It’s not North Campus, it’s not South Campus

East Campus is where the Rush Chairs can show up with several pounds of flour, sugar, chocolate chips, and butter, and two dozen eggs, and seconds later there are 8 hall members in the kitchen making cookies to replace the snacks that somehow never got purchased for the freshmen coming to Rush.

I will never hear the opening of Battlestar Galactica without remembering sitting in a darkened lounge with a dozen hallmates (at least – we could pack ourselves in really tightly), watching the show on the projector we installed and maintained.

I am immensely proud to have a mural I painted decorating the walls of my hall, sharing space with many others, some painted before I was born.

My hall built and installed a sound system in our lounges, kitchen, and bathrooms, which was controlled via an web interface. For several months, one of the buttons on my laptop would play ‘Push It To The Limit’ in one of the lounges.

These things are all East Campus to me. The summers I went home, I missed it all the time and counted the days until I could go back. If I was sick, my friends refused to let me climb onto my (rather precarious – the path up involved the windowsill) loft, and made me sleep on their couch instead, so they could take care of me. If I was having a bad day and needed cheering up with a cute picture from the internet, I only had to ask the first person I found in the hall. When I wanted to learn how to use power tools, or I couldn’t understand my psets, or I had a game I wanted to play, help was only steps away. 5 years since I graduated, and I’ll smell something that reminds me of EC, or see something out of the corner of my eye, and get hit by a wave of homesickness. East Campus was my home, my family, my safety net.

Mens et manus, motherf***ers.

Many of these posts share a common theme of a sense of home and family. This is true for me as well. MIT, East Campus, my hall, is the first place that has ever felt like home. My classmates, dormmates, hallmates, are the truest family I have known. But it’s more than that. East Campus is my home. But it is also my classroom. My workshop. My laboratory. The place where I’ve learned to bring an idea from conception to design to completion, to manage a team, and to be an effective minion. Where my friends and I have tried to defeat the safety features on a laptop battery to power a robot, build a remote triggering system out of a wireless doorbell, convert our wall into a electronics prototyping board, and experience Minecraft in real life. The place where the freedom to modify our space, paint our walls, build our furniture, wire our lights and our music players and our soda machines leads to more practical experience than any lab class. A safe environment in which to push our limits and grow, both personally and technically.

My hallmates are my family and best friends. But they are also my colleagues. My teachers and advisors. My co-conspirators. The people with whom I make, hack, dream, innovate, learn. The people who, my freshman Rush, before I formally lived in EC, taught me how to solder surface-mount parts, helped me extract my long, un-tied-back hair from a power drill (oops), and showed me what it’s like to feel comfortable in a community. The people who showed me what “saute” means, how to email a professor for help, how to prepare for an interview, and how to best respond to a blackout (rock climbing with headlamps), uncountably many skills and pieces of knowledge. The people with whom I invent and build, and the people who will form my professional network in the future when I’m looking for a job, or starting a company.

The summer after my junior year of high school, I visited the Media Lab as part of a class trip. Upon return, we were asked to write a reflection on our experience. I wrote about how cool it was to see a place where people with all kinds of backgrounds, fields of specialty, and interests work side by side on projects of immensely varying scope. How I could see how the flow of ideas between people and disciplines created a uniquely creative space. Biologists work next to computer scientists work next to artists, and the product is much greater than anything possible when disciplines are siloed. I was cautioned that the Media Lab was unique, that I would be unlikely to find such an environment anywhere else, that I shouldn’t let it set my expectations for what my life as a student and engineer would be.

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Lessons outside the classroom

When I tell people about what going to MIT was like, I never focus on how hard the classes were, even though that is the first thing people ask about.  I focus on the crazy things we built at East Campus — fish tanks in the walls, disco dance floors, überlofts that the house manager always kindly ignored during fire inspection due to our mutual respect, speakers in the showers hooked up to an mp3 server (and I still shower to music to this day because of this), movie mode buttons that triggered the lights and closed the doors in the lounge to provide instant darkness, other robots that might still be installed to do not-exactly-within-the-rules stuff that I probably shouldn’t mention, and the emergency pizza button.  These are the stories that make people say to me, “Man, I wish I went to a college like that.”

