MIT Reports to the President 1999–2000


ESG continues to provide a fine system of personalized instruction for first year students at MIT. However, we have become increasingly involved in looking at ways to expand ESG beyond strictly a first year program. This is due to the fact that for years we have observed that the people who most benefit from ESG are students who remain involved with the program as teachers, mentors, and students in their upperclass years. Over ESG's 30 year history, it has served a much wider constituency at MIT than first year students. For example, this year the ESG community included not only 64 first year students, but also 12 staff members, 31 student instructors, 11 student mentors (who served as informal advisors to our first year students), 5 student employees, 8 alumni, and 42 upperclassmen who took one or more subjects in ESG during one or two terms. We would like to expand ESG to more closely approximate a "college" within the Institute by offering more subjects of interest to upperclassmen and involving more alumni and faculty in our teaching and learning community.


Sixty-four first year students enrolled for one or both terms in ESG. Fifty-five percent of students were female, eleven percent were international students, and six percent were underrepresented minorities. Twenty-two upperclassmen who had been in ESG as freshmen took one or two subjects in ESG, and 20 undergraduates who had not previously been in ESG enrolled in seminars or HASS subjects taught in ESG. In addition, 31 undergraduate teaching assistants worked closely with our staff in helping out with instruction at ESG. These undergraduates (who collectively maintained a grade point average of 4.4) were closely supervised by staff through a variety of methods, including participating in a weekly teaching seminar in the fall term and meeting regularly with staff members. In addition, student instructors were given feedback from end of term freshman evaluations and from Dr. Sweet's interviews with first year students conducted throughout the fall term.


ESG's administration was headed by Professor Travis Merritt, and included Associate Directors Dr. Peter Dourmashkin and Dr. Holly Sweet. We are pleased to announce the promotion of Julie Banda to Program Coordinator in January 2000. The physics staff included Professor Emeritus Robert Hulsizer, Dr. Peter Dourmashkin, David Custer ’82, and Benjamin Davis ’99. The mathematics staff was headed by Craig Watkins and included graduate students Pramod Achar and Jessica Young. The chemistry and biology offerings at ESG were supervised by Dr. Patricia Christie. ESG also offered several HASS and HASS-D courses to its students. In the fall term, Professor Merritt taught 21L004. Major Poets and David Custer taught 21W730 Expository Writing. Dr. Lee Perlman taught 24.00, Problems in Philosophy in the fall term and 24.200 Ancient Philosophy in the spring term.


ESG continued its long-standing tradition of educational innovation in a variety of ways this year. Benjamin Davis ’99 (a former ESG student and last year’s winner of the Todd Anderson teaching award) was chosen to head UTEACH, an Institute-wide training program for undergraduates who wish to teach at MIT and elsewhere. Mr. Davis recruited 15 students to teach new subjects during IAP 2000. He also ran a new undergraduate seminar on Game Theory in the spring term. Mr. Davis and Mr. Custer helped develop a new approach to Physics I and II which incorporates engineering applications. We will continue to support these new approaches because they offer a much-needed hands-on design element to first year students. We are in the process of building an electronics lab at ESG which we hope will encourage a community of upperclass electrical engineers to coalesce at ESG. Several new seminars were offered at ESG, including two hands-on seminars taught in residence halls in Spring 2000 with financial support from the Edgerton Center. Dr. Christie taught a seminar on Kitchen Chemistry at Bexley Hall, and Mr. Davis taught a seminar on Robotics at Random Hall. Both subjects were very well received and will be taught again next year in new residences. In addition, Dr. Perlman taught a six unit seminar which will serve as a prototype for a HASS-D subject merging humanistic and scientific thought. Dr. Dourmashkin taught a new six unit seminar on the works of Leonardo DaVinci. Dr. Sweet and Professor Merritt team-taught a freshman advising seminar (Transitions and Connections: Psychology Looks at the Freshman Year), with a view to expanding this seminar to include more freshmen in future years. Part of the seminar will be used in the coming year to help train graduate student advisors to work more effectively with undergraduates in the residence halls. This current year, we initiated an ESG UROP program with funds from the UROP office and have three students involved in UROP projects, including one in philosophy and two in mechanical engineering.


This year, we began a large-scale effort to engage our alumni in more aspects of ESG, including mentoring our first year students, teaching subjects in ESG, and funding educational initiatives at ESG (particularly those which are run or developed by students). We held a well-attended homecoming celebration in October of 1999 for all current and past ESG students and staff to celebrate ESG’s 30th birthday and to take a collective look at three decades of alternative education. Out of this celebration arose several new ways in which alumni could become involved in ESG. These included participating in a monthly steering committee (chaired by Glenn Iba ’74), developing an ESG alumni web site and directory, teaching in ESG (Robert DeMarrais ’70, Robert Macke ’96, Glenn Iba ’74, and Grant Harris ’80 all taught subjects at ESG during IAP 2000), and John Ankcorn ’74 informally tutored 6.001 to several ESG students in Spring 2000, and funding different projects at ESG. These projects ranged from annual student awards and new community activities to innovative, hands-on seminars.


Sarah McDougal ’01, a student mentor in ESG as well as a student instructor, won an Institute Stewart award, in part for her dedicated service to the ESG community over the past three years. ESG gave its own set of awards, including a new award, the Peter and Sharon Fiekowsky community award. This award is funded by Peter Fiekowsky ’77 (an alumnus of ESG) on an annual basis and is given to students in ESG who have demonstrated outstanding or sustained contributions to the ESG community. Winners this year included James Rising ’03, Toh NeWin ’02, Nirav Shah ’01, and seniors Caprice Gray and Jesse Wodin. The annual Todd Anderson teaching award (now in its third year) is funded by former ESG chemistry staff member and MIT alumnus Todd Anderson and is given to undergraduates who have demonstrated excellence in teaching at ESG over a sustained period of time. This year’s winners included seniors Alicia Jillian Hardy, Jessica Kleiss, and Connie Lu.


In the coming year we plan to continue with our educational innovation (especially in strengthening our vertical dimension and offering hands-on education, intersdisciplinary subjects, and residence-based seminars), and to promote the use of undergraduates in instructional capacities at MIT. We expect to expand the use of alumni in ESG, particularly in terms of funding new projects and informally tutoring and mentoring our new students. We will be collaborating more closely with other undergraduate programs at MIT, including Concourse, the Integrated Studies Program, and the Media and Arts Program. We look forward to continuing to provide a unique place where staff, students, faculty, and alumni can come together to experiment with new ways of teaching and learning within a collaborative, intergenerational, and interdisciplinary community.

More information about the Experimental Study Group can be found on the World Wide Web at

Peter Dourmashkin, Travis Merrit, Holly Sweet

MIT Reports to the President 1999–2000