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Easy Community Connections

One benefit of the alumni connection is a strong rapport with students, says Kristine Girard ‘86, associate chief of MIT’s Mental Health Service. As an alumna who returned after earning an MD at the University of Michigan and working at Massachusetts General Hospital, she feels comfortable dropping in on study breaks in the dorms or visiting the student center to chat. Those casual connections may help people in the MIT community take advantage of diverse mental-health services, such as counseling for exam anxiety or substance abuse as well as urgent care and referrals.

“I think outreach is very important so we don’t only see the people who are struggling, and so we put a friendly face on the service,” says Girard. “And personally, I can understand trying to balance the deadlines and not being able to do everything.”

Culture and Balance

Dean for undergraduate education Daniel Hastings, SM ‘78, PhD ‘80, values the balance between alumni insight about the Institute and knowledge from outside. He earned MIT degrees in aeronautics and astronautics after getting an undergraduate degree at the University of Oxford. In 1985 he returned to MIT to teach after several years in industry. He also spent two years in Washington, DC, serving as chief scientist of the U.S. Air Force.

“Having alumni on campus preserves a certain amount of MIT culture in the long run, because the students come and go but the faculty stay,” ­Hastings says. “And it means that students feel there are people who understand their experience.” However, knowing how other institutions solve problems and create opportunities can enhance policy discussions. “Getting that outside perspective and bringing it back is a big advantage,” he says.

Personal Imprint

Michele Oshima, an Office of the Arts director, looks for alumni when hiring the coördinator of student programs. “I find it helpful to have a colleague who has survived MIT, is generationally similar to students, and has been active in the arts,” says Oshima. “MIT graduates don’t have the same learning curve as someone from outside.”

Christina Chestnut ‘06, the current coördinator, says it’s easier to do her job because she has friends in the campus arts organizations. “I am looking through a new lens as a staff person,” she says, “but I understand it from the perspective of a student. That helps.”

For all employees, MIT offers an opportunity to work with smart, creative people and contribute to an organization focused on creating new knowledge and benefiting the world. Alumni or not, MIT employees soon learn cultural basics like why students do problem sets rather than sleep, love hacks, and relish sci-fi marathons. It’s all in the firehose.

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Credit: Ed Quinn

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