Dean for Student Life Chris Colombo announced that next June, Sidney-Pacific and Ashdown House, two of MIT's graduate communities, will say farewell to their long-time Housemasters, Roger and Dottie Mark and Terry and Ann Orlando.
"Over the last decade, MIT has built a remarkable graduate community in the Northwest campus. At the center of that community have been the Marks and the Orlandos," Colombo says. "We are honored and grateful for the truly wonderful impact these Housemasters have had on our students."
MIT Housemasters are an integral part of the residential experience at MIT. They are faculty members who reside in the undergraduate and graduate residence halls, and serve as mentors, neighbors and intellectual leaders for the communities. Housemasters work to advise individual students, advocate for the House, and foster community life.
"Housemasters serve a critical function in the graduate student community," said Dean for Graduate Education Christine Ortiz. "When students leave the classroom or lab, it is the Housemasters who can encourage interaction among students, as well as the formation of friendships so students can get to know one another personally."
Roger Mark, Distinguished Professor in Health Sciences and Technology, and his wife, Dottie Mark, have been Sidney-Pacific's Housemasters since the House opened in 2002. "They have been here since the very beginning," said Pierre-Olivier Lepage, a graduate student in civil and environmental engineering and president of the Sidney-Pacific Executive Council (SPEC). "They have been a huge part of shaping the culture of the house." Since then, the Marks have yearly fostered a community of around 750 graduate students from more than 50 different countries.
Roger, who joined the MIT faculty in 1969, said that he and his wife had always considered being Housemasters, but decided to wait until their own children had grown up. Then, with the encouragement of a student, they decided to apply in 2002.
"As faculty, you can be very removed from student life," Roger says. "Being a Housemaster exposes you to a whole other world here at MIT."
During their time at Sidney-Pacific, Roger said that he and Dottie have had the privilege of working with many different students to foster leadership and cultural understanding. They have an open-door policy, allowing any student to come speak with them about issues ranging from academic to personal, and host weekly dinners and House council meetings to help students implement activities from dances to intercultural dinners. Roger and Dottie have even been asked to officiate a marriage between two residents who met while living at Sidney-Pacific.
"Roger and Dottie have been the heart of Sidney-Pacific for the past 10 years," says Amy Bilton, a graduate student in aeronautics and astronautics and a member of the Sidney-Pacific Student Board of Trustees. "They take a genuine interest in all of the nearly 700 residents of the community. I have learned so much from them and hope to be as great a role-model in my future endeavors as they have been to me."
Roger said that, for Dottie and him, the appeal of being a Housemaster is the opportunity to work together to mentor students and help develop their leadership skills to prepare them for the real world, after MIT. "It is wonderful to watch students learn to be managers," he says. "Our primary responsibility has always been to support the student community and their work as leaders within it."
Terry Orlando, professor of electrical engineering and computer science, and Dr. Ann Orlando, the departing Housemasters at Ashdown House, share Roger's sentiments. "It is amazing to watch students develop in leadership positions within the House," Terry says.
The Orlandos became Housemasters in 2001, shortly after their own daughter left for college. "We were alone in our house, so we replaced our one child with 380 new ones," Terry says.
Terry and Ann talked about some of their favorite experiences at Ashdown, which included the annual Thanksgiving dinner that they host, as a way to expose the House's many international students to a traditional American holiday. This year, with the presidential elections, the Orlandos hosted debate watching parties and lectures to help explain the Electoral College to international students, and learn how voting works in other countries. "The cultural experience works both ways," Ann says. "With so many international students, we've ended up learning about cultures from all over the world the same way they learn about America."
The students of Ashdown praise Terry and Ann's involvement in their activities as unmatched. "They come to every Ashdown House Executive Committee meeting to make sure everything is going well, and they always help us out if we are struggling with something," says Andy Wright, a graduate student in electrical engineering and computer science and Ashdown House Executive Committee (AHEC) Secretary. "They even volunteer as blackjack dealers for our casino nights."
"They have been invaluable resources in providing advice when we are unsure how to handle a situation and helping us to understand our own leadership styles so that we may be more effective leaders, both in Ashdown as well as in the rest of our lives," says Andrea Dubin, a graduate student in earth, atmosphere and planetary sciences, and chair of Ashdown House. "Their experience and guidance has been unmatched and will be deeply missed."
Both the Orlandos and the Marks said that adjusting to life after being Housemasters will be a process. Since serving as Housemasters has been such a big time commitment, they will have a large amount of free time on their hands, beginning in June. "Thursday nights will be especially lonely for us, since that's when we have AHEC meetings and coffee with the students," says Ann Orlando.
The Marks and the Orlandos recommend serving as a Housemaster to all faculty at MIT. "It has been amazing to interact with such vibrant and talented students," Terry says. "In the end, they are what we're going to miss."
Faculty interested in applying to become a Housemaster may email Henry Humphreys, senior associate sean for student life, at firstname.lastname@example.org.