40th Annual MLK Celebration Leadership Award Recipient: Wesley L. Harris

Wesley L. Harris

Charles Stark Draper Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics at MIT

40th Annual MLK Leadership Award

Wesley L. Harris is the recipient of the 40th MLK Celebration Lifetime Achievement Award for his dedicated service to the MIT Community.  The Institute also honored Dr. Harris with an MLK Leadership Award in 2001; a year later, the Minority Introduction to Engineering, Entrepreneurship and Science program established the Wesley L. Harris Scholarship Fund for MITE2S in his name.

Dr. Harris has been an MIT professor at many different points in his career, first serving from 1972-79, returning as a 1995-96 MLK Visiting Professor, then remaining at MIT from 1996 until the present. From 1975 to 1978, he served as the very first Director of MIT's Office of Minority Education (OME). His other administrative posts include Head of the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Housemaster for New House Residence Hall, and most recently Associate Provost for Faculty Equity. Dr. Harris is honored for his ongoing commitment to ensuring that all students achieve academically at MIT and for his work on increasing diversity efforts for faculty.

Dr. Harris is an expert in the field of helicopter rotor aerodynamics and acoustics. 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.

After serving as faculty member and director of OME, he left MIT in 1979 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 in 1995, he also served as NASA's associate administrator for aeronautics and the Goldwater Professor of American Institutions at Arizona State University in Tempe, AZ. He rejoined the faculty in 1996 and is a Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and of the American Helicopter Society.

Confirming the nomination to his MLK Leadership Award in 2001, 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."

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.

Source: MIT News, 31 Jan 2001/14 Feb 2001