Essigmann, Oppenheim and Lindgren are MacVicar Fellows


Three longtime faculty members revered by their students and peers have been named MacVicar Faculty Fellows, joining an elite group of teachers and scholars at MIT.

The 1997 Fellows are:

John M. Essigmann, professor of chemistry and toxicology, who was cited not only for exceptional teaching but for his innovative curriculum development--in particular, his creation (with Professor Robert Langer of chemical engineering) of the subject Biotechnology and Engineering, now one of the most popular subjects at MIT.

Lowell E. Lindgren, professor of music, who was cited as an exemplar of "the best of qualities, human and professional, associated with fine teaching" in recognition of his outstanding abilities as a lecturer, pedagogical innovator and mentor.

Alan V. Oppenheim, professor of electrical engineering, who was recognized for more than three decades of teaching and careful mentoring of students at MIT, and his pervasive influence on electrical engineering education worldwide through his textbooks and other teaching materials.

The appointments were announced at the annual MacVicar Fellows reception and luncheon hosted by President Charles M. Vest and his wife, Rebecca, at the President's House on Friday, Feb. 7. Provost Joel Moses made the formal presentations.

"One of the nicest things about being Provost is telling the professors they've been chosen as MacVicar Fellows," Dr. Moses said.

Noting that Dean Margaret MacVicar had been a key supporter in creating the interdisciplinary subject Biochemistry and Engineering, Professor Essigmann said, "This is one of the highlights of my career at MIT."

Professor Lindgren held up a note he received from Dean MacVicar in 1988 when his course was cited for excellence, which he treasures to this day. The note says: "Dear Lowell/Margaret MacVicar." "There's no word that indicates her pleasure," Professor Lindgren observed. "Just a gold star."

"I am tremendously honored and pleased to receive this award," said Professor Oppenheim. "I also feel tremendously honored that I might belong in the same group as the current MacVicars, many of whom have been my teaching heroes."

The main address at the event was delivered by Brit d'Arbeloff, who received the SM in mechanical engineering from MIT in 1961, during a time when there were few women students at the Institute, particularly at the graduate level. Having begun her career as an engineer, Mrs. d'Arbeloff later turned her professional interests to the retail business and most recently to fiction writing. Her husband, Alex d'Arbeloff, is chairman-elect of the Corporation, and will succeed Paul E. Gray in that position in July 1997.

In his introduction of Mrs. d'Arbeloff, President Vest recalled that last fall at the dedication of the d'Arbeloff Laboratories she said MIT now approaches the ideal she had dreamed it could be. He went on to say that she and Professor MacVicar had much in common, in addition to both being pioneers in traditionally male-dominated fields. One such quality, and one that perhaps most defined Dean MacVicar's life, he said, was "a generosity of spirit--of giving to others and working for the future."

Using reflections on her own educational experience to make her points, Mrs. d'Arbeloff recalled that her parents had insisted that she prepare for a profession "as a teacher or an engineer," but that her encounters with her teachers in elementary and secondary school were so uninspir-ing that she opted to study engineering at Stanford. Even there, she found little to ignite her passion for learning until she took Professor William Kay's thermodynamics class as a junior.

"Thermodynamics as taught by Professor Kay changed my career and ultimately my life," Mrs. d'Arbeloff recalled. "He turned on the subject for me. Not only was it manageable, it was fascinating." As a result of the course, she changed her major from design to heat transfer and thermodynamics. "During the term, I watched the complexity and beauty of the subject revealed layer by layer, rather like peeling an onion, but better since it was not necessary to cry," she said.

Mrs. d'Arbeloff went on to graduate first in her class, earn her master's degree in mechanical engineering at MIT, work as an engineer, raise four children, and establish and run a successful Newbury Street clothing boutique.

"Without that class, I never would have gone to MIT, never met my husband," she said. "My four children owe their very existence to that decision. There were no circus tricks to Kay's methods--only clear, rational exposition and a contagious enthusiasm for the subject. The notes I took in his class pulled me through many subsequent courses and professional challenges, until some bounder borrowed my notebook and lost it.

"That class was the first time I realized what talented teaching was. Before thermo, I had teachers who were entertaining, or at least not boring. I learned useful skills and information. Never before had I seen someone distill the essence of a subject so that I was able to see it and explore it on my own. It took 20 years of my life to find that. I didn't know enough to know that I was looking for it."

The MacVicar Fellows, she said, follow in Professor Kay's footsteps. "I am thrilled to be here to help in the celebration," she said. "It's time that we acknowledge the real heroes of our society. I leave you with my favorite comment on teaching, from William Blake: `Teaching, we learn, and giving, we receive.'"

The MacVicar Program was established by MIT following the death in 1991 at age 47 of Professor Margaret L.A. MacVicar, MIT's first dean of undergraduate education. Its goal was to create a small academy of scholars committed to excellence in teaching and innovation in education, and in so doing, to honor the late dean's unrelenting efforts--at MIT and nationally--to enhance undergraduate education. The fellowships provide an annual scholar's allowance to assist each Fellow in developing ways to enrich the undergraduate learning experience. MacVicar Fellows serve 10-year terms.

