Student Digest

A Network of Advisors and Mentors

At a recent Cookies and Conversation, I had a chance to talk to students about a common question, “How can MIT help students interact more with professors, especially freshman year?”  Students want to get to know the faculty – they want to learn from them, not just in the classroom, but through conversations and interactions around common interests, professional development, career choices, and research.

My proposal – how about connecting students with a network of advisors and mentors? In this approach, your primary academic advisor is like your family doctor. Your family doctor knows you, knows your history, you trust him/her but you are referred to specialists, as needed.  Your advisor would know who you should talk to if you are interested in robotics; trying to get an internship with Google, or trying to decide if EECS is the right major. 

While some advisors are very effective in helping students make the right connections, we have not done enough to enable this approach. At the same time, students are often frustrated when their advisor cannot provide adequate insight into a particular question or issue. There is a misconception that the advisor should know it all. We need to do more create a network of mentors and advisors.

Students at the Cookies event were enthusiastic about this idea, especially for the freshman year.  One suggestion was that freshman would need to have a clearer understanding of the role of their advisor. They also would need to understand their role in seeking out answers to questions. While an advisor can make suggestions on who to talk to, students need to take the initiative to actually reach out to faculty or other specialized resources.

In some ways, this model is already starting to take shape.  Last spring, the faculty passed a resolution that “every freshman should have a faculty member serving as a mentor or advisor.” As a result, we had a significant increase in the number of faculty freshman advisors this fall, from 83 in 2012-13 to 142 this year. To support the faculty, UAAP paired each advisor with an UAAP consultant, who provides expertise in degree requirements, typical student questions, and support resources, and an associate advisor, who offers advice from a student perspective. With this network of advisors in place, the advisor and advisee can focus more time on exploring the advisees’ interests and identifying faculty mentors who could help shape the student’s experience.

As always, I am very interested in hearing more of the student perspective. I encourage you to share your thoughts and comments on interacting with faculty. 

Sincerely,
Dennis Freeman
Dean for Undergraduate Education
Professor of Electrical Engineering

Welcome from Chancellor Barnhart

Dear Students,

Welcome back to campus. I hope you had a rewarding and exciting IAP experience, and maybe even enjoyed a little rest and relaxation with friends and family.

Last Monday, I was honored to be named MIT Chancellor. As a member of the MIT community for more than 25 years, as a graduate student, faculty member, and administrator, assuming this role is an enormous opportunity and responsibility.  I’ve been asked, “What does the Chancellor do?” The focus of the Chancellor is on all things students.  I will work with the Deans for Student Life, Undergraduate Education, and Graduate Education, and with the Director of Digital Learning (who also reports to the Provost) to oversee all aspects of the student experience. This includes everything from student support to housing to academic advising to student activities.

The most gratifying part of my time at MIT, since joining the faculty in 1992, has been the opportunity to interact with students, as a teacher, advisor, and supervisor. These experiences have allowed me to gain a deep understanding of students’ viewpoints, strengths, challenges, and aspirations. My greatest joy as a teacher is in watching students approach questions with curiosity, fresh perspectives, and often brilliant insights; frequently, the teaching experience turns into a learning experience for me.

To gain a better understanding of the issues facing our students, I plan to engage the student community as broadly as possible.  I will visit residences and FSILGs; invite and welcome individuals and groups of students to my office; meet with faculty, administrators, and staff; and formulate, with relevant stakeholders, priority action items and implementation plans for addressing them. I hesitate to refer to this as a “listening tour” because the phrase suggests that this type of engagement will at some point come to an end. Central to my approach as Chancellor will be ongoing dialogue. We must work together to understand challenges, define solutions that incorporate and address multiple points of view, and affect positive change.

In a letter to the MIT community and published in The Tech late last week, President Reif expressed sadness and anger at reading the story of an MIT graduate who was raped by a friend and colleague on campus. I share his deep concern. President Reif has asked me to make the issue of sexual assault on campus a priority, to examine the nature and extent of the problem, and to identify ways to try to eradicate this type of violence from our community. This is an important and substantial undertaking, one that will require an understanding of experiences, perspectives, and current practices and resources. To be effective, this must be a community-wide effort.

My enthusiasm in assuming the role of Chancellor is simple: to improve life and learning for MIT students. But I can’t do it alone. Through a shared commitment to MIT and to one another, I believe we can do great things. 

If you have thoughts, suggestions, comments, or questions, I urge you to write to me at whatsonyourmind@mit.edu.

Sincerely,

Cynthia Barnhart
MIT Chancellor

Six Characteristics of Strong Communities

Campus has been very quiet for the last few weeks, as students, faculty, and staff take well-deserved breaks from the rigors of MIT. But amid the silently twinkling holiday lights, still hallways, and inevitable wintry weather, the pulse of life continues among the Institute’s communities: faith and cultural groups celebrating their respective holidays; sports teams returning to practice and compete; students who stayed on campus working and relaxing in unusually quiet residence halls.

