This is the final interview in a seven-part series introducing incoming students to some of MIT’s faculty, staff, and student leaders. Today, The Tech interviews Martin F. Holmes ’08, president of the Undergraduate Association. Holmes talks about the UA and his goals for the upcoming year.
The Tech: Tell me about your role with the MIT undergraduate community.
Martin Holmes: I am the president of the Undergraduate Association. In that role, I administer the internal UA functions and work to represent student interests to the administration, protect the values and traditions of students, and that kind of stuff.
TT: For those who don’t know, can you give a brief synopsis of what the Undergraduate Association does?
MH: Our basic goal is to represent student interests to the administration. The UA is broken up into the Senate, which consists of representatives from each of the different dormitories. They write bills, pass legislation, and allocate money to student groups. The UA also has different committees. There are around a dozen of them which focus on issues, specific topics — things like Orientation, Housing, Dining. It really runs the gamut of anything that would affect students here at MIT.
TT: So you mentioned that the UA Senate writes bills. Can you give me an example of some of the bills or legislative issues that they’ve taken up in the past?
MH: One of the big ones we did towards the end of last year was to really research the issue of Boston Daytime funding. We wrote up a bill about that and how funding was running out. We researched statistics about usage, costs, efficiency — all kinds of stuff — put that together in a resolution which we got passed and were able to take to the administration so that we were able to secure funding for this entire academic year as well.
TT: What are some of your upcoming goals this year as UA president?
MH: The big ones that I’m dealing with right at the moment are hacking, Dining, and the Career Fair. It looks like there will be revisions to the stated MIT hacking policy. There is a committee of pretty high-level administrators together working on that, and since Ali [S. Wyne ’08, UA vice president] and I have returned to campus we’re going to be joining them and members of the hacking committee to really try to come up with a good solution or some type of a better answer to how MIT deals with hacking.
Dining obviously was a huge issue last year with Pritchett, Baker, all kinds of disasters. So we’ve really been working to pull that together. We were able to close Pritchett which was just a sinkhole for money. We’ve revamped a few things: the Dining program — the cost of that went down from $325 to $300 — and the administration is putting together some type of blue ribbon committee that’s going to have outside consulting and lots of student and administrator representation to really focus on the long term future and how we create a sustainable dining program. So, basically it’s all up for grabs; anything and everything is on the table. There may be some huge changes there.
And, lastly, with the Career Fair, we’ve made very good progress in terms of getting administrator support, faculty support, and student support for moving this to an Institute holiday. We were facing a minor administrative or bureaucratic problem. It basically had to do with icing Johnson, the ice rink, so that the ice hockey season can begin in time. We’ve met with [the Department of Athletics, Physical Education, and Recreation] and this no longer appears to be a major issue.
TT: I understand you’ve also been working with the MIT Coop involving textbook pricing. Can you tell me something about that?
MH: This is one of the huge undertakings we’ve been working on all summer, which was actually finally semi-successful, I’d say. We were able to bring together the UA, the Dean for Undergraduate Education, [Information Services & Technology], as well as the Coop, in order to … finally convince the Coop that it’s in the best interest of students, of the Coop, and everyone involved to sell textbooks online.
What we’ll be doing is trying to make it a little more efficient for students, give them a bit more options, a little bit more time to shop around and select their books so they can really figure out what’s best for them. We’ve got an initial agreement from the Coop that they’re willing to work with us on the textbook issue. We’re not exactly sure how the details will be hammered out yet, but we have some meetings. … Hopefully, by the spring semester, we’ll have the Web site up and running so that you can just go online and figure out what books you need.
TT: What would you suggest are ways for incoming freshmen who are concerned about something on campus to get involved with student government and the community?
MH: There are lots of ways you can get involved on a lot of different levels. If you’re interested in the UA you could run for UA senator. Each of the different dormitories and living groups has senators. So you’d come together in our big meetings and discuss legislation, write bills, and be involved that way.
There are lots of committees that you can be involved with — just join a committee and work on some specific issue. There are also class councils which serve more of a social function in terms of bringing the class together, giving them the opportunity to relax, meet new people. They throw all kinds of events — it really runs all the gamut from ski trips to formals. …
There are lots of leadership roles that people can take on, from within their dorm or living group, to the larger Dormitory Council, to the Interfraternity Council and the Panhellenic Association. … There is also the [Association of Student Activities] and plenty of student groups. There are leadership opportunities everywhere. It’s really smart to be involved in some type of leadership activity on campus.
TT: Any general advice you’d share with freshmen?
MH: … You’re really not going to be successful at MIT if you focus on extracurricular activities. And you’re really not going to be happy at MIT if you focus on academics. So you really need to come up with a good balance. You need to get yourself in a routine, a schedule, so that everyday there’s some type of consistency. [There should be] some level of academics that goes on everyday, whether or not something is due the next day. [There should be] some level of stress reliever, whether it’s exercising, going for a run, reading a book. … Just form some kind of consistency so that there is balance in your life — so that you really have a way to relax when things do get stressful. And feel free to seek help because there are a lot of opportunities and resources here at MIT, and a lot of people do find themselves in trouble; it’s not atypical.