IAP Design Competition
Kartik Mani, Michael Lester, Elsie Huang
January 29th, 1999
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology aspires to be a leading educational institution in the world. The Institute has proven itself successful in regards to academics, but it lacks the complete educational experience which defines a leading institution. MIT has the capability and responsibility to distinguish itself apart from the rest of the world as different, innovative, and practical.
The undergraduate residence system plays a critical role in the entire educational experience of the student. It is important to recognize the many benefits in growth, choice, individuality, and diversity that the current system includes. When redesigning a system, it is important that the engineers evaluate the existing system and promote change to affect positive growth. A change in the requirements for freshman housing is now presenting an opportunity to improve a system that was once a result of convenience and necessity.
Leadership is one element that does not receive enough emphasis in the current system. There should be a greater focus in inspiring leadership and motivation in the general MIT student body. A great benefit of MIT is the diverse set of opportunities that it provides. Often times, a lack of initiative causes students to miss out on this valuable asset. It may fall under MITs responsibility to provide the blatant opportunities to promote initiative and interpersonal communication skills essential to the leaders of tomorrow.
Community must be achieved without sacrificing individuality. Communities tend to foster a sense of tolerance and understanding versus trying to alienate those who are different. Currently there are very few things to tie the MIT community together. A large MIT community can be cultivated through constant interactions between smaller groups. The residence system can play an active role in creating this united MIT.
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We are presented with the opportunity to design a residence system that achieves the educational goals put forth by the Task for Student Life and Learning (1998).
Our Mission is as follows:
"To design a residence system to complete and compliment the MIT educational experience. This residence system shall have as its primary purpose, the promotion of a well balanced education: including social development, intellectual stimulation, personal growth and responsibility, communication, citizenship and leadership. This residence system will unify the greater MIT community including faculty, staff, alumni, parents and students and will empower the students to improve MITs community for the future."
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The residence system of a university must be one that not only fosters personal growth and development but also provides a memorable experience for the student. It is well known that housing plays a large role in the experience of the undergraduate years. Your housemates are the ones you come home to every evening, the ones you usually interact with the most, the ones that often times become your best friends. The place you live must also have a supportive environment where you feel comfortable asking for help.
Your residence should provide ample opportunity and encouragement to get involved, take initiative and meet new people. It is with these ideals in mind that this new residence system was developed. The goal, however, was not to try and implement a completely new system, rather add needed elements to the existing one. These new elements encourage the development of leadership, responsibility, diversity and community.
A students choice in housing is an incremental part of MIT culture. We believe that the timing for residence selection should remain at the beginning of the freshman year. Keeping dorm selection and FSILG rush integrated as one unit maintains the powerful "firehose" effect unique to MIT Orientation. This high pressure environment is set at a time when students are motivated to make full use of the opportunities presented to them.
Residence selection is a decision that has many repercussions in a freshmans life at MIT. Requiring freshmen to select an appropriate residence in a short period of time begins a process of teaching self-accountability. Though freshmen are given the right to choose their residence, they must accept the consequences of their decision if they do not make the correct choice. It is the fact that MIT trusts freshmen with this responsibility that sets it apart from other institutions.
MITs residence system has a long tradition of supporting individual dormitory personalities. This is an intrinsic part of MIT and should not be changed. Random dorm assignments would have little inherent value and may be detrimental to both the MIT environment and to a students residential well being. Though randomization has been successful at other institutions, MIT is quite unique, and such a system would not enhance the MIT culture.
After three days of academic orientation, residence selection will begin with one full day for dormitory tours. Students would have received literature about all of the dormitories over the summer and therefore would most likely have narrowed their choices down. In any case, one full day gives them ample opportunity to not only see the dorms, the rooms and the facilities, but also to meet people currently living there. By the end of the day, they should have had enough exposure to make an informed decision.
The second day of residence selection will include off-campus excursions sponsored and lead by Orientation leaders and members of student activities. The purpose of these outings would be to acquaint freshman with Cambridge and Boston and will include such activities as sight-seeing, duck tours, or a trip to Harvard Square. Most groups would be made up of 2 to 3 Orientation groups, with representatives from various student activities. This day would also give many freshmen the chance to get to know more members of their class.
The third day marks the start of FSILG rush. The dorm lottery will remain open during this time until 2 days later. This is to give freshmen a larger time window to make their final requests for permanent residence. The specific rules of FSILG rush will be left up the IFC, but we do not anticipate them being very different from the current system.