In his December letter, Chancellor Grimson mentioned several characteristics of MIT that we can be rightly proud of, and which can be traced back to a landmark study, Campus Life: In Search of Community, released in 1990 by Dr. Ernest Boyer, a noted educator and early leader in the study of American collegiate student life. In 1989, the Carnegie Foundation undertook a survey of American colleges and universities, which found that their leaders shared a number of concerns, including alcohol and drug abuse, sexual discrimination, crime, racial tensions, and a breakdown in civility. Subsequently Boyer recommended six standards that should inform everyday decision-making on campus, and by extension “define the kind of community every college and university should strive to be.” Boyer felt that colleges should be:

  • Purposeful: Where faculty and students share academic goals and work together to strengthen teaching and learning on campus.
  • Open: Where freedom of expression is uncompromisingly protected and where civility is powerfully affirmed.
  • Just: Where the sacredness of the person is honored and where diversity is aggressively pursued.
  • Disciplined: Where individuals accept their obligations to the group and where well defined governance procedures guide behavior for the common good.
  • Caring: Where the well-being of each member is sensitively supported and where service to others is encouraged.
  • Celebrative: Where the heritage of the institution is remembered and where rituals affirming both tradition and change are widely shared.

As the Chancellor observed last month, the Institute holds strongly to these six principles, though in true MIT fashion we know that there’s room for all of us—faculty, staff, and students—to do even better. For example, we can do a better job of communicating with each other, relying on the discipline of MIT’s well-established governance structures to advance matters affecting our communities. Also these are not discrete issues. For example, I believe this year we will continue the spirited and important dialog about what constitutes openness and how it intersects with the well-being of others, which Boyer called balancing “the claims of freedom and responsibility.” Lastly we will continue to examine how learning outside the classroom contributes overall to an MIT education, and with your help how we can improve student life.

So as you relax after a challenging year and prepare for what’s to come in 2014, I hope you will take the time to reflect on these principles and what they mean to your communities—be they living communities, student groups, teams, or something else—and how they form the basis for what Boyer called “enduring values of a true learning community.” Ultimately, by applying these principles carefully and with purpose, we will strengthen the already solid communities here, and make the MIT student experience even better for future generations of students and scholars. That’s something to really celebrate for the new year.

Sincerely,

Chris Colombo
Dean for Student Life

Ending the Praise-Free Zone

Eric Grimson

Eric Grimson, Chancellor 2011-2013

Author name: 

Chancellor
2011-2014

Dear Students,

Earlier this term, President Reif asked me to take on a new role at the Institute – Chancellor for Academic Advancement.  In this position, I will be focused on helping to guide MIT’s capital campaign; connecting donors to the aspirations of faculty and students; organizing identified needs into coherent themes; and spreading MIT’s message and brand to alumni/alumnae and more broadly. President Reif will announce a new Chancellor to focus on student issues sometime soon.

Since this is my last Student Digest letter, I want to spend a few minutes talking about how as a community – of students, faculty, and staff – we can make MIT an enabling and supportive environment for everyone.  MIT is a caring, celebrative, disciplined, just, and open community that shares values of inclusion and respect.  While I believe that MIT is a stronger community than it was even a few years ago, I also believe that there are areas in which we can improve.  For example:

  • Too often, MIT is a “praise-free zone.”  We are all problem solvers at heart, and when presented with a situation, we are quick to find weaknesses, or to suggest improvements.  But too often we (faculty members as well as students) do this without first acknowledging the efforts and insight that led to this point.  Start by acknowledging the positive contributions.  Or better yet, take the opportunity to say “nice job” to someone who has worked hard to aid your living group, club, or athletic team. 
  • Let’s retire the “I’m so hosed” game.  MIT is a high-pressure environment, with many demands on all of us.  It is easy, when a friend talks about pending assignments or exams, to say “ You think that’s bad, I have…”  Instead, recognize the common stresses, and take a break together to decompress.
  • Let’s make cyber-bullying extinct.  Over the past several years, I have spoken with a huge number of MIT students, and am always struck by how insightful their observations can be.  But I have been distressed by how often those students also tell me that they would not express their views online or in public, for fear of being “shredded” by peers.  While such behavior may be common online or in Washington, it should not occur at MIT.  The next time you hear someone trash another’s ideas, speak up and suggest that civil dialogue is a much more productive process.

MIT is an amazing place, all the more so because of its spirit of community.  Together, we can make it better.

Sincerely,

Eric Grimson
MIT Chancellor

The New Dean on the Block

Dear Undergraduate Students,

I am now four months into my freshman year as the Dean for Undergraduate Education (DUE). If you don’t know, the DUE reports to the Chancellor and oversees everything from admissions, financial aid and registration to UROPs, freshman advising, and career services. My job is to help make your educational experience a great one. This means providing a supportive learning environment with many opportunities for you to learn and explore both inside and outside the classroom.

So, you may be wondering how things will be different with a new Dean. Over the next few years, I hope to focus on several important initiatives.

  • I am very concerned about student stress.  I wonder if the academic pressure is too extreme at times. Last December, The Tech did a great job providing a snapshot of student stress. I want go deeper and more clearly understand the sources of stress and how it is affecting learning. Ultimately, I would like to identify and implement strategies that mitigate stress and help students find balance.
     
  • I would also like to work on reducing barriers between students and the services and opportunities that help them succeed both academically and personally. For example, I would like to reduce physical barriers, such as the proximity of critical offices to primary student pathways, and financial barriers, such as having financial support for a global educational experience. I would like to continue to strengthen faculty advising and mentoring to reduce the perceived barriers between faculty and students.
     
  • While we have exciting, project-based subjects as part of the curriculum, I would like to see hands-on, educational experiences become a fundamental part of the first year. Students arrive at MIT wanting to work with smart people to solve important problems but for much of the first year, freshmen attend large classes. I believe that supplementing these critical subjects with opportunities to work on real problems will motivate the understanding of core concepts. This could take different forms and enable students to explore their interests, such as design, entrepreneurship, public service, working with industry, or UROP-like research.
     
