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The Freshmen on Campus Decision

Larry G. Benedict

MIT has reaffirmed for many years its commitment to the essential educational experience for undergraduates provided by a residentially-based campus community. The Presidential Task Force on Student Life and Learning Report (http://web.mit.edu/committees/sll/), issued during the summer of 1998, states that the “residence system is at the heart of the MIT community” and further reflects that “the value of maintaining it as such lies primarily in the degree to which its students learn from one another. Collaboration among students and interaction with faculty, whether they take place in formal or informal settings, are the distinguishing qualities of the academic, research, and community activities that take place at a campus-based university.”

This integration of the student living and learning experiences is central to the mission of MIT. From the student perspective, engaging in all that MIT has to offer involves learning ways to embrace the entire MIT community experience in addition to the specialized opportunities created by the many sub-communities. The structure of the undergraduate residential experience permits new students to make their home for their first year in one of eleven undergraduate residences based upon the students’ preferences. During this first year, they can explore the offerings of other residence halls as well as Fraternities, Sororities and Independent Living Groups and may opt for a different experience as sophomores, juniors or seniors.

This residential pattern has value because it provides first year students a special way to be welcomed into MIT’s academic family and acclimate more quickly to the educational process. It is especially valuable in how it helps new members of the Institute community to understand what it means to be at and of MIT through a variety of programs, including new-student orientation, freshman advising, residence based advising, and engagement with faculty housemasters and Graduate Resident Tutors as well as upperclass students. So too, we strive to help them personally wrestle with how they will take full advantage of their time at MIT — how they will use this remarkable resource to understand themselves and their environment better and develop skills necessary to lead and problem-solve in an increasingly complex world.

The on-campus residential program is intended to provide these options for the first year students. The role of the house teams, including the housemasters, GRTs, house managers, and residential life associates, is directed toward supporting this student growth and development. Programming is designed to engage the first year student and address issues such as health and wellness, academic support, leadership development, meeting others, and getting involved at MIT.

Aligning these educational and community goals with the expectations of entering students, and their parents or guardians, underscores the importance of this residential experience as a shared foundation for beginning this challenging academic adventure. Parents and students expect to arrive on campus knowing where the student will be living, and anticipate that the first year will be an opportunity for transition from home life to college life. As the students become acclimated to the demands and expectations at MIT, they also come to learn more about themselves and their personal as well as academic goals. This knowledge and increased confidence permits them to explore a wide array of additional opportunities that can enhance their learning experience at MIT.

Thus, following the first year, students may opt to remain in their selected residence or choose a different experience and reside in one of thirty-six FSILGs. The various residence halls and the FSILGs provide unique environments and reflect the rich diversity of options available to our students. These communities encourage students to actively participate in the ongoing creation and development of the residential experience so that it is meaningful and relevant to their education as they progress through MIT. The overall residential program is designed first to assist the students’ transition to MIT and then subsequently to support them in making individual decisions about the residential choice that best complements their needs. The program strives to focus, in a sequential way, on our students’ developmental and educational goals thus creating a learning experience that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Larry G. Benedict is MIT’s Dean for Student Life.