Office of Vice Chancellor reorganized, new Office of the First Year

Reorganized office to work with Teaching and Learning Laboratory for change, especially in advising

The Office of the Vice Chancellor has reorganized its internal offices, disbanded the Undergraduate Advising and Academic Programming (UAAP) office, and created an Office of the First Year, effective July 1. 

The changes were announced internally last March, and its implementation will probably be a yearlong process, Vice Chancellor Ian Waitz told The Tech in an interview.

The Office of the First Year now contains orientation and advising (previously under UAAP) and the first-year learning communities (previously under the Office of Experiential Learning). Waitz expects new programs to be under it as well, as MIT makes changes to the first year.

The OVC was created July 2017 by Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart, unifying the Offices of the Deans for Undergraduate and Graduate Education. The goal of the unification was to catalyze change efforts, Waitz said.

The main goals of the office are improving the first year, increasing professional development opportunities (especially for graduate students), improving advising, and implementing the recommendations of the 2014 Institute-wide Task Force on the Future of MIT Education, Waitz said.

Reducing the time between the end of finals and graduation from two weeks to one is another goal of the OVC, according to the office's report and an email from Waitz to The Tech. The two-week time period pushes graduation into the first week of June, causing students who rent housing to have to pay another month’s rent, and affecting when students can start their post-graduation plans, such as jobs, internships, and vacations, Waitz wrote.

“We think the time is longer than it needs to be from an administrative perspective, and we would rather recoup that time and give it to students, faculty, and staff… (in addition to saving some students money),” Waitz wrote. “[OVC has] only begun to look at options for doing this.”

Some parts of the office’s previous organizational structure did not make sense, Waitz said. UROP, the most experiential learning program at MIT, was not under OEL, but under UAAP. It has moved to OEL. UAAP (despite its name) actually focused on the first year, with programs  including orientation and first-year advising. The First-Year Learning Communities, however, were not under UAAP.

The International Students Office, which serves both undergraduate and graduate students, was under the Office of Graduate Education; it now reports directly to the OVC. Issues facing international students “have gotten much more prominent — the challenges we have with visas and [other] things — so this was one that I sought to have directly report to me,” Waitz said.

The Global Education office, formerly part of GECD, has moved to OEL. Professional development resources for career-related skills such as negotiation and leadership are expanding and will be part of the new Career Advising and Professional Development office.

OVC will also work closely with the Teaching and Learning Laboratory (T+LL), which will expand and be at the “conceptual center of the organization,” Waitz said. T+LL works in making changes to classes, teaching styles, and teaching assessments. It was highly involved in the implementation of TEAL for introductory physics classes, according to Waitz.

The OVC report identifies improving advising as a priority and T+LL as key to this process. “This collective effort is still in the nascent stage,” Ryan MacDowell, communications strategist and project coordinator for T+LL, wrote in an email to The Tech. The group is small — ten staff — but will be expanding, according to Waitz and the OVC report.

Waitz agreed that these administrative reorganizations often do not directly impact students, but said that he hoped the collecting of related offices would improve students’ experiences. He also added that the reorganization is intended to help MIT do a better job in making long term changes that will benefit students.

“When students are looking for UROPs, or PKG, or MISTI, or D-lab things, it’s four different webpages and it’s not really connected in a really clear way. The hope is that with an Office of Experiential Learning, we’ll be able to provide a more integrated entryway for students,” Waitz said, as an example.

Waitz also said that OVC is working on expanding the for-credit opportunities that are available, especially PKG opportunities. PKG has been moved from DSL to OEL.