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Five Professors Named MacVicar Fellows for Devotion to Teaching

By Kelley Rivoire

Five MIT professors will be recognized today as MacVicar Faculty Fellows for their achievements in undergraduate education.

Professors David L. Darmofal ’91 (Aeronautics and Astronautics), Jean E. Jackson (Anthropology), David S. Jerison (Mathematics), Steven B. Leeb ’87 (Electrical Engineering and Computer Science), and Anne E.C. McCants (History) will join over 40 of their colleagues as MacVicar Fellows.

The MacVicar Fellows are nominated by a committee of current Fellows, faculty members, and undergraduates.

Fellows chosen for energy, effort

All five professors emphasized their belief in the importance of personal contact with students and said that teaching to them is a passion rather than a job.

“Undergraduate education and teaching are something I’ve been striving to do a good job in,” said Darmofal, who said that he will try anything to help students learn. One of Darmofal’s teaching strategies is to assign homework before before he discusses the topic in class so that class time can be utilized for more meaningful discussions of subtleties not emphasized in the textbooks.

Leeb, who teaches 6.115, the Microcomputer Project Laboratory, described his work not only as a job, but a hobby as well. He is currently developing a project in medical optical coherence tomography with students in his laboratory classes.

“It’s what makes me want to get up in the morning,” he said.

Students and faculty who wrote letters of nomination for the fellows agreed that enthusiasm was very important. One student wrote, “it was Prof. McCants’ enthusiasm and analytic approach that made her class the best Humanities course I have taken to date.”

“In an ideal world, the highest praise a professor could receive would be to be known as a ‘McCants,’” another wrote. McCants has created and taught many new courses at MIT.

Student interaction important

All of the new MacVicar Fellows stressed the need to interact with students on a personal basis.

Jackson said that a good teacher should “work hard at getting students emotionally engaged.” Jackson creates workshops in her classes specifically designed to involve students.

One student wrote in a nominating letter that in her classes “there was never silence during discussions, every student in the room voluntarily participated.”

Leeb said that he tries to make students feel comfortable in his classes, posing as well as encouraging questions.

For Jerison, the rewards of teaching come from working with the students. “What really inspires me is that I have an audience of students who can really appreciate challenging and interesting new problems,” he said.

While lecturing 18.02, a large class composed primarily of freshmen, Jerison tries to remain in contact with students, spending large amounts of time creating new problems for them to solve.

The new MacVicar Fellows have made plans for using their annual allowance for the next ten years as part of their awards.

Jackson said she planned to make Spanish translations for two of her books. Leeb plans to use the award to purchase laboratory equipment for new student projects.

Program honors UROP founder

MacVicar Day and the Faculty Fellows Program are named in honor of the late Professor Margaret MacVicar, who was MIT’s first Dean for Undergraduate Education and founder of the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP). She had passed away in 1991 a the age of 47. The first MacVicar Fellowships were awarded in 1992.

In addition to receiving financial support over the ten year term of their awards, MacVicar Faculty Fellows participate in six luncheons per year to discuss improvement of undergraduate education.

A presentation open to the public will take place this afternoon from 3 to 4:30 p.m. in 6-120 following a lunch at which Provost Robert Brown will announce the MacVicar Fellows. The presentation will feature Professor Richard J. Light from Harvard University, who will speak on “The Interface between Teaching and Mentoring.”