MIT Reports to the President 1994-95

Experimental Study Group

For the past twenty-six years, the Experimental Study Group has provided a unique educational alternative to the regular curriculum for first year students at MIT. Learning is based on the concept of self-motivated study through small interactive groups and seminars. Students have found this approach beneficial for a number of reasons: the opportunity to work closely with instructors and ask questions, the chance to be part of a close-knit academic community, and a flexible structure which allows students to study material at their own time and pace. In the words of one students from the Class of 1998: "I am glad I joined ESG. It offered me small classes, a chance to interact with my professors, and, in essence, the opportunity to learn more deeply than I think I could in the regular curriculum."


The total enrollment of students for the year included 49 freshmen, 1 sophomore transfer, and 26 upperclassmen who had been in ESG as freshmen. In addition, 14 non-ESG students enrolled in seminars sponsored by ESG.

Forty-nine percent of ESG's freshman class for the year were female, 10 percent were minorities, and 14 percent were international students (coming from countries as diverse as Bangladesh, Bulgaria, and Cyprus).


In addition to their teaching duties, Professor Vernon Ingram (Director of ESG) and Holly Sweet (Associate Director) administered and monitored program offerings and activities. They met during the year with the ESG Advisory Committee, currently composed of Professor Alan Davison (Department of Chemistry), Dean Robert Birgeneau (School of Science), Professor Alar Toomre (Department of Mathematics), Department Head Ernest Moniz (Department of Physics), and Dean Philip Khoury (School of Humanities and Social Science).


The physics staff included Professors Emeriti Robert Hulsizer and Robert Halfman, Dr. Peter Dourmashkin, Craig Watkins, and David Custer '82. The mathematics staff was headed by Craig Watkins and David Metzler and included graduate student Thomas Colthurst. Professor Ingram from the Department of Biology was responsible for the teaching of introductory biology in ESG. The chemistry offerings at ESG were supervised by Todd Anderson, a graduate student in the Department of Chemistry. Mr. Anderson has accepted a job at a consulting firm in Boston and will be greatly missed after the five years he has spent teaching at ESG.

ESG also offered several HASS-D and HASS classes to its students. Eric Fernald, a graduate student in the Department of Political Science, taught political science and political philosophy. Mr. Fernald will be leaving ESG to pursue a full-time job in political science. He has been a dynamic and creative teacher and has contributed a great deal to ESG over the past five years. Dr. Christopher Sawyer-Laucanno taught expository writing in the fall, and David Custer '82 taught both expository and creative writing in the spring, as well as developing and teaching a new undergraduate seminar on technical writing.

Dr. Lee Perlman, a former ESG humanities staff member, returned to co-teach SEM051 Sex Roles and Relationships both terms along with Ms. Sweet, and to teach a seminar on Introduction to Eastern Religions during IAP.

Our staff were assisted by 27 undergraduate and 12 graduate tutors. Undergraduates tutoring biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics for the first time at ESG were required to participate in a teaching seminar run by staff members. Several upperclassmen taught seminars in ESG under staff supervision. Chinsan Han '97 ran SP293 Robotics for the third year in a row. Jeffrey Crants '95 developed and taught a humanities seminar SP296 Comparative Film and Literature under the supervision of Dr. Dourmashkin and Professor Irving Singer.


ESG continued its tradition of developing new curriculum through undergraduate seminars by offering four new seminars this year: SP294 Special Topics in Mathematics (Mr. Colthurst), SP295 Introduction to Eastern Religions (Dr. Perlman), SP297 Special Topics in Biology (Professor Ingram), and SEM102 Technical Writing (Mr. Custer). This was the first time that SP290 Mathematical Physics was taught by a physicist (Dr. Dourmashkin) and a mathematician (Mr. Metzler). This seminar introduced advanced topics in the theory of electromagnetic fields to ESG students who are seriously considering majoring in mathematics or physics.

In addition, two new freshman advisor seminars were offered. Dr. Dourmashkin taught SEM098 Time in Special Relativity and Cosmology. Professor Leigh Royden from the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Science and Ms. Sweet co-taught 12A20 Gender Roles in Science.

Mr. Anderson taught 5.60 Thermodynamics and Kinetics completely within ESG for the first time during the spring term. He was able to provide small group instruction and an in-depth approach to the material which was not available in the regular curriculum.

Professor Ingram, along with undergraduate and graduate tutors, continued designing a new approach to teaching molecular biology at ESG. In the spring term, freshmen successfully and safely completed "wet lab" experiments in genetics, using a bread mold as an experimental organism. This experiment illustrated a most important aspect of Mendelian genetics - the reassortment of characters by crossing over. This is not normally taught to freshmen at MIT in lectures, but left to sophomores and juniors. Yet it is perhaps the most frequent genetic event in human heredity. Students were delighted and interested, as were their teachers. We plan on doing this again in our newly renovated laboratory space in ESG instead of having to use the overcrowded 7.02 lab.

Professor Ingram and student assistants also continued development of the biology Hypertext which will be used for problem set solving by freshmen at home. The expanded hypertext will be very important for use in introducing basic molecular biochemistry and cell biology to freshmen by teaching a new beginning section on immunology. In addition, we will be using Scientific American articles to introduce the subject and get students fired up. Immunology is very topical nowadays - with AIDS, new deadly viruses, new antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains, etc. We will be using our new approach to biology with our students throughout next year, with an eye towards exporting it to the regular curriculum.


Academic excellence at ESG is of paramount importance. The 51 sophomores currently registered at MIT who had been in ESG as freshmen earned a cumulative median grade point of 4.4 this spring, a figure which is higher than the corresponding statistic for the entire MIT sophomore class. Almost a fifth of the ESG sophomore class had perfect 5.0 academic records for the year. The undergraduate tutors (most of whom had been in ESG as freshmen) maintained a 4.6 median grade point average.

We are pleased not only with the outstanding performance of our sophomores and tutors, but also with the initiative and academic rigor shown by our staff and tutors in teaching the core curriculum and designing new course. Mr. Anderson won the 1995 Goodwin graduate student teaching award, based on the fine job he has done teaching chemistry and supervising chemistry tutors in ESG. Shane Crotty '97 won the Irwin Sizer award for his work developing the new biology curriculum. Christina Onufryk '95 won the Association of MIT Alumnae award, partially for her work in teaching and developing the biology curriculum in ESG.

ESG continues to provide a home for students and staff at MIT who are interested in a more individualized and experimental approach to education. We applaud the efforts of all of our community members who have contributed in their own ways in maintaining ESG as a valuable Institute resource for curricular innovation.

Vernon M. Ingram
Holly B. Sweet

MIT Reports to the President 1994-95