Student Digest

How Can We Help Students Find Balance?

Chancellor Barnhart, Dean Freeman, Dean Ortiz, and I have heard from students that they have a hard time finding a good balance between academics, co-curricular activities, and sleep, a condition some refer to as “being hosed.”  In the 2013 Student Quality of Life Survey, 44% of respondents said their academic and research workload was “much too heavy” or “too heavy.” Half the respondents said they participated in co-curricular activities “Less than I would have liked.”

We would like to learn what current students feel about this issue by asking you to answer three multiple-choice questions and share your ideas of what can be done to help students find balance.

Student Input is Key

Dear Students, 

Welcome! As Chancellor, I am responsible for “all things students.” This means that I have oversight responsibility for graduate and undergraduate education, student life, student activities and student services. I want to ensure you have the resources, opportunities and support you need to have a fulfilling and productive experience at MIT, inside and outside the classroom.

As we begin the academic year, I invite you to be part of the ongoing effort to enhance the student experience. While there are many opportunities, my focus in the coming year will be on student health and safety, student housing and dining, and educational innovation.  In all these areas, student input is key. I will be reaching out to you through many venues to gain your insight and ideas. I encourage all students to participate and help inform and shape the immediate and future direction of residential life and education at MIT.

Here are some of the specific issues and opportunities where I will need your help as innovators and problem solvers:

  • Addressing sexual assault and misconduct on campus;
  • Campus planning focused on residential life, including renovation of existing dorms, design of new dorms, and a study of the FSILG system; and
  • Implementing the recent recommendations of the Task Force on the Future of MIT Education.

I look forward to meeting many of you and hearing from all of you. MIT truly values your input and I, once again, encourage you to add your voice to the many important conversations we will be having throughout the year. Also, I am always happy to meet with you or your group to discuss ideas or issues, and please feel free to email me at whatsonyourmind@mit.edu

Best wishes in the new semester!

Sincerely,
Cynthia Barnhart
MIT Chancellor

Take a Hike

Dear Students,

With the end of the semester here and summer looming large, I’d like to share with you one of my strategies for managing the intensity, and the associated stress, of MIT:  Get away (but be sure to return)!  I recently did exactly that.  Although I knew that there would be numerous issues and endless emails to deal with on my return, my husband and I traveled to Peru for a 7-day trek to Machu Picchu.  We hiked past lakes and over peaks at 15,000+ feet, walked into the jungle, and marveled at the ancient city of the Incas.  The experience was exhausting, yet rejuvenating.  Such time away, especially active time away (my favorite type), always helps me to regain perspective.  

MIT is full of very smart, highly driven achievers. However, as much as we complete, there is always more to do – so rather than reflecting on what we have accomplished, we focus on the unfinished, leaving the persistent sense that we have not done enough. 

This is one effect of MIT that I have worked to deliberately overcome.  Just as the intellectual challenges of our time demand thinking from more than a single discipline, our own lives call for a diversity of activities and interactions.  I block off “non-MIT time” in my calendar, and am disciplined about using that time.  We all need a break to refresh our minds and hearts, and to spend time with those that mean the most to us.  Getting away has the effect of flipping the “not done enough” perspective and leaving a sense of accomplishment. Try it, you’ll see.

 This summer, take a hike – or whatever it is that you do to reconnect with yourself and the people that matter.  And when you return with renewed energy, I invite you to join me in enhancing life and learning at MIT and affecting positive change for our community. 

Sincerely,

Cynthia Barnhart
MIT Chancellor

Strengthening MIT’s Response to Sexual Violence

Addressing sexual violence and its effects on our community and individual students is a major concern for MIT. For some time the Institute has worked to strengthen sexual violence prevention and response programs on campus.

A 2005 grant from the Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women led to the creation of Violence Prevention and Response (VPR), which provides a 24-hour confidential support and information line for the MIT community. The dedicated staff leads education and prevention efforts, and conducts important trainings for the entire community—including students, MIT Police, faculty, staff, and many others—on addressing sexual violence.