Fall FSILG rush has may benefits. By keeping FSILGs rush in the Fall, freshmen will receive a second opportunity to rush if their first semester is unfulfilling. Furthermore, allowing the fall rush gives the FSILGs an opportunity to gain an extra semester of dues from the pledges if they want. This could ensure the financial security of some of the houses.
Given that all freshmen will be living on campus it is more likely that a decision to stay affiliated to a specific FSILG will be made in better conscience. All too often freshmen are pressured to work through their differences with a house by the administration in fear of not having enough beds or the members of the house for fear of losing a house bill. The given situation of all freshmen on campus will allow more displeased freshmen to be able to re-rush. This setup preserves and in fact enhances the value of choice in this residence system.
Below is a schedule of the first two weeks after arriving at MIT.
|Arrive at MIT||
|Dorm Lottery Closes||Dorm/Room
Move In «
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Dormitories shall remain self-governing and keep individual jurisdiction over room selection methods to preserve the dormitorys character. A standardized set of procedures given to all dormitories would accomplish very little while causing severe detriment to the culture of the dormitory. To aide the incoming freshman in making educated decisions about their residence choice, dormitories should be required to disclose their method of self-governing and room selection to the freshmen in printed form.
Dormitory identity is an integral part of the MIT Residence System and should be preserved. The new dormitory will also need to develop its own character. With this interest in mind, it should reserve 1/3 of the available beds to be for freshmen, while the remaining beds can be lotteried for by the existing upperclassmen in Spring 2001. No preference for seniority or group affiliation will be considered when assigning spaces for the new dormitory.
Once a random lottery has selected the upperclassmen residents of the new dormitory, room assignments can be carried out by request. A group such as the Dormitory Council can have the jurisdiction over this procedure for Fall 2001.
For the new dormitory, a temporary government will be elected at the end of the Spring of 2001, made up of upperclassmen who have confirmed spaces in the new dormitory. This temporary government will meet in the Fall of 2001 after freshmen select their residence, and draw up a Constitution based on guidelines set by the Dormitory Council. This temporary government will serve for one semester at which time, a new election will take place.
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Growth and Development:
Choice is a well-known component of the MIT residence system. But while it benefits students to have the freedom to choose where they want to live, once there, they must have the proper influence and encouragement to fully take advantage of the opportunities present to them. MIT students, as a whole, lack initiative to meet new people, try new things, and be a part of a larger community. These are qualities that are developed outside of the classroom or lecture hall. The MIT experience should not only be rigorous academically, but also should allow students to grow as individuals and learn about themselves. There are a number of components of this new system that will work to help change this situation and target personal growth and development.
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MIT has long claimed that it educates students to be the leaders of tomorrow, and yet in no way ensures that they are taught the necessary skills to become effective leaders. In fact, a student can graduate from this institute without having ever been in a position of social responsibility. It is the opinion of this team that such skills are a mandatory component of an institution such as MIT.
One of the more dramatic changes to the current system will be the addition of a leadership credit requirement to the General Institute Requirements (GIRs) and the creation of the Leadership Development Office (LDO) to oversee this program.
Each student, in order to graduate, must fulfill a leadership requirement, which is accomplished by accumulating credits much like you would for a PE requirement. Credits will be awarded after completing an activity or a class that has been shown to enhance leadership abilities. Such activities include attending the Leadershape Institute, tutoring, or holding a position in student government or student activities. More weight will be given to those activities that demand more responsibility and leadership ability. For example, if the undergraduate leadership requirement was 12 units, then a student could earn 6 for attending the Leadershape Institute, 2 for tutoring for a semester, and another 4 for serving as President of a student group.
The LDOs primary function will be to oversee the Leadership Development program and set the guidelines for its completion. It will specify the credit requirement and assign credit values to different activities and classes. In addition, it will advise students on the different opportunities available to them, hold general workshops and training programs, and if possible create new opportunities for students.
The ultimate goal of the Leadership Development program will be to encourage students to take more initiative and develop skills that cant be learned in a classroom. These skills will hopefully allow them to better apply their academic skills and work more effectively in a professional environment.