The program has received important support from the Exxon Education Foundation--Dean MacVicar had been an Exxon Corp. director for six years at the time of her death--and from Cecil Green '23, Life Member Emeritus of the Corporation who supported many of Dean MacVicar's initiatives. Gifts to the program have also come from alumni and alumnae, including a 25th reunion gift from the Class of 1968 to endow a Fellowship. President Kenneth Theiault '68 represented his class at the luncheon, which was attended by the previously named Fellows as well.

The Fellows named from 1992 to 1996 are:

Harold Abelson, electrical engineering and computer science; Thomas J. Allen, Sloan School of Management; Richard P. Binzel, earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences (EAPS); Gene M. Brown, biology; Wit Busza, physics; Edward F. Crawley, aeronautics and astronautics; Rick L. Danheiser, chemistry; Woodie C. Flowers, mechanical engineering; Thomas J. Greytak, physics; Daniel S. Kemp, chemistry; Monty Krieger, biology; Paul A. Lagace, aero/astro; Ole S. Madsen, civil and environmental engineering; Arthur P. Mattuck, mathematics; Margery Resnick, foreign languages and literatures; Michael F. Rubner, materials science and engineering (MSE); Donald R. Sadoway, MSE; Robert J. Silbey, chemistry; John B. Southard, EAPS; Arthur Steinberg, anthropology and archeology; Charles H. Stewart III, political science; Irene Tayler, literature; Marcus A. Thompson, music and theatre arts; Graham C. Walker, biology; James H. Williams Jr., mechanical engineering, and August F. Witt, MSE.

Appointments as MacVicar Fellows are made by the Provost from recommendations forwarded by an advisory committee. The committee for 1997 was chaired by Professor Rosalind H. Williams, dean for undergraduate education and student affairs.

Excerpts from Provost Moses's introductions follow:

PROFESSOR ESSIGMANN

"Dr. Essigmann's commitment to teaching and his rapport with undergraduates is legendary in the MIT community, and he has made important and innovative contributions to undergraduate education at the Institute.

"Chemistry 5.22, Biotechnology and Engineering. is a remarkable course. A case study approach is used to illustrate the scientific, engineering, economic, and ethical issues that go into the formation of a pharmaceutical company. A student notes, `Professor Essigmann brought to 5.22 a uniqueness unparalleled by any learning experience I have ever had at MIT.'

"5.22 is distinctive for the way in which it draws into fusion several of the kinds of learning that mark MIT education at its best. It involves students in collaborative work with a pointedly real-world, hands-on framework, and in so doing it provides them with an important foretaste of the ways in which clinical and ethical understanding will inform marketing and production strategies in their later lives as inventive professionals."

PROFESSOR LINDGREN

"Dr. Lindgren teaches with consummate skill, patience, and with the expertise that derives from his research as a widely acclaimed musicologist.

"It is his exceptional interest in encountering music where it lives that led him to be the first to encourage students to perform works from the syllabus in class. In following his example, we have witnessed a rise in music subject enrollments among students who had previously sought only performing groups. Students now see the reading, writing, playing and singing of music in history, literature and theory classes to be an integral part of the intellectual exercise.

"In all of his teaching, his love of the musical repertoire can be felt by the students, who flock to his classroom term after term, despite the rigor of his grading, the difficulty of his listening tests and the challenge of his analytical essay assignments. Lowell's brilliance as a communicator, as an analyst of music and as a clarifier of historical contexts is evident to me every time I walk into a classroom where he has been teaching.

"Jose Luis Elizondo (SB '95) writes: 'I composed a piece for orchestra as homework for Professor Peter Child's composition seminar. After the premiere performance by the MIT Symphony Orchestra on December 9, 1995, Professor Lindgren made a couple of comments that impressed me very deeply and that have been responsible for a 180-degree turn in my level of self-confidence and for the tremendous success that my composition has had. It is amazing what a comment from a teacher whom you respect and trust can do.'"

PROFESSOR OPPENHEIM

"In his 32 years on the MIT faculty, Dr. Oppenheim has compiled an extraordinary teaching record by any metric we might apply. His influence on electrical engineering education has been pervasive, both inside and outside MIT, and his passion for this activity is, if anything, stronger now than ever before.

"His text Signals and Systems, co-authored with Alan Willsky, is the single most widely used undergraduate text in its area, and forms the basis for a sophomore-level core subject that is part of electrical engineering curricula throughout the world.

"In 'A Personal View of Education,' which first appeared in MIT: Shaping the Future, the book Professor Kenneth Manning edited in honor of Dr. Vest's inauguration, Professor Oppenheim wrote, `My professional life revolves around teaching and research, which at MIT are symbiotic activities. I was once asked which one I would give up if I had to choose between them. I hope never to have to make that choice, because the two are complementary and each is exciting and fun. However, if forced, I think I would choose teaching over research. I particularly enjoy the thrill of a successful classroom performance and of working closely with students. I am also awed by the enormous leverage and responsibility that teaching provides in terms of propagating one's knowledge, standards and ideals. Many of my former students are now teachers, as are many of their students. Teaching, like parenting, influences an endless succession of generations."

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on February 12, 1997.


Topics: Awards, honors and fellowships

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