MIT Reports to the President 1998-99


Experimental Study Group (ESG) is the oldest of the three existing alternative programs for freshmen at MIT and has enrolled more than 1400 students in its 30 year existence. ESG began in 1969 as a more personal approach to education at MIT, a place where students and staff could come together without rigid lines of hierarchy and learn from one another. Today ESG has retained its essence: a place at MIT where a group of individuals are dedicated to a few key principles: the importance of small group learning, the value of peer teaching, the need for a close-knit community at MIT which crosses generational and discipline lines, and the importance of having a place where faculty, staff, and students can work together to experiment with education.

We are delighted to announce the selection of Travis Merritt, Professor of Literature, as ESG's fifth Director, effective January 15, 1999. Travis has had considerable experience with freshmen during his 35 years at MIT, including co-founding Concourse and serving as Dean for the Undergraduate Academic Affairs from 1986 to 1996, where he started the highly successful Freshman Advising Seminars program in 1986.

Professor Vernon Ingram, ESG's director from 1989—1999, has done a first rate job of both maintaining high academic standards at ESG (especially in the quality of our teaching staff) and promoting educational innovation in our program. Throughout his ten years at ESG, many new projects were developed at ESG, including undergraduate and freshman advising seminars, teaching methods, laboratory facilities, and curriculum development in the core science and math subjects.

Dr. Holly Sweet served as Associate Director of ESG, working with Professors Ingram and Merritt to monitor the overall quality of the program, with a special emphasis on student needs and academic experience. In addition to her work at ESG, Dr. Sweet also ran GenderWorks (a peer training program in gender relations) for the Office of Residential Life and Student Life Programs. Ms. Julie Banda, now in her second year at ESG, served as ESG's administrative assistant, with a primary focus on financial and social aspects of ESG. In June of 1999, Dr. Peter Dourmashkin was designated as one of ESG's Associate Directors, with primary responsibility for overseeing the teaching of core science subjects, especially by undergraduates.

The total number of students enrolled for the year included 58 freshmen and sophomore transfers, for whom ESG was primarily a full time activity. Fifty-seven percent of ESG's freshman class were female; 12 percent were underrepresented minorities; and 17 percent were international students. In addition, 23 upperclassmen who had been in ESG as freshmen took one or two subjects in ESG, and 14 undergraduates who had not previously been in ESG enrolled in seminars or HASS subjects taught in ESG. Over the past ten years, 33.9 percent of students enrolling in ESG have chosen a major in the School of Science in their sophomore year, compared to 24.6 percent of those who did not choose to enroll in ESG.

The physics staff included Professors Emeriti Robert Hulsizer and Robert Halfman, Dr. Peter Dourmashkin (Lecturer), and David Custer ‘82 (Lecturer). The mathematics staff was headed by Craig Watkins and included graduate students Dimitri Kountourogiannis and Kevin McGerty. The chemistry offerings at ESG were supervised by Dr. Patricia Christie. The biology staff was headed by Professor Ingram and included Cindy Limb, an alumna of the MIT Biology Department.

ESG also offered several HASS and HASS-D courses to its students. Dr. Lee Perlman taught 24.00 Problems in Philosophy in the fall term and SP2H1 Philosophy of Love in the spring term. Mr. Custer taught 21W730 Expository Writing in the fall term and 21W735 Reading and Writing the essay in the spring term.

Our staff was assisted by 25 undergraduate teaching assistants (who maintained an impressive GPA of 4.6). The undergraduates were closely supervised by staff through a variety of methods, including participating in a weekly teaching seminar (SP231) run by Mr. Custer, Dr. Dourmashkin, and Mr. Watkins, having videotaped teaching sessions be evaluated by Dr. Dourmashkin, and receiving feedback about their teaching by Dr. Sweet, who interviewed all freshmen during the fall about their experiences with ESG teaching. Dr. Dourmashkin is currently running a teaching seminar for graduate students in the Department of Physics, based on his experience in ESG.

Several of our community members won significant awards this year in connection with their ESG involvement, including Dr. Dourmashkin, who won the Irwin Sizer award for the most significant improvement to MIT education, and Van Chu ‘99, who won the Karl Taylor Compton award for outstanding and sustained contributions to the MIT community as a whole. Matthew Bowman ‘99 and Benjamin Davis ‘99 won the annual Todd Anderson award for sustained excellence in teaching at ESG. Mr. Bowman also won the Frederick Greene award for excellence in teaching in the Chemistry Department. Christopher Douglas ‘99 (one of our youngest alumni in our 30 year history) won a Rhodes scholarship to study at Oxford University in the fall.

We are very proud of our undergraduate instructors and believe that one of ESG's greatest contributions to education at MIT is giving undergraduates the opportunity to teach. Dr. Dourmashkin and Mr. Custer have written a chapter on ESG for a book on student teaching called Student Assisted Teaching and Learning: Strategies, Models, and Outcomes (J. Miller, J. Groccia & D. DiBiasio, Anker Publishers, in progress). Planning has begun by staff at ESG, the Teaching and Learning Laboratory, and the Teacher Education Program to develop a resource center at MIT during 1999—2000 (called UTEACH) that would help sponsor high quality, innovative teaching by undergraduates in a variety of educational venues. One of our recent graduates of ESG, Benjamin Davis ‘99, will be heading UTEACH and working on developing hands-on seminars to be offered during IAP2000 and Spring 2000 in the MIT residence halls.

Dr. Perlman is currently developing a seminar-scale prototype for a HASS-D subject which will merge humanistic and scientific thought, with a view toward offering it full-scale in the fall of 2001. Dr. Sweet helped develop a new freshman advising seminar called The Freshman Connection which she co-taught in the fall along with Marilee Jones, Dean of Admissions. This seminar proved to be highly successful and will be taught in the fall of 1999 under a new name (Transitions and Connections: Psychology Looks at the Freshman Year), with additional sections and staff, including Professor Merritt. Mr. Watkins has been actively collaborating with Concourse staff to develop a new approach to learning math, using several different pathways linking essential modular elements of Calculus I, Calculus II, and Differential Equations. He has also been working on a calculus hypertext for ESG, as well as a computer based problem solving tutorial called Cybertutor for the Department of Physics.

We have begun a large-scale effort (headed by Dr. Perlman) to engage our alumni in more aspects of ESG, including mentoring our freshmen, teaching subjects in ESG, and funding educational initiatives at ESG (particularly those which are run or developed by students). We will be holding a 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.

As we enter the year 2000, we are excited about the possibilities of not only continuing educational experimentation within ESG, but also collaborating with staff from different programs at MIT and our alumni in providing creative and high quality teaching and learning opportunities to a range of students, staff, faculty, and alumni associated with the Institute.

Travis Merritt, Holly Sweet

MIT Reports to the President 1998-99