Since the Department of Education’s “Dear Colleague” letter in 2011, MIT has also focused on Title IX and its requirements related to sexual violence. In the three years since the letter was published, more than 275 staff have been trained on Title IX by the Office of the General Counsel. Deputy Title IX coordinators were identified across the Institute, and the Preventing and Addressing Sexual Misconduct at MIT website was launched. Last year, a Title IX Working Group convened to focus on outreach and awareness, education and training, policy review, reporting, investigation, response to incidents, and benchmarking to learn best practices. In October, MIT revised its policy on sexual misconduct, which now includes a clear statement requiring individuals initiating sexual activity to obtain effective consent from partners, among other changes. Also notable were the hiring of a full-time Title IX investigator, and the formation of a Student Title IX Working Group with the intention of engaging students in messaging, policy development, and outreach.

MIT’s Committee on Discipline (COD) has also made changes. Following a yearlong process which included participation from students, faculty, and staff, revised COD rules for handling sexual misconduct cases went into effect in July 2013. Under these rules, sexual misconduct complaints are now investigated formally by the Title IX Investigator before a COD hearing, reducing the burden on the students bringing forward and responding to a complaint; and complainants in sexual misconduct cases now have the same opportunity to receive notice of the outcome and appeal the decision as respondents. The COD is also beginning a fresh review of its procedure for responding to complaints of sexual misconduct.

There is much work being done at MIT to prevent sexual assault and assist those who are affected by sexual violence, directly or indirectly. I share this information in the hope that the students who have questions about sexual assault will learn more about programs and resources available at MIT. I also encourage all students to read the Institute’s policy on sexual misconduct and become familiar with the channels for reporting sexual assault incidents.

We also know there is much more to do. You can help MIT continue to improve by completing Chancellor Barnhart’s “Community Attitudes on Sexual Assault” survey. The valuable data gathered will be used to enhance prevention efforts and response systems. You should have received an email from the Chancellor in the last few days with a link to the survey. Please take a few minutes to give your input.

Students at MIT take pride in challenging each other to do better. By getting to know these resources and taking the survey, you can help the entire MIT community do better in our response to sexual violence.

Sincerely,

Chris Colombo
Dean for Student Life

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
 
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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Include Reflection in Your Summer Experience

Eric Grimson

Eric Grimson, Chancellor 2011-2013

Author name: 

Chancellor
2011-2014

Dear Students:

As we approach the end of the academic year, I want to wish all of you good luck (and good skill!) on your final exams.  While this has been a very challenging year for our community, I hope it has also been a year of growth and accomplishment for each of you.  And as you head off for the summer (or graduate in June and head off to the next stage in your career), I hope you also take some time for reflection and integration.

One of the things we know about MIT is that it is filled with incredibly smart and talented people – everyone here was among the very best in their previous environment.  But sometimes this can lead to skewed perceptions – it is easy to think that you are just an average student, when you are in the midst of so many talented people, and this can erode your self-confidence.  Indeed, we know from survey data that one in six undergraduates does not feel confident in their ability to succeed academically at MIT, yet we know that more than 93% of you will successfully graduate.

So I hope that during your summer activities – whether an internship, a UROP on campus, a start-up venture, or simply some time for relaxation – you will do some reflection and introspection.  If your experience is like most MIT students, you will discover that your colleagues in your summer setting are very interested in and will seek out your views on issues, that they see you as an intellectual leader, and that you bring considerable soft and hard skills to any problem.  Remember that being a very good MIT student means you are a spectacular contributor in almost any other setting, which is why so many companies from so many different fields are so anxious to hire you.

This perspective was wonderfully described to me a few years ago by an alumna, who had an engineering degree from MIT but whose career trajectory had taken her into the entertainment industry where she rose to be CEO of a major entertainment company.  While she was at MIT, she had a serious case of “imposter’s syndrome.” In Los Angeles, her experience was that any time she joined a meeting, everyone in the room assumed she was the smartest person present. As she articulated, one still needs to deliver, but you walk into any setting with a major advantage: you have an extraordinary set of skills, and you just need the confidence to use them.

There are certainly many factors at MIT that contribute to self-confidence, beyond the comparison to an exceptional collection of peers.  MIT is an intense place with high demands and high expectations, both from faculty and from yourself.  But I want to remind you that MIT students, as a cohort, have incredible skills, and I especially hope that your summer experience reinforces this to you.

Sincerely,

Eric Grimson
Chancellor

Insight and Ideas to Improve Orientation

Dear students:

Orientation and REX require an effort by the entire campus to welcome our new students to MIT. That’s why the Review Committee on Orientation (RCO), which spent the last year studying how we integrate incoming students, consisted of students, faculty, and staff—people from across the community coming together to study a vital community event.

