• Toasting the new Vitesse chair are (seated, left to right) Carmenza Fonstad, wife of Professor Clifton Fonstad, first holder of the chair, and his mother, Grace Fonstad. Standing, left to right: Professor Fonstad; Louis Tomasetta of Vitesse; Professor Fonstad's son Nils, a Sloan School graduate student; son Diego Fonstad (partially hidden); Alex d'Arbeloff, chairman of the Corporation; and Professor John Guttag, EECS department head.

    Photo / Laura Wulf

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Classmates establish chair to honor mentor

A friendship that began at MIT in the mid-1960s and blossomed into a profitable business relationship has resulted in the creation of the Vitesse Professorship of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS).

Both donors hold MIT degrees in electrical engineering and computer science. Louis R. Tomasetta Jr. of Thousand Oaks, CA (ScD 1974) and James M. Mikkelson of Monument, CO (SM 1972) have jointly funded the chair and named it to honor Vitesse Semiconductor Corp., the company they co-founded in 1984.

Clifton G. Fonstad Jr., a longtime EECS professor and Dr. Tomasetta's former doctoral advisor, has been named the first Vitesse Professor. "That Clif Fonstad is the first holder of this chair is singularly appropriate," said Professor John Guttag, EECS department head. "Clif is an outstanding researcher and educator who has made many contributions to the industry in which Vitesse is a leader." The firm develops digital gallium arsenide integrated circuits for high-bandwidth, high-performance communications systems.

"Lou and I decided that funding a chair is a good way to put some money back into MIT, to support some things we believe in, and maybe to have a little say as to where it goes," said Mr. Mikkelson, vice president for technology development and chief technical officer of Vitesse. One of those beliefs is that excellence in teaching should be rewarded, said Dr. Tomasetta, company president and CEO. Professor Fonstad, he added, is unusually dedicated in this regard; "he was never so wrapped up in his research that he didn't have time for his students."

Preference for the chair is given to faculty engaged in research and/or teaching in areas related to semiconductor materials and/or devices. Dr. Fonstad's interests include compound semiconductor heterostructure devices and physics, optoelectronic integration, optical interconnects and quantum effect devices. He has made major contributions to the structures, materials combinations, and integration technologies used with semiconductor laser diodes.

Professor Fonstad holds the BS (1965) from the University of Wisconsin, and the SM (1966) and PhD (1970) from MIT. He joined the faculty as an assistant professor in 1970, receiving promotion to associate professor in 1975 and full professor in 1982. Dr. Fonstad is a principal investigator in the Materials and Fabrication Group of the Research Laboratory of Electronics.

President Charles M. Vest said, "New faculty chairs always have tremendous value for MIT as well as for the professors who hold them. The Institute recognizes teaching excellence in a number of ways, but when MIT graduates create a professorship to honor a former teacher and mentor, it has special meaning.

"The donors of this chair have provided the ultimate recognition to someone long regarded as one of our finest teachers. My sincere thanks to Lou Tomasetta and Jim Mikkelson for their great generosity in support of great teaching, and my congratulations to Clif Fonstad."

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on July 12, 2000.

Topics: Awards, honors and fellowships, Industry


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