Calling the completion of the renovated Maseeh Hall a “marvel of … creative patience,” MIT President Susan Hockfield joined more than 200 guests on Thursday evening to dedicate the new undergraduate residence and celebrate the “astounding success” of the Institute’s Campaign for Students. Attendees included MIT leaders and staff, students, alumni and donors to the Maseeh Hall renovation and the Campaign.
The Campaign — launched in October 2008 with a $500 million goal and concluded on June 30 — raised more than $578 million from some 48,000 donors to support scholarships, fellowships, education initiatives and student life. “The Campaign touched every corner of the student experience,” Hockfield said, “but perhaps its central achievement is the building that hosts us tonight.”
The hall, which opened in September, is named after Fariborz Maseeh ScD ’90, who, along with his philanthropic Massiah Foundation, gave MIT $24 million in 2010 to complete the renovation of the former Ashdown House graduate dormitory.
The project began in 2008 but was halted by the economic downturn. Nonetheless, Hockfield explained, “the whole vision for this building proved absolutely irresistible” as donors stepped forward, “one by one,” to jumpstart the renovation. They were inspired, she said, by the powerful impact the project would have: renewing the oldest building on campus; creating a new residence with a full dining plan and more integrated living and learning community; and increasing student enrollment at a time when the world needs MIT graduates more than ever.
After a reception punctuated by the sounds of the Chorallaries, guests dined in The Howard Dining Hall, one of the crown jewels of the Maseeh Hall renovation. Affectionately known as “The Howard,” the 360-seat facility recognizes the pivotal gift of an anonymous donor that sparked the renovation in 2008. The original architecture, dating from the building’s inception in 1901 as a riverfront hotel, was preserved as much as possible, notably the wood columns, paneling, beams and fireplaces that lend the space a warm, inviting feel. Open every day, to everyone, The Howard is intended to provide a new gathering place for the entire MIT community, at the heart of the campus.
According to Chancellor Eric Grimson PhD ’80, that vision has become a reality. In addition to sampling the array of foods and taking in the views of the Boston skyline, Grimson told guests that “the best part has been observing a fascinating phenomenon here at MIT: People talk with one another in this space, and it has become a wonderful new crucible of community on campus.”
Maseeh Hall President and senior Virginia Nicholson is thrilled with the renovation and its impact on life at the dorm. “In only the first month and a half of being occupied, Maseeh Hall has transformed from just a building, and a gorgeous building at that, to a community,” she said in her remarks. Student leaders and residents — who have dubbed themselves “Maseehdonians” — are busy brainstorming ideas for dorm-wide events, such as musical brunches featuring student performances. As if to prove Nicholson’s point, Maseeh Hall residents at one table spontaneously came up with another idea, when someone asked which fork to use for his salad: a fancy dinner for Maseehdonians, to teach formal dining etiquette.
As the evening concluded, Maseeh shared his motivation for giving back to MIT. A native of Tehran, Maseeh emigrated to the United States when he was 18. He had longed to attend MIT since he was 12, but family obligations prevented him from applying until after he had completed his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Through his persistence — and a series of understanding professors and administrators — he was admitted to MIT, secured a teachers' assistant position to pay his tuition, and was assigned a dorm room — at Ashdown House.
“I am here because others built the physical and intellectual infrastructure that gave me and others a chance to succeed,” Maseeh said. “There is a saying that if you see a frog on a fencepost, you know someone put it there. I am that frog.” Maseeh expressed his gratitude to Hockfield and the attendees for helping to create an opportunity to educate an additional 1,000 students over the next 10 years.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” he said. “And let’s go and make some more frogs.”