A 12-year experiment at MIT is producing dramatic results: researchers from across the Institute community can now say with confidence that free pancakes reduce undergraduate stress during final exams.
Like all good research efforts, this project even has a principal investigator — although her investigations usually take place out of a squad car rather than in a lab. MIT Police Sergeant Cheryl Vossmer has been organizing “Flapjacks for Finals” for more than a decade to help students make it through their tests.
This year’s event, held on Sunday night from 8:30-10 p.m. in Lobdell Food Court, served nearly 500 students a breakfast buffet of pancakes, waffles, frittata, ham, fresh fruit and other nourishment. Professional massage therapists were also on hand to rub away tension after the meal.
“It’s a chance for students to get some good food, take a break, and see that there are lots of people around the Institute who care about them,” says Vossmer, a 27-year veteran of the MIT Police.
Vossmer organized the first event in 1999 when she saw a need to offer students a fun meal and a pause before their exams. “They were obviously very stressed, so I thought we should do something for students during a difficult time to show them that we support them,” she says.
Community involvement is a crucial aspect of Flapjacks for Finals, Vossmer says. This year, faculty and staff volunteers — including MIT Chancellor Eric Grimson, Professor Paul Lagace and Dean for Student Life Chris Colombo — gave up a Sunday night at home to work the buffet tables as students filled Lobdell.
Lagace and his wife, Robin, have been serving pancakes at the event in their matching “Flippin for Finals” aprons since its inception. Lagace described the event as a good expression of MIT community.
“It’s an opportunity for faculty to interact with students outside of the classroom, get together as part of the community, and have a good time,” Lagace says. “I enjoy talking to people — and the food is nice, too.”
Many departments and offices offered financial support for the event even during the last few years when people had to dig deep to help out, Vossmer says. “It really is the community that makes it happen every year; they really do care about students. Professor Alex Slocum even donates money out of his own pocket.”
In turn, Lagace credits Vossmer for keeping the event going every year. “Cheryl is really the driving force behind this; it wouldn’t exist without her,” he says. “She really wants to take care of those students, and she does a remarkable job making sure that gets done.”
“The woman is incredible,” says Donna Denoncourt, associate dean for residential life and another fixture at Flapjacks for Finals every year. “Cheryl really looked outside of her job and asked, ‘How can we better support our students during a stressful time?’”
Now students not only get a warm breakfast, they can also look around and see the smiling faces of their professors and MIT staff. “Just by our presence, the faculty and staff can send a strong message to students that we are here for them and we care about them,” Denoncourt says.
Faculty, staff, alumni, and other community members are welcome to participate and support the event. For more information, contact Sergeant Cheryl Vossmer at firstname.lastname@example.org.