This spring, the RCO presented its final report to us. We encourage you to read the MIT News story, where you can download the report to read the findings and recommendations that will help us improve the experience for the Class of 2016 and understand where we need to engage in further conversation and study.

This was truly an MIT process. Not only did the committee include stakeholders from across the Institute, but in true MIT fashion the group worked hard to make sure all voices were heard. From faculty and staff to residents of dorms, fraternities, sororities, and independent living groups, the RCO listened to all corners of the campus community.

And the committee complemented these conversations with data. Through direct discussions with students and student leaders from the residential communities, open forums, and an idea bank, the Committee gained insight on what worked and what did not work for students. The student experience was captured in "real-time" through student surveys of the Class of 2015 both during and after Orientation. This data helped quantify the impact of Orientation and where there were shortcomings and enabled the committee to recommend data-driven improvements.

All of us want every incoming freshman to have a positive and productive experience during their first week at MIT. How we achieve this goal must continuously evolve to address the changing needs of students, to incorporate promising new ideas, and to reflect the evolving policies, programs and opportunities at MIT. The members of this committee and the many students who contributed to the process deserve our thanks—their insights and ideas will improve Orientation and REX this year and far into the future.

Sincerely,

Dan Hastings
Dean for Undergraduate Education
Chris Colombo
Dean for Student Life

 

 

Insight and Ideas to Improve Orientation

Daniel Hastings

Daniel Hastings, Dean for Undergraduate Education 2006-2013

Author name: 

Dean for
Undergraduate Education
2006-2013
 

Dear students:

Orientation and REX require an effort by the entire campus to welcome our new students to MIT. That’s why the Review Committee on Orientation (RCO), which spent the last year studying how we integrate incoming students, consisted of students, faculty, and staff—people from across the community coming together to study a vital community event.

This spring, the RCO presented its final report to us. We encourage you to read the MIT News story, where you can download the report to read the findings and recommendations that will help us improve the experience for the Class of 2016 and understand where we need to engage in further conversation and study.

This was truly an MIT process. Not only did the committee include stakeholders from across the Institute, but in true MIT fashion the group worked hard to make sure all voices were heard. From faculty and staff to residents of dorms, fraternities, sororities, and independent living groups, the RCO listened to all corners of the campus community.

And the committee complemented these conversations with data. Through direct discussions with students and student leaders from the residential communities, open forums, and an idea bank, the Committee gained insight on what worked and what did not work for students. The student experience was captured in "real-time" through student surveys of the Class of 2015 both during and after Orientation. This data helped quantify the impact of Orientation and where there were shortcomings and enabled the committee to recommend data-driven improvements.

All of us want every incoming freshman to have a positive and productive experience during their first week at MIT. How we achieve this goal must continuously evolve to address the changing needs of students, to incorporate promising new ideas, and to reflect the evolving policies, programs and opportunities at MIT. The members of this committee and the many students who contributed to the process deserve our thanks—their insights and ideas will improve Orientation and REX this year and far into the future.

Sincerely,

Dan Hastings
Dean for Undergraduate Education
Chris Colombo
Dean for Student Life

 

 

Professional Development & Entrepreneurship

Dear students:

I hope you are doing well, as we all wait for spring to arrive soon! When I speak with many of you, I often hear questions and uncertainty about preparing for life after your degree; for example, “How can I make sure to develop the skills that I’ll need? What is it like working in different sectors? What resources on campus are available to me?” Many of you are also interested in starting your own business, and may have already begun to execute a plan. You may know that valuable professional development resources exist through the MIT Global Education & Career Development Office, academic departments, the Office of the Dean for Graduate Education, and the Graduate Student Council; entrepreneurs can find assistance via the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, the Technology Licensing Office, and the Venture Mentoring Service. I am also pleased to let you know of three new initiatives that will further support you.

Transferable skills and your career path
MIT has a wealth of professional development events for students, from grant-writing workshops to networking seminars. However, due to scheduling issues and space limitations, not all interested students can attend. I am delighted to let you know that my office recently launched an exciting new initiative: “Professional Development Portal” or "PRO-DEPOT," a video library of MIT-sponsored personal and professional development activities. The PRO-DEPOT is available 24/7 to all students, and covers topics such as communication, leadership, collaboration, balance and resilience, and ethics and integrity. You will also find videos that provide inspiration, and some that may help you choose your career path.

