REPORTER’S NOTEBOOK Prefrosh in Providence

Revisiting the prefrosh dinner, years later

Last Thursday, I found myself standing in the same hotel as I had been two years prior when I was accepted to MIT. It was at the Radisson Providence Harbor Hotel in Rhode Island, where the MIT Club of Rhode Island has been hosting its prospective freshmen dinner since 2007.

Over spring break, close to 50 prefrosh dinners are hosted by MIT Alumni clubs all over the world. From Taipei, Taiwan, to Hawaii, prospective freshman, current MIT students, and MIT alumni gather to talk about MIT. For some prospective freshmen, this is their first real MIT experience.

I arrived at the Radisson at 5:30 p.m. The front desk worker directed me to a room where I found three people standing outside in the hallway. Alex Lin, a prospective freshman from Westerly, Rhode Island, introduced himself first. Lin was accompanied by his father. Across from him was current MIT student Matthew D. Sooknah ’13, also a Rhode Island native.

While waiting for more people to arrive, all four of us chatted about the available majors at MIT. “By the end of orientation,” I told Alex, “you will know what all the numbers stand for.” While Alex said that he did not know what course he wanted to be, he showed a great interest in energy efficiency and business.

At 6 p.m., MIT alums started to trickle into the Radisson. The total attendance came to be about 30 people, mostly alums. Only one other prefrosh, Katherine Sylvestre from Massachusetts, attended the event. She arrived straight from ballet practice.

Event organizer Kevin R. O’Neill ’02 handed out name tags to everyone. For the next 30 minutes, Matthew and I told Alex and Katherine all about MIT. From the nontraditional meal plan to hacking, to the unique dorm culture, to how much sleep MIT students get, we covered as much as we could.

Both Matthew and I agreed that Alex and Katherine will understand better once they spend experience Campus Preview Weekend, starting April 8.

Both Alex and Katherine said that they wanted to get involved in student activities. Katherine, who currently does ballet, was interested in the dancing groups at MIT. Alex said that he would be open to anything, possibly getting involved in a student organization involved in energy.

Although Alex and Katherine seemed excited about MIT, they also had concerns.

Katherine told us that she was interested in biochemistry, but was concerned that MIT did not have a biochemistry major. I assured her that the classes offered in course 7 and course 5 would satisfy her needs.

Alex was concerned about the workload. He asked me if MIT students ever find time to go into Boston. I replied that students find it difficult to explore Boston during the weekdays, but most can find time on the weekends.

Before they make their final decision on which college to attend, both Alex and Katherine plan on coming to MIT for Campus Preview Weekend. Matthew emphasized the importance of visiting all the dorms and attending as many events as possible. He also told them that they should try not to sleep so much; just enough to get by the weekend.

Alex, who is currently deciding between MIT and Stanford, said that he had already looked at the CPW schedule, which currently consists of more than 700 events. He plans to attend events during all times of the day, including a Vermonster Challenge starting at 3 a.m.

Dinner was served at 7 p.m. The clam chowder, garden salad, and chicken marsala were all delicious. As the apple crisp cake was being served, Professor Franz S. Hover of Mechanical Engineering set up his presentation about his work with autonomous underwater vehicles. Hover gave an example to the two prospective freshmen of what kind of research they could be doing if they came to MIT.

Hover explained how the robot autonomously takes pictures of every square inch of a ship hull given a three-dimensional mesh model of the hull. Such a robot would ensure the safety of harbors by identifying illegal, alien objects that might be attached to ship hulls. The difficulty with doing this stems from the fact that it is difficult to maintain a high level of accuracy, making sure not to miss any surface on a ship’s hull.

Hover said that the next steps in his research are to scan irregular objects like boat propellers and develop a visual recognition program that autonomously identifies malformations on ship hulls.

After the presentation, people began leaving one by one. With my throat dry and stomach full, I said my final goodbyes and reminded Alex and Katherine to come to MIT and enjoy CPW.