Experimental Study Group

The Experimental Study Group (ESG), now in its 31st year, has significantly grown beyond its original mission of providing personalized instruction in the core subjects to first year students at MIT. At the present time, ESG also serves as a teaching laboratory for approximately 35 undergraduates each year, as well as a center for educational innovation in hands-on, interactive seminars. Several of these seminars (SP287 Kitchen Chemistry and SP293 Robotics) have been exported to the regular curriculum and are now being offered as dorm-based seminars. We are working closely with various parts of MIT (including relevant academic departments, the Edgerton Center, Residential Life and Student Life Programs, and the Dean for Undergraduate Education) to continue these seminars and promote their growth, since they are directly in line with the Task Force's Report on Student Life and Learning to better integrate those two aspects of students' lives. ESG also manages to offer a varied and dynamic curriculum with an excellent staff-student ratio at the cost effective level of $137 per credit unit.

Finally, we have started a pilot project in getting our alumni more involved in various aspects of the ESG program, including mentoring freshmen, teaching subjects for credit, running seminars during IAP, offering internships and job opportunities for students, speaking at Friday luncheons, and participating in community activities (such as weekend trips). We are very excited about this new aspect of ESG and hope to work with others at MIT who are also engaged in getting MIT alumni re-connected with the Institute.

Student Statistics

Seventy-one first year students enrolled for one or both terms in ESG, the highest enrollment of freshmen in ESG's 31 year history. ESG's freshmen were a very diverse group: 59 percent of students were female and 17 percent were underrepresented minorities, the highest percentages of each group in ESG's history. In addition, 20 percent of ESG freshmen were international students, including students from Bangladesh, Canada, Columbia, Ghana, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, and Sweden. Thirty-five upperclassmen who had been in ESG as freshmen took one or two subjects in ESG, and 45 undergraduates who had not previously been in ESG enrolled in seminars or HASS subjects taught in ESG.

An important component of ESG includes undergraduate, graduate, and alumni teachingassistants who work closely with our staff and faculty in helping maintain our ability to offer high quality, personalized instruction. We employed 37 undergraduates (who collectively maintained a grade point average of 4.4) who were closely supervised by staff through a variety of methods, including participating in a weekly teaching seminar in the fall term, meeting regularly with staff members, and receiving written feedback through end of term freshman evaluations. We also utilized six graduate students (most of whom had been in ESG as freshmen) and one ESG alumna as teaching assistants.

Staff and Faculty

ESG's administration was headed by Professor Travis Merrittand included Associate Directors Dr. Peter Dourmashkin and Dr. Holly Sweet, and Program Coordinator Julie Banda. They consulted on an annual basis with members of the ESG Advisory Committee who included Professor Alan Davison (Department of Chemistry), Professor Marc Kastner (Department of Physics), Dean Philip Khoury (School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences), Professor Daniel Kleitman (Department of Mathematics), and Dean Robert Silbey (School of Science).

The physics staff included Professor Emeritus Robert Hulsizer, Dr. Peter Dourmashkin, and David Custer '82. The mathematics staff included Craig Watkins and two newcomers: Dr. John Lewis, a Senior Lecturer in the department of Mathematics, and Evelyne Robidoux who received her master's degree from the Department of Mathematics last year.

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, Mr. Custer taught 21W.730 Expository Writing and Dr. Lee Perlman taught 21L.001 Introduction to Western Culture. In the spring term, Professor Merritt taught 21L.004 Major Poets and Dr. Perlman taught 24.00 Problems in Philosophy.

Academic Initiatives

ESG continues to provide a milieux in which staff, faculty, and students can develop new subjects and new approaches to existing subjects. Perhaps our most exciting development has been the steady increase in the numbers of interactive seminars we have been able to offer at ESG (particularly in the spring term). New seminars this year included Greek Mathematics, Special Topics in Mathematics, and Psychology in Action. Seminars which have been run previously (including Kitchen Chemistry, Literature, Robotics, Transitions and Connections, and Writing Workshop) continue to attract a wide variety of students, particularly students from outside ESG who frequently say that ESG seminars are the only opportunity they have had since their freshman year to participate in a small interpersonal class with a hands-on focus. We will continue to support the continuation and growth of our seminar program, with an eye to exporting it to the regular curriculum wherever possible.

