Tens of thousands of the public are expected to descend upon MIT’s campus tomorrow for the Institute’s first open house in over 30 years.
“It is possible that 20,000 to 30,000 people or more will be on campus for this wonderful day,” wrote John DiFava, director of facilities operations and security, in a letter to the members of the MIT community.
Plans have been made to accommodate from 10,000 to 50,000 attendees; in comparison, commencement usually has around 10,000–13,000 attendees. This number is estimated from replies to invitations sent to Massachusetts school districts, the estimated attendance of the Cambridge Science Festival, and looking back at the previous open houses, according to Paul A. Lagacé ’78, open house co-chair. Good weather is expected to draw more attendees.
Lagacé, who was a student during the Institute’s last open house in 1980, said that the planning for this year’s open house reaches back to President Susan J. Hockfield’s inauguration in 2005. “We started talking about [an open house] again in terms of the MIT150 celebration, and it made a lot of sense to open the campus up to the community,” he said.
He hopes to eventually see open houses become regular campus events, perhaps having both internal MIT community open houses and external events open to the general public. Still, he emphasized that this weekend’s success will be evaluated before making any definite plans. “We’ll see what happens this weekend, and based on that, those of us who are involved [with the open house] will make a decision,” he said.
DiFava said that planning for security and logistic concerns associated with the large number of people was similar to other large campus events; the main difference is that Under the Dome will have attendees with no affiliation to MIT other than “curiosity.” Planning for security has been in the works for several months. Services like several information tents and wide distribution of campus maps will be available to visitors unfamiliar with the Institute.
DiFava wrote a community letter on April 27, accessible at http://web.mit.edu/cp/www/_docs/DiFava_Open_House.pdf, asking the community to help “ensure that our campus is safe” by securing areas not included in the open house, welcoming visitors to campus, and directing visitors to the information tents at Mass Ave., North Court, and Kendall Square.
He advised members of the campus community to “be responsible,” but emphasized that he had “no negative sense at all” for the open house and was enthusiastic about the chance for the public to explore MIT.
“People are going to be fascinated — they want to see the cutting-edge research here. MIT is the ‘mystery on the river’; people drive by and walk by, and this is their opportunity to come over to campus,” DiFava said. “I anticipate a very, very successful event. I think that the Institute is going to shine.”
Lagacé shared those sentiments. “I’m looking forward to seeing a lot of smiling faces on Saturday and seeing all of the Institute’s individual pieces showing off what makes MIT a good place,” he said.