  • The Task Force on the Future of MIT Education will continue to move us forward in our thinking around online learning and the residential experience. We will be considering some bold, new experiments that will reimagine residential learning.

I am excited about my new role and working with students, faculty and staff on these initiatives. I will be establishing a DUE Student Advisory Group composed of fifteen undergraduates. I will look to this group for feedback on ideas and will ask them to highlight student issues and concerns. The advisory group will be formed through invitations to a random group of undergraduates. Beyond the advisory group, I am interested in hearing ideas and suggestions from all students.  Please feel free to contact my office anytime at due-contact@mit.edu.

Good luck completing this semester. The last few weeks of the term can be a stressful time. Please reach out to your peers, advisors, faculty, residence hall staff, and Student Support Services if you are feeling overwhelmed or need some help.

Sincerely,
Dennis Freeman
Dean for Undergraduate Education
Professor of Electrical Engineering

The Value of Physical Education and Wellness

Dear Students:

MIT’s outstanding academic reputation may cause some outside the Institute to overlook the totality of wonderful programs in the Department of Athletics, Physical Education, and Recreation (DAPER). But the Institute wholeheartedly embraces the importance of physical activity and wellness as a component of a comprehensive education. It’s why we have required physical education classes, and part of the reason why each MIT student must take the (infamous?) swim test. So I’d like to share some information with you—especially students new to MIT—about why DAPER is a not-so-hidden gem on campus.

When you look at DAPER by the numbers, it’s safe to say that MIT has an outstanding intercollegiate athletics program. We have 33 varsity sports, the most of any Division III school in America. Taken together, MIT has won 22 team national championships and 36 individual national championships in its history.
 
Just last year, 13 MIT teams finished their seasons ranked among the top 20 in the nation, while 15 student-athletes were recognized as Academic All-Americans, and 90 earned All-America honors, setting a new school record. Taken together, MIT student-athletes earned a total of 194 academic all-conference and 161 all-conference honors. Seven student-athletes were selected as athletes of the year for their sport, and six were chosen as rookies of the year. What’s also notable is that these talented athletes competed at this high level while fulfilling their academic work. MIT ranks fourth in the standings for Academic All-Americans among Division I, II, and III institutions. Clearly our student-athletes set the bar high across the board, and are succeeding.
 
But you don’t have to be a varsity athlete to make the most of your DAPER experience. Here are a few ways you can be part of the action.
 
This can be the most fun degree requirement of any at MIT. Depending on what you like, you have a choice from among 25 types of courses in 50 sections that extend from pursuits like golf and sailing, to specialty courses like SCUBA, kayaking, or snowboarding. If you don’t know how to swim, you can take a learn-to-swim course to fulfill your Institute requirement, a legacy from MIT’s status as a Sea Grant college. Whatever you choose to do, these terrific courses offer you a chance to learn new skills, enhance what you already know, or just have fun and stay active.
 
Like varsity teams, MIT’s club sports teams also compete at a high level. With upwards of 30 teams and 800 participants, club sports are a lively and vital part of DAPER. The teams are led and organized by students for students, and encompass instructional clubs, which welcome participants of all levels who wish to learn a sport or improve their skills, and competitive teams, which vie against other highly competitive clubs. In particular, MIT’s competitive cycling team won the 2013 collegiate Division II road national champions, while American jiu-jitsu is among the most successful instructional programs.
 
There are 18 sports in the intramural program, attracting players from all walks of life who compete for fun and bragging rights. Nearly 75% of all undergrads and grad students compete on these student-led teams, but the fun isn’t limited to just students. Faculty, staff, and MIT Club of Boston Alumni and their spouses or partners who are DAPER members are eligible to play intramural sports.
 
Whether you’ve got pro skills or rank as a total rookie, every MIT student—not to mention faculty and staff members—can benefit from DAPER’s recreation programs. Each day the Zesiger Center and Alumni Wang Fitness Center attract thousands of MIT community members. Whether they come to use the award-winning facilities, partake in some of the 200-plus programs available, or work one-on-one with a personal trainer, MIT community members have a wealth of options when it comes to promoting their health.
 
It’s wonderful to see the lights of the Z Center on day and night as students, faculty, and staff take a break from the rigors of MIT to stay healthy. Student stress is a well-known issue on campus, and one of the best antidotes for stress is exercise. So you needn’t be at the top of your game to get something out of your DAPER membership. Simply blowing off some steam on your own or connecting with friends for a little recreation is reason enough to take advantage of DAPER’s offerings.
 
Now that you have a little more insight into this wonderful resource, I hope you will make time to get moving with DAPER and invest some time in your wellbeing!
 
Sincerely,
 
Chris Colombo
Dean for Student Life
 
Evolving Interdisciplinarity at MIT

Dear Students:

When I speak with many of you at the events I attend, I often hear a desire for more interdisciplinary interactions outside of your laboratories, departments, and classrooms. I also receive requests for advice on how to go about initiating and building interdisciplinary collaborations, and questions on what the future holds for interdisciplinarity at MIT. This is a topic close to my heart, as I have carried out interdisciplinary research for almost 20 years focused on the multiscale mechanics of musculoskeletal and exoskeletal tissues.