We also know that we have more to do in terms of coordinating available resources and identifying gaps in MIT offerings. The Task Force on Graduate Student Professional Development (TFPRO) has just started its work. The charge of the TFPRO is to review desirable skillsets for MIT masters and doctoral graduates in various disciplines and employment sectors and to identify core competency areas, as well as to map current MIT professional development offerings to those areas. The Task Force will provide recommendations for formulating a comprehensive and coherent set of offerings to all MIT graduate students, options for supporting and collaborating with graduate programs, and potential opportunities to leverage online platforms. Lei Dai (Physics) and Ulric J. Ferner (Electrical Engineering and Computer Science) are the graduate student representatives to this Task Force.

Best practices for student entrepreneurship
As student involvement in entrepreneurship is exploding on the MIT campus, opportunities abound to find intellectual partners and develop ideas. The 100k Business Plan Competition, the MIT Global Challenge, i-Teams, the MIT Entrepreneurs Club, MIT TechLink, and the Sloan Global Entrepreneurship Lab are just a few of the student-led initiatives. As a greater variety of new ventures develop, questions arise as to best practices, roles and responsibilities, and intellectual property. To help address these questions, a new Committee on Student Entrepreneurship (CSE) will begin work in April. The committee will review current policies and procedures, best practices, resources such as the online Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) training, and current literature relevant to student involvement in entrepreneurship. The CSE will create documentation clarifying these topics for broad distribution. Undergraduate student Turner K. Bohlen and graduate student Aditya S. Bhujle are the student representatives to this committee.

As with all of our initiatives, we actively seek and greatly value student input! I encourage you to channel any thoughts you have to the student representatives on these committees, or to send them directly to me anytime. We will rely on a broad range of research and ideas to advance these important topics.

Sincerely,

Christine Ortiz
Dean for Graduate Education

Reach Out and Make Connections

Eric Grimson

Eric Grimson, Chancellor 2011-2013

Author name: 

Chancellor
2011-2014

Dear students:

This week I shared with the campus the sad news of another student death. Along with the recent bike accident, this is the fourth death to hit the community since the beginning of the academic year. I certainly am struggling to make sense of this trauma, and I know that many of you may be, too.

At MIT, we’re great at tackling the world’s problems. Whether it’s the future of energy, a cure for cancer, or affordable health care, we gladly take on the big challenges—and we expect that we’ll find a way to solve them. Often, we do so by teaming up with others. Sometimes, though, I think we forget to apply this same approach to our own struggles. In my email to the campus this week, I described how, during tough times like these, it is vitally important to reach out and make connections. It occurred to me that this attitude should be familiar to us. After all, we do it in our research. We do it working on class projects, or in study groups. Let’s do this within the community, too, for ourselves and for one another.

If you are feeling uncertain or overwhelmed by these recent losses, make a connection. Reach out to a classmate, a professor, a GRT, or Housemaster. If you see someone who appears to be in distress, upset, or distracted, reach out and let them know they are not alone. I suspect that opening up may feel difficult to some of you. In a community this talented and hard working, it’s easy to look around at your professors and fellow students and think you are the only one who needs support. But I can tell you from my own experience that this just isn’t true. All of my colleagues and I could tell you about times in our studies and careers when reaching out to someone else made all the difference, whether academically, personally, or both.

I want to suggest two options for seeking support, whether you are feeling distressed in the aftermath of the recent deaths, overwhelmed in your studies, or otherwise struggling. These are not the only options—the other sections of this monthly digest highlight some of the other services MIT offers to students—but each is a great first step for any undergraduate or graduate who isn’t sure where (or how) to start. And of course you can find an excellent collection of resources on the Personal Support and Wellness page on the Student Life and Learning site.

Student Support Services (S3)
For undergraduates, try Student Support Services (Room 5-104, Tel: 617-253-4861). The deans there are smart and supportive people who have helped thousands of students through personal and academic challenges. More than half of undergraduates go to S3 at some point during their time at MIT—which says to me that success often comes not just by doing it yourself but also through asking for help when you need it. What happens when you go to S3? An initial conversation with one of the deans, followed by some planning in which you both work together to come up with next steps.

Graduate Student REFS
Graduate students who are feeling overwhelmed or grappling with stress should check out the REFS program. REFS (which stands for Resources for Easing Friction and Stress) is run by graduate students for graduate students. It’s a department-based, peer-to-peer support program. The REFS volunteers are trained to give you information about resources and to make informed referrals for you to act on. Use REFS to have a confidential chat with someone who understands not just the challenges of graduate student life at MIT, but also your specific corner of it.

