• To fulfill a SimTREK photo challenge, Simmons residents and freshmen Chloe Lepert, Laura Dunphy and Brian Belding, quacked beside the famous 'Make Way for Ducklings' sculpture in Boston’s Public Garden.

    Photo: Christina Wettersten

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  • SimTREK champions mimed a protest in front of the Massachusetts State House as part of their winning campaign.

    Photo: Jenny Astrachan

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  • Baker residents tugged a rope in a field game during the recent Baker Floor Wars.

    Photo: Shannon Dong

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  • Employing impressively soft hands for the egg toss, the fifth floor triumphed at the Baker Floor Wars.

    Photo: Shannon Dong

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Community through competition

Social contests help dorm residents meet neighbors, develop friendly rivalries.

To the untrained eye, it may have seemed that dozens of MIT students broke into uncontrolled feuds across Greater Boston over Columbus Day weekend. Across the Charles, passersby allegedly spotted students engaged in epic battles at the site of the Boston Massacre. Back on campus, local residents reportedly witnessed a group of students ferociously tugging at opposing ends of a rope.

Fortunately, neither of the supposed quarrels was malicious. Both were parts of two recent intra-dorm competitions designed to strengthen community through friendly competition.

Residential Scholar Gerd Kortemeyer, associate professor of physics education at Michigan State University, organized the activity that rewarded students for re-enacting the Boston Massacre. The competition, dubbed SimTREK, pitted teams of Simmons Hall residents against each other in a race to complete photo challenges at dozens of area landmarks.

While the competition was fierce, “it was all about getting to know each other,” Kortemeyer says. Some Simmons residents registered for the event with predetermined teams, while many asked Kortemeyer to assign them to teams of people they had never met.

Freshman Laura Dunphy captained a SimTREK team. She says she enjoyed encountering new acquaintances as they completed the challenges throughout Boston and Cambridge. The full group of participants gathered at the conclusion of the activity to share — and laugh at — each other’s photos.

“It was also good for students who don’t leave campus very often,” Kortemeyer says.

SimTREK was the first time Dunphy, a Vermont native, navigated the T without her family. “It was my first time really exploring Boston,” Dunphy says. “It got me out of the MIT bubble.”

While her team ultimately placed second, Dunphy says the event was “really fun.” “I’d do it again, but we’d win next time,” she says.

While Simmons residents scurried around town, students from Baker Hall developed rivalries in an on-campus competition. Graduate Resident Tutor Jordan Peck organized the Baker Floor Wars, which featured an afternoon of volleyball, field events and a scavenger hunt followed by a dorm-wide barbeque.

Baker residents have a number of activities at which to meet their peers from around the dorm, including the Baker Leaders Program and the perennially popular Baker Piano Drop. Peck says that he hopes the Baker Floor Wars will serve as an additional opportunity for residents to mingle with their peers from all corners of the dorm.

“Students really wanted another good way to meet people from other floors,” Peck said. “Baker Floor Wars was a way for people to have a healthy competition, meet new people, and get outside.”

A natural grassroots organizer, Peck distributed colored bandannas to represent each floor and assigned graduate residence tutors as floor captains. Soon, rivalries developed and teams invaded other floors during study breaks to announce their imminent dominance in the inter-floor competition.

In the end, residents from Baker’s fifth floor reigned supreme and were rewarded with a rooftop party.

“We’re always looking for ways to help build the community in the dorm,” said Baker Housemaster Dava Newman, professor of aeronautics and astronautics, MacVicar faculty fellow and Technology and Policy Program director. “This event enhances what we think is an already great community. We take pride in friendly competition.”

Topics: Cambridge, Boston and region, Campus buildings and architecture, Community, Residential life, Student life, Students


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