Visitas Reworks Faculty Panels

Rachel E Davidson

Harvard faculty members at the panel “Big Questions in the Sciences,” field questions from prefrosh and their parents about the importance of stem cell research. Faculty panels for this year’s visiting program were redesigned in the vein of “Harvard Thinks Big.”

Faculty panels during Visitas, Harvard’s program for prospective freshmen that ended yesterday, have been retooled to resemble “Harvard Thinks Big,” which the director of Visitas hopes has made them “more dynamic and less dry.”

The panels, which formerly consisted of faculty members discussing their fields more broadly and commenting on their students’ academic experiences, instead took a format akin to the forum in which invited Harvard faculty discuss a particular issue or idea.

Faculty members at the arts and humanities panel were invited to answer the question “If you could require every person to study one piece of work, what would it be and why?”

At the sciences panel, faculty members explored the significance of stem cell research; and professors in the social sciences discussed how we can avoid another financial crisis.

At these panels, faculty members, rather than discussing the merits of their fields as in years past, instead offered specific ideas and arguments.


For example, Economics Associate Professor Efraim Benmelech suggested at the social sciences panel that rather than attempting altogether to evade financial crises—which he said were oftentimes inevitable corollaries to financial innovation—prevention should take into consideration the costs of regulation.

The change to a Harvard Thinks Big-style format was meant to make the panels more entertaining to visiting students, according to Visitas organizers.

“They will be more dynamic and less dry than they have been in the past,” said Visiting Program Director Valerie A. Beilenson ’07.

Many prefrosh praised the new style.

Jacqueline Lin, a prospective student, said that the panels allow prefrosh to “get a taste for what courses will be like and what will be taught.” She said she found that listening to professors engage intellectually is “more helpful” than informational panels that provide broad descriptions of academic disciplines or concentration requirements.

But other students found the questions tackled by professors at the faculty panels too specific and not necessarily relevant to the purpose of a college visiting weekend.

Prefrosh Ewan Foster said that the organizers of Visitas should “go back to the old way” because prospective freshman “have not begun to study” the questions tackled by professors at the panels.

But prefrosh Jonathan A. Taratuta said that the faculty panels’ new format allows students to better understand “what a discipline itself is like and the kind of intellectual environment that Harvard offers.”

The panels “parallel discussions I would have if I come to Harvard,” he said.