MIT maintains leadership in the classical disciplines (academic departments), which are simultaneously overlaid by a dense “matrix” of more than 55 cross-cutting interdisciplinary research centers, laboratories, curricular and co-curricular programs. Opportunities for students include:

These structures have created a rich internal ecosystem which fosters the exchange of ideas and expertise across disciplinary boundaries, enabling many exciting and significant discoveries to take place at MIT over the last century. Externally, MIT is currently engaged in international collaborations with The Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) and The MIT-Russia Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology (SIST), both of which are exploring new interdisciplinary organizational structures and curriculum. MIT students are involved in a variety of ways in these collaborations, for example, through the MIT-SUTD Dual Masters Programme and the MIT Skoltech Innovation Workshop.

The enhancement of interdisciplinary interactions in the graduate community is a key direction for my office, the Office of the Dean for Graduate Education or ODGE. We have amplified support in this area, for example by co-sponsoring the MIT Ideas Global Challenge, the MIT-Imperial Global Fellows Program, the MIT China Innovation and Entrepreneurship Forum, MIT TechLink and the Hugh Hampton Young Graduate Fellowships.

As MIT considers its future directions in addressing the complex global challenges of the 21st century – health care, poverty, security, environment, energy, manufacturing, for example – the relationships between scientific, technical and socioeconomic, political and ethical aspects of research will be critical.  Hence, the importance of connecting science and engineering with the humanities, arts, social sciences, architecture and planning will be increasingly important and beneficial. One current example of such a collaboration is a series of interdisciplinary integrative technology and policy reports released by the MIT Energy Initiative which draw upon faculty from science, engineering, economics, and management. Another successful example is the MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI) program within the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences in which students from all schools participate and are exposed to language, culture, economics, politics, and history of the country where they will carry out research.

I plan to highlight student involvement in interdisciplinary research, other educational topics, opportunities (for example, fellowships, awards, professional development, international, etc.), virtual challenges, and my activities as Dean on my new facebook page and invite you to “like” my page here: http://bit.ly/ChristineOrtiz. I will be maintaining and posting to the page myself. Don’t worry -- “liking” is different from “friending” and your profile will not give me access to any of your personal information! It will only allow you to see my posts in your news feed. I also encourage you to contact me directly (cortiz@mit.edu) with ideas and thoughts on this topic, to explore areas that ODGE and MIT might develop and support.

I wish you a wonderful upcoming holiday season and rest of the semester.

Sincerely,

Christine Ortiz
Dean for Graduate Education
Professor of Materials Science and Engineering

Opportunities for Students to Engage in Interdisciplinary Interactions and Activities

Student - Based

Academic and Curricular

Institute Organized

Advising and Mentoring are Priorities

Daniel Hastings

Daniel Hastings, Dean for Undergraduate Education 2006-2013

Author name: 

Dean for
Undergraduate Education
2006-2013
 

Dear Students:

Whenever I ask students what they would like to see improved at MIT, advising is very often at the top of the list. What I hear from undergraduates is that they are looking for more consistent and frequent interaction with their advisors. Freshmen want someone who will help them navigate MIT and explore areas of academic and personal interest. Upperclassmen want someone who will provide effective academic advising in the context of career and personal development opportunities. At the same time, students are looking to make real connections and develop mentoring relationships, especially with faculty. They want to get to know faculty outside the classroom and gain their insight and advice.

Undergraduate survey data tells the same story. Last year, 56% of seniors were satisfied with freshman advising and 69% with advising in their major*. There are certainly many great advisors but there is clearly room for improvement. At the same time, 80% of undergraduates said that they want more interaction with faculty.** Relative to peer schools, MIT undergraduates report spending less time in intellectual discussions with faculty outside the classroom.**  The challenge is that faculty have more demands on their time than ever before. We need to find ways to help faculty connect with students in meaningful mentoring relationships.

This fall, the topic of improving undergraduate advising and mentoring has become a focal point of discussions among faculty and staff involved in defining and supporting the advising system at MIT. 

  • The Faculty Committee on the Undergraduate Program (CUP) has been discussing the role of faculty advisors and has defined appropriate expectations for students and faculty in terms of advising and mentoring. The student input to the CUP has been very valuable.
  • The Chair of the CUP, the Faculty Chair, the Chancellor and I are talking with department heads and faculty at school council meetings and some department meetings.
  • We are reviewing residence-based advising, in the context of the overall advising system, with the intention of adding flexibility and improving that advising option.
  • We are considering whether a hybrid-model of advising, involving both professional and faculty advisors, could work at MIT.
  • Enhancements to Student Information Systems, such as intelligent messaging in Online Registration, are introducing new features to enhance the advising experience for both students and advisors.

Ultimately, the goal is to evolve the advising system into a web of support for students and facilitate more student/faculty connections beyond the classroom. While much has been done, more remains to be done. I wanted you to know that advising and mentoring are a priority and I expect to see some of the ideas under discussion evolve into specific plans that will piloted in the next academic year.  Undergraduate students will continue to be involved through the CUP and through the Student Advisory Committee to the Office of Undergraduate Advising and Academic Programming (UAAP).

