Students Serve Up Pizza, Advice

Peer advice aids first-years in choosing concentrations

Betty Ho

Ted P. Nicolais ’06, left, speaks with Joshua M. Tesoriero ’06, center, and adviser Jeffrey P. Clemens ’05 yesterday at first-year advising night in Lowell House.

Between bites of pizza, seasoned upperclass students taught first-years the ins and outs of concentration choice during the first-ever campus-wide advising night yesterday.

The House Committees (HoCos) and the Undergraduate Council co-hosted the event, which brought together upperclass students and first-years in their newly-assigned Houses.

Advising night fell during the ongoing undergraduate curricular review, which has scrutinized College advising.

Council President Matthew W. Mahan ’05 wrote in an e-mail that he thought the curricular review would be “bold in its tackling of advising” but that peer advising offered a step in the right direction.

“The idea is that while it would be a one-shot advising event, a concentration advising night has the potential to reach a large segment of the first-year population...I think that it is one additional proactive and complementary method for aiding first-years in their search for the right concentration,” he wrote.

Council representative Matthew J. Glazer ’06 said he felt advising for students “was a problem.”

“Advising night was based off the idea that students need better advising at Harvard, and particularly that peer advising would help out a lot,” said Glazer, who chairs the council’s Student Affairs Committee.

Glazer said that Mahan, along with student representatives from the Committee on Undergraduate Life of the curricular review, had used Lowell House’s “great advising system” to come up with the idea for advising night.

“The U.C. then pitched the idea to the HoCos earlier this spring,” Glazer said. “We recommended that the Masters provide the funds.”

Glazer joined Winthrop House HoCo Co-President Caroline H. Gottesman ’05 in offering concentration advice for students in the Winthrop House dining hall.

Gottesman estimated that 30 first-years came—more than she expected.

“I saw one girl approach the Ec table and introduce herself. When the group asked her what she would concentrate in, she said she had no idea. She then sat down and talked for a half hour or so,” Gottesman said. “I think in general this was a success.”

While some students came seeking concentration advice, others arrived with a choice already in mind.

Vivek G. Ramaswamy ’07 said he came to Kirkland House’s advising night to “get to know freshmen” from Kirkland, already confident that he would concentrate in the biochemical sciences.

“The pizza was also a big reason to come out,” Ramaswamy said, glancing at the empty boxes piled on one table.

Another first-year who lotteried into Kirkland, Susie E. Skoda ’07, said she did not receive concentration advice during advising night, since she was confident she would choose Russian studies.

“It was nice just to meet people, feel welcomed into the House,” she said. “This will definitely make the transition into the House a lot smoother.”

For students like Skoda who were considering a concentration not represented at the event, HoCo chairs went out of their way to provide students with peer advising in other ways.

The Winthrop HoCo provided contact information for one or two Winthrop students in each field, while the chairs of the Lowell HoCo tried to match first-years with upperclass students in at least one of their concentration choices.

Lowell House HoCo Co-Chair Stephanie L. Safdi ’05 said “contact with freshmen” was a key element of peer advising night.

“The freshman will get to meet other students in the House, which should ease the transition into the community,” Safdi said. “Tutors can come down, but we are really encouraging interaction with other students.”

Adams House HoCo Co-Chair Gina M. Bruno ’05 sent an e-mail to the Adams open-list to encourage them to join the first-years lotteried into the House.

“Some people needed a little nudging, but others were really excited,” she said. “Ten [o’clock] is a good study break time anyway. And then I laid down the guilt trip.”

Bruno said that she had received a number of e-mails from Adams House residents who wrote that they had changed their concentrations.

“It just goes to show that you’re not locked into your decision,” she said.

—Alan J. Tabak contributed to the reporting of this story.

—Staff writer Elena P. Sorokin can be reached at sorokin@fas.harvard.edu.