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New House Residents Meet Prospective Housemasters

By Helana Kadyszewski


Professor Wesley L. Harris and his wife Sandra Harris, potential candidates for New House housemasters, met residents of the dorm Thursday.

The Harrises were invited by current housemasters John M. Essigmann PhD ’76 and his wife Ellen M. Essigmann PhD ’80, who will leave a vacancy behind when they assume housemaster duties at Simmons Hall, the new undergraduate dorm scheduled to open for the fall.

Though the selection process is open and no official appointment has been made, currently the Harrises are the only known candidates being considered for the New House housemaster position. Katherine G. O’Dair, assistant dean of residential programs, expects that the decision process will be wrapped up by May 1.

Sandra Harris said that the event was “a very positive exchange of ideas and concerns.” Her husband, a professor in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, was not available for comment.

Diversity concerns residents

Harris said the chief concern she heard from students was “food -- whether or not we’ll be able to turn out the pancakes fast enough. Food seems to be the gravest concern, but the students were also very interested in knowing how we would champion their causes to the administration.”

Besides the food issue, another major student concern is the preservation of diversity at New House. New House consists of nine sub-communities, each with a different cultural and social identity.

“We want to be sure that the new housemasters will work to preserve the diversity,” said Keith R. Santarelli G, who is a member of the selection committee and one of several graduate resident tutors at New House.

Harris said that the diversity at New House is “very stimulating.”

Students prepare for change

Miriam L. Sorell ’04, president of French House, attended the reception and said that it was difficult to tell from first meeting if the Harrises would be a good replacement for the Essigmanns, but also said, “They seemed like nice people. She [Mrs. Harris] is an interior decorator so maybe she could get New House spiffed up.”

Santarelli said that the Essigmanns’ decision to move to Simmons came as a surprise, “especially after they [the Essigmanns] had initially advocated that the GRTs should stay at New House and not move to Simmons.” He added, “Things happened rather quickly though and I think that had a lot to do with it.”

Santarelli also said that he would miss the Essigmanns. “I think I can speak for all the GRTs when I say that they will be missed. They were wonderful to work with and they really got to know the students personally.”

Essigmanns support committee

While the Essigmanns have had no official role in the selection process, they have acted in support of the selection committee since its assembly in mid-March. “We invited the Harrises to our home as an opportunity for the students to meet them. We were incredibly delighted, and in a sense, relieved to see them received so warmly,” Essigmann said.

Ellen Essigmann said, “We’ve been at New House since we’ve been at MIT and New House is such a great dorm. We never thought we’d leave, honestly. It’s almost like we are parents abandoning our children.” The Essigmanns moved into New House in 1995.

Professor Harris was a faculty member at MIT from 1972 to 1985, and rejoined the faculty in 1996. During his time away from MIT, he served as Dean of Engineering at the University of Connecticut, the Vice President of the University of Tennessee, and the Associate Administrator for Aeronautics for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. He is currently the Charles Stark Draper chair in aeronautics and astronautics.