October 2011 Update - process and next steps

October 27, 2011

Dear MIT Undergraduates,

We write to update you on the work of the Review Committee on Orientation and invite your input at two public forums on the subject that will occur next month.

Last March, at the request of then-Chancellor Philip Clay, Dean for Undergraduate Education Professor Daniel Hastings and Dean for Student Life Chris Colombo formed the Review Committee on Orientation (RCO) and charged it with examining all aspects and activities associated with Freshman Orientation. Specifically, the Committee is interested in considering potential changes in Orientation that will improve the experience for first-year students and better prepare them for the challenges they are about to encounter at the Institute.

The original impetus for the Committee came from the Task Force on the Undergraduate Educational Commons in 2006. The Task Force recommended that the Chancellor establish a faculty committee to examine Orientation to achieve better program balances between student life, academics, and research in the interest of setting "the stage for the intellectual journey upon which first-year students are about to embark."

The RCO consists of five MIT faculty members (three of whom are housemasters), one non-faculty housemaster, six undergraduates, and four senior administrators from the Office of Undergraduate Advising and Academic Programming, Student Development and Support, and Residential Life. Merritt Roe Smith, Cutten Professor of the History of Technology in the STS and History Faculties and Housemaster at Burton-Conner, chairs the committee. The purview of the Committee includes a review of the official Institute Orientation, Freshman Pre-Orientation Programs (FPOPS), Residential Exploration (REX), and the fraternity and sorority rush. Campus Preview Weekend (CPW) is not a part of its agenda.

With such a broad and diverse set of programs to review, the Committee has dedicated significant time to gathering background information and data from key stakeholders. During the spring, we met with the Director of the International Students Office, Director of Housing, Director of FSILGs, faculty overseeing the Advanced Standing Examinations and Math Diagnostic (biology, physics, chemistry, and mathematics), sponsors on behalf of a suite of Freshman Pre-Orientation Programs (FPOPS), a DormCon officer, and students representing the residential community. These initial discussions gave the Committee an understanding of the underlying challenges and goals of the diverse components of Orientation.

Subsequently, we established subcommittees to undertake a substantial and deep review of specific aspects of Freshman Orientation, namely:

  • Orientation Programming
  • Freshman Pre-Orientation Programs (FPOPS)
  • Residential Exploration (REX) and Housing
  • FSILG Rush

Over the summer, these subcommittees gathered survey and assessment data, sponsored focus groups, spoke with content experts, and reviewed best practices at other institutions. Each subcommittee summarized its findings in a report to the full Committee.

A special subcommittee on Data Gathering and Assessment also was created to collect and analyze data that would help us better understand the impact of MIT’s Orientation on first-year students. Headed by Kenan Sahin Professor of Political Science Charles Stewart and Associate Dean Elizabeth Young, the subcommittee surveyed a subset of incoming freshmen before, during and after Orientation to evaluate their immediate transition problems, levels of anxiety, and knowledge of campus resources. In addition, the full Class of 2015 was asked to complete a comprehensive survey the first week of class.

As of this date, the RCO has collected a great deal of data. The next stage of our work, the most difficult, will be to analyze this data with an eye to discovering synergies and complementarities as well as possible conflicts, overlaps, and redundancies.

As the fall term unfolds, the Committee will continue to engage faculty, students, and other members of the community in this process. We have been invited to meet with the Committee on the Undergraduate Program (CUP) as well as present to the Undergraduate Officers. We are planning two public forums in November designed to gather additional student perspectives:

  • November 10 at 7 pm in the Stata Center, 32-123
  • November 21 at 7 pm in 10-250.

All members of the MIT community are invited.

The Committee will report its findings and recommendations on Freshman Orientation to Deans Hastings and Colombo in January 2012. All questions and comments are welcome. Please send them to Leslie Bottari, at orientation-www@mit.edu, who will keep a record of all messages received and pass them on to the committee. We are also exploring an online forum as a vehicle to document community input.

Sincerely yours,

Professor Merritt Roe Smith, Chair
Professor Christopher Capozzola
Professor John Essigmann
Professor June Mathews
Professor Charles Stewart
Housemaster Nina Davis-Millis
Senior Associate Dean Barbara Baker
Senior Associate Dean Henry Humphreys
Senior Associate Dean Julie Norman
Associate Dean Elizabeth C. Young
Alicia Goodwin ’14, course 6
Patrick Hulin ’14, course 18
Rachel Meyer ’12, course 6
Kim Sparling ’12, course 1
Tim Stumbaugh ’12, course 6
TyShaun Wynter ’13 course 21E