I mention the emergency pizza button last, not because it was the crowning achievement or our EC exploits, but because its existence came in handy later in life when I was a TA at the University of Michigan and I needed to teach Huffman encoding to a class of undergrads.  A Huffman code had been used to encode the various pizza toppings you might order when you pressed the big pizza shaped button on the wall, and it was the perfect example for teaching, which kept my students engaged.  (“Cheese is the most popular, so that’s 0, followed by pepperoni, which is 10, etc etc.”)

But the kicker was the end of the lecture when I popped up a photo of the actual pizza button at work back at MIT.

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I’m Not A Good Enough Writer To Do EC Justice

I’m a freshman; I’ve been on campus for just over a month and I feel completely at home. People accept me for who I am and let me make my own choices and figure out for myself the best way to build a loft/ fun thing. Most importantly though, people are always willing to help: building crazy things is a way of life, and everybody is interested in seeing your thing succeed (or at least hold your weight).

The summer before I came to MIT I was terrified—I wasn’t going to have any friends, or fit in anywhere. I wasn’t going to be able to build cool things because I had no experience; I wouldn’t have anyone to pset with. Now that I’ve been here a month, absolutely none of those things are true. I was assigned to East Campus (my first choice; I saw some of the rush builds from previous years online and was sold) and I feel like I’ve finally found a home.

I love the fact that I can to bed to the sound of hammers beating in time to the music and wake up to chop saw blades whirring. I feel like I can attempt to make whatever I want—people with more experience are more than willing to show me the ropes. People are always dragging you on adventures, making sure you feel welcome and nobody cares if you are a little offbeat, or like to walk around barefoot. Everyone is incredibly open and accepting and willing to try new things, and in my entire month here, I’ve never once felt unwelcome or unwanted. East Campus is an awesome, magical place, and the wacky things people come up with and build are incredible. I love this place, and I wouldn’t trade it for anywhere else.

A new home

I may not have four years of memories here yet, but I can say that East Campus is the reason why I came to MIT.

Personally, if I’m not in a tightly-knit community, I will withdraw completely. I will not socialize, I will not make friends, and I will become nothing more than a grade-producing machine. This was somewhat true of me through high school – I had a large group of people who I liked and who liked me, and we would all have complain about school together and go to each others’ events from time to time. However, I never had close friends. The person I was dating was the only person I really confided in – my family life had gone to hell and I didn’t really trust my classmates to care all that much about my struggles. Nobody really “knew” me.

Though I survived, I don’t want to just “survive.” I want to be happy. The thing that distinguished MIT from the nine other schools I had planned to apply to was the culture. When I stayed in East Campus for CPW, I felt like I had found my people. I hung out on Tetazoo where a friend from high school lived and I now live. I talked to my host on 4E for hours as various other upperclassmen from the hall wandered in and out of the conversation until we suddenly cooked dinner (lemon and herb fish) at 2:00am. I wandered back into the dorm to fetch a sweatshirt in the evening and was swept into an impromptu adventure.

That was just CPW, and REX and the beginning of the year have been even more overwhelmingly full of this kind of activity. What strikes me the most is the freedom of this place. Even at my family’s house, I’m not completely free to be myself. Here, everyone is free to do pretty much as they please so long as they don’t make other people uncomfortable. I feel safe here. I feel like I can wander, squinting, to my morning showers in my underwear without being hassled or judged. The people here treat me the same whether I’m wearing cargo pants and a T-shirt or a pretty dress. I can be straight. I can paint on the walls. I can question authority.

