Bore-ientatonAs next year’s Orientation schedule develops, The Tech would like to suggest that this year be the year that MIT really re-invents Orientation, rather than simply make incremental changes to an evolving program. Every year for at least the last four years, Orientation has been making obvious, yet slow changes. Dorm selection is no longer a priority. Institute-wide mandatory events are, well, mandatory. The direction is obvious, but the progress is slow. It’s time to speed up and take responsibility for a changing system.
The reason for slow progress is endemic of universities and change -- undergraduate populations rotate on a four-year cycle, and thus the path of least resistance is to make change so slow that any given set of students does not have the perspective to realize the drastic changes taking place around them. An unfortunate side effect of this reality is that student surveys are essentially meaningless. Students who are the product of a system in the midst of change cannot conclusively provide input on the pros and cons of the system.
With this in mind, The Tech suggests the following measures for this year’s Orientation planning:
First, be more explicit about the grand strategy of the system. Make goals clear, and give them priorities. Is dorm rush a priority? Is academic program introduction a priority? Is developing long-lasting friendships between freshmen a priority? What is the intended goal of the diversity and rape awareness programs? Once this is done, tactical decisions -- such as moving residence exploration to the opening weekend (effectively killing it) -- can be seen in the broader context of the overall goals of Orientation.
Next, identify the more subtle aspects of Orientation, and of campus life in general, which are important to current students, and use this year’s Orientation to emphasize them. For example, while dorms may become homogenous and dorm selection may no longer be a serious concern, the unique character and close bonds on individual floors are important to current students. Thus, along with de-emphasizing dorm selection, re-emphasizing floor selection may be an option -- through dedicated times for floor events, and perhaps by encouraging events with newly formed floor groups. It’s no secret that the students of MIT put their smaller divisions of living groups in high esteem. By working with students to reach a mutually agreeable goal, the planners of Orientation would have an easy way to include student input, which to their benefit would hold a lot of positive feedback. Changes could be made from the ground up and reviewed effectively, rather than through incremental tweaks over time.
Finally, it would benefit the entire system of Orientation to be revisited from the ground up. Treat Orientation as an engineering problem -- examine the inputs and outputs and verify that they match. The inputs are items such as the realities of freshmen interests (willingness to sit through mandatory events, etc); the available times and the impact of an event at any particular time; the comparative values of getting to know a lot of people a little bit or a few people very well; the value of forced interaction with people from parts of campus that a student would not visit, and still may not visit; the aspects of MIT which we wish to showcase and the interests of those already at MIT to participate in showcasing their living group, lab or activity. The outputs of Orientation are items such as the knowledge freshmen gain about MIT and college life as a whole; the friendships they develop; the particular parts of MIT they happen to discover; and the living groups they choose. If such a system-level view is taken on Orientation, the resulting schedule could include events such as a mixer with MIT Medical doctors -- because it’s important to showcase MIT Medical and show that doctors are approachable, but freshmen interests suggest that free food trumps lecture-style introductions. Or, as another example, UROP tours could be done with living groups, so that all students are exposed in depth to one area of research at MIT and pay particular attention because the research also represents the work of one of their dorm or hall mates.
In pursuing all of the above goals, it is obviously important to keep consulting the MIT community -- and we feel those working on Orientation have not been utilizing this resource to its fullest potential. With such incremental changes as have been made, it could be argued that current undergraduates would provide little useful feedback on the big picture of Orientation. The Tech points out the importance of consulting alumni -- perhaps five, 10, and 15 years away from MIT. Admittedly, conducting a large-scale survey on the importance of dorm selection from a student body which did not truly go through a dorm selection process does not provide an accurate perspective on the importance of dorm selection to students. A more systematic process could be productive -- every year, those working on Orientation could contact alumni representatives from the classes five, 10 and 15 years prior to ask what they remember taking away from Orientation, and what suggestions they have for the future.
The Tech appreciates the hard work of those working on Orientation in building the future of MIT, but regrets the lack of efforts being made to have Orientation address the interests of students. The student survey, the involvement of student representatives from the very beginning, and the openness with regard to the Orientation schedule could all be appreciated by the student body. With all of these efforts, a broader perspective should be taken, to both ensure that Orientation meets the long-term goals of MIT and to ensure that freshmen take an active interest in all parts of the Orientation program.