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Residential scholars enrich the on-campus living experience

From community events to mentoring, residential scholars find living in the same halls as students is rewarding and fun.
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Left to right: Jeff Behrens, Charles Evavold, Isabella Fraschilla, Andrea Bolnick, and Hannah Arcuschin Machado.
Photo: Sarah Foote

Imagine living and sharing your passions with hundreds of MIT students while experiencing the fun and singular energy of living in an on-campus residence. Sound fun? Welcome to the Residential Scholars Program.

The program is managed by the Office of Residential Education in the Division of Student Life (DSL), which is committed to developing welcoming, safe, and inclusive living and learning communities. “Programs like the Residential Scholars foster intellectual, physical, spiritual, and personal development by connecting students and community members who bring new perspectives on life, art, and careers to campus through diverse and enriching experiential learning opportunities in the unique and exciting culture that is MIT,” says Judy Robinson, senior associate dean for residential education and executive director for DSL strategic initiatives.

There are four residential scholars at MIT — one in New Vassar, one in International House, and two in Simmons Hall. They hail from all over the world and bring unique experiences that aid the development of community and individual student growth within their residence halls.

Andrea Bolnick from Johannesburg, South Africa, saw the opportunity to become a residential scholar in New Vassar House as a way to immerse herself in MIT and interact with students. She is also the managing director of Ikhayalami Development Services and visiting scholar at the Leventhal Center for Applied Urbanism.

This semester, Bolnick plans to show the sci-fi film “District 9” about apartheid in South Africa and bring in someone to speak about emerging financial trends.

She and her 5-year-old daughter enjoy meeting students, especially at dinnertime. “I think the students are amazing. Most of them play sports, are active, and are sociable and appear light-hearted — this is quite extraordinary considering that they are also so smart,” says Bolnick.

Jeff Behrens grew up in Framingham, Massachusetts, and is the CEO of LabShares Newton, a biotech incubator. Like Bolnick, he finds that working with MIT students is the best perk of being a residential scholar.

“Getting to know some of the students and renewing our optimism in the leaders and innovators of the future has been the best part of the role. I’ve enjoyed setting up small, intimate events where you can talk in more detail to a few students. It’s well worth it!” says Behrens.

Behrens held a resume review session and also invited MIT alums Dan Nussbaum ’85, SM ’88, PhD ’93, a former member of the MIT Blackjack team, and Warren Katz ’86, a software entrepreneur, to speak on separate occasions.

From Sao Paulo, Brazil, Hannah Arcuschin Machado is an MIT SPURS fellow who applied for the role so she could become immersed in MIT's community and exchange knowledge and experience with students.

Machado quickly engaged New House residents by offering Portuguese-speaking brunches and dinners. She also invited residents to watch World Cup matches together.

“This spring, I will offer a workshop to fix the abandoned bikes in the New House Bike Park and transform them into shared bikes for the collective use of everyone — since you can bike almost everywhere in Cambridge. There is a New House undergrad resident that is excited by this idea and plans to create a GPS system to locate the bikes and manage their use,” she says.

Charles Evavold and his partner Isabella Fraschilla are both from Georgia and work in the Cambridge area. Evavold runs a research lab as a principal investigator and fellow of the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT, and Harvard. Fraschilla is a postdoc at MIT studying cancer biology at the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research.

As the residential scholars in Simmons Hall, they both have enjoyed getting to know MIT students on a personal level and are grateful to be immersed in the MIT community.

“Watching the transition from new social groups to established friend groups over the course of the semester has been wonderful,” says Evavold. Fraschilla adds, “Through a resume workshop and informal conversations, I have found many students have humanities and artistic talents beyond my assumption of stellar STEM skills.”

The two have joined study breaks and cake decorating and plant potting events. They hope to host a movie night and an ice-skating event this semester.

All of the scholars agree that meeting and reaching out to students early in the semester is the key to success for future residential scholars. The group has also found it helpful to bounce ideas off of each other and meet for lunch or coffee on occasion. They will continue to cultivate and facilitate opportunities for learning that promote creative thinking, leadership, citizenship, inclusion, and a commitment to lifelong learning and, of course, fun.

Email the Residential Scholars Program to learn more or to apply when positions become available.

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