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In an institution such as MIT, advising is one of the most vital and important components. For freshmen, both social and academic advising are crucial in making their college experience the best it can be. They need guidance on how to deal with adjusting to college life, being on their own and becoming responsible adults. In addition at MIT, more so than our peer institutions, the advice of upperclassmen in making academic and career decisions is invaluable.
Although freshmen currently have a faculty and an associate advisor, this is insufficient in encouraging the kind of personal growth that MIT students need. Students must know what resources are available, and must have blatant opportunities presented to them. The number of opportunities available to freshmen is staggering. Without a guide to help fish through everything there is too much to take advantage of things in the short time allowed by freshman year. Freshmen year, this type of guidance is crucial because students are more prone to try new things before they are tied down with their academic workloads.
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The academic advising system at MIT too often lacks advising. It is frequently the case that advising seminars, which are intended to be group learning sessions, are turned into a lecture based or purely academic environment. This is clearly unacceptable. The role of the faculty and associate advisor should be enhanced with specific guidelines intended to foster the students growth and also help develop the faculty/student relationship.
Advising seminars should have equal focus on advising and academics. In addition to the purely academic topics, freshmen should be advised on the nuances of MIT. The curriculum for the advising part of the seminar should be standardized. An appropriate office to take on this responsibility is the Academic Resource Center. Some of the topics that seem to be in high need are office hour skills, study skills, financial aid, career services and resume writing.
While the time constraints and research pressures upon MIT faculty are well understood, the faculty advisor should still be encouraged to have more personal interaction with each of his or her advisees. The faculty advisor should be required to meet with each advisee at least once outside of the regular seminar time. In these meetings, professors should use open-ended questions and other conversation tactics to encourage the student to be as open as possible. These meetings should have very little structure. In concept they are to allow the advisor to learn more about the student on a personal level, and to allow the student to see their professors as people.
Academic advising should be conducted more often. Professors do encourage students to come to them with problems, however, how often is it that a freshman will know when they are in trouble? For this to succeed the freshmen are required to overcome a feeling of trepidation when dealing with professors, especially when it involves admitting ones faults. This is a large expectation, even of mature adults. The advisors should have scheduled meetings on top of the one-on-one meetings mentioned earlier. These meetings would be a chance for the professor to require the student to openly evaluate their performance. This method of evaluation would teach or reinforce the necessary skill of self-evaluation before it is needed in later years.
The role of the associate advisor is slightly different than what it has been in the past. Associate advisors, especially sophomores, are in a unique position to give applicable advice. Unlike the advising faculty, the associate advisor has a much more personal feeling for the operations of MIT academics and the effects upon freshmen. Associate advisors should have one-on-one meetings with the freshmen in their group as well. Once again, the structure of these meeting should be informal. The associate advisors should work to find problems before they occur for freshmen. The associate advisors training should be heavily influenced by an education of the available resources available at MIT. The associate advisors can then transfer this information in a very direct way in freshmen. This should prove to cause an increase in the use of the resources at MIT.
Freshmen are not the only people in need of academic advising. Upperclassmen have needs of their own. Along with departmental advisors, seniors in the departments should be recruited to play an associate advisors role. People who are closer to the curriculum are more suited to give scheduling advice such as the best order to take classes. By combining the 10,000 foot view benefits that a faculty advisor can relate with the 10 ft view benefits a student can give, all students can receive appropriate advice in creating their own academic track. Providing this obvious resource will allow students to make more educated decisions therefore leaving them feeling more satisfied.
Another benefit of the freshman advising system as it stands now that many upperclassmen miss out on is the feeling of being in a group. For the seminars the freshmen are grouped according to their class. When a choice of majors is made, clusters should be formed to introduce the incoming members to the existing members of the course. Small clusters headed by the advisors should meet for dinners and discussions from time to time. This system should help to spread a feeling of unity between the members of a major, without regards to class. This system would be more effective than the mass, "major fairs" which are currently held. Use of small clusters would force, by nature, a closer interaction between people who might not otherwise interact. The large social gatherings can have an effect of causing groups to naturally segregate by their own rules. Faculty should be highly encouraged to participate in these small groups. Visiting faculty should be invited as well to give all of the students a greater exposure to the professors in their department on a non-academic level.
