Charles Vest was a champion of scientific education in America. He received a bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from West Virginia University and University of Michigan.
At first a professor at Michigan, Vest transitioned to administrative roles, eventually becoming president of MIT in 1990. Vest would say of his career path, “Serving as president of a major research university is not a sandbox ambition for any child—I remain frankly astonished at the road that led me here.” While at the university, he grew the endowment from $1.4 billion to $5.1 billion and spearheaded an online course project that would become a model for many online courses now on offer from other major universities.
One of his most notable achievements was to help fight to end gender discrimination in the sciences. After commissioning a report on the discrimination issues facing faculty at MIT, Vest publicly acknowledge the findings and their damage to the meritocracy before remedying the situation—under his tenure, MIT appointed its first female department head, its first five female vice presidents, its first minority department heads, and its first African-American chancellor.
In 2013 Vest passed away, leaving behind a legacy of commitment to education and the sciences.
By Casey Samulski