Life as a Simmons Resident Scholar

Simmons Residential Scholars - In Action

The MIT Residential Scholars Program has as its goal to enrich the residential system at MIT by embedding into its community scholars that bring and are eager to share a wealth of life experiences. The program is mostly (but not exclusively) populated by faculty members on sabbatical leaves from other institutions, by artists, or by industrial professionals visiting MIT for an extended period of time. Since its inception in 2003, the social and educational element of the Residential Scholars program has been funded by the scholarly allowance associated with the William and Betsy Leitch Professorship which is held by John Essigmann, who with Ellen Essigmann, are Heads of House of Simmons Hall.

The MIT Residential Scholars Program is based on Simmons Hall, a spectacular residence designed by Steven Holl and completed in 2002. Simmons Hall houses a diverse constituency of 340 undergraduate students. As one of MIT’s newer undergraduate residences, Simmons Hall was designed with many common spaces intended to host a variety of community events. In addition, Simmons Hall was provided with five apartments for visitors that would allow the establishment of the Residential Scholars program. For these reasons, the Residential Scholars program is based at Simmons Hall but it really belongs to the entire residential system at MIT. 

Our expectations for Residential Scholars is that they (and their family members if they come to live at Simmons) become active members of the Simmons community by participating in dorm functions (such as celebrations, entertainment events, study breaks, holiday brunches), by dining with regularity at the dining hall, and by organizing events that are designed to engage a broad section of the MIT community. In addition, working with the permanent House Team, we expect each scholar to take a lead in organizing two to three events per semester.  We have a wealth of spaces that can be used, depending on the nature of the event. Our Multipurpose Room holds about 150 people. We have other cozier spaces, including our Country Kitchen, which can be used to host cooking events. Most events are advertised throughout the broad MIT residential community.

Successful Residential Scholars events come in all forms. Venerable Tenzin Priyadarshi, MIT's Buddhist Chaplain has served twice as a Residential Scholar. Even during the years, he has not lived in Simmons, he used Simmons as a venue for cultural events that have drawn up to several thousand people (e.g., his biannual week-long Sand Mandala program, which was attended by the Dalai Lama).  On a smaller scale, he organizes meditation sessions and has presented a film festival dealing with India and Tibet. He has also given many lectures on various topics, reflecting his dual academic degrees in physics and divinity. Sholars Barbara Louviere and Marshall Michel took students to some of the major exhibits at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, organized a Vietnam War film festival (Marshall served there during the Vietnam War), and helped in bringing together musicians from New Orleans displaced by Hurricane Katrina for a benefit concert at MIT. Henning and Anja Colsman-Freyberger noted that many of our students never ventured over to Boston and were unfamiliar with the Boston subway system. They organized an event, called SIMTrek, to give residents the opportunity to explore Boston while learning how to use the MTA.  The Residential Scholars come from an enormously wide range of backgrounds, and contribute their accumulated life experiences to the student population of MIT.  

Residential Scholars events can also be small and intimate: dinner conversations with the scholars or their guests, cooking classes for a small group (these are always very successful), craft projects (soap making and chocolate making), career advice type sessions, talks on topics of general interest, etc. Overly academic events tend not to be well received. Part of the challenge is to conceive exciting events that include some meaningful but slightly under-cover educational content. The goal of this program is to broaden the horizons of our students in a non-academic setting.

The Residential Scholars program at Simmons Hall is managed by Prof. Steven Hall, the Simmons Hall Associate Head of House, who can be contacted at srhall@mit.edu.