Eric Grimson: Transitioning to the Next Stage

  1. Eric Grimson as MIT Chancellor.  Photo by Dominick Reuter, 2011.
    Eric Grimson as MIT Chancellor. Photo by Dominick Reuter, 2011.
  2. Former EECS Dept. Head Eric Grimson speaks with EECS colleagues including left Interim Dept. Head Srini Devadas and right Associate Head Duane Boning.
    Former EECS Dept. Head Eric Grimson speaks with EECS colleagues including left Interim Dept. Head Srini Devadas and right Associate Head Duane Boning.
  3. Former EECS Dept. Head Eric Grimson with Associate Head Duane Boning
    Former EECS Dept. Head Eric Grimson with Associate Head Duane Boning
  4. Former EECS Dept. Head Eric Grimson with Associate Head and Interim Dept. Head Srini Devadas
    Former EECS Dept. Head Eric Grimson with Associate Head and Interim Dept. Head Srini Devadas
  5. Interim Dept. Head (left) Srini Devadas with MIT Chancellor Eric Grimson and Associate Head Duane Boning
    Interim Dept. Head (left) Srini Devadas with MIT Chancellor Eric Grimson and Associate Head Duane Boning

By the time you read this article, the department will have undergone a transition in leadership. Effective July 1, Anantha Chandrakasan takes over as the new Head, and Munzer Dahleh and Bill Freeman as the new Associate Heads for the department. As with previous cases, I know this transition will be smooth and seamless; I also know that the new team will be terrific, bringing new energy, leadership and vision for moving the department forward.

It has been a great privilege and pleasure (almost all of the time) to have served as head of EECS for the past six years. It was hard to step away from one of the best jobs in the world – heading the best department at the best educational institution in the world – but it was also hard to turn down the opportunity to serve as MIT’s Chancellor. I know that the department will thrive under its new leadership, and I plan to stay connected to the department, especially as I intend to continue to teach even in my new role.

Looking back on the past six years, I believe that the department has made significant strides along a number of directions, as it works to remain a top-ranked department and a great home for students and faculty. Of course, we can’t sit complacently, and I know that the new leadership has a number of great ideas for future improvements. Nonetheless, we can see a number of areas where the department has strengthened.

First, we have completed the primary phase of revising our undergraduate curriculum, a process that has involved a large number of faculty and students, although additional refinements will occur over the next few years. The first class to completely follow the new curriculum has graduated, and it is very striking to look at their self-assessment of their experiences in the department – they report a level of satisfaction that is the highest in at least 10 years. Detailed responses to the senior survey show that many of the key principles of the curricular revision are being satisfied, as students demonstrate better communication skills, deeper understanding of foundational principles, better appreciation of the relationships between different subareas of EE and CS, and a richer appreciation of the contextual settings in which to deploy technical concepts.

Second, we have revamped a number of our teaching spaces, in order to serve current technical needs. While we have been slowly upgrading most of our instructional laboratory space, two recent upgrades are worth noting. Through a generous gift from Frank Quick, we have significantly upgraded teaching space in Building 38, including 100 new computers as well as improved workbench and instructional space. And through a generous gift from Rick Barry, we have significantly upgraded the infrastructure for 6.01, our introductory subject that blends EE and CS together utilizing mobile robots as a platform. We greatly appreciate these and other gifts that have allowed us to bring our teaching infrastructure in line with our revised curricular approach.

Third, we have continued to hire spectacular new faculty members, providing a fresh flow of great new ideas into our research environment. These young faculty members are the foundation for the next several decades of department research, and strengthen our presence in a wide range of areas: synthetic biology, computer security, theoretical computation, biomems, information theory, communications, devices, energy, and many other areas. The department remains an incredibly attractive venue for young researchers, and we are delighted to have enticed such a great cohort of people to the department.

Finally, I want to take a moment to thank some of the many people who worked with me over the past six years to continuously improve the state of the department. Duane Boning and Srini Devadas were superb Associate Heads who provided wise advice, effective and efficient leadership, and great ideas. Agnes Chow is simply the best Administrative Officer at the Institute (and beyond). George Verghese and Denny Freeman handled the immense task of Education Officer with remarkable efficiency. Art Smith, Terry Orlando, Leslie Kolodziejski and Chris Terman ensured that the Graduate and Undergraduate programs maintained their impeccable level of excellence. And Fred Hennie provided a deep source of institutional wisdom. Through their hard work, the faculty, students and staff that comprise EECS are exceptionally well served, and for their help I am very grateful.

Eric Grimson
MIT Chancellor

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