SAN FRANCISCO -- Charles M. Vest, president emeritus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has been awarded the 2006 AAAS Philip Hauge Abelson Prize for his outstanding contributions to public policy, education and university research.
While serving as president of MIT from 1990 to 2004, Vest worked to strengthen federal-university-industry relations and helped bring education and research issues to broader public attention. He put special emphasis on undergraduate education in science and engineering and also stressed the importance of racial and cultural diversity among faculty and students at MIT.
Vest, who has been nominated to be the next president of National Academy of Engineering, has served on numerous high-level commissions and study panels dealing with important national issues. He chaired the President's Advisory Committee on the Redesign of the Space Station and serves on the President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology. He chaired the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Task Force on the Future of DOE Science Programs, was vice chair of the Council on Competitiveness for eight years, and is a past chair of the Association of American Universities.
Vest also served as a member of the Commission on Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction and on the U.S. Secretary of Education's Commission on the Future of Education. He now serves on an advisory committee on transformational diplomacy for the U.S. Secretary of State and on the Secure Borders and Open Doors Advisory Committee of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The Abelson Prize was inspired by Philip Hauge Abelson, who served as long-time senior adviser to AAAS, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and editor of the Association's journal, Science. Abelson, who also served as president of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, died 1 August 2004, following more than 60 years of service to science and society.
"Chuck Vest has epitomized Phil Abelson's view of the citizen-scientist," said Alan I. Leshner, AAAS chief executive officer and executive publisher of Science. "He is a leading voice in the ongoing conversation about the future of American research universities and has offered sound counsel to policymakers on some of the toughest issues confronting the nation."
Dr. Vest earned his B.S. degree in mechanical engineering from West Virginia University in 1963 and both his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Michigan in 1964 and 1967, respectively. He is the recipient of 10 honorary doctoral degrees.
Vest, whose academic specialty was applied optics, says he enjoyed teaching and doing research. But he took the post of associate dean of the University of Michigan's College of Engineering at the behest of a colleague and found that he liked administrative work.
Asked by an interviewer in 2005 whether his background in engineering prepared him for his eventual role as MIT president, Vest answered that an analytical approach can be helpful in defining and breaking down a problem. "But frankly," he said, "it was more my interest in people and ideas and accomplishments" that drove his interest in academic leadership. He said he enjoyed two things about administration. "One is creating opportunity for young faculty and sort of running interference against old guard who don't want to see change," Vest said. "Fostering the careers of young people is a thrill. And second, I always enjoy what I call weaving webs -- knowing a little bit about what this person is interested in, what that person does, and what the capability is over here" and bringing people together on challenges.
Vest also spoke of the changes for MIT and other institutions in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks, with much more attention focused on scholars and students from abroad who seek visas to live and study in the United States. "My view is that it is the government's role to decide who comes to this country as an employee or scholar or student, but once they are admitted we should be able on our campuses to treat everybody exactly the same way," Vest said. He said it is essential that "we keep filling the bucket of new knowledge and new technology."
The Abelson Prize is awarded annually to either a public servant in recognition of sustained exceptional contributions to advancing science, or to a scientist whose career has been distinguished both for scientific achievement and for other notable services to the scientific community. The Prize was established in 1985 by the AAAS Board of Directors and consists of a plaque and an honorarium of $5,000.
The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is the world's largest general scientific society, and publisher of the journal, Science (www.sciencemag.org). AAAS was founded in 1848, and serves 262 affiliated societies and academies of science, reaching 10 million individuals. Science has the largest paid circulation of any peer-reviewed general science journal in the world, with an estimated total readership of 1 million. The non-profit AAAS (www.aaas.org) is open to all and fulfills its mission to "advance science and serve society" through initiatives in science policy, international programs, science education and more. For the latest research news, log onto EurekAlert!, www.eurekalert.org, the premier science-news Web site, a service of AAAS.
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AAAS is the world's largest general scientific society, dedicated to "Advancing science · Serving society."