The number of students, faculty, staff, and alumni who have contacted me recently to suggest ideas for strengthening the campus and to offer their support to students has touched me deeply. I am grateful for the generous spirit behind these offers. It helps me understand that my own grief is shared by the community and gives me the confidence to assure you that if we help each other as a community we will find our way through it.

Sincerely,

Eric Grimson
Chancellor

Learning to Lead

Dear students:

What has MIT taught you about leadership? This is not an idle question for the Institute—or for you, I hope—and it’s one that has been much on my mind this January.

I have two strong beliefs about helping MIT students develop confidence and skills as leaders. First, I am willing to bet that after you leave this place you will find that colleagues, co-workers, and even strangers expect you to be a leader simply because you studied here. More and more the solutions to the world’s most intractable problems, from energy and climate change to poverty and health, require the knowledge and skills that are at the core of your MIT education: a broad understanding of science and technology, a mastery of interdisciplinary problem solving, a deep capacity for innovative thinking.

Students at MIT tell me that sometimes they look around and wonder whether they stack up with their peers. After you’ve graduated, however, don’t be surprised when you find people looking to you for leadership even if you are not specifically “the leader.” This expectation can feel like both an opportunity and a burden. Fortunately, my second belief is that leadership can be developed—and at MIT there are infinite opportunities outside the classroom to hone the skills that will make you an effective leader.

This month, I have seen many opportunities across the campus to learn about leadership:

  • We are celebrating the fifth anniversary of the Community Catalyst Leadership Program(CCLP). Established by Alan ’73 and Terri Spoon, the program pairs a junior with an alumnus/a in a year-long coaching relationship designed to meet the student’s personal goals.
  • As I write this message, a group of undergraduates, faculty, and others have unplugged for an intensive six-day, off-campus leadership- and community-building experience called LeaderShape.
  • The new L.E.A.D. series offers workshops, speakers, and resources for students and student organizations to build leadership and teams.
  • Tailored specifically for graduate students, Leadership Evolution for Graduate Students (LEGS) addresses graduate student leadership training.

These are just a few examples, but there are countless other opportunities to learn or to put leadership into practice. Learn how to network at Charm School. Explore a traditional position in student government, as an officer in a club, or as the captain of a sports team. Or learn through working with others on a group project, such as by joining a Global Challenge team or another project through the Public Service Center.

While I encourage you to embrace these opportunities, you can also help MIT understand how to evolve and enhance leadership development by answering the question I started with: what has MIT taught you about leadership? At the start of the semester, you’ll receive a request to participate in a broad survey on leadership at MIT. Lead the way for leadership by letting us know what you think. What you tell us about your experience will help us understand what MIT can do to help every student prepare for a life of leadership.

Warm Regards,

Chris Colombo
Dean for Student Life

Take Care of Yourself

Dear students:

I hope you are doing well as we rapidly approach the end of the semester! I thought I would send you some words of encouragement, support, and advice as you study for final exams, stay up late doing experiments, balance work and personal commitments, write thesis and journal publications, respond to reviewers, and prepare and present conference presentations.

At a dinner with graduate students recently, one student asked a question that really hit home for me, as well as for many other students. The student noted, “Most of us work with professors at MIT who have exceptional records in research, but what should we do if we are not able to produce good results?”

Sometimes it may seem that success comes easy for others, but I would emphasize that failure is something that every researcher faces. The key to success is dealing with, learning from and capitalizing on failures. Please realize that such failures have little to do with your own shortcomings; the research process is inherently a series of many trials and most often a convoluted path of persistence, resilience, and hard work to get to a positive end result. The first time you experience this can be particularly disappointing. I still remember clearly my first year in graduate school when I carried out organic synthesis experiments hundreds of times, over and over again, until they finally worked. Ask any professor at MIT, and you will likely find that we have all had manuscripts criticized, grants rejected, and ideas that just didn’t work.

