Anne Hunter retires after 37 years as EECS undergraduate academic administrator

Hunter: ‘My specialty, my favorite thing, is getting students graduated’

Anne Hunter, the undergraduate academic administrator for the electrical engineering and computer science (EECS) department, is retiring after 37 years in the role and more than 46 years at MIT.

Earlier this week, The Tech interviewed Hunter to talk about her experiences as academic administrator and her contributions to student success within the department.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

The Tech: In what ways has the EECS department grown or changed since you first became academic administrator?

Anne Hunter: This office takes care of about 59 percent more students, both undergraduate and masters of engineering. We have six different undergraduate majors instead of two, and we have the masters of engineering program. The Stata Center was a big, big change. It brought the CS faculty and research labs onto the main campus.

TT: How has your role in the department changed over time?

Hunter: I’ve taken on more and more programs during the years. I’ve been the UROP coordinator for many years, developed and oversaw our freshman pre-orientation program, and ran Course 6’s study abroad programs. I advise the student groups IEEE/ACM [Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers/Association for Computing Machinery] and Eta Kappa Nu. 

I took over and have been running Course 6 IAP offerings, including competitions. I’ve worked on many committees at all levels of the Institute, from department curriculum committees to student committees. I was on an MIT student mental health committee a few years ago. I’m currently on the ARM committee; it’s looking at issues and how to help students with limited means.

TT: What has been the greatest challenge you have faced as undergraduate administrator?

Hunter: I think the greatest challenge has been getting all the work done while counseling all the students who needed me to talk to them and explain things to them. They’re sort of two pulls: talking to students versus getting all the administrative stuff done.

TT: What are you most proud of achieving as undergraduate administrator?

Hunter: I think that working with students and advisors has been very joyful for me and has made me feel really fulfilled. I really find it very satisfying to not just answer students’ immediate questions, but to open opportunity to them, to let them know about things they didn’t know about. I mean, you can change peoples’ lives that way. 

TT: What do you think has been the greatest achievement of the department in your time as administrator?

Hunter: Well, we developed the whole masters of engineering program. That was a really huge thing, a new degree program at MIT, and extremely successful. It’s a really good opportunity for our students. I’m really proud of it in that way.

TT: What are some things you have observed about undergraduates entering EECS in the years you’ve served as undergraduate administrator?

Hunter: They’re more diverse; they’re more mature. I’m really proud of our increasing diversity. When I first came into the department, we were around 14 percent women in the department, and we’ve been as high recently, in the undergraduate, as 37 percent. That’s a lot better, and the same kind of things have happened with underrepresented minorities. There’s been a lot of improvement there, though one could always strive for more. 

TT: What is your favorite aspect of the EECS department?

Hunter: I think the EECS department is really wonderfully professional. I really admire the faculty’s professionalism and dedication. They’re really dedicated to teaching students, and they really care. The students have wonderful curiosity and a desire to understand deeply, even with things like administrative processes. 

TT: What are you looking forward to in the future of EECS?

Hunter: I hope there’ll be more changes like the recent developments in machine learning and data science. I want both computer science and electrical engineering to go in new and unexpected directions in connections with other fields. 

TT: What were some of the best memories you had working with undergraduates? 

Hunter: My specialty, my favorite thing, is getting students graduated. All of the requirements for graduation are complex. There’s bureaucratic stuff, sometimes shortage of units, sometimes forms, and all the different things that can go wrong. We come up at the end, and there will often be students where it just doesn’t look like you’re going to be able to get them graduated, and I really, really enjoy making that happen, sort of against all the odds.

TT: If you could give one piece of advice to MIT students, what would it be?

Hunter: The same I’d give to people in general: be kind and be kind and be kind, which is paraphrasing Henry James. That’s really the most important message I would have for them, and I’ve tried to embody that when working with students, to show them that kindness. I’ll leave the teaching to other people. 

TT: How has the department shaped you, as you and other faculty helped shape it?

Hunter: It’s made me a lot more patient. I wasn’t really a patient person to start with, I’m still not really in most ways, but I’ve become able to be quiet, calm, and patient with students, even if successive students ask me the same questions over and over. I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned is to be patient, as I said, and that doing good is easier and feels wonderful compared with not doing good. I really like that part, being able to know that everyday, I’ve helped someone. That feels really great, and I will miss that and MIT students enormously. 

TT: What does the future hold for you? What are you looking forward to doing after retirement? 

Hunter: I want to travel a lot. I picture a railroad trip through Switzerland; they’ve got more railroad lines than you can imagine. I would go to all the different flavors of Switzerland: French Switzerland, Italian Switzerland. I want to visit alumni friends on the West Coast, in New York, etc. I want to read books instead of emails; I read history, geology, science fiction, and fantasy. I want to find the right nonprofit, if I can, and mentor disadvantaged youth into great colleges.

TT: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Hunter: I have every confidence that the people in my office will continue to serve students ably and well.