and is currently the vice-president of the National Academy of Engineering.
As Secretary of the Air Force, Widnall worked on a variety of affairs of the Department of the Air Force. Dr. Widnall was also involved in research prescribed by the President, the Secretary of Defense, and co-chaired the Department of Defense Task Force on Sexual Harassment and Discrimination.
Research continues at Institute
Since returning to her faculty position at MIT, she has been active in the Lean Aerospace Initiative, a consortium which focuses on streamlining the aerospace industry. Widnall is an expert in fluid dynamics and teaches courses in dynamics and aerodynamics, aerodynamics of wings and bodies, acoustics and aerodynamic noise and aerospace vehicle vibration.
"Being an Institute Professor is a great honor," said Widnall. She expressed excitement with the opportunity to "go beyond her discipline in fluid mechanics to explore the policy and system aspects of her research" and "the increased freedom and flexibility that comes with the position."
Widnall also plays an active role in women's groups on campus. Personally, she "welcomes being a role model, if it will help," and wants to share her own successful experiences.
As one of the leaders in the creation of the new ROTC program, Widnall commented that the goal of changing the program was to take advantage of all of the resources available. By making it "open to all students, the Institute can focus on promoting leadership." As someone who stepped forward to expand the approach to ROTC programs, new changes are helping to bring parts of it together, Widnall said.
"MIT is uniquely positioned to play a leading role in national affairs. People here work very hard in diverse careers."
Widnall described the Institute as one of the only places where faculty have the ability to travel and connect to all aspects of their industry and then share their experience with students, creating a different kind of education.
When asked about the new Institute-wide changes to the residence system, she said "MIT always changes, it is never the same. The fact that it is always changing makes it such an innovative place, and I have confidence that MIT is choosing the right path for the future."
Widnall said that it was a great honor to be in the company of the other distinguished Institute Professors.
Current Institute Professors include Noam A. Chomsky, linguistics; John M. Deutch, chemistry; Mildred S. Dresselhaus, electrical engineering and physics; Jerome I. Friedman, physics; John H. Harbison, music; John D. C. Little '48, management; Isadore Singer, mathematics; and Daniel I. C. Wang '59, chemical engineering.