History

How did ESG come into existence? Well, here is a brief history of the Experimental Study Group...

 

ESG was started at MIT in the fall of 1969 as an educational experiment, funded by the Edwin Land foundation.  The original committee of planners included faculty and staff members Peter Elbow, Anthony French, Robert Halfman, Arthur Kaledin, Daniel Kemp, John King, Mark Levensky, Margaret MacVicar, Edgar Schein, Arthur Steinberg, Gilbert Strang, George Thomas, and George Valley (who was ESG’s first director).  

The program was started as a more flexible and personalized alternative to the highly structured method of instruction (lectures and recitation sections) available in the regular curriculum at MIT in the late 1960s. Students were allowed a great deal of flexibility in pace and content of their studies at ESG, independent work was encouraged, and close staff-student interaction was stressed.  Students were encouraged to learn at their own pace, gain self awareness, learn to cooperate with others, and, most of all, students should be actively involved in their learning.

The program was evaluated periodically by MIT’s Committee on Educational Policy. In 1980, the program was given permanent status under the jurisdiction of the School of Science. Since that time, ESG has grown to include a highly successful undergraduate seminar series (with typically 5-10 new seminars offered each spring to all MIT and Wellesley undergraduates) and an extensive student teacher training program, with an average of 25 undergraduates a year helping out with instruction in the core subjects.

ESG directors have included Professor George Valley (1969-1975), Professor Robert Halfman (1975-1985), Professor Kim Vandiver (1985-1989), Professor Vernon Ingram (1989-1999), Professor Emeritus Travis Merritt (1999-2002), and Professor Alexander Slocum (2002-present).  Professor Slocum is also an alumnus of ESG (class of 1982). Student enrollment has varied over the years, from a low of 21 freshmen in the fall of 1971 to a high of 54 students (with 28 waitlisted) in the fall of 2007.  

For a more detailed history of the origins of our program, please read "My Years in the MIT Experimental Study Group: Some Old Facts and New Myths,"  written by George Valley in 1974.