Michele Oshima <email@example.com>
I believe that the MIT undergrads need to be encouraged/advised/nurtured to be whole. Since I've assisted in admissions by reading applications for the last two years I can see how well-rounded the applicant pool is before getting here. I have been at MIT as a staff member for 3.5 years and I can see how my students, student staff and frosh advisees (currently in second year of advising) feel pressured to truncate their lives in order to 1) survive and do well academically, 2) cram in as many classes (based on what fits into their schedule, is a requirement, and not on what they're passionate about learning), multiple majors if possible, and 3) get UROPs/experience calculated to get them the most entree in their fields whether it be directly into industry or grad school. These are accomplished at the expense of exploration of new endeavors and the continued pursuit of their musical interests, speech and debate competition, athletic competition, and socializing. If we don't make a comprehensive effort on an institute-wide basis, how can they graduate as well-rounded as when they entered. The alumni office often finds that recent grads are disillusioned and bitter about their experiences as undergrads. I can understand this having watched cheerful, enthusiastic and energetic students transform into technically competent malcontents.
It depends on what MIT wants to achieve: happier, dynamic grads, or bitter highly competent, and often people-skill challenged worker bees. I have negatively induced my student staff to take more intiative and to work better as a team by telling them frankly that if a 3rd party company were to have a team of Wellesley students and a team of MIT students and gave them the same project and deadline, the Wellesley final presentation could very well lead the 3rd party to think that they were more capable simply because their communication skills resulted in a better output.
I will never forget an encounter with a postdoc in cancer research. I met this woman from Japan at the first orientation for international students that occurred when I was on campus. When we met I found out she played violin and loved classical music.I kept running into her on campus at all hours and on the weekends (usually when I was there for a special event) and she was always cordial. I would inquire if she were playing her violin or taking in any performances and always she would respond that she didn't have any time. Then one night I ran into her very late on the Infinite Corridor and I joked that I had figured out that she was aiming for a Nobel Prize and she punched me in the stomach. She didn't hurt me and it was a shock to her that she reacted so strongly, but the fact was that I had touched a nerve. She was sacrificing everything for her research. It disturbed me to think that she was a role model for undergrad UROPers in her lab. At what price do we attain excellence?
I believe we cannot underestimate the role that examples of professors, postdocs, grad students and upperclass undergrads play in shaping the outlook of the frosh. The message cannot only come from the staff, be it undergrad advisors, chaplains, counseling deans, house masters (I perceive a highly uneven involvement by this crew), and coaches. One of my advisees was shunned by upperclass students on an athletic team when he had to quit due to academic survival. I know this hurt him and it is a shame that they couldn't be more supportive in a manner that would have left the door open for him to return next year.
When I went to college there were so many new things I got involved in that were not part of my suburban high school experience.
If each living group had to have a debate team for each year, there could be some healthy rivalry which would improve the communication skills of our undergrads. There can be playful twists so you could have it be on a theme of global politics, but use the lyrics from They Might Be Giants (a seemingly popular group with the MIT community) as the debate launch point. This is not something new because we did it this way in the 80s. For two years, Women's Studies sponsored a poetry slam in Kresge which encouraged members of the MIT community to perform their work--undergrads, grad students, postdocs and community fellows participated.There are many constructive ways to get the students to have fun and improve their ability to express themselves.If there were ever a team built to brainstorm and implement such endeavors, I would volunteer to help.