21st Annual MLK Celebration Leadership Award Recipient: Robert W. Mann

Robert W. Mann

Professor Emeritus of Mechanical Engineering

21st Annual MLK Leadership Award

The closed-circuit-television (CCTV) reader for the visually impaired, a bachelor thesis product by two MIT seniors.

The first MLK Leadership Award recipient, Professor Emeritus of Mechanical Engineering Robert W. Mann, was honored for his landmark work in biomedical engineering.

My academic career of more than 50 years has been committed to involving undergraduate and graduate students in the engineering design process [1]. A variety of experiences—childhood model making, vocational high school education, draftsman jobs, and military assignments during World War II—have convinced me that one learns to design by being required to design. At MIT, first as a research engineer and then as faculty, I mounted an unending search for appropriate topics to develop into engineering design goals as well as thesis topics for my students. As part of that search I became involved in rehabilitation engineering (RE) in the late 1950s and early 1960s through a combination of prior unrelated R&D work and the influence of two individuals. A chance meeting with John Kenneth Dupress led to blindness-related projects, and an accident befalling Norbert Wiener led indirectly to my limb prostheses research. For my students as well as for me, RE proved a winner! Students were challenged technically while working on projects that had real human significance—that indeed would ultimately improve the quality of life for thousands of people. The prospect of making such contributions attracted the best students to my research projects.

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