Graduate students are also looking for more consistent and frequent interaction with their advisors. They want holistic mentoring and advising beyond academics, technical and research skills to personal and professional development and specific career advice. They also want mentoring outside of their thesis advisor through a network of advisors. The Office of the Dean for Graduate Education (ODGE) and the Graduate Student Council (GSC) have collaboratively supported a number of initiatives which serve to enhance mentoring and advising and have created more opportunities for faculty/student interaction. Two years ago, ODGE and the GSC co-sponsored a comprehensive advising survey. The survey results identified three key determinants of the quality of advising; agreed-upon clear milestones, deadlines, and performance and progress feedback. The results have been discussed with a number of departments, several of which are implementing recommended best practices. The ODGE is currently aggregating data from numerous student surveys to obtain a more complete picture of graduate advising at MIT and inform future initiatives.

MIT is committed to improving the advising and mentoring experience for all our students. We welcome your ideas, which you can send to whatsonyourmind@mit.edu. Good luck as you complete the semester.

Sincerely,

Daniel Hastings
Dean for Undergraduate Education 2006-2013
Cecil and Ida Green Education Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics and Engineering Systems

*2012 MIT Senior Survey
**2011 MIT Enrolled Student Survey

Some helpful links on Advising and Mentoring:

How to be Advised written by UA Committee on Education
For undergraduates

How to Find an Advisor written by GSC Better Advising and Research Ethics sub-committee
For graduate students

GSC initiative to improve the adviser/advisee relationship at MIT

OME Mentor Advocate Partnership
Matches first-year students with faculty and staff mentors

OME Laureates and Leaders
Connects students interested in pursuing a graduate degree to faculty mentors

Graduate Women in Physics
Mentoring of physics undergrads by graduate students

GWAMIT Mentoring Program
Connects graduate women with successful women professors and alumni

GSC International Student Mentorship Program
Helps incoming graduate students transition to graduate student life at MIT

MIT Venture Mentoring Service
Matches prospective MIT entrepreneurs (including students) with volunteer mentors

Science Mentoring Research
Research and guidance on mentoring in STEM field

Continuing the Conversation on Stress

Eric Grimson

Eric Grimson, Chancellor 2011-2013

Author name: 

Chancellor
2011-2014

Dear Students:

MIT prides itself on demanding the very best for all members of our community: students, staff and faculty. Our mission, after all, is to serve the nation and the world and to contribute to the “betterment of mankind.” With a charge as lofty as that, life at MIT—academic and otherwise—can be challenging. As Henry Kissinger once famously pointed out, “A diamond is only a chunk of coal that is made good under pressure.” You’re here because you are exceptional, and every day you are pushed to be more exceptional—by yourself, by your peers, by faculty.

Sometimes the pressure can be overwhelming. As I meet with students across the Institute, I hear many of you express feelings of insecurity and inadequacy. And perhaps it would surprise you to hear that many faculty members also on occasion experience such feelings. MIT is a tough place and, as our data shows, being a student here can take a toll on one’s self-esteem.

And yet I’m proud of the support infrastructure that the Institute has built over the years. I see the care with which our administrative offices work with you and, perhaps more importantly, I am heartened by the support that I see you providing to one another. You are individuals, with individual hopes, dreams, fears, and challenges, but you are also part of a community that cares for one another and is committed to everyone’s success and well being.

With an eye towards continuing to encourage a supportive and collegial environment, my office, in partnership with The Tech, will host an event the evening of Tuesday, February 12 entitled “Under Pressure: A Forum on Student Stress.” In the December 7 edition of The Tech, the editors did an outstanding job of articulating the challenges our students face in dealing with the pressures of MIT life. The forum is intended as an opportunity to continue the dialogue about these issues, to offer peer support, and to share information about resources available on campus. The event will run from 5:00 to 8:00 PM in Room 10-250. We’ll also break into smaller discussion groups to have more informal and action-oriented conversation.

An invitation will follow via email as you return to campus for the spring semester. In the meantime, I wish each of you a rewarding IAP experience (and some well-deserved rest) and look forward to seeing you soon.

Sincerely,

Eric Grimson 
MIT Chancellor

What Constitutes Merit?

Dear Students:

I recently attended the 2013 MIT Institute Diversity Summit which focused on the topic of “Meritocracy and Inclusion at MIT: Principles or Practices?” At the Summit, we were reminded that MIT has been an institution committed to the ideal of a meritocracy and inclusion from its inception. In fact, William Barton Rogers, the founder of MIT, wrote in 1862 in the original proposal to create MIT―Objects and Plan of an Institute of Technology―

“The limited and special education which our plan proposes, would, we hope, fall within the reach of a large number whom the scantiness of time, means, and opportunity would exclude from the great seats of classical and scientific education in the Commonwealth.”

Striving for the ideal of a meritocracy compels us to consider the question of what defines merit, as well as how to mitigate unintended bias in the evaluation of merit. Discussions at the Diversity Summit emphasized the importance of maintaining a multidimensional concept of merit to achieve diversity and, correspondingly, the highest possible levels of excellence and creativity. Embracing a multidimensional concept of merit is consistent with a commitment to providing a multidimensional educational experience, where students integrate discipline-specific academic rigor with innovative and enriching non-traditional learning opportunities that develop transferable skills, context and character. I recall a particularly insightful quote from the 2010 report of the Initiative for Faculty Race and Diversity, on which I had the honor to serve:

“To insist on orthodoxy [i.e. narrow, singular definition of excellence] would stifle one of the pillars of MIT which is to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship of ideas.”

