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Faculty couples join students in new dorms

Housemasters moving into their new homes on campus include Roger and Dotty Marks in the courtyard of 70 Pacific St John and Ellen            Essigmann (below) in Simmons Hall.
Housemasters moving into their new homes on campus include Roger and Dotty Marks in the courtyard of 70 Pacific St John and Ellen Essigmann (below) in Simmons Hall.
Photo / Donna Coveney
John and Ellen Essigmann in Simmons Hall.
John and Ellen Essigmann in Simmons Hall.
Photo / Donna Coveney

Professor Roger Mark lived in Burton House during the 1958 fall semester when he was a junior at MIT. His wife, Dotty, was a dormitory resident during her undergraduate days at Gordon College in Wenham, Mass.

Professor John Essigmann and his wife, Ellen, met as undergraduates at Northeastern University in the late 1960s. Neither lived in a dormitory. They have been housemasters at New House since 1995.

The Marks and the Essigmanns are in the vanguard of MIT's evolution from a campus moving from a sprawling academic city to a bustling, collegial neighborhood. The Marks are housemasters of the new graduate student residence hall at 70 Pacific St., and the Essigmanns are housemasters at Simmons Hall. Both buildings are welcoming their first residents this semester.

The Marks, who have lived in Dover, Mass., for 25 years, discussed the possibility of becoming housemasters off and on when their four children were growing up. Now with an empty nest, they decided to make the move.

"It was a chance to undertake a major new project and work on it together," said Mark, the Distinguished Professor in Health, Science and Technology (HST). "Living in the city rather than the countryside will be an attractive change in some respects, and of course we'll find it easier to participate in campus life. We look forward to helping to establish a welcoming, secure, supportive and nurturing community."

Back in 1995, the Essigmanns also were seeking an opportunity for joint adventure. They relished the opportunity to develop an extended family of undergraduates.

"We also thought that the experience and excitement of living in a residence hall would be fun and educational for our two children, which it has been," said Essigmann, professor of toxicology in the Biological Engineering Division and the William R. (1956) and Betsey P. Leitch Professor in Residence in the Department of Chemistry. Their daughter, Amy, who grew up in New House, is a freshman at Dartmouth College. "She has a crystal clear view of what the living group experience is all about," Essigmann said.


The 346,000-square-foot building at 70 Pacific St. will house about 700 graduate students. There are common areas on each floor, which include kitchens, study areas, seminar rooms and music rooms. The building--six stories on Sidney and Pacific streets and nine more stories further down Pacific--also has a computer cluster, gymnasium, above- and below-ground parking, a cable TV station, a courtyard and barbecue area.

"The dorm is the closest connection between MIT and the neighborhood of Cambridgeport," said Mark, who was MIT co-director of HST from 1985-96. "One of our student committees will be particularly concerned with developing programs to build positive links between our graduate students and Cambridge neighbors."

Mark credited the Sidney-Pacific Executive Committee with assuring a smooth opening, drawing on their experience mostly at Ashdown House and quickly developing a sense of community. "Working with such a talented group of graduate students is a fantastic experience," he said.


The 350-student Simmons Hall on Vassar Street is MIT's first new undergraduate housing since Next House opened in 1981. The first floor of the 10-story building is devoted to communal space, including a meeting room, a dining room and several lounge areas, following the vision outlined in the 1998 Task Force on Student Life and Living report.

"It will be a fluid community as dictated by the architecture," said Essigmann. "Much space has been devoted to bringing together people from all over the dorm and all over the campus for social and educational purposes. The community will spring from the form of the unique building."

The first residents will include about 100 members of the Class of 2006, the first incoming freshman class required to live on campus. In previous years, freshmen were permitted to choose between on-campus residence halls, and fraternities, sororities and independent living groups (FSILGs). The FSILG rush, traditionally held during orientation, has been postponed this year.

"I believe the upcoming year will have great opportunities and challenges," said Essigmann. "We have moved away from the old 'rush' system to a model that emphasizes introduction of first-year students to the entire community. The new model does not have the asymmetric focus on residence selection that existed in the past. Time will tell how well it will work out.

"Finally, as we move to a new way to introduce our first-year students to the community, we should work hard to make the residence halls a welcome environment for FSILG recruitment. It benefits all of us to help the first-year students find the most comfortable environment in which to spend the upper-class years."

Other recent projects have focused on student residences. Last year, 224 Albany St. was renovated to accommodate 120 graduate students. Baker House and Senior House, both undergraduate dormitories, have been renovated in recent years.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on August 28, 2002.

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