Campus Profile -- Josiah D. Seale
UA President discusses goals and the legacy he hopes to leave behindBy Eun J. Lee
Josiah D. Seale ’03 is president of the Undergraduate Association. The Course XVII (Political Science) undergraduate hails from the hometown of Maracaibo, Venezuela and is a resident of Senior House.
The Tech: What’s the most interesting thing about you that most people wouldn’t know about?
Josiah Seale: I wear my life pretty much on my sleeve, so there probably aren’t many things that people don’t know about me. There’s nothing I really try to hide. I speak four languages -- English, Spanish, French, and German -- and am working on Swahili.
TT: How many units are you taking this semester?
Seale: Not a whole lot since I’m doing the whole [UA President] thing. I’m taking around 30 units.
TT: How many hours a day do you spend in the UA office?
Seale: Oh God. Probably 8 or 9.
TT: What is a typical day like for you?
Seale: Well, that depends. The UAP job is about how much you put into it. I met with the Dean for Student Life this morning. After that, I had a housing strategy committee meeting, and then I met with the Chair of Institute Committee on Student Life. Of course, there were all sorts of e-mails interspersed in there. A lot of the work happens over e-mail.
TT: How would you describe you leadership style?
Seale: I would say it’s participatory. I try to arouse interest in people for things so it’ll be something they’ll actually work on. I also try to find people who are interested in getting the job done. A lot of it just really has to do with getting to know the people you work with, matching up people with their interests, and supporting them as best you can.
TT: Do you have any hobbies?
Seale: I try. I’m a big poetry fan. I collect tobacco pipes. I like to rollerblade. I like good wine. I like good food, and I occasionally write reviews as a food critic for The Tech.
TT: What are the UA’s top goals this year?
Seale: The short term goals include getting more restaurants on the card, working on improving student morale, and other things along those lines. Medium term goals include improving communication between the MIT administration and the UA, and improving the conveyance of this information from the UA to the student body. Students need to know what’s going on and how they can get involved. Recently, we’ve also started talking about better faculty communication.
Longer term goals have to do with looking at broader Institute issues like what is meant by “community building,” the core values of an MIT education, and looking at how to attract better students and faculty.
TT: What are the major changes you’ve seen during your years at MIT, and do you think they’ve all been for the better?
Seale: We’ve had a huge shift in the administration in terms of new deans and all sorts of people that are gone. The fact that we have new people means that they are open to new ideas. I also think student morale has improved. By that, I mean that students have started coming out of their rooms a little bit more, interacting with people, and being more creative, I think.
I think one of the big things that’s happened is that we’re getting more universities competing for same student and faculty. What we have to say now is, “we are the best, let’s stay the best by attracting the best students and best faculty.”
TT: How has the UA’s role changed in light of recent changes in student life?
Seale: I think the the issues have changed, but I don’t think the UA’s role has changed. We’re still out there being advocates and lobbyists for students, figuring out what’s working, what’s not working, what’s out there, and pushing those changes through.
TT: What legacy do you hope to leave as UA President?
Seale: I’ve been working with upper level administrators to help identify the core values of an undergraduate education. I’ve been asking students for years, “what sucks at MIT?” The biggest response I’ve gotten from students is “the administrative attitude towards students.” Everybody has their own idea of what the college experience should look like, but it’s really a matter of looking at what the MIT experience should look like. We don’t want it to look like that of an upper New York state liberal arts college, or Harvard, or Wellesley, or any of our other “peer institutions.”
An MIT undergraduate education by and large means “I learned how to think.” Whatever course you get your degree in just means “I learned how to think in terms of course [insert number here].” What others outside of MIT are look for from [MIT graduates] is that you are able to be analytic, be creative, think differently, and work hard.
What it comes down to is that MIT is trying to encourage creativity, innovation, leadership, responsibility, and challenging the way things have always been done. And so we should try to make sure that everything we do in the name of community building encourages these values. We need to make sure that we’re not trying to make people fit into any one mold, but we are trying to encourage these values.
I would like to get a document written somewhere along these lines or get a group of people together to discuss it and come up with a document. That would be a big help for everyone involved to determine what we’re all trying to accomplish here together.
TT: Are there any new UA projects in the works that we cam expect to hear about in the near future?
Seale: We’re helping to analyze the Senior Segue program -- seeing what’s working and what’s not. We’re trying to get people involved to evaluate MIT Medical so we can make it better. Hopefully, we’ll be having some input in Walker Memorial and Pritchett Dining renovations. We’ll also be looking at rush -- evaluating what worked, what didn’t, and getting a better system up there. We’ll also be evaluating everything that happened with A/B/C/No Record next term. Those are a few projects I can think of off the top of my head.
TT: What are your future career goals?
Seale: I like to write. I’ve thought about law. Maybe teaching.
TT: What’s your favorite ice cream flavor?
Seale: Cherry cheesecake.