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A network of resident advisors (RA) is an ideal addition to the current residency system. In complement to the associate advisor, the RAs job will be to provide guidance on a social level. They will advise students on issues such as stress or relationships but will also be a resource for everyday things like exploring the nightlife in Boston and Cambridge, and getting around MIT. More importantly, this system gives students another resource, nearby (most likely down the hall from them), that they can turn to if they need to. It is also the backbone of "bottom-up" community building, which starts with smaller groups working together and grows into the larger MIT community.
Any sophomore, junior or senior living on campus is eligible to be a RA, but must be selected in a similar fashion to associate advisors at the end of the previous year. They will also have to undergo a training process to be knowledgeable of the resources available at MIT and to learn how to deal with serious crisis situations. This is to ensure that they can properly handle the questions their students have, or if they cannot, they know the appropriate resources to turn to. The LDO will take charge of the selection, training and room assignments of the RAs. Each RA will then be assigned a series of rooms in each dorm and will be the advisor for all students living in those rooms. Once freshmen are assigned to a permanent residence, they will be informed of whom their RA is. Ideally, we would like to see a student to RA ratio of 20-40 to 1 (depending on the dorm), in order to provide a good balance of freshmen and upperclassmen.
The RAs will also be encouraged to work with the GRTs living in the dorm.
The RA represents more than just an advisor, but also another social circle for freshmen to have and a way for them to get to know upperclassmen in their dorm. The RA will be encouraged to organize social outings and events, and will sometimes be required to work with RAs from other dorms as well.
RAs in the same dorm will alternate in planning a weekly "wing" or "hall" party, where the different groups will get to hang out and meet each other.
The RA will also serve as an educational tool by organizing group sessions (either weekly or bi-weekly) that touch upon certain issues that students encounter in college. One, for instance, can be a seminar on how to deal with stress, while another may focus on safety and may bring in the help of the Campus Police or Medlinks. The RA can also arrange group sessions with faculty and staff as well to discuss long term career or professional decisions. The RA may also choose to do these sessions with other groups if they feel it appropriate.
The RA system is crucial to community development and personal growth. The individual groups provide a small mixed community intended to bridge the gaps between students. These groups, when put together, will extend this community and make it larger. Extending this process will lead to a tight-knit group of people that will become the newly developed MIT community. This process of "bottom-up" development, building a large community from many smaller ones, is ideal for strengthening the sense of unity at MIT and instilling a sense of school pride.
Finally, the RA and GRT system provides a sense of security for parents. Parents feel they can turn to these individuals and inquire about how their children are doing. Parents should be given the contact information for both the RAs and GRTs and the parents email addresses could be placed on a mailing list so that they can keep in regular contact if needed. Parents will most likely get a chance to meet these individuals and will feel more secure that the Institute is doing its part in providing a sound, supportive environment for their children.
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Greater MIT Community:
The state of MIT now is far from what it should be. Unlike our peer institutions whose students openly display their school pride and sense of unity, MIT remains a collection of segregated living groups and communities. In fact, students have a general apathy towards most activities that try and foster a sense of school pride. Although MIT lacks the typical unifying qualities, such as a successful Division I sports team, the problem on this campus is more inherent and starts with the incoming freshmen class.
Freshmen during their first year are na´ve, outgoing, and are very willing to meet new people. This is one of the reasons that rush is so hectic, because freshmen do not want to limit themselves and want to see as many living groups as possible. By the end of rush, most of them have found a place that they would like to call home. This system is very different from other colleges, where the freshmen generally live together in pre-selected dorms. The effect is that the freshmen are separated so early that they do not have time to make lasting bonds with the other members of their class. The people that they bond with, therefore, are primarily in their living group, and not part of the general MIT community.
The decision by President Vest to house all freshmen on campus puts MIT on a new playing field. By not separating the freshmen into so many different living groups, this system inherently increases the greater sense of community and belonging. The way to build a larger MIT community, however, is by using the "bottom-up" strategy.
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"Bottom-Up" Community Building (Appendix 1):
The idea behind this method is simple: larger groups are cultivated by engaging smaller groups. The basic building blocks of the system are the groups formed by the Resident Advisors (RAs). Through small activities, these groups will function as "family" units. This will lead to cohesiveness and the development of lasting bonds within the group. These bonds in turn will be carried with the group members throughout their years at MIT, across living groups, gender gaps, and ethnic lines. RAs within a dorm can work together to plan events such as "wing" or "hall" parties, which in turn will strengthen unity within the dorm itself.
