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Residence Design Contest Teams Present Proposals

By Rima Arnaout
Staff Reporter

Eleven teams, participating in the Residence Design Contest, commented on everything from MIT's dining system to the decision to house all freshmen on campus in 2001 in presenting their final proposals for revamping the Institute's residence system.

The contest, called A Community Shapes Its Future: Designing the New Residence System at MIT, finished Friday in 10-250 when teams gathered to give fifteen-minute presentations to the steering committee overseeing the contest. Each presentation was followed by five minutes of questions by the steering committee and others in the audience.

The steering committee, composed of faculty, alumni, and students, will decide contest winners and use the proposals from the contest to formulate their own proposal for revamping the residence system to be presented to Chancellor Lawrence S. Bacow '72 in September of this year.

The presentations were accompanied by more detailed written proposals to the steering committee. The presentations ran smoothly, although it took roughly five hours to hear from every team.

Former MITPresident Paul E. Gray '54, also a steering committee member, said that he "thought the presentations went well. The written proposals will, I believe, be the principal basis for the judging. I was disappointed that there were not more people present."

"Many specific, yet flexible, ideas were presented," said Abby H. Pelcyger '01, also a member of the steering committee.

"Considering that these teams were given typically less than a week I was completely impressed by both the number of proposals and the ideas detailed within them," said steering committee member Eric Liu '00.

Teams address housing changes

The suggestions and sentiments of the teams ranged from drastic changes to simple refinements of the current residence system.

One of the most important changes the teams had to address in their proposals was how to conduct dormitory, fraternity, sorority, and independent living group rush given that all freshmen will live on campus by fall 2001.

Some teams, such as the team led by Lita H. Lee '00 advocated an Independent Activities Period rush. "The goal of moving Rush is to allow for more informed rushees," Lee said in her proposal. Other teams said that students shouldn't be forced to be at MIT over IAP to pledge.

The Optimizers Team, composed entirely of freshmen, suggested a "non-residential rush for first-year students" so that freshmen could belong to an FSILG while living on campus.

A few teams' ideas included ways to get the MIT community to interact by organizing small group activities that lead to larger-scale interactions until the entire MIT community was one group doing things together.

In the Dorm Design Team's presentation, team member Sarah L. McDougal '00 said that small tight communities will help strengthen the MIT community as a whole only "if they are fluid and interconnected."

Social atmosphere discussed

Fortifying MIT's mentoring system is part of creating community. The Beaver Dream Team counseled the steering committee to institute residence-based advising with faculty associated with each dorm.

Many teams also decried the inconvenience of MIT's current dining system. According to the teams, dining at MIT is marked by the unavailability of healthy food at a low cost in a setting that would bring MIT students together. Plans for new dining systems included faculty-student lunches, designed to get faculty and students to meet and chat in an informal setting.

Some groups stressed finding new ways to make the transition to MIT more comfortable for incoming freshmen, while others stood up for freshmen's ability and right to choose their living situation for themselves.

Kartik M. Mani '00, who participated in the design contest, said in his team's proposal that "students who come [to MIT] are responsible enough to decide where they want to live."

Mani's team prescribed few revisions, adhering to the motto "if it ain't broke, don't fix it."

The Platinum Team also delivered a presentation in the form of a skit about a freshman going through orientation in the future.

"Some of the members of the Platinum team felt that a skit would be an entertaining way to get across the highlights of our design," said Christopher R. Rezek 99, a Platinum Team member.

"I think the idea of building and insuring community is that takes a lot of forms; the dining program, mentoring, making students feel that they have support, academic and personal...that speaks to the role that our graduate tutors and Residence Advisors should play," said Associate Dean of Students Andrew M. Eisenmann '75, a steering committee member.

Contestants were asked to address housing selection by incoming freshmen, faculty/student interaction within the community, scheduling for dorm and FSILG rush, and interim financial support of the FSILGs.

According to instructions on the residence design homepage, teams had to describe clearly and concisely the elements of the existing system that they would change and those they would retain.

Hope, doubt accompany contest

"There is a long tradition of contests at MIT, including design contests. Certainly some important ideas emerged on Friday," Gray said.

Nevertheless, some dissent arose on whether having a contest was the best way to encourage input from the MIT community about residence design.

"MIT's administration is really trying to involve students in these decisions. I truly do believe that the students' suggestions will be part of the new system," Liu said.

But Liu admitted that "the incredible amount of work necessary to create a proposal was a limiting factor."

"It was a really good idea from the administration to make the Residence Design Contest. However, if they had just given us more time to iron out the details, we may have been able to make [the proposal] more thorough. Overall, I thank them for the effort that they made," said Kishore Kuchibotla 02, a member of the Optimizers team.

Some people also thought that because of the time constraints in presenting team designs, the written proposals provided more specific input than the contest presentations themselves.

"The written product is the final product of the design," said Kirk D. Kolenbrander, process manager for the Residence System Design Committee. "I think it's important to give teams the opportunity to select the most important aspects of their proposals" for presentation.

Final plan will combine proposals

While they will select contest winners, the steering committee will incorporate ideas from all the teams into a final proposal for changing the residence system The proposal is due to Chancellor Lawrence S. Bacow '72 by September 1.

"Our recommendation will build on the best ideas we can find anywhere, assessed, combined, and integrated with our best collective judgement," Gray said.

Questions also came up about why the Residence System Steering Committee decided to have a contest with winners when ideas from all teams will be used in the committee's final designs.

"I think that a contest has real value in some dimensions and in others it raises some challenges," Kolenbrander said.

Design process continues

"The RSSC was charged with the task of coming up with a proposal for a new Residence System; the Design Contest was the first important step in this process,' Pelcyger said.

When asked to comment on whether one suggestion or theme for restructuring MIT's residence system stood out, steering committee members said that it was too early to tell.

The steering committee will discuss the written proposals in detail. The steering committee will name a contest winner by March 1.

As for the criteria used to judge the contestants, "these will evolve as we immerse ourselves in the written proposals. The guidelines for the contest will be taken into account," Gray said.

Top teams to visit other schools

First prize is a trip for up to six members of the winning team to Cambridge, England. The team will use the opportunity to review the residence system at Cambridge University and take their findings back to MIT.

Second prize is a similar trip to Stanford University or the California Institute of Technology. The prizes serve not only to reward contestants but to continue community input on MIT's design system.

"Much more work and community input needs to be put into this effort before the charge [of redesigning the residence system] is completed," Pelcyger said.