A new group of MIT faculty, staff, and their families will live with, work with, and support undergraduate and graduate residential communities as part of MIT’s longstanding head-of-house tradition. And their areas of expertise encompass a wide range of matters important to MIT students, from condensed matter physics to the quality of Fruit Loops.
Pablo Jarillo-Herrero and Empar Rollano-Hijarrubia are the new heads of Next House. Jarillo-Herrero is the Mitsui Career Development Associate Professor of Physics, and has been on the MIT faculty since 2008. His career led him to appointments at the University of California at San Diego; Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, where he earned his PhD; and Columbia University, where he worked as a NanoResearch Initiative Fellow. Jarillo-Herrero is an experimental condensed matter physicist, investigating the quantum electronic properties of novel atomically thin materials. Rollano-Hijarrubia also has a PhD in physics and works at WiTricity, an MIT spinout created by professor of physics Marin Soljacic. They have three children, a five-year old girl, and boy and girl twins who are 2 years old.
“Our interest in becoming heads of house started after talking with a number of colleagues who already had the experience,” Jarillo-Herrero says. “They really enjoyed themselves, especially the contact with students outside classrooms and labs.” In his research group, Jarillo-Herrero has regular contact with students from MIT’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, but he and Rollano-Hijarrubia saw they could have a more profound, personal influence on undergraduates as heads of house.
Why Next House? Jarillo-Herrero researched the student-produced Interactive Introduction to the Institute (i3) videos, and identified with Next residents’ community commitment. “A student said, ‘We’re the dorm furthest west on campus, so you really have to want to be here to be here.’ That really made an impression on me, and it made me want to know more about Next.” Also, student groups such as Next Act, Next Art, Next-Make, and others appealed to the artist in Rollano-Hijarrubia. “Once we had brunch with the residents, we felt very comfortable and knew this would be a great place for us and our kids, among so many big brothers and sisters.”
Jared and Laurie Lynn Berezin will be the heads of the Random Hall community, which is returning to their building after repairs following a fire in July. Jared is a lecturer in the Writing, Rhetoric, and Professional Communication program within the Comparative Media Studies/Writing department. He came to MIT in 2013 after teaching at Boston College, Newbury College, and Southern New Hampshire University. He is a graduate of Colby College and Boston College, and his research interests include the rhetoric of self-advocacy in team communication, and disability studies. Laurie is a jewelry designer and fabricator, and sells her work through her company, Beryllina. Laurie's pieces incorporate recycled precious metals along with gems and minerals mined in the U.S., some of which she and Jared mine together. The third member of their family is Shakedown, described by the Berezins as an “Ewok-like dog,” citing the cuddly creatures from Star Wars.
“I was inspired to look for new ways beyond my teaching to help students and contribute to a more healthy and transparent culture,” says Jared, who is deeply involved in discussions around student wellness as co-chair of the MindHandHeart Initiative’s Increase Help-Seeking working group. “I think in order to do your best work it’s important to take care of yourself, and in the head of house role I hope to proactively help increase students’ wellbeing,” Laurie adds. “Having heard about the amazing students at MIT and the incredible work they’re doing, I’m excited to find my place in this community I admire.”
Jared and Laurie are also musicians. With so many students who are also musically inclined, the Berezins look to host monthly “Random Jams,” with the first during orientation. “We think that music is a great way to communicate non-verbally, and participate individually within a collective experience,” Jared said. “Plus it can be an excellent stress reliever, whether you’re a musician or not.”
Alberto Rodriguez and Nuria Jane are the new associate heads of Sidney Pacific. Rodriguez is the Walter Henry Gale (1929) Career Development Professor in Mechanical Engineering. He arrived at MIT in 2014 after completing his PhD in robotics at Carnegie Mellon University. He also holds degrees in mathematics and telecommunication engineering from the Polytechnic University of Catalonia in Barcelona, Spain. His research interests include robotic manipulation, mechanical design, and automation. Jane holds degrees from the University of Barcelona in biology and biochemistry. Together they have daughter Zoe and son Leo, aged 6 and 2, respectively.
“The SidPac community happens to be very special and interesting,” Rodriguez says. “Nuria and I think that contributing and giving back is essential in life, and we think [being associate heads of house] will allow us to do it in a form that feels very natural to us, by being with people and relating to them.”
Raising young children among graduate students presents interesting opportunities for interaction. “Zoe loves arts and crafts. At the moment, drawing, ribbon dancing, and LEGOs are her life. Leo is strong, active, and enjoys dinosaurs and being around his sister,” Rodriguez says, observing that their presence can add a special, beneficial energy to SidPac. “We are certain that they will bring a different perspective of life to a graduate house. A perspective that is difficult to see except in the eyes of young children. An important perspective that talks about the relativeness of many of the problems we face day-to-day at MIT,” he said.
Kristen Covino is the new associate head of Senior House. She came to MIT in 2013 as the area director for Baker House. Prior to MIT, Covino worked in undergraduate housing at Princeton University, and as a community director at Montclair State University in New Jersey. Kristen received a BA in drama from The Catholic University of America, and an MEd in counseling psychology from James Madison University, where she worked with the Office of Residence Life and the LGBT and Ally Education Program.
“I’ve learned a lot about the challenges students face at the Institute, and some strategies for supporting them,” Covino says. “Also a strong houseteam can make a big difference in a living community, and I appreciate the role of graduate resident tutors in students’ lives.” She also observed that support isn’t a one-way conversation. “As much as I work to support the students, they teach me how to best work with them.”
From the start Covino has felt welcomed by Senior House residents. “It’s clear that the members of the Senior House community really care about each other, and want to continue the tradition of providing a home and a community to students for whom Senior House is the best fit,” she says. It’s a good fit for her as well, and her son Owen, a precocious almost-4-year-old boy who moved into Baker when he was just 10 months old. “He has enjoyed sampling the dining halls’ breakfast cereal selections for dinner,” Kristen said. “Now I’m excited for him to experience life in another MIT community.”
“Since I first arrived at MIT, I have been impressed by the dedication and caring shown for students by this remarkable group of faculty, staff, and family,” says Suzy Nelson, vice president and dean for student life. “New heads of house go through a community-oriented interview process, which helps connect the right candidates with the right community. These seem to be great matches, for both the incoming heads of house and the students.”
Heads of house at MIT influence all areas of student development, acting as advisors and mentors to their community members, teaming with their house’s student government and Residential Life staff to foster community. Heads and associate heads of house in undergraduate communities also work closely with graduate resident tutors to support students, and are typically assisted by an area director who helps develop social and educational programming for the community.