I believe Dwight saw good things in me.

Chris Dede

Timothy E. Wirth Professor, Learning Technologies, Harvard

Cambridge, MA

It was the wild, crazy, dynamic time of the 1960s and I was an undergraduate student at Caltech—if you’ve ever seen the movie Once Upon a Time In Hollywood, let me tell you, their recreation of Los Angeles at that time was accurate! I had never considered a career in education, especially because after graduating I had a Harvard STEM fellowship for a Ph.D. in chemistry waiting for me.

A professor at Stanford, Dwight Allen, was very charismatic, a great speaker, and really interested in not just improving education, but transforming it. He had just accepted an offer to be the Dean of the College of Education at the University of Massachusetts (UMass) Amherst because, at the time, the institution’s education school wanted to make a major change in its mission. Dwight had finalized the deal in March and part of the offer had been resources to put together a team of faculty and student who could make this shift. Dwight didn’t just recruit anyone: they had to think innovatively, think outside the box, be creative, and also be good at communicating. I believe Dwight saw those things in me so, instead of going to Harvard, the year I graduated from Caltech I joined Dwight at UMass Amherst to get my doctorate in science education. After graduation, I became an Assistant Professor there.

What’s interesting is that years later in my career when Harvard offered me the Timothy E. Wirth Chair in Learning Technologies, I got a call from Tim Wirth asking me to lunch. During the course of that lunch, I learned that Dwight had been Tim’s high school physics teacher and had instilled in him a passion for education. Though Tim became a US senator rather than a full-time educator, he worked to spearhead education initiatives and served as a Chair of the Harvard Graduate School of Education Visiting Committee. 

You know, scholars love to accumulate citations to their published articles, but I like to say that Dwight has a lot of human citations. So many people today can credit their love of education and teaching to Dwight. He also modeled many skills and beliefs for me—I wouldn’t say I’m as charismatic as Dwight, but to this day I try to encourage others to transform education.

Christopher Dede, Ed.d. is the Timothy E. Wirth Professor in Learning Technologies, Technology, Innovation, and Education Program at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education.

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