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A wooden roller coaster is seen erected in East Campus’ courtyard Saturday as part of their annual Residence Exploration activities.
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Incoming first-year undergraduate and graduate students descended upon the MIT campus as orientation activities officially started on Sunday.

About 550 families from the incoming class of 1,049 freshmen are expected to attend this year’s undergraduate Orientation, whose theme is “TechTube,” according to Elizabeth C. Young, assistant dean for the Office of Undergraduate Advising and Academic Programming.

“From all of us to all of you, welcome!” President Susan Hockfield said at Convocation in Killian Court yesterday, speaking for a stage assembly which included prominent MIT administrators and housemasters of the undergraduate dormitories.

Hockfield praised the merits of the incoming Class of 2012, and using the 16th-century scientist, engineer, and artist Leonardo da Vinci, shared her vision of MIT culture through three points: multi-disciplinary thinking, respect for and fascination with the natural world, and the hands-on engagement embodied in MIT’s motto “mens et manus,” which translates to “mind and hand.”

Encouraging the incoming students to meet and get to know the faculty, Hockfield closed with a quote from Da Vinci, entreating them to make the most of their “four very short years” at MIT: “It had long since come to [Da Vinci’s] attention that people of accomplishment rarely sit back and let things happen to them. They go out and happen to things.”

Carol Chester, parent of David A. Chester ’12, said that she “liked how Hockfield tied all the [themes] together with Da Vinci.”

The message was not lost on the incoming class. Nicholas A. Pellegrino ’12 called the speech “inspiring” and said that he planned on pursuing a UROP as Hockfield had suggested.

During Convocation, the Orientation coordinators presented Hockfield with the Convocation Book, which contains the names of the new class.

A total of 19 Freshman Pre-Orientation Programs were held this year, according to Young. New this year were Discover Urban Studies and Planning and Discovering Brain and Cognitive Sciences. The number of freshmen participating in FPOPs increased from 468 for the Class of 2011 to 560 freshmen this year.

The schedule of events is similar to last year’s, with a few more programs for parents. One student event is a diversity lecture by Eddie Moore Jr., a professional speaker who will talk about ethnic, racial, and sexual diversity in society. This event was first included in freshman Orientation last year.

Giveaways this year include T-shirts, as well as an emergency preparedness backpack from the Security and Emergency Management Office.

“No question is a foolish question,” advised Young. “Go to most of the programs. … Take this week as an opportunity to meet new people.”

Undergraduate Orientation will officially close on Friday, Aug. 29 at the Greek Griller, at which point fraternity rush and sorority recruitment begin.

The coordinators of this year’s Orientation are Chris J. Peters ’10, Kelli B. Pointer ’10, Arti V. Virkud ’11, and Andreas Wallendahl ’11. A new Orientation blog site (http://mitorientation.org/) was set up in June, with the four student coordinators and three UAAP staff members answering Orientation-related questions.

First-year grad students learn about MIT

Graduate orientation, hosted mainly by the Graduate Student Council, kicked off on Sunday as well with a welcome barbecue at the Thirsty Ear Pub. It continues today and tomorrow with “Graduate School 101,” which will help new students learn about life at MIT, according to Ying Diao G and Kai Liao G, the graduate orientation coordinators.

President Hockfield’s welcome address to graduate students will take place on Thursday, Aug. 28 in Kresge Auditorium.

New events for this year’s graduate orientation are Lab Open House, sponsored by TechLink, which will allow students to get to know labs from different departments, and MIT Photo Safari, a combination treasure hunt, campus tour, and photo contest that will encourage students to explore the campus.

Other highlights include Orientation Olympics, a joint effort of Tang Hall, the Chinese Student and Scholar Association, and the GSC; a Boston Harbor Cruise; and the relatively new International Culture Festival (iFest). iFest, which was new at last year’s orientation, will include performances from more than 12 cultural groups, food from around the world, and a cultural fashion show.

Graduate Orientation ends on Sept. 14, with the majority of events occurring between Aug. 24 and Sept. 6. For a schedule of events, see: http://gsc.mit.edu/index.php/orientation/schedule/.

Angeline Wang contributed to the reporting of this story.