When considering what constitutes merit, we might begin with the values and mission of MIT, the latter of which emphasizes the generation, dissemination, and advancement of knowledge in science, technology, and other areas of scholarship that will best serve the nation and the world in the 21st century. Importantly, today we are seeing an increasingly broad array of mechanisms to create, disseminate and advance knowledge, which are often highly discipline-dependent.

For example, in addition to scholarly journal publications and citations, consider the following recent work at MIT:

The list could go on and on. Consider the diversity of these achievements and of the individuals and teams behind them. Clearly, all contribute to MITs mission and excellence, and represent our collective creativity in generating, disseminating and advancing knowledge in diverse and impactful ways. My office, the Office of the Dean for Graduate Education, aims to highlight and recognize publicly the rich diversity of achievements of MIT students; we support an array of content-rich co-curricular activities that facilitate a multidimensional educational experience; we foster inclusiveness through welcoming and dialoguing cross-cultural events and we serve as a caring resource for personal support, mentoring and advising of individual graduate students.

I encourage you to consider what you think constitutes merit at MIT and to write to me your thoughts on this matter directly (cortiz@mit.edu) or post a comment on my facebook page post at this link: http://bit.ly/ChristineOrtizMerit.

Have a great semester.
Sincerely,
Christine Ortiz
Dean for Graduate Education
Professor of Materials Science and Engineering

2013: A Year of Anniversaries

Dear Students:

This year, MIT is celebrating important anniversaries for three groups who hold a special place in MIT’s history and development. There is an unusual, elegant sequence of these three milestones as the year 2013 marks the

  • 25th anniversary of the Public Service Center
  • 50th anniversary of McCormick Hall
  • 75th anniversary of the Hobby Shop

We want to congratulate the many exceptional people who have built and sustain these three outstanding organizations, and invite students to join their anniversary celebrations in the coming year. Each has played a role in making MIT the place it is today and each will continue to play an important role in our unfolding future.

MIT Public Service Center 25th Anniversary

The Public Service Center (PSC) is a direct response to the call of MIT’s mission to work “for the betterment of humankind.” The PSC engages our community in a robust and expanding variety of service opportunities, not only here at MIT but across the globe. For twenty-five years now, the PSC has been a wellspring of humanitarian work, enriching the lives of MIT students through leadership, education, and service learning. It was founded in the fall of 1988 and initially led by a steering committee chaired by First Lady Priscilla Gray and Professor Robert Mann ’50. Today the PSC continues to evolve to support MIT students with advising, programmatic, and funding resources as they tackle local, national, and international quality-of-life issues with their minds, hands, and hearts.

To celebrate this milestone anniversary, this spring the PSC will launch a 25th anniversary website, which will highlight stories from the PSC’s history and also provide a forum where students and alumni can share their own stories. The PSC will host a celebration open to the MIT community. Stay tuned for more details. Learn more about the PSC.

McCormick Hall 50th Anniversary

The completion of McCormick Hall in 1963 opened a new era for MIT women. The building was the result of the efforts primarily by an exceptional alumna very much ahead of her time, Katherine Dexter McCormick ’04 (that’s 1904!). In the days before co-ed dormitories, the living options for women undergraduates were extremely limited. McCormick Hall was a game changer in providing the first on-campus housing facilities for women, solidifying MIT’s commitment to the equal education of women and ushering in an era in which the number of women students grew to what it is today.

To celebrate this legacy and the ever-growing contributions of MIT women, a major celebration is planned for the weekend of October 4-6. McCormick Hall will no doubt be in shipshape, and ready to welcome its alumnae and the rest of the MIT community. You can expect some singing, art displays, several receptions, a lecture or two and maybe even some fireworks! Learn more about McCormick.

MIT Hobby Shop 75th Anniversary

Since its modest beginnings back in 1938 as a student club in the basement of Building 2, the Hobby Shop has served over 4,000 MIT community members. Today it is a resource for students from all majors and experience levels, as well as faculty, staff, and alumni, to work on projects they are passionate about. The Hobby Shop exemplifies MIT’s “mind and hand” spirit by providing an environment where you can turn ideas into reality. With a wide array of equipment and a small professional staff, led by Ken Stone ’72, and a very supportive network of fellow volunteers and students, the Hobby Shop is a very special ecosystem. It has been the birthplace of an astonishing variety of creations – beautiful furniture, art works, musical instruments, industrial prototypes, and even a small plane! Do visit the Hobby Shop sometime in the basement of DuPont Gymnasium (W31). I think you will be pleasantly surprised; and after renovations this summer, it will be even better.

A 75th anniversary committee, which includes Mechanical Engineering Professor Alex Slocum ’82 and Faculty Chair Sam Allen, has just been formed. They plan to host an evening reception on October 11, followed by an Open House on Saturday, October 12, to which the entire MIT community will be invited. And remember, all of us are invited to become Hobby Shop members at any time. Learn more about the Hobby Shop.

You can look forward to celebrating these important anniversaries in the coming school year. These occasions serve to remind us what an exceptional community that we are part of, and also of the abundance of learning opportunities available through Student Life and the greater MIT community.

Sincerely,

Chris Colombo
Dean for Student Life

Find Support with MIT Together

Dear Students:

Both graduate and undergraduate students tell me that there is a stigma associated with asking for help at MIT. After all, this campus celebrates working hard on complex and difficult challenges. We brag that we don’t get any sleep and that we drink from the firehose. If you’re struggling with feelings of stress or isolation, it can sometimes make you feel as if you are alone.

