MIT Reports to the President 1997-98


This coming year, the Experimental Study Group will celebrate its 30th year offering first year students at MIT a unique educational alternative to the regular curriculum. Learning is based on the concept of self-motivated study through small interactive groups, tutorials, independent projects, and seminars. Students have found this approach beneficial for a number of reasons: the opportunity to work closely with instructors and be able to ask questions, the chance to be part of a close-knit academic program with a strong community focus, and a flexible structure which allows students to study material at their own pace and depth. This program attracts and works well for freshmen who are highly motivated and who are ready to take more responsibility for their own learning than is usual in the regular curriculum.

The total number of students enrolled for the year included 47 freshmen and 1 sophomore transfer, for whom ESG was primarily a full time activity. Forty-four percent of ESG's freshman class were female, twenty-two percent were underrepresented minorities, and eight percent were international students. In addition, 22 upperclassmen who had been in ESG as freshmen took one or two subjects in ESG, and 12 undergraduates who had not previously been in ESG enrolled in seminars and HASS subjects taught in ESG.

Professor Vernon Ingram (Director of ESG) and Dr. Holly Sweet (Associate Director) administered and monitored program offerings and activities. In addition to her administrative work at ESG, Dr. Sweet also directed GenderWorks (MIT's peer training program in gender relations), team taught an undergraduate seminar on gender roles, and served on MIT's newly formed Orientation Committee in the fall. Julie Banda replaced Renee Hoffman as ESG's administrative assistant in September. Ms. Banda brings with her not only solid administrative and financial experience, but also interest and expertise in health education and maintenance, including working part-time as an EMT in the Greater Boston area.

The ESG advisory committee met once with Professor Ingram and Dr. Sweet during the year to supervise the academic portion of ESG. The committee is headed by Professor Alan Davison (Department of Chemistry), and includes Dean Robert Birgeneau (School of Science), Dean Philip Khoury (School of Humanities and Social Sciences), Professor Ernest Moniz (Department of Physics), and Professor Alar Toomre (Department of Mathematics).

The physics staff included Professor 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 student Adam Lucas. The chemistry offerings at ESG were supervised for the second year by Christopher Morse, a graduate student in the Department of Chemistry. The biology staff was headed by Professor Ingram and included Cindy Limb, who taught biology and maintained the biology wet lab.

ESG also offered several HASS and HASS-D courses to its students. Dr. Lee Perlman taught 21L001 Foundations of Western Culture in the fall term and 24.00 Problems in Philosophy in the Spring term. Mr. Custer was on leave for the fall term and was replaced by Ms. Lorraine Lippincott who taught 21W730 Expository Writing. Mr. Custer returned from his climbing trip in the Himalayas to teach 21W735 Writing and Reading the Essay in the spring term.

Our staff was assisted by 20 undergraduate tutors (who maintained an impressive GPA of 4.6), and 7 graduate tutors. New undergraduate tutors were required to participate in a fall teaching seminar run by staff. Dr. Sweet interviewed all freshmen during the fall term about their academic progress and overall satisfaction with both ESG and MIT. Several staff retreats were held to develop new ESG policies, which included

emphasizing self-paced study, increasing the size of the student body, and revising our orientation procedures to emphasize the intellectual component of ESG.

ESG continued to sponsor new academic initiatives, which were funded through both a special grant given to ESG during the previous academic year by Dean Birgeneau and by funds from our alumni. The alumni gifts came from 28 different alumni and ranged from gifts of $10 to a gift of $1,000. In addition, one of our alumni from the Class of 1973 started an endowment fund for ESG with a gift of $60,000. We are very happy with these contributions, which allow us to continue experimentation in curriculum development which is beyond the scope of our annual budget.

Teaching initiatives included a project-oriented class in engineering (developed and taught by Max Davis '99 under staff supervision), and a new seminar on Western Mysticism taught by Dr. Perlman during IAP98. We continued the development of textbooks and on-line learning through several ventures. The ESG hypertext in molecular biology on the Internet continued to progress under the direction of Professor Ingram, with the assistance of Ms. Limb and Dr. Laura Willis (from the Department of Biology). As part of ESG's efforts to offer self-paced versions of freshman level math and physics classes to qualified students, subject material for 18.03 Differential Equations has been placed on the World Wide Web by Mr. Watkins, who is overseeing the expansion of the independent study portion of ESG. Dr. Dourmashkin and Professor Emeritus John King (from the Department of Physics) are writing a book on the Physics X courses at MIT (8.01x, 8.02x); this book will be used as a class text when completed.

Dr. Todd Anderson, a former chemistry graduate student at MIT and a staff member at ESG from 1991-1995, contributed $1,050 towards an annual prize for superior undergraduate teaching at ESG. The award recognizes sustained excellence in teaching at ESG through the following criteria: a minimum of three terms teaching at ESG, consistently positive reviews by both students and staff supervisors, innovation in teaching methods and/or content, and dedication to teaching and the welfare of students. The award was restricted to graduating seniors this year because of an outstanding field of candidates. The seniors who shared the prize included Noemi Giszpenc, Kevin Simmons, and Andrew Tan.

Ms. Giszpenc taught three different chemistry subjects at ESG and developed a new IAP activity, a political science discussion group which continued for several years after its initial funding. Mr. Simmons developed and taught two new undergraduate seminars at ESG under staff supervision - Introduction to Photography, and Zen and Philosophy (which looked in depth at the different philosophers mentioned in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.) Mr. Tan taught 8.01 Physics I and 8.02 Physics II for several years to students who commented on his superb knowledge of physics and his sensitivity to the needs of his students which one student called "inspirational."

ESG continues to support educational innovation in both teaching and learning. Funds have been raised from ESG alumni (matched by funds from the Dean of the School of Science) to fund new seminars and project-oriented classes, support on-going initiatives which have proven to be successful, and continue work on the biology and math hypertexts. We look forward to contributing to the educational mission of MIT by using our resources to encourage curricular and pedagogical experimentation by both staff and students at ESG.

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

Vernon Ingram, Holly Sweet

MIT Reports to the President 1997-98