If you are facing a roadblock in your work or personal life, here are some suggestions:

  • Manage your stress and give your mind a break. Take a walk, draw on your support network, or talk to friends and family. Do something else you love. Eat healthy, get enough sleep, exercise, try a guided relaxation exercise, give back through public service.
  • Give yourself a break. Don’t blame yourself or take it personally. Debrief objectively and unemotionally, get organized, and proactively move forward.
  • Be prepared. Develop a “Plan B” in advance and discuss with your advisor, thesis committee members, labmates, and colleagues in related fields to explore potential different approaches.
  • Get Inspired. Check out TEDx videos to listen to examples of great successes that have arisen through failure or ask mentors to describe their own examples.
  • Prioritize. Draft a list of all of your pending assignments and projects, noting timelines and deadlines, as well as rating the overall importance of each item. Prioritize your list based on your notes, and schedule the most challenging work for when you have the most energy.
  • Ask for advice. An MIT staff person may have just the resource you need to tackle your problem. Graduate students are invited to contact ODGE staff; undergraduates are encouraged to contact Student Support Services.

Starting next month, we are going to introduce a new feature to the Student Life and Learning Digest called “Take care of yourself” where we will highlight wellness and well-being resources from sleep tips and nutrition to yoga classes and beyond.

Please remember that every one of you have what it takes to be successful at MIT and way beyond – and we are here to help you. I welcome your thoughts and ideas on how we can better support graduate students and I would also be very interested to hear your own personal experiences with failures and success in your life at MIT. Feel free to email me directly at cortiz@mit.edu or, to also include the Chancellor, Dean for Student Life, and Dean for Undergraduate Education, please respond to whatsonyourmind@mit.edu. I wish you and your families all the best over the holiday season.

Warm Regards,

Christine Ortiz
Dean for Graduate Education

Exploring e-Learning at MIT

Daniel Hastings

Daniel Hastings, Dean for Undergraduate Education 2006-2013

Author name: 

Dean for
Undergraduate Education
2006-2013
 

Dear students:

For the last year, the MIT Council on Educational Technology (MITCET) has been exploring how educational technology could enhance the residentially-based educational experience of students. There is no doubt that MIT provides an outstanding, residentially-based education. MITCET is considering how we take advantage of the significant transitions in information technology, such as the shift toward mobility, cloud computing and the growth in online tools, to increase the flexibility and adaptability of MIT’s educational programs.

The focus is on learning. The question is not what opportunities could educational technology provide. Instead, the question is what curricular and pedagogical approaches could transform the educational experience of MIT students and how could educational technology enable those changes. MIT showed significant leadership with the development of OpenCourseWare (OCW) ten years ago and now it is time to develop the “beyond OCW” strategy.

The Opportunities
MITCET has identified modularity as an approach with significant potential to enable transformative educational innovation. This is the idea of providing experiences that are more modular and flexible both in time and geography. We envision many opportunities for the use of modularity at MIT:

  • A shift away from a predominantly inactive lecture-based mode of student-instructor engagement to an active learning mode with a focus on conceptual understanding and problem solving.
  • An increased expectation of student preparation for active learning using a variety of learning resources such as video lectures, lecture notes, sample problems, on-line demos, etc.
  • An expansion of active learning engagement to facilitate students who are not present in the classroom.
  • A modularization of the course syllabus and content materials with a self-paced, independent-study option where students' progression in the course is assessed module-by-module and adapted to their individual pace.
  • Majors would be able to complete portions of the course over IAP or while away from campus during internships, study abroad, or the extended research collaborations that have arisen as part of MIT's efforts to build relationships internationally.
  • Modular offerings would allow for more precise prerequisites for down-stream courses and provide students with a focused review of concepts and skills if it becomes apparent that a refresher is required.

What Next
MITCET is undertaking a set of experiments in curricular modularization with Mechanical Engineering, Chemistry, EECS and Aero/Astro to test the opportunities in this space. MITCET is also open to student initiated ideas and experiments along these lines. Hal Abelson and I act as MITCET Co-Chairs; please contact us via whatsonyourmind@mit.edu to share your ideas.

Sincerely,

Dan Hastings
Dean for Undergraduate Education

A New Way to Be Connected

Dear students:

We're pleased to send you the first Student Life & Learning monthly email digest. Each month, one of us will take a turn using this space to share perspectives on topics of importance to you. Along with our short messages, we'll also provide links to news and resources we hope you'll find useful or significant.

Not only is this digest for students, its design and elements are from students. Last year, we convened a number of student focus groups to learn the best methods to keep MIT students informed and engaged. The features you see here reflect what we heard: yes, send information via email, just not too often; clearly identify who is sending the message; keep things short; make it easy to read summaries at a glance, but do provide links to full information for those who want to learn more.

