Honoring EECS legend Anne Hunter

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Saturday, December 21, 2019 - 2:15pm

Long-time EECS Undergraduate Administrator Anne Hunter at her retirement party. Photo: EECS Staff

EECS Staff

Editor's Note: Please visit the EECS Giving Site to make a gift in recognition of Anne Hunter’s years of dedicated service to EECS students. See end of article for additional details.

Nearly 10,000 undergraduates have graduated from EECS since 1979, along with 4,000 Master of Engineering (MEng) students since that degree became available in 1994. Chances are that all or most of them met Anne Hunter, the department’s long-time undergraduate administrator, who retired in November 2019 after 46 years with MIT — most of it with EECS. 

Hunter began her MIT career in the School of Humanities in 1973, moving to EECS in 1979. During her time with the department, she won numerous awards, including the School of Engineering’s Infinite Mile Award for excellence and the Ellen G. Mandigo Award for Outstanding Service. She twice won the department’s Richard J. Caloggero award, which honors EECS employees who have shown loyalty, dedication, and effectiveness beyond normal expectations. 

At a farewell gathering, colleagues, faculty, and students praised the long-time undergraduate administrator for her compassion, commitment, and encyclopedic knowledge of EECS — especially its past and present students. Following is a sampling of comments from that event:

“Anne’s impact on the educational mission of EECS and her ability to find creative solutions to help our students, is incredible,” said Anantha Chandrakasan, dean of the School of Engineering and Vannevar Bush Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, who worked with Hunter during his six years as EECS department head. “My best advice to my undergraduate advisees on tricky issues was: ‘You should drop by Anne’s office,” because often I did not have the answers, but Anne always did.”

Among other achievements, Chandrakasan said, Hunter helped create Undergraduate Student Advisory Group in EECS (USAGE). This advisory committee of about 30 students provides EECS leadership with insights into undergraduate views on curriculum changes, workload, and other issues, Chandrakasan said. As an extension of that effort, she was instrumental in developing the EECS-administered Advanced Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program — better known as SuperUROP — in 2012. To date, more than 800 undergraduates from across MIT have graduated from the year-long research program.

Chandrakasan also credited Hunter with defining and shaping a variety of other USAGE initiatives, ranging from creating or renovating student lounges to helping launch the Start6 (now StartMIT) program held annually during MIT’s Independent Activities Period in January. She also ran hundreds of open houses, information sessions, family weekends, preview weekends, and student orientations.

“If you ask Anne about her favorite activity, she’ll without hesitation tell you that it’s helping students, not just by answering their questions, but by answering the questions they should be asking, and letting them know about other ways of accomplishing what they’re hoping to achieve,” Chandrakasan concluded.

W. Eric L. Grimson, MIT’s Chancellor for Academic Advancement, described Hunter as being one of just a few MIT staffers “known as infinite sources of knowledge and as incredible problem-solvers.” These sages aren’t included on an official list; their reputations spread by word of mouth, added Grimson, also a long-time professor of computer science and Bernard M. Gordon Professor in Medical Engineering. “Anne is known to everyone at MIT as one of those remarkable problem-solvers and sources of wisdom.”

For instance: “[You’ve] just discovered a month before the end of your last term that you might be six units short of graduation? Call Anne — though she probably already knows and is working on a solution,” Grimson said. “Can’t decide whether to take that job offer from Facebook, or join the cool startup in Kendall Square? Talk with Anne.”

Students remember Hunter long after they leave MIT, he said: “I have heard from alumni/alumnae in my travels that they are amazed when they drop by Anne’s office years after graduation and she both recognizes and remembers them,” he said. “And they often relate stories of how Anne gave them great advice about issues that weren’t just focused on degree requirements, but on broader life goals and ambitions.”

Former Undergraduate Officer Chris Terman, now senior lecturer emeritus, noted that Hunter’s tenure coincided with enormous growth in undergraduate enrollments. “That could have been a disaster, but instead was a success largely due to your compassion for the students and your energy in helping them run the MIT gauntlet,” he said. “The department is complicated, the Institute is complicated, and, indeed, the life of a young adult is complicated about what’s possible and how to get it done. Thankfully, you successfully filled the role of our resident ‘student whisperer’ for many decades.”

Terman praised Hunter’s support for the EECS Online Advising Forum, a resource for students to submit questions. “It quickly became a very popular resource, with hundreds of unique visitors each day and thousands of posts, almost all of which have a response that you authored,” he said. The average response time: About 30 minutes, regardless of time of day — or night.

“Whew! There was a lot on your plate for many decades,” Terman concluded. “Many thanks for making us your mission for all these years.”

EECS department head Asu Ozdaglar, associate department heads Saman Amarasinghe and Joel Voldman, and Undergraduate Officer Katrina LaCurts also offered praise for Hunter during the celebration, as did senior Jessica Quaye and graduate student Gustavo Goretkin ’13, MEng ’16.

“Thank you for the treasure of time that you generously gave to each student that visited you,” said Quaye, a senior and 2020 Schwarzman Scholar, who will spend next year studying at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China. “I will miss seeing your signature 180-degree turn that you made away from your desk whenever I stopped by. It may have been a small gesture but it indirectly said to me, ‘you have my attention.’”

Goretkin emphasized the importance of balancing technical and academic excellence with “compassion and heart” — a combination that he said Hunter demonstrated consistently during her decades with the department. “MIT has been [my] home for 10 years now, and Anne has been my friend for almost all of them,” he said, then speaking directly to Hunter: “I am selfishly sad that a friend of mine is leaving, but I am so happy and excited that it's time for your next thing. In a way, you did it! You graduated from MIT, too.”

Editor’s Note: Visit the EECS Giving Site to make a gift to the Department Education and Research Fund in honor of Anne Hunter’s years of dedicated service to EECS students. All gifts made in Anne’s honor will be used for new and innovative programming intended to cultivate a strong sense of community and belonging among current and future EECS undergraduate students.