A new, 1,252-square-foot, multi-room student lounge on the first floor of Building 36 was officially opened for use by Course 6 undergraduates on Oct. 7. Located at a convenient point midway between the Stata Center and the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science’s (EECS) most frequented classrooms — in Buildings 36, 34, and 38 — the new EECS Undergraduate Student Lounge was instantly praised by its users and promises to enhance the EECS student experience outside the classroom.
“I've spent hours before just waiting around in the student center during the project weeks of the semester, watching for some team to vacate a study room so I could claim one for a course 6 project,” EECS senior Nursen Ogutveren noted at the opening reception. In just one afternoon working in the naturally lit space overlooking Vassar Street, Ogutveren realized how nice it was to be surrounded by other Course 6 students working on problems. “I think this will be great for building community,” she said.
The lounge will not only be good for building community — it was built by the EECS community of students, faculty, and staff. Since 2011, members of the EECS standing committee, known as the Undergraduate Student Advisory Group in EECS (USAGE), have been meeting regularly with Department Head Anantha Chandrakasan, the Joseph F. and Nancy P. Keithley Professor of Electrical Engineering, and other department leaders to discuss ways to enhance the student experience. One of the items undertaken by this group last fall was the need for a space for undergraduates to meet and study between classes.
“A key focus for EECS is community building at all levels — students, postdocs, faculty and staff,” Chandrakasan noted. “We are delighted to create a dedicated space for our undergraduate students to study, collaborate, and socialize. As with many new EECS initiatives, the USAGE group provided significant input to the design of the new lounge. I appreciate their leadership and feedback."
For the past three years, EECS student Cody Coleman, who has been active in both USAGE and Eta Kappa Nu — including being the electrical engineering and computer science honor society’s president — said that the Chu Lounge in Building 38 had become inadequate in size and functionality. With roughly 1,200 undergraduates in the department, Chandrakasan suggested looking at the possible use of a larger, more accessible space in Building 36 — most recently used for recitations. The Chu Lounge was created in 1973 — the year Building 38 was dedicated — and was named after the late MIT professor Lan Jen Chu, an expert in electromagnetic theory and a revered teacher in the department. Chandrakasan noted that the Chu Lounge has served the department’s students well and will continue to be available for them.
Coleman, who took the lead on the lounge project, along with fellow USAGE member Victor Pontis ’15, used social media to raise awareness and poll their EECS peers. A larger subgroup of USAGE members used the data to narrow down the design ideas. Early in 2014, the group worked with EECS administrative officer Agnes Chow, who coordinated the work with MIT Facilities, and with Krista Van Guilder, manager of media and design in MIT’s Research Lab of Electronics, who helped to translate the team’s findings into an effective design. By the time the lounge plans were near finalization in early spring, all USAGE members were consulted for feedback.
Defining the new space as a “collaborative studying workspace,” the USAGE subcommittee determined that the new lounge’s functionality should include Athena-like workstations and a printing station, white boards, and reconfigurable furniture arrangements. There are separate, smaller meeting rooms with presentation screens designed for project work. Additionally, there's a microwave and drinking water availability.
“A new lounge has been something that was percolating around USAGE and as soon as the idea really took hold, we were able to move forward with implementing our ideas," Pontis noted. "The department was also super-receptive and empowering.”
As students explored the new space for the first time at the Oct. 7 opening, several, such as EECS senior Jason Yang, were impressed with the thoughtfulness that went into the design. “I think it’s nothing short of fantastic," Yang says. "It is great to finally have an inviting place to work (that isn’t a classroom). The addition of the study breakout rooms with monitors was also ingenious — a perfect way to get study groups or presentation preparation going. It just seems that every aspect of the new lounge was thought of.”
Noting that opportunities outside of classes are an equally important part of the student experience, Chandrakasan also confirms the department’s commitment to enhancing the EECS experience department-wide.