But this is not the true MIT. At MIT, projects and p-sets are assigned for working in teams. Labs organize around the intersection of complementary skills and disciplines. Even the original buildings reflect this idea; the architecture of the main complex deliberately facilitates strolling down the hallway to collaborate with someone in a different field. MIT is an engine whose parts have been designed to solve problems and overcome obstacles by working together.

At its core, the MIT community recognizes the value of working together, not alone. Reaching out for help when you need it is as much a part of MIT as the GIRs. And that’s why if you need support for a personal or academic problem—or during times when these troubles seem to go hand in hand—all you need to remember is one word: together.

This week, MIT is launching a new campaign, MIT Together, to promote what help is available and how to find it. The primary tool is a new website, together.mit.edu, which maps the wide array of MIT support services through an easy-to-navigate structure and a simple, elegant design. If you need help right away, the site tells you where to go. If you are just contemplating making an appointment to talk with a professional, MIT Together will help you find the information you need to be comfortable reaching out for support. You'll see MIT Together posters and other efforts throughout the year to keep you aware. I encourage you to take a look at it now and familiarize yourself with its contents, so that you know where to go when you need it.

If you feel overwhelmed by personal or academic trouble, know that you are not alone in two ways. First, graduate and undergraduate students make thousands of visits each year to the various support services at MIT. You’re not the only one. More importantly, you are not alone in a much broader sense: you are living and learning within a community that is here to help you overcome any challenge, together.

Sincerely,

Chris Colombo
Dean for Student Life

Setting Priorities for the Coming Year

Eric Grimson

Eric Grimson, Chancellor 2011-2013

Author name: 

Chancellor
2011-2014

Dear Students:

Welcome, or welcome back! This is always an energizing time of the academic year: new graduates and undergraduates joining the MIT family, returning students reconnecting with friends, faculty members hearing about their advisees’ great summer projects, classes gearing up, athletic teams blending new members with veterans, groups planning the year’s projects.

It’s also an exciting time. The many activities make it feel like the campus is returning to life, with possibilities for new beginnings and reengagement. If you are new to our community, you have probably noticed the incredible array of activities for you: within living groups, in the arts or athletics, through a research group, as part of one of the hundreds of student-organized clubs. Like the proverbial “kid in the candy store”, it may seem like all your wishes have come true, but it can be easy to get overwhelmed by the opportunity to sample so many choices while balancing your academic and research responsibilities.

Whether you are a new freshman, an incoming graduate student, or just returning after a few months away, I encourage you to use September for setting priorities. What are three key things that you want to accomplish this term? How will you attack them? How will you measure progress? By articulating a set of goals, you help maintain focus and reduce the distraction of too many other challenges.

As Chancellor, I am responsible for “all things students.” This leaves me with a very long list of issues to address! But although I am still refining my agenda for the coming year, and while new issues will arise, here are three topics on which I hope to make progress.

  1. Enhancing the support system for student wellbeing and community. All of us are committed to building a stronger, more supportive community that values a diverse range of members yet works together to ensure that everyone feels engaged. I plan to work with staff, faculty, and student groups to strengthen existing systems and launch new initiatives that foster deeper connections between students and support structures. Examples include a new Peer Ears student mentoring program; together with CUP, DUE and DSL, finding ways to improve advising; and conducting an extensive Quality of Life student survey to guide these developments.
  2. Augmenting the residential-based educational experience. As we explore the opportunities of MITx and the role that online tools can play in education for people around the world, I will be working with administration, faculty and students to guide how these methods and technologies improve and extend the experience for MIT students on our campus.
  3. Connecting with students and student concerns. I enjoy spending time listening to students over dinner in living groups, at discussion forums, in conversations with student leadership, and at student events. If you see me having a meal in a dining hall, or sitting in the stands at a game, I invite you to join me and tell me about your concerns and desires to make MIT a better place.

I hope your list of key goals is equally as challenging and exciting.

Sincerely,

Eric Grimson
MIT Chancellor

This Isn’t Your Parents’ Lecture Hall

Eric Grimson

Eric Grimson, Chancellor 2011-2013

Author name: 

Chancellor
2011-2014

Dear Students:

With the start of a new academic year, this is a good time to reflect on the dramatic changes underway in education and learning environments. News articles focus on the rising cost of higher education and the growing debt assumed by many college graduates; the White House has announced goals for attempting to assess college education quality; and the world has witnessed an incredibly rapid growth of online delivery vehicles such as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), Small Private Online Courses (SPOCs) and associated tools for enabling students to learn, interact and communicate. 

These forces raise some fundamental questions about the future of university education:

  • How will the traditional “chalk and talk” lecture evolve?  
  • Can the emergence of sophisticated online tools impact the cost of education?   
  • Should student living spaces change to accommodate new learning technologies?   
  • Does the traditional semester system of 13-week subjects need to be rethought?

I remind you of the goals President Reif articulated when, as Provost, he launched MITx: explore how we can use emerging online technologies to enhance and strengthen the residential learning experience; provide opportunities for anyone, anywhere, with the ability and desire, to master MIT subjects; and learn about learning, using research on and experiments with new blends of educational delivery methods to better understand how students learn and how we can better teach.  While MOOCs may get most of the media attention, already these online revolutions and evolutions are changing the MIT experience. 