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Why I came to MIT

Ever since I started thinking about college, I’d wanted to go to MIT. It was the best engineering school in the country and I wanted to be an engineer, so MIT seemed like the perfect fit. In high school I started to learn about the culture of the school. I watched videos of students building and riding crazy contraptions and read stories of the cool hacks that had been pulled over the years. At the time, I had no idea that this culture that I loved and so much identified with had its home on the East Side. After being admitted, I tried to learn as much about the dorms as possible. I found myself drawn to East Campus because of its incredibly unique culture. Where else did students paint beautiful murals on the walls, build forts and rides, and rappel down the stairwells? When I was temped in EC for CPW, I met some of the students who were doing all of this amazing stuff. At first, I was nervous approaching them, because they seemed so much cooler than I. But once I actually got to know these people, I realized that they were incredibly warm, welcoming, and genuine. I left CPW feeling great about MIT and fantastic about East Campus, but I hadn’t yet committed. MIT was awesome, but I had an offer from another school that was almost too good to be true. I finally made my decision when I thought back to my times at EC. Yes, I would get a great education at both schools, but only at MIT could I be a part of the East Campus community.

I’ve only been here a month, but EC already feels like home. My hall, Tetazoo, is not just where my bed is. It’s where my closest friends are: both my freshman peers and my upperclassmen mentors. It is the site of movies, smoothies, pancakes, screaming, dancing, and laughing.

I never knew how much I could learn in such a short period of time, not from my classes, but from my hall. I’ve learned how to get to the supermarket, how to use the campus printers, how to cook stuffed peppers, how to use a sledgehammer, and how to make my own harness out of webbing. Aside from these practical skills, I’ve gained insight into what classes to take and how to manage my time. I’ve found out about clubs and opportunities that I wouldn’t have known about had my older hallmates not clued me in.

Although MIT has a myriad of support services, if I ever had a problem, those on my hall, especially the GRTs and the MedLink would be the first people I’d turn to. They are so valuable because they know me well and because I can trust them to act in my best interests.

I suck at conclusions. See above post!

Tarapulin: a shoobleglorp higlfup

I started writing about my feelings for East Campus and my hall more than a week ago. I have a huge amount that I want to say and more emotions to share than I have words to cover. But I’ve been reminded that my post isn’t useful to others if I never finish it, so for now, I’m making myself write. The product might be imperfect and incomplete, but there is no way I can roll some of the most complex and wonderful years of my life into a neat package of essay, so I accept that.

My current task: write as much as I can before my laptop battery dies. (I could, of course, plug in my computer, but where then lies the challenge?)

The problem with that task: how?

How do I build a wide enough web of words to express the degree to which I love this place? It was here that I learned what it means to fall in love. What I’m referring to here is not romantic love; I mean the extent to which I have found a second family here. I grew up happily in a family I love dearly, but to find another and be old enough to feel and watch it happening has been incredible. There are multiple people on my hall I have told that I would be happy spending my life living within 100 ft of, and I’m not kidding. Though my years of school before college were a mixed bag socially, there were definitely good times. Deciding to come to MIT was an incredibly difficult decision for me partly because I was leaving everyone I knew behind. There were people in high school who were my friends and with whom I liked spending time. (Now there are people in my life who are my friends, whom I live with, whom I spend time with and study with and joke and around with and punch out of affection; in short, whom I love.)

One of the things that I realized before coming to MIT was that as great as my friends were, they got royally bored in hardware stores. This isn’t a big deal; I didn’t usually hang out with my friends in hardware stores. But hardware stores are awesome, and the people I live with now also think that they are awesome. This sounds like a silly example, but in the May after my senior year of high school, shortly after I’d accepted my spot at MIT, I went to a hardware store with my friends, and that is when I convinced myself that moving was going to give me a chance to meet people even more awesome than I knew then—people who thought that hardware stores were cool. And so when halfway through my freshman year I found myself walking around in a hardware store with others from my hall and they were as enthralled as I, I knew that I had made the correct choices in life. I knew that I was coming to MIT because the people here are amazing, but I really didn’t know how much so. I don’t think my imagination had space to handle it.

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East Campus *IS* MIT.

