John Winston Belcher

Class of 1922, Professor of Physics
Department of Physics

(presented by Israel Ruiz, Executive Vice President + Treasurer)
The first recipient of the Advancing Inclusion & Global Perspectives award goes to John Winston Belcher. As a long-standing tenured professor in the Physics Department—a two-time winner of the NASA Medal for Exceptional Scientific Achievement—John could be comfortably retired, and resting on his many laurels right about now, his colleagues say, but that wouldn’t be John. I personally had the pleasure of working with John on the Institute-wide Task Force on the Future of MIT Education. As Associate Chair of the Faculty, John thought this work was more important and he wanted to contribute. But John has a more important mission—and no, I’m not talking about the renowned Voyager Interstellar Mission that he has been involved with.

I’m talking about mental health.

In March 2013, John wrote an article, “In Good Company: With Tenure but not without Troubles,” in which he described his depression and how he managed it. John’s article was published in both The Tech and the Faculty Newsletter. Between the two publications, his thoughts about the importance of asking for help reached a very wide audience.
In fact, over the years, Professor Belcher has become a mental health hero at MIT, as one person described him…passionately raising awareness and support for mental health issues. Starting by telling his story, he later formalized into advisory roles for organizations dedicated to student mental health awareness. He volunteers his time to advise student groups and speak on panels about the need to support students’ mental health. He has volunteered countless hours to individually tutor, advise, counsel, and guide struggling students. Reflecting on the tragedies of recent weeks and months, we all have a deepened appreciation for John’s willingness to reach out and offer help to others that struggle like he once did.

John Belcher is helping us create a more humanizing picture of our community. As one of his colleagues reflected, “Working with Professor Belcher is an education in how to take out and use your values on a daily basis.”

Congratulation to John Winston Belcher!