Q & A with MIT's chancellor

Estevan Mercury
October 14, 2011 01:00 AM

Eric Grimson

The man, who is now chancellor of a university that is ranked third in the world, has strong Estevan roots and remembers, quite fondly, his days growing up in the Energy City.
Professor Eric Grimson, whose father Bill was the last principal at the Estevan Collegiate Institute just before the Estevan Comprehensive School opened, moved to Regina with his parents in the summer when he was advancing from Grade 10 to 11.
Grimson, is Chancellor of the Massachesetts Institute of Technology (MIT), a professor of computer science and engineering and the Bernard M. Gordon Professor of Medical Engineering. He was appointed chancellor in March of this year, meaning he has oversight responsibility for graduate and undergraduate education, student life, student services and experiences. The chancellor and provost advise the university's president and participate in strategic planning, faculty appointments, resource development and institute resources and buildings.
Grimson, an alumnus of the University of Regina, received his bachelor of science (high honours) degree in mathematics and physics in Regina in 1975 and his Ph.D. in mathematics in 1980 from MIT.
On Oct. 1 during the U of R's annual Alumni Achievement Awards program, Grimson was honoured with the Lifetime Achievement Award. The U of R noted he had graduated with high honours before moving on to MIT, where he has built a career as a researcher and educator, including the use of computers for medical imaging and developing systems to enable surgeons to perform less invasive surgeries. His teaching career has seen him instruct over 10,000 students and he has supervised about 50 doctorate students along the way.
His years at the U of R he said, helped him grow intellectually and gave him the confidence he needed to enable him to succeed at MIT.
When contacted by The Mercury this past week, Grimson, who maintains a hectic schedule did agree to respond to a short series of questions, noting the family still has a significant presence in Saskatchewan with his uncle and cousin continuing to operate the family farm his father grew up on near Elfros and Mozart in east-central Saskatchewan, and other branches continue to live and work here.
We began the question and answer session with an obvious one.
Question: What are your strongest memories of Estevan?
Grimson: I have many memories of Estevan. These include competing in the local music festivals, playing pickup baseball with classmates on the Westview School grounds, some inspiring teachers at ECI, biking down the hill to the swimming pool in the valley. I'm not certain it's still there?
Note: The pool he is referring to is the former outdoor community pool that was located in Woodlawn Regional Park not far from where Frehlick Hall is now located.
Q: Largest challenge in being a chancellor of a major North American educational institution?
Grimson: There are many, but probably the largest is in determining the future directions of educational programs at the top-ranked engineering school (and third-ranked university overall) in the world.
Q: You have your choice; teaching a group of eager post-secondary students or administration within a university. Why?
Grimson: Fortunately I get to do both. I am still teaching each term - large introductory courses primarily to freshmen. So I get to deal with top-level administration of a major university and teach - a perfect world.
Q: Describe your office, i.e. Messy desk or organized? Diplomas on the wall? Too many filing cabinets or computers, anything you care to share.
Grimson: My office has lots of desk space covered with organized collections of documents, each group focused on a different topic. Just a single computer, but unfortunately a Smart Phone in my pocket so I can stay connected to the Internet when I'm walking around campus or in an airport.
Q: Who do you lean on most frequently for exchange of ideas or problem solving?
Grimson: The provost, the other senior academic officer and I frequently meet to talk about issues, brainstorm ideas and delegate responsibilities to staff and faculty.
Q: Your hobbies or off-the-job pursuits
Grimson: Travel, especially to see great art museums.
Q: I understand Grimson family members retained Saskatchewan roots. Can you give us a brief summary?
Grimson: My parents Bill and Laura have both passed on ... in Regina. I have a brother who is at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, but I have a sister who is teaching in a small town outside of Saskatoon. Her daughter and her husband live in Morse and her son and his wife live in Estevan.
Q: What advice would you impart on graduating high school students if given the opportunity in a mass assembly?
Grimson: Follow a path in which you have passion. If you are deeply committed to a profession or an avocation, you will never notice the hard work and challenges in front of you. If you do something simply because you think it's the best way to find a job, I fear you will not be ultimately happy with your choice.
Q: Is there anything from your early Saskatchewan experience that you were able to carry into your advanced academic pursuits and later into your career in teaching and administration?
Grimson: During my comments at the U of R ceremony, I mentioned three things ... commitment to community, confidence and civility. All are traits that I learned from the Saskatchewan community, and all have been of immense help in my career.

© Copyright Estevan Mercury


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