27th Annual MLK Celebration Leadership Award Recipient: Professor Wesley L. Harris

Professor Wesley L. Harris

MIT faculty, 1972-85

Director, Office of Minority Education, 1975-79, MIT

27th Annual MLK Leadership Award

Professor Wesley L. Harris, an expert in the field of helicopter rotor aerodynamics and acoustics, is currently on sabbatical as the Goldwater Professor of American Institutions at Arizona State University in Tempe, AZ.

An MIT faculty member from 1972-85, Professor Harris was the first director of the Office of Minority Education from 1975-79. He left MIT to become dean of engineering at the University of Connecticut and was later vice president of the University of Tennessee and head of its Space Institute. Before returning to MIT as an MLK Visiting Professor, he was NASA's associate administrator for aeronautics. He rejoined the faculty in 1996.

A member of the National Academy of Engineering, Professor Harris holds the BS (1964) in aerospace engineering from the University of Virginia and the MA (1966) and PhD (1968) in aerospace and mechanical science from Princeton University. He also holds an honorary doctorate (1995) from Old Dominion University. He is a Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and of the American Helicopter Society.

Confirming the nomination, Professor Emeritus Leon Trilling of aeronautics and astronautics described Professor Harris as "an articulate spokesman for the causes of minorities as students and staff."

Professor Trilling, who received an MLK Leadership Award in 1996, continued: "I want to highlight what is not necessarily obvious from the formal record. That is his outstanding presence as a role model -- professionally to be sure, but more to the point, personally and morally. I have seen him counsel students with a mixture of sternness and support, and a degree of follow-up which motivated the students to do what needed to be done."

[On receiving the award,] Professor Harris, who spent a day and a half with Dr. King while an undergraduate at the University of Virginia, said, "It was an amazing experience to be around him." He admires Dr. King for his courage and his sense of community, traits he has observed in the diverse group of graduate students he has worked with at MIT. "They respected each other and they respected our community... I believe Dr. King would approve of that community," he said.