I’ve never lived anywhere in the east side of campus, but I feel like I’m at home whenever I visit. It is the people, the attitude, the nature of my school. It’s a place where you’re invited to slap paint on and drill things into your walls and call it home. Where you can live, cook, work, organize, argue, hold, and cry with your family. Never in my life have I witnessed an environment that’s so open to experimentation, to exploration, to performing research on life, while rewarding you so much in turn. Be it art, a class project, new technologies, old technologies, new friendships and experiences, doing something really stupid, and learning from it.

This is the MIT I will remember always. This is the MIT I will donate money to when I start to make it. My brothers and sisters in this video, who taught me so much, who brought me so much joy, who stayed up with me til dawn on countless night working on psets, projects, or just talking about life.

East Campus IS the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the school I’m honored to have attended.
Please don’t destroy my beloved Institvte.

-DGonz ’14

My connections to East Campus are my connections to MIT

East Campus was very hard for me to explain to my high school friends. Compared to my best friend who went to Mount Holyoke, I had way more freedom and responsibility. I could eat when and what I wanted, as long as I was willing to shop and cook for myself. It was very fair. Obviously, I occasionally made the wrong choices (it turns out you can’t really live off of ice cream for dinner), but I seemed to grow up faster than people I knew who didn’t even have the chance to make mistakes.

In EC, I was exposed to so many different subcultures, hobbies and opinions. That’s probably true of many dorms, but EC is special because of its persistent culture. Older students and alums would sometimes tell stories about what life was like “back in the day”, and it gave me a sense that there was this larger society to which I was connected. This feeling of connection and sense of a bigger picture eased some of the psychological burdens of academic stress. It’s not easy to feel this deep a connection to MIT as a whole–it’s just too big–but I feel very connected to MIT nevertheless because of my enduring connections to the East Side social world, which I still have now.

This is not to say that life was perfect. It never is with real people. I was growing up, and so were the people around me. But I like to think that I learned how to handle myself in a way that wouldn’t have been possible in a more sterile environment. There is something very flat about dorms that don’t have a culture that persists from year to year, and that flatness can make a dorm seem less like home and more like an assignment. That was my experience in a grad dorm (not at MIT). Sure, I met some interesting people and made some friends at the time. I worked on psets with other residents in my classes, and I learned how to roll sushi from someone who shared the same kitchen as me. I even experienced the drama of a love triangle. But these experiences felt like they were divorced from the dorm itself, like the dorm was just coincidentally where they happened. There was a lot of turnover year to year, as you’d expect in a grad dorm, which made it hard to really connect to the living group as a whole and to the university. It was just some place I stayed for a year.

The first story I remember hearing about MIT when I was in high school was about the hacks on the Great Dome. That’s when I knew that I’d find people like me if I came here, and I did :)

The most important part of my MIT experience.

When I visited MIT during CPW ten years ago, what convinced me that I belonged there was the passion of the students I met. Everyone was brilliant, everyone had projects, everyone cared. Everyone had big ideas *and* the ability to carry them out. I knew it was home. During my four fantastic undergrad years, East Campus was the epitome of everything I love best about MIT.

Many of my best times were thanks to EC – living with people who thought that ambitious projects were the definition of fun, whether that meant writing custom software to control the floor’s music system through contacts hidden behind gorgeous handpainted murals, building lofts and January hottubs and roller coasters, or “merely” wrangling the logistics of cooking 1500 cookies in a day for a homemade FAC. My classes taught me to be a scientist, but East Campus taught me to be an engineer.

And when the worst times came around, East Campus got me through it — living with folks I cared about, with classmates who sympathized and upperclasspeople who could offer a helping hand or a shoulder to cry on, with the same people I’d chosen to live with and gotten to know and trust over years, a hall full of open doors. Later, I was proud to be able to pay it forward to younger hallmates myself. MIT is hard work; being an undergrad at MIT is being a big fish from a small pond who’s been suddenly plunged into an amazing terrifying ocean. What makes it work is acknowledging that what we’re doing is tough, showing vulnerability and giving and accepting help. East Campus was my home base and my team. Having it made all the difference.

