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Alternate Programs Hold Open Houses

By Naveen Sunkavally

For freshmen seeking a more close-knit academic community or a more hands-on approach to learning, MIT offers several alternative first-year programs. Yesterday, three of these programs -- Concourse, the Experimental Studies Group, and the Integrated Studies Program -- held open houses for interested students.


The only requirement for a freshman taking Concourse is that he or she take a mininum of three Concourse courses during the first term.

Concourse courses are somewhat different from the mainstream. Concourse chemistry differs from the mainstream in that it includes some solid-state and organic chemistry as well. Concourse physics is more rigorous than the mainstream 8.01. One course, SP.345, “Problem Solving in Science and Technology,” is Concourse-specific only.

Students interested in Concourse should attend the Concourse Orientation before 11:00 a.m. on next Wednesday, Sept. 1 in 16-136. A lottery will be held if there are more students than spots available.

Freshmen and other students at yesterday’s 2-5 p.m. open house pointed to the strong student-faculty interaction as its greatest strength.

There’s a “strong sense of community” and the tutoring sessions are good, said Robert A. Aronstam ’01, who participated in it last year. He said that Concourse physics is more like 8.012 than 8.01.

Aronstam said Concourse is “most fit for freshmen who haven’t passed out of the GIRs.” At the same time, those students who do have advanced placement credit can take advanced courses as long as they take the minimum three courses in the fall term.

Nathaniel K. Choge ’01, also a participant last year, said Concourse is unique from other programs in that it maintains the lecture format at the same time it retains a close-knit community.

“I like it that I can meet small groups of people and get to know other people well,” said Rich Reifsnyder ’03.

Experimental Studies Group

ESG, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, also held an open house yesterday from 2-5 p.m.

The program offers all the mainstream freshman courses in chemistry, biology, math, and physics, and it also offers several in literature, philosophy, and writing. The classes, smaller than the mainstream classes, emphasize self-study and active interaction with faculty, graduate students, and other undergraduates in ESG.

Toh Ne Win ’01, a participant in ESG last year, said students in ESG are motivated, and not spoon fed the material -- the program stresses active learning. Like Concourse, ESG also maintains a strong sense of community, with its own computer cluster and place for students to gather. Students and instructors have more flexibility to modify the course material as well, Win said.

Jason Gift ’03 said, “I’m attracted to the community; they tend to have a lot of fun, [and] students are both learners and teachers.” He said he also likes the small class size and the one-on-one interaction.

Kris Grymonpre ’03 expressed a similar sentiment. He said that he thinks the small class size ESG offers is attractive because it matches the small class sizes that he had in his high school.

Both Gift and Grymonpre said they are “definitely applying” for ESG. Applications are due at 5:00 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 1. There is another open house that day from 1:30-5:00 p.m. as well and informational groups from 1:00-2:00 p.m.

Integrated Studies Programs

Compared to the other alternative programs and the mainstream freshman experience, ISP offers a more hands-on academic environment.

Students in ISP are recommended to take the hands-on physics courses, either 8.01X or 8.02X. They are also required to take two humanities courses, Technology and Cultures (SP.353) in the fall and Technologies in the Historical Perspective (SP.354), both of which satisfy the HASS-D requirement.

Like Concourse and ESG, ISP also offers a strong community for freshmen; it has its own computer cluster, kitchen, lounge, and classroom space as well.

Arthur Steinberg, director of ISP, said that the program has a strong hands-on component and also emphasizes writing.

The ability “to associate with professors on a friendly level” is the aspect Raymond W. Szeto G, who took ISP four years ago, considered ISP’s greatest strength.

Patrick Buckley ’03 liked the small class sizes, the idea of getting to know a group of people well, and the hands-on aspects of ISP.

“Different, interesting, refreshing,” added Kevin Nazemi ’03, who felt that ISP eliminated the barriers between faculty and students.

Later in Orientation, ISP will hold its annual egg drop contest from the top of the Green Building from 11:00-1:30 p.m.