MIT Faculty Newsletter  
Vol. XXIV No. 1
September / October 2011
Political Climate Change Threatens
Scientific Endeavors
Putting the Genie Back in the Bottle:
MIT Faculty and Nuclear Disarmament
Rise of the Rest, Fall of the Best?
Innovations in Communication Instruction at MIT: Celebrating Ten Years of the Communication Requirement (CR)
HASS Exploration Program:
Entering Phase Two
Faculty Fallout
A Letter to President Hockfield
MIT Ranked 3rd in the World, 5th in the U.S.?
Teaching this fall? You should know . . .
MISTI Expands Faculty Seed Funds and Launches New MIT-Chile Program
College Admissions 101
Request for Preliminary Proposals for
Innovative Curricular Projects
Nominate a Colleague for the
MacVicar Faculty Fellows Program
Commenting on “Departmental Discussions of Diversity and Inclusion”
U.S. News & World Report: Best College Rankings for Nartional Universities, 2003-2012
Printable Version

HASS Exploration Program: Entering Phase Two

Diana Henderson

A call to action

Following last spring’s interim report from the Subcommittee on the Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences Requirement (SHR), the HASS Exploration Program (formerly called the First Year Focus Program) enters its second phase: we are looking to expand the roster of these exciting foundational subjects. If we continue to build on early successes, the HEX subjects – as, in the MIT tradition of distinctive acronyms, SHR is now dubbing them – have the potential to play a crucial part within the HASS Requirement.

Working towards that goal, SHR (staffed by members of the Office of Faculty Support) is seeking existing subjects that fit HEX Program parameters as well as soliciting interested faculty to design and teach new subjects.

Advantages of being part of the HEX Program include the opportunity to explore topics from multiple perspectives along with colleagues, to become more familiar with others’ pedagogical techniques and strategies, and to share and develop new research ideas. Instructors in the SHR-recommended program can also take the occasion to build relationships with fellow faculty in other departments and often to teach previously unreached students about their area of expertise.

A bit of context

In 2006 the Task Force on the Undergraduate Educational Commons proposed the creation of HASS subjects geared towards first-year students, to generate a common discussion among undergraduates and familiarize them with fundamental topics and methods. Especially in the wake of changes to the HASS Distribution requirement (i.e., HASS-Ds being phased out and replaced by a much larger set of options), some core educational practices beyond those addressed by the Communication Requirement seemed worth modeling and exploring with students early in their undergraduate training. Funding from the SHASS Fund for Teaching and Learning and the d’Arbeloff Funds for Excellence in Education was made available to design and sustain these conceptually innovative subjects. The experiment was continued in 2009, when the faculty, via the CUP, charged the Subcommittee on the HASS Requirement with the task of determining whether the First Year Focus Program should be recommended to the faculty as part of the HASS Requirement in 2014.

Under the chairmanship of Professor Jeff Ravel, SHR has since worked to assess the First Year Focus Program, to determine the commonality between experimental subjects and whether that commonality filled an important educational niche. Two years into the assessment process (AY2011), SHR renamed the program, believing the HASS Exploration Program more accurately reflected the subjects’ constituency, and established a common set of parameters for HEX subjects:

  • Introduce students to major interdisciplinary concepts and to disciplinary methods in the Humanities, Arts, and/or Social Sciences.
  • Encourage students to think critically and analytically, and expose students to ambiguities inherent at complex levels of analysis within fields.
  • Feature pedagogically innovative techniques, as well as extensive opportunity for faculty/student interaction.
  • Regular faculty should lecture and lead discussions, possibly in collaboration with Senior Lecturers.

In the second phase of the experiment, SHR (now chaired by Professor Andrea Campbell, a veteran of the committee) will assess whether these defined parameters in combination provide a crucial undergraduate experience otherwise absent from MIT’s curricular requirements, and whether the HEX Program should continue as a recommended set of subjects or the faculty should consider making a HEX subject a required part of the GIRs.

How to participate

Faculty interested in developing and participating in these thematically innovative subjects should consider applying for funds from the d’Arbeloff Funds for Excellence in Education and/or the SHASS Fund for Teaching and Learning. Both programs are actively seeking to support HEX experimentation. To find out how your subject might join the HASS Exploration Program or how to apply for funding, contact your Department Head, SHR, the Office of Faculty Support (, or the SHASS Dean’s Office. For a listing of HEX subjects offered in Academic Year 2012 visit:

We look forward to working with more of our talented fellow faculty!

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