The bigger need for an entire MIT community can be cultivated in much the same manner. RAs from different dorms will arrange functions to engage members of their respective groups or members of FSILGs. As interdorm/FSILG relationships are built, larger events can be held to engage more members of the community. As this practice becomes more and more common, attendance at community wide events will increase. Students will begin to recognize that they are part of a bigger picture, and will start to develop a sense of school pride.
This strategy is in sharp contrast from the current system. The opposite method, or the "top-down" approach, describes a system where a small group, such as the class council, attempts to plan events for over 1000 people. This has proven to be only partially successful. The more people know each other, the more motivated they will be to participate in large events. The development of this attitude among students is essential for building the larger MIT community.
This integrates the campus because the close friends and bonds from RA groups that form in your Freshman year in the dorm will carry across campus when students choose to move off campus and into the FSILG system. People WILL stay friends with those people that they have met during their freshman year.
The obvious support for this claim comes from the evidence of freshman pre-orientation programs. These students spend less than five days together, and they create bonds that break dorm and FSILG boundaries that exist today. The students who participated in these programs are living proof that bonds created, even prior to the freshman year, last in the face of many obstacles.
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Establishing a tight network with the faculty will be accomplished somewhat differently. Due to an age and often times interest difference, it is likely rare that small groups of Professors will come to a dorm to mingle. Then again, is it? There already exists one faculty member who goes to a dorm quite often. The Housemasters are valuable resources to be tapped.
In addition to all of the existing duties of Housemaster, there should be a requirement to host one faculty/student mixer per term. With the mixers being hosted by a faculty peer, there will hopefully be greater attendance by the faculty. If these mixers were to have alcohol served, this would provide an added benefit. The students would have numerous opportunities to be exposed to social situations involving alcohol. While this does not promote drinking, it does provide responsible exposure similar to what might be found at a company party while working as an intern during a summer.
Taking this concept a step further, the creation of an on campus cocktail lounge should be considered. This lounge should be open to the MIT community including all undergraduate students. The lounge could serve a variety of non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverages, the regulation of which should be strictly enforced, as it would be at a privately run establishment. The existence of such a place would provide yet another venue where faculty, staff, and students can engage. There should be a standing policy that faculty and staff patronizing such a place should expect to mingle with students.
In addition to the two mixers a year, Housemasters should work as a liaison to the faculty to create more social opportunities to engage the undergraduates with faculty and staff in social settings. Some methods which they can use are half price meals for faculty at the dorms with dining areas, or similarly the dorms with kitchen facilities could have "cook for a professor" with the dorm subsidizing the food bill. The cost of these programs should be planned for in the budget off the dormitory.
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MIT is a very unique university and has several long-standing traditions. These events, when well attended, are a definite sign of a well built community. Killian Kickoff, for example, is a huge tradition at the beginning of the year and attracts the attention of many alumni of the FSILGs. It is also one of the few times that an entire class is in the same place at the same time.
Another example is Spring Weekend, the annual campus-wide celebration held in late April. In past years, Spring Weekend has been mediocre at best. It is these types of events that can put MIT on the map and instill a real sense of pride in this school if they are funded well and run properly. The importance of campus-wide events is well known. With this in mind, we would encourage that appropriate steps be taken to ensure that sufficient funds and planning are put towards them.
MIT also has the potential to begin new traditions such as the Homecoming football game. Building on the community ideas discussed earlier in this section, a Homecoming game can be a very successful event at MIT.
It is important to preserve events such as these, and have them be known as part of the distinctive MIT culture. This would be one of the main ways to gain the support of MIT alumni, and increase their involvement with MIT.
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The transition to this new system will not be terribly dramatic or difficult primarily because there are no real drastic changes to the current system. We have provided for the possibility of financial support for the FSILGs in the unlikely event they are unable to maintain their house bill given reduced occupancy. We expect FSILGs to prepare for this change as much as possible with such options as imposing dues for non-resident members and having a lower budget rush. These tactics will be suggested to the FSILGs starting in the Spring of 1999.
Financial assistance will be provided in the form of a loan to encourage actions of self-preservation. The amount will be disclosed Spring 1999 to give FSILGs time to plan accordingly. The disclosed amount is a maximum amount, but FSILGs will be encouraged to use only what is necessary. The loan will be provided at an interest rate below market but not so low as to be exploited.
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APPENDIX 1 "Bottom-Up" Community Building