Last term, roughly 1,500 MIT students took subjects in which elements of these new approaches were utilized – ranging from visualization tools, to online tutor systems that assessed student work, to video modules explaining critical concepts, to online discussion forums.  This term, as an experiment, 3.091 will be taught in a blended fashion, leveraging online material from MITx in place of the traditional textbook, and using MITx and edX developed online assessment tools to deliver exams and problem sets as a complement to traditional lectures and recitations.

And these are just the first stages in what will be an ongoing series of discussions, experiments and assessments of new ways of teaching and learning.  Earlier this year, MIT announced a task force focusing on the future of an MIT education, and invited suggestions through an Idea Bank at http://future.mit.edu/ – perhaps you contributed to that dialogue?  Next week, the task force will release a survey to the student body, asking for your input on a range of issues related to the future of an MIT education. I encourage you to include your voice in this discussion – university education is undergoing a dramatic, perhaps radical, change, and you are in a unique position both to observe that change and to guide it.  Make your views known!

Sincerely,

Eric Grimson
MIT Chancellor

Lessons From the Past Month

Eric Grimson

Eric Grimson, Chancellor 2011-2013

Author name: 

Chancellor
2011-2014

Dear Students:

The last month has been especially challenging for our campus.  On April 18, MIT was rocked by the tragic death of Officer Sean Collier, a 27-year-old police officer who, in just 15 months, had become ingrained in our community.  In the aftermath of that night’s tragedy, I have been inspired by the support that our students, staff, and faculty have shown towards the MITPD, the Collier family, and one another. 

This semester has reminded me of a few important lessons.  First, MIT is not immune to the dangers that exist in our society.  The violence we experienced that night hit closer to home than we are accustomed, and that worries me.  As overseer of “all things students,” it is my job to make sure that you are safe and supported during your time at MIT.  That is a responsibility that I do not take lightly, and the recent events have reminded me that challenges to that safety and support can come from unexpected places at unexpected times despite our best planning.

Second, MIT is a community of resilient, compassionate, and caring individuals.  The daily demands and pressures of working, living, and studying at MIT can sometimes cause us to lose sight of our cohesiveness as a community.  The memorial service on April 24 and the cancellation of classes that day provided an opportunity for our campus to grieve together and, I believe, heal together.  It was a moment of sadness, but it was also a time for reflection and support.  MIT has always been remarkable at pulling together in times of need, and I was heartened to see so many students attend the memorial and the community events in living groups and laboratories afterwards.

Third, the qualities that were so apparent in the aftermath of the tragedy are the same ones that can help us to deal with the daily pressures we all face at MIT.  As I’ve written in this space before, I am concerned by our undergraduate students’ lack of confidence in their ability to succeed at MIT.  Although 93% of you will successfully graduate, the recent Student Quality of Life Survey reconfirms the pressures our students face, and the toll those pressures can take on a student’s mindset.  I urge you to remember what you’ve seen in fellow students, staff, and faculty over the last month, and to know that there are people who care about you and who are committed to your well being and success.  

It should not take a crisis to remind us that we are here for one another, working towards a common good.  As you prepare for finals and the opportunities that await once you leave campus, remember that your exceptionalism is rooted not just in your ability to solve differential equations or map circuitry or design systems or write code, but also in showing empathy for those around you and compassion for those in need, both values that I’ve proudly seen on full display this semester.  With the support of this community behind you, there’s no stopping you.  We are MIT Strong.

Sincerely,

Eric Grimson
MIT Chancellor

Some Final Reflections

Daniel Hastings

Daniel Hastings, Dean for Undergraduate Education 2006-2013

Author name: 

Dean for
Undergraduate Education
2006-2013
 

Dear Students:

At a recent Cookies and Conversation, a student asked the Chancellor and Deans “what makes you smile at MIT?” Without hesitation, my response was “our students.” Whether I am working with students as a professor, a freshman advisor, a thesis advisor, or as Dean, I have always been inspired by the high energy, ingenuity and drive of our students.

MIT is a challenging environment. I was a graduate student here as well and remember how I loved the intellectual challenge of being here, was impressed by my peers, but sometimes felt overwhelmed, especially around exam times. While I do believe that we have some of the best students in the world, I also know that we are all human and need guidance and support. When I work with my advisees, I like to remind them:

  • MIT is a high energy place with lots of smart people.
  • We don't make mistakes in admitting people. If you are here, it is because we want you and believe you deserve to be here.
  • Work hard and play hard and have fun. However, don’t get into a spiral of falling behind and missing out on the rest and then falling further behind. Do as much as you can do with quality.
  • Take time to explore new intellectual opportunities, new skills, new sports, and the geographical area.
  • We want everyone to succeed, so there are lots of places and opportunities to seek help. It is ok to seek help and almost everyone has to do it.
  • Have a good sense of your core values and your priorities and the relationship between them.

While some of this may seem obvious, it is the obvious that we often forgot. Whether you will graduate in June or are just finishing your first year, I hope you will reflect on this advice.

As you may know, I will be stepping down as Dean at the end of the semester and taking a sabbatical to learn and explore some new areas. I will return as a faculty member in Aero/Astro and ESD and look forward to working with students in what will surely be a reimagined and evolving learning environment. On that note, I encourage you to submit your ideas for the future of MIT education at future.mit.edu.

Please feel to contact me with comments and questions at due-contact@mit.edu. I wish you a successful and not-too-stressful end of the semester.

Sincerely,

Daniel Hastings
Dean for Undergraduate Education 2006-2013
Cecil and Ida Green Education Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics and Engineering Systems

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