In that spirit, if you are not sure what we do, click on our avatars to find out more about us. And don't hesitate to use the "Share Your Thoughts" button to ask a question, send us an idea, or make a comment on an issue that matters to you. Together, we focus on the undergraduate and graduate student experience at MIT—and we'd be glad to hear from you.

We're excited to offer this new monthly format in our ongoing effort to enhance student engagement. We hope you'll like it, too.

Eric Grimson
Chancellor
Daniel Hastings
Dean for Undergraduate Education
Chris Colombo
Dean for Student Life
Christine Ortiz
Dean for Graduate Education

 

A New Way to Be Connected

Dear students:

We're pleased to send you the first Student Life & Learning monthly email digest. Each month, one of us will take a turn using this space to share perspectives on topics of importance to you. Along with our short messages, we'll also provide links to news and resources we hope you'll find useful or significant.

Not only is this digest for students, its design and elements are from students. Last year, we convened a number of student focus groups to learn the best methods to keep MIT students informed and engaged. The features you see here reflect what we heard: yes, send information via email, just not too often; clearly identify who is sending the message; keep things short; make it easy to read summaries at a glance, but do provide links to full information for those who want to learn more.

In that spirit, if you are not sure what we do, click on our avatars to find out more about us. And don't hesitate to use the "Share Your Thoughts" button to ask a question, send us an idea, or make a comment on an issue that matters to you. Together, we focus on the undergraduate and graduate student experience at MIT—and we'd be glad to hear from you.

We're excited to offer this new monthly format in our ongoing effort to enhance student engagement. We hope you'll like it, too.

Eric Grimson
Chancellor
Daniel Hastings
Dean for Undergraduate Education
Chris Colombo
Dean for Student Life
Christine Ortiz
Dean for Graduate Education

 

A New Way to Be Connected

Daniel Hastings

Daniel Hastings, Dean for Undergraduate Education 2006-2013

Author name: 

Dean for
Undergraduate Education
2006-2013
 

Dear students:

We're pleased to send you the first Student Life & Learning monthly email digest. Each month, one of us will take a turn using this space to share perspectives on topics of importance to you. Along with our short messages, we'll also provide links to news and resources we hope you'll find useful or significant.

Not only is this digest for students, its design and elements are from students. Last year, we convened a number of student focus groups to learn the best methods to keep MIT students informed and engaged. The features you see here reflect what we heard: yes, send information via email, just not too often; clearly identify who is sending the message; keep things short; make it easy to read summaries at a glance, but do provide links to full information for those who want to learn more.

In that spirit, if you are not sure what we do, click on our avatars to find out more about us. And don't hesitate to use the "Share Your Thoughts" button to ask a question, send us an idea, or make a comment on an issue that matters to you. Together, we focus on the undergraduate and graduate student experience at MIT—and we'd be glad to hear from you.

We're excited to offer this new monthly format in our ongoing effort to enhance student engagement. We hope you'll like it, too.

Eric Grimson
Chancellor
Daniel Hastings
Dean for Undergraduate Education
Chris Colombo
Dean for Student Life
Christine Ortiz
Dean for Graduate Education

 

A New Way to Be Connected

Eric Grimson

Eric Grimson, Chancellor 2011-2013

Author name: 

Chancellor
2011-2014

Dear students:

We're pleased to send you the first Student Life & Learning monthly email digest. Each month, one of us will take a turn using this space to share perspectives on topics of importance to you. Along with our short messages, we'll also provide links to news and resources we hope you'll find useful or significant.

Not only is this digest for students, its design and elements are from students. Last year, we convened a number of student focus groups to learn the best methods to keep MIT students informed and engaged. The features you see here reflect what we heard: yes, send information via email, just not too often; clearly identify who is sending the message; keep things short; make it easy to read summaries at a glance, but do provide links to full information for those who want to learn more.

In that spirit, if you are not sure what we do, click on our avatars to find out more about us. And don't hesitate to use the "Share Your Thoughts" button to ask a question, send us an idea, or make a comment on an issue that matters to you. Together, we focus on the undergraduate and graduate student experience at MIT—and we'd be glad to hear from you.

We're excited to offer this new monthly format in our ongoing effort to enhance student engagement. We hope you'll like it, too.

Eric Grimson
Chancellor
Daniel Hastings
Dean for Undergraduate Education
Chris Colombo
Dean for Student Life
Christine Ortiz
Dean for Graduate Education

 

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