On a recent overcast afternoon, a gaggle of East Campus residents clad in yellow rain slickers set up shop outside Johnson Athletic Center to offer their wares: 15 kinds of cryogenic ice cream. Amid plumes of nitrogen vapor, they transformed 50 gallons of ice cream base into both traditional flavors and a few more unusual ones, like black sesame and coconut green tea. A crowd of high school seniors looked on in wonder. CryoFAC had begun — as had the visiting students’ introduction to MIT.
The spectacle was one of hundreds of events orchestrated by students, faculty, and staff for accepted students and their families during Campus Preview Weekend (CPW), April 12-15.
CPW pulls together community members across campus, all eager to showcase what makes MIT special. This year, the event featured 720 activities over four days. Only 68 were coordinated by the Admissions Office; the rest were run by academic departments, student services offices, residences, and student clubs, just to name a few participants. In addition to futuristic desserts, activities ran the gamut from lectures and tours of MIT’s labs and makerspaces to Scottish country dancing and butt scootering on furniture dolleys.
Creating ‘something very MIT’
Before the late 1990s, MIT campus visits were arranged on an ad hoc basis for individual admitted students or for affinity groups, such as women and underrepresented minorities. CPW was created in 1999 to allow all admitted students to visit at the same time.
“From its early days, we wanted it to be something very MIT, so that’s how we thought about it,” says Matt McGann, director of admissions. “And I think that has been a lot of the success of our CPW — it’s much more community-driven, much less administrative in feel.” Attendance has grown steadily since CPW was established, from 784 students and 437 parents in 1999 to 1,125 students and 1,200 parents this year.
“CPW has become more and more of a community effort over the past two decades,” says Assistant Director of Admissions Tim Hickey-LeClair, who oversees the program. That lends a sense of authenticity to CPW that the Admissions Office can’t create on its own. “This is an event where we want to show the best of MIT, and I think the best of MIT is the community,” adds McGann.
Over the years, the admissions staff has forged strong partnerships with offices, programs, and groups across campus to better showcase MIT during CPW. Without them, the program would be untenable. For example, Residential Education manages approvals for about 600 events held in the residences and fraternities, sororities, and independent living groups (FSLIGs). And the Association of Student Activities runs the Activities Midway, where most of MIT’s 500 student groups have a presence — a one-stop-shop where future students can see firsthand the range, diversity and vibrancy of student life on campus.
The Office of the First Year (or OFY, formerly known as the Undergraduate Advising and Academic Programming Office) is an especially valuable partner. OFY coordinates all the departments’ open lectures, tours of Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program labs, and the Academic Expo. In addition, OFY provides 80 orientation leaders to manage the luggage check, help run ice-breaker activities, and assist with the Expo.
The partnership is mutually beneficial, says Elizabeth Cogliano Young, interim director of OFY and associate dean for advising and student programs. “We provide this service for admissions, but it’s a huge service for us because we’re able to use it as a team-bonding experience for our new batch of orientation leaders.” OFY staffers observe the leaders to see how they interact and to identify which ones might be team-captain material. And orientation leaders and visiting students get to know each other, a familiarity that helps pave the way for a smoother orientation experience in August.
While many specific events are offered annually, over time the admissions staff has tweaked the CPW program to reflect the needs and interests of incoming students. This year, admissions collaborated with LatinX students to launch Sin LíMITe (Without Limit), held the weekend before CPW. Activities throughout the weekend highlighted what it’s like to be a Latino student at MIT.
Another addition for 2018 was the Innovation World’s Fair in DuPont Gymnasium, sponsored by the MIT Innovation Initiative (MITii). “We had a great time putting it together,” notes Gene Keselman, executive director of MITii. “We wanted to convey to students that this is a welcoming and diverse community that embodies the creative spirit of innovation, entrepreneurship, and making, and most importantly, that there is a wealth of support and resources here for those who aspire to move ideas from conception to impact.” Students had opportunities to chat with representatives from various centers, programs, and student groups, view demos of MIT inventions and innovations, and tinker in the maker area.
The fair was a big hit: DuPont was packed the entire time with an estimated 750 visitors. “We knew there was a huge demand for information on entrepreneurship and innovation resources at MIT, but we never expected just how busy and exciting the fair would be!” says Hickey-LeClair.
Admitted students were required to notify the Admissions Office by May 1 about whether or not they plan to matriculate. So, how much of an impact does CPW have on the decision, for those who participate? Survey data collected right after CPW suggest that, compared to before the weekend, attendees are more likely to say MIT is a good fit for them; the number of students who agreed or strongly agreed with that statement increased by 24 percent. For women and underrepresented minorities, the shift is even greater.
CPW’s impact on the community isn’t quantifiable, of course, but the collective effort to pull it off is rewarding for many folks who contribute to the cause: It’s a chance to step back and appreciate anew what an amazing place MIT is. That’s part of the reason senior Allie Stanton has been a faithful participant in CryoFAC. She got involved her first year, has managed the event for the past three years, and plans to return to CPW 2019 to help as an alum.
“On a personal level — I think this is true for a lot of people — I feel like CPW and also REX [Residence EXploration] in the fall are really good times to reconnect with MIT and remember the things that got you excited when you were a freshman, remember why you’re here and why you’re doing what you’re doing,” she says.