When I meet fellow alums out in the world, no matter how long it’s been since they were at the ‘tvte, the first few questions between us are always the same: “what course? what year? where did you live?” Dorm culture is so central to the unique MIT experience. Don’t lose it!

In Defense of Senior House

Prior to coming to MIT for the summer of 2007 for the Interphase program, I spent the first 18 years of my life living in the same house in the same town with the same friends and the same experiences. I had left my home state precisely twice, and then for less than a week each time. I barely even remembered the experience. The prospect of transplanting my life to a new state 2,000 miles from home for at least four years, living with people I didn’t know, facing the necessity of making new friends for the first time in my life, and having the added pressure of needed to succeed at a school like MIT almost gave me panic attacks. I was terrified for the start of term, especially after the Interphase program taught me that my high school had not prepared me at all for the strenuous academics at MIT.

I had chosen a temporary dormitory solely based on the fact that a man I knew from my home town was a senior in that dormitory. I wanted to be close to someone I knew to ease the transition a little. Soon, I experienced concern about my choice. During Interphase, I met several students who lived in what would become my temporary dormitory and found that other than being superficially similar to them (we were from similar regions of the US, had similar racial backgrounds) I had very little in common with them. I realized that if I were given the choice, I wouldn’t hang out with them. They weren’t the kind of people I sought out for my friends and as such, I worried incessantly about my dormitory decision.

However, I had the good fortune of having a TA during my time in Interphase who lived in Senior House. He and I became good friends and he encouraged me to take a look at all of the dorms during what was then called REX, informing me that if I was unhappy in my temporary dormitory I may be able to move into another one. He emphasized that to properly succeed at MIT, one must feel that their dormitory is a safe haven and not just some building that they were forced to sleep in. He explained further that there was no one-size-fits-all dormitory and that every student feels most comfortable in a particular place and that the incoming freshman must find their niche before they can really be happy. After moving into my room in my temporary dormitory and realizing that I absolutely loathed everything about it, I resolved to find someplace better. At the beginning of REX, I visited all of the dormitories and found a home in Senior House.

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What makes our dorms great made MIT great

You may or may not know the history behind MIT’s Building 20 – depending on your age, you may have even worked in it at one point. It was torn down when I was three, so I can’t directly relate to it. But when I heard the story of this ugly temporary building, and how much it did for the US in World War 2, and of all of the amazing things and people that happened inside it, I was moved. And when I walk through the building 32D lobby, I generally stop to look at all of the plaques adorning the walls as a monument to that “Magical Incubator”. Reading the things that those who worked in building 20 have to say reminds me of what I think MIT can and should be, and of all the things I love about my home.

(For context: I’m a course 8 sophomore in East Campus.)

1. Passion

“[Because the doors were always open,] as you wandered down the corridors, you saw what was going on in the rooms … In that process, you learned of many wondrous things in addition to your own work.” –Professor Walter E. Morrow

“Sessions typically began around 11 PM and lasted until 3 or 4 in the morning. They would typically sit at a conference table, while we graduate students would sit in the background and listen in.” –Professor Alan V. Oppenheim

“It was always a fairly wonderful mix of people concerned with different disciplines. We got along fairly well together, so that you could always pop over next door and talk with somebody who had nothing to do with what you were doing. Simply because everybody had a passion for doing what they were doing.” –Professor Jerome Y. Lettvin

I think it’s safe to say that I’ve learned more in East Campus than in any academic building. Simply by being in lounges, listening to conversations, getting in arguments and turning to Wikipedia, I’ve learned about topics as diverse as the Riemann-Stieltjes integral, computer security, rope hauling systems, and the Freedom of Information Act, none of which would have ever come up in my physics classes. My recent interest in signal processing and speech recognition is partly spurred by Course 8’s flexible major option, but also by the excitement of a friend of mine who’s worked in those areas and geeked out about them in East Campus.

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