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Greetings from Academia: The Academics Speak Out

By Brian Loux

associate features editor

Students have had quite a bit to say about administrators’ plans to use orientation as an opportunity to incorporate freshmen into the academic world. The Tech decided to ask some faculty what they think.

Recently, Dean for Undergraduate Research J. Kim Vandiver said that MIT needs to be more focused in acclimating the freshman class to the academic world of the Institute. In your opinion, in what ways can MIT go about accomplishing this goal, or is there not sufficient need for it?

“I think freshmen should be taken under the wing of upperclassmen, [who can] show them the unofficial ins and outs of the Institute. I think that CPW [Campus Preview Weekend] is about as much as those poor kids can take because they are so spammed with information during that time. It’s good to have the summer to sort the wheat from the chaff.

--Briony G. Keith, Senior Secretary, Literature Department

“I think that recitation sections work better because [the teachers] are closer in age [to the students] and are more in tune with the students ... Possibly, the students could take a tutorial with five or six students in a field in which they are interested. Their learning would just skyrocket ... in a small class environment where students do most of the talking and learn from each other.

I think you should really be asking upperclassmen their opinions. I think they will have a better idea of what would work for freshmen.”

--Claudette L. Gardel, Technical Instructor, Department of Biology

“It would possibly be better to make UROP [Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program] opportunities a little easier to come by.”

--Jeffrey I. Steinfeld ’62, Professor of Chemistry

“It is important to increase the contact between the student and faculty at a personal level. The welcome dinner is a good idea, but that is just a drop in the ocean.

I think professors need to know their students as people and not [just] as students. The same goes for the students’ [view of faculty]. I think one way to do that in the first year is to reduce the class sizes. Get away from the large lecture format such that the student only gets to know their recitation instructor.”

--Ole S. Madsen ScD ’70, Professor of Environmental Engineering

“Some things in the past have worked well to solve the problem. I think the elimination of second term pass/fail was a constructive step in getting the students integrated into what’s going on. It leads to a better selection of courses in second semester.

Get the students to take as many classes as they want and get classes that pique their interest. They need to explore their majors in the first year. Things that would help them make a more informed choice on majors would be good.”

--John V. Guttag, Department Head of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

“I want to have some panel discussions where each school tries to sell you their product. I think many freshmen come in and have little idea what their options are. I [am advising] freshmen this year, and I think that we require more support and money for real contact people, especially informal contacts.

I think that it’s true that it’s not clear where the concern is coming from. The freshmen don’t feel there is any great need for this. If anything, you could take some pressure off of freshmen year.”

--John Hildebidle, Professor of Literature

“It would be good if the students got a sense for all the academic things that went on around here. A senior recently told me, ‘I wish I knew IAP was that interesting.’ If there was a way to expose people to the things available, it would help immensely.

It takes a while for students to figure it out. If there’s a fast way to get that out, then that would be something.”

--Rohan Abeyratne, Department Head, Mechanical Engineering

“We already have the Discover Ocean Engineering program, which is very successful in making students interested in engineering and gives them a good hands on feel for the department. It is now a model for other departments.

We now want to have more freshmen initiatives, as in more hands-on freshmen classes that let them understand the department better. It is important to [give the freshman class] exposure to the departments, as a lot of people don’t know what Ocean Engineering is ...

Departments that don’t have the name recognition need students to know what they are doing, to expose the freshmen class to what [the department] really is. I think the recent donation by [Chairman of the Corporation Alexander V.] D’Arbeloff will be very helpful to that end. I think it will also make a more reasonable distribution in course selection.”

--Henrik Schmidt, Department Head, Ocean Engineering

Updated to correct errata, 19 March, 2003