• Chemistry Professor Keith Nelson shares his advice with students at the First-Year Experience luncheon.

    Photo: Tom Gearty

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  • Freshman Eli Davis, enjoys his meal while discussing hopes and expectations for his second semester.

    Photo: Tom Gearty

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  • Photo: Tom Gearty

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First-year students share sandwiches and experiences with faculty


First-Year Experience — a student-life program that develops events and initiatives that incorporate a shared intellectual and social experience for first-year students — held its second student and faculty luncheon of the spring 2012 semester, with the goal of providing freshmen the opportunity to meet with and ask questions of MIT faculty and staff. This event also gave students a chance to meet other members in the Class of 2015.

Held in the Stratton Student Center on Wednesday, Feb. 15, this luncheon was the fourth overall organized by the First-Year Experience, with two others held in the fall and one on Monday, Feb. 13.

“We had students here from Monday’s lunch and also some from last semester’s luncheons,” said Julie Rothhaar, assistant dean of residential life, First-Year Experience. “Any time you get repeaters, clearly they like it and that’s one way we measure success. Students were really engaged to the point that they stayed later than the 1 p.m. end time.”

First-Year Experience (FYE) is new to the Division of Student Life and MIT; it integrates components that will aid in a first-year student’s transition to the Institute. The program strives to assist first-year students with their overall academic success and personal development that is required to be successful at MIT and in today’s global society.

Tom Gearty, director of communications and special assistant to the Dean for Student Life, sat with a group of students and asked them about their first semester at MIT and how they were adjusting to the new experience. Freshman Karen Hao replied, “It built my humility. I mean, I’m still good at the things I was good at in high school, but here there are just some people that are better.”

When some students shared concern about choosing their major, Chemistry Professor Keith Nelson offered his advice. “I’m a fan of coming in and doing some exploration,” Nelson said. “Most people don’t have a detailed background in a specific field [when they come to college] and I’m a fan of exploring and trying out different courses.” Nelson was also asked several questions about himself and his background: why he chose chemistry, what the most interesting thing he had encountered at work was and what a typical day was like.

One student said he really enjoyed the luncheon, but wished there had been more professors there that teach first-year courses. Hao echoed this sentiment and said, “I’d like to interact more with professors from my big classes because it’s good to get to know them as people.” Many students spoke about not knowing how to make use of their professors’ office hours.

Nelson was one of many professors invited to the luncheon because of his direct involvement in key first-year classes. He said he is not the only professor that tries to make themselves more available to students. “During the semester we have forums twice a month,” Nelson said of other professors and himself. “It’s an informal pizza gathering. It’s nice because I have big classes and don’t get to meet everyone and these provide a more manageable group with more interaction.”

According to Rothhaar, who runs FYE, the luncheons have proven to be successful and she looks forward to implementing them next year.


Topics: Campus services, Community, Faculty, Residential life, Staff, Student life, Students, Undergraduate

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