For the first time, ESG was able to offer its own recitation and tutorials in 6.001 Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs. Ben Vandiver '00, a current graduate student in Course 6 and a former ESG freshman, ran the recitations, and tutorials were handled by ESG upperclassmen. The smaller size of the recitation and the close contact between recitation instructor and tutors allowed students to receive more individualized and integrated attention. Feedback has been very positive and we hope to continue this arrangement incoming years.

Several ESG students participated in a UROP sponsored by Dr. Dourmashkin in which they helped develop experiments for the new Technology Enhanced Active Learning (TEAL) version of 8.02 Physics that will be offered this coming fall in the regular curriculum.

ESG has been active in developing web-based learning materials this year, for use both within ESG and in the regular curriculum. Dr. Christie maintains the course information for the Department of Chemistry's web sites in 5.111 and 5.112 Principles of Chemical Science, and has put the syllabus, readings, and assignments online for SP287 Kitchen Chemistry. She has also put online the problem sets and tests for both 7.012 Introductory Biology and 5.112. Mr. Watkins has placed several ESG math subjects online, emphasizing the use of Athena software for symbolic-manipulation computer applications, enhanced numerical methods, and computer graphics (including 3-D figures and animations). He has placed supplemental notes online for ESG's version of 8.02 Physics which includes extensive incorporation of 18.03 Differential Equations and computer animations to enhance analysis of wave motion.

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Alumni Involvement

The ESG Alumni Network (ESGAN) was created in October 1999 as a response to the requests of alumni who attended ESG's 30th anniversary celebration that fall to have more opportunity for contact with ESG than annual newsletters and occasional reunions. Glenn Iba '74 has served as ESGAN's president since its inception and has been instrumental in expanding the role of alumni at ESG. During this past year, ESGAN sponsored several new initiatives, including monthly Alumni Nights, alumni mentoring of ESG freshmen, and the establishment of annual reunions of alumni.

In addition, ESG alumni taught a variety of credit-bearing subjects at ESG (including biology, computer science, mathematics and physics) and ran several IAP seminars. ESG alumni also made significant financial contributions to ESG which were used to sponsor educational initiatives and community activities that are beyond the scope of the ESG base budget. It is clear that many ESG alumni feel a strong connection to ESG, and that ESGAN has helped facilitate and strengthen those connections.


ESG gave its own set of annual awards, including the Peter and Sharon Fiekowsky community service award (now in its second year) and the Todd Anderson excellence in teaching award (now in its fourth year). Both Mr. Fiekowsksy and Mr. Anderson are graduates of MIT and have established funding for annual prizes. This year, the Peter and Sharon Fiekowksy award was won by Megan Dyvbig '04 and Miriam Boon '02 for their outstanding contributions to the ESG community. The Todd Anderson teaching award was given to seniors Yvonne Lai, Philip Miller, and Nirav Shah who had demonstrated excellence in teaching at ESG over a sustained period of time.

One of our alumni, Seth Finkelstein '85, who is still an active member of our community, won one of the three Pioneer Awards given out by the Electronic Frontier Foundation in March 2001 for his work in founding the Censor ware Project and in decrypting filtering programs. This award has been recognized internationally and was recently written up the New York Times.

Future Developments

In the coming year, we plan to continue with our educational innovation (especially offering hands-on education, interdisciplinary subjects, residence-based seminars, and web-based instructional materials), and to promote the use of undergraduates in instructional capacities at MIT. We will continue to expand the use of alumni at ESG, particularly in terms of funding new projects and informally tutoring and mentoring our new students. 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.

Peter Dourmashkin, Travis Merritt, and Holly Sweet

More information about the Experimental Study Group can be found online at http://web.mit.edu/esg/www/home.html.

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