Deans plan to build bonds over dinners

Monthly sessions with students aim to give students a chance to speak

In an effort to strengthen their relationship with students, the Deans are hosting several new events during the year, including monthly “Dinners with Dialogue” for graduate students and “Cookies with Conversation” for undergraduates.

Invitations to these events are randomly sent to 20-60 undergraduates and 30-40 graduate students, and events last between an hour and ninety minutes.

“Students seem delighted to receive an invitation and very pleased at the opportunity,” said Tom Gearty, Director of Communications for the Dean for Student Life, based on reading RSVPs to the first of these events.

“The feedback is overwhelmingly positive.” Anna Klein, Communications Manager for the Office of the Dean for Undergraduate Education, said these happenings allow students to interact with administrators in a casual setting and allow deans to come across as more personable.

Students are also given the opportunity to ask and submit discussion questions prior to the event. Questions have ranged from ideas (e.g. “Would be possible for MIT to have some kind of home economics class?”) to abstract discussion questions (e.g. “How will the increase in size of the student body impact student life?”).

In addition, students can submit concerns or questions online via comment boxes on the three deans’ newly changed web pages. Responses can be anonymous, although most students choose to reveal their information so they can receive digital follow up from the deans.

“Comments come from both inside and out the Institute,” Heather Fry, Communications Officer for the Dean for Graduate Education, said. “The comment boxes are meant to be a casual low-threshold channel.” The adminstration is also looking at other ways to enhance student input. According to Fry, they are looking at ways to increase student participation on faculty committees. Additionally, the administration is planning to meet frequently with diverse student groups and student atheltic captains in conjuction with the Undergraduate Association and the Graduate Student Council.

Students can now also get updates about campus events on Twitter at With over 200 followers already, the series of 3-5 daily tweets allow both graduate and undergraduate students to be informed about on-campus events and Institute announcements. Fry says they try to tweet about events that are of interest to most students, such as the Glass Pumpkin Patch or Beaver Dash.

However, Gearty recognizes that not all students may respond to Twitter. “There is no single channel to get the word out,” Gearty said. “The main focus is for students to be heard and get the information they need.” Gearty notes that e-mail may be the most effective form of communication for graduate students, but not for undergraduates. Gearty acknowledges that the administration has to communicate with students in a variety of ways.

One possible method of communication is through student focus groups. In an effort to move forward, administration is looking to students leaders and representatives. “They will be beneficial and advantageous in both relaying and receiving information from the rest of the student body,” Fry said.

In a recent e-mail sent out to all students, Chancellor Phillip L. Clay PhD ‘75 notes the process to improve dialogue between students and administration began in 2008, based on input from students and faculty. “There was a general frustration that students did not know what was going on,” Clay said. As a result, Clay along with Dean for Graduate Education Christine Ortiz, Dean for Student Life Chris Colombo, and Dean for Undergraduate Education Dan Hastings have come together to find ways to keep students “up-to-date and involved in the discussions and initiatives on campus.”

“It was easy to tell that two-way communication was a priority for the Chancellor and Deans,” Gearty said, speaking about his impression upon assuming his position last year.

Klein also points out that some of these initiatives, including the Twitter feed, are part of a larger move to use technology to communicate with students.