The brightest young men and women in the world are attracted to MIT by an extraordinary faculty who deliver an amazing education.

MIT’s faculty, textbooks, and curricula have had a tremendous effect on education across the globe. Twenty-five current and former faculty members have earned the National Medal of Science, and 22 current and former professors have won the Nobel Prize. MIT professors have written some of the world’s best-selling textbooks, including the legendary Economics: An Introductory Analysis by Paul Samuelson and Calculus and Analytic Geometry by George Thomas.

All of the nation’s first curricula in architecture, meteorology, and electrical engineering began at MIT, and in the 1950s, MIT initiated the engineering science revolution, creating a rigorous scientific base for the teaching and practice of engineering.

More recently, new challenges in a world being shaped by science and technology have boosted our commitment to teamwork, interdisciplinary instruction, and hands-on learning. And sophisticated technology, especially the Internet, is making it possible to enhance teaching and learning in revolutionary ways.

For example, Professors Rafael Bras, Penny Chisholm, and Kip Hodges recently created Terrascope, an innovative yearlong program for freshmen, which is part of MIT’s new Earth System Initiative. The program allows students to work in teams to explore science and engineering concepts through in-depth studies of the Earth. Teams work on complex environmental science and management issues, report to a panel of experts, design museum exhibits, and go on expeditions. The program is the first alternative core curriculum for entering students in a generation.

MIT’s annual Design 2.007 contest is a longtime educational success. It is an elimination tournament in which robots designed and built during the semester by students in 2.007 (Introduction to Design and Manufacturing) compete in 45-second rounds. The goal is to teach students hands-on design and engineering concepts in an ethical, supportive atmosphere. Over the years, the 33-year-old contest has become such a huge success that now the top four winners in seven countries compete in an annual International Design Contest.

Another MIT innovation is the Physics Interactive Video Tutor (PIVoT), which provides students with a 24-hour-a-day opportunity to conduct virtual office hours with Physics Professor Walter Lewin, using streaming digital video. Students select any topic on Newtonian Mechanics, and PIVoT directs them to the relevant parts of 50 hours of video clips in which Lewin demonstrates physics principles, steps through problems, and explains difficult concepts.

Jesus del Alamo, professor of electrical engineering and computer science, recently launched WebLab, one of the first teaching labs in the world where the equipment is real but students’ interaction with it is online. “If you can’t come to the lab, the lab will come to you,” says del Alamo, adding that WebLab can be accessed through the Internet and that it allows students to take measurements on transistors and other microelectronic devices in real time.

Recently, MIT launched OpenCourseWare, a program that will make materials for nearly all of its courses freely available on the Web. Five hundred courses are now available, and it is our hope to inspire other institutions to openly share course materials, creating a worldwide web of knowledge that will benefit humankind.

Because educational success is often a result of the dedication and innovation of our faculty, 12 years ago MIT established the Margaret MacVicar Faculty Fellows Program to recognize faculty for their commitment, enthusiasm, and great educational achievements. Each year new fellows are named, and their appointment is for 10 years.

Every day, students are challenged by professors to challenge themselves, even when they feel that the hurdles are dauntingly high. The result is generations of students who have developed the remarkable skill to solve any problem no matter how tough. This is the ability that many say is the most important legacy of their MIT educations –– a talent that has so benefited them and those around them that it has actually helped to change the world.

Students say that MIT’s top teachers are amazing people, but faculty say that what is truly amazing is the students. Working with MIT’s remarkable young people day after day — sharing knowledge and making discoveries — is the reason that many came to teach at MIT in the first place, and it is, they say, one of life’s greatest rewards.

Charles M. Vest

Charles M. Vest