Freshmen Journey 'Into the Hub'
Tonight, however, several yellow school buses pull away from Annenberg. Students sit two to a row, where they chatter excitedly with their neighbors and shout across seat rows. No one mentions the paper they have due.
These students are participants in Harvard’s “Into the Hub” program, an event series that offers freshman the chance to get off campus and participate in various leisure activities. The program offers freshmen an alternative to on-campus social scenes as well as the chance to explore Boston and surrounding areas, completely free of charge.
In an academic year where campus dialogue has often centered on a lack of inclusive social spaces, the Freshman Dean’s Office has increasingly turned its attention to providing open social opportunities for students not just within the gates of Harvard, but also beyond them.
“[The program aims] to give students alternative social options on Friday and Saturday nights,” said Marie Keil ’14, an FDO fellow who now presides over the program.
Freshman Dean Thomas A. Dingman ’67 echoed Keil, and said the program offers students a means to feel at home on campus.
“This is an opportunity to make people see how easy it is to get off campus,” Dingman said. ”More importantly, it’s meant to heighten students’ sense of belonging.”
In its current form, Into the Hub is only in its second year. The program evolved from the long-standing “Through the Gates” initiative, in which the FDO sponsored trips into Boston for freshmen and faculty members.
“The main difference with Through the Gates trips from Into the Hub trips was that initiative that was based on getting faculty and students to interact as well, so each Through the Gates trip had a faculty person or a staff person who led the trip and often designed the trip,” said Katherine W. Steele, director of College Initiatives and Student Development at the FDO.
Through the Gates trips would often launch during Opening Days and were sometimes extended into the academic year, with professors leading small groups of students on everything from kayaking on the Charles River to taking a Duck Tour to a walking trip through the North End.
“They were often daytime trips, almost like what you would have done in middle school or high school in terms of something that felt like a field trip,” Steele said.
Through the Gates excursions were also not free of charge; if admissions tickets or transportation were required, students needed to pay the fee. According to Steele, the FDO had a very limited amount of financial aid available due to lack of budgetary support.
“I don’t think that it was really achieving our goals with making sure that the Harvard experience is as accessible to everyone as we want it to be,” Steele said.
Steele explained that, while the FDO developed many aspects of the new offerings, the vision came into fruition under the leadership of Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana. In the fall of 2015, the College allocated $30,000 to pilot the Into the Hub program. According to Keil, the student board typically spends between $2,500 and $3,000 on each trip.
“All of this was possible because Dean Khurana really wanted there to be more interesting social options for first-year students,” Steele said.
Last year, then-First-Year Fellow Torey E. Martin recruited members of the Class of 2019 as organizers and dubbed the reformed program “Into the Hub”—the “hub” referring to the city of Boston. Into the Hub’s student board planned activities for their freshmen peers, usually available to over 50 students rather than the 10 to 15 students on a given Through the Gates outing. With new funding, the trips are entirely free.
In its inaugural year, the program struggled to fill events. However, Keil and the program’s freshman representatives have pushed to publicize the program more widely this academic year.
“We’ve definitely increased publicity. We’ve made a big push on Facebook, over the 2020 events email list, and I think the biggest thing has been the posters in Annenberg,” Keil said.
The push has proved effective: while the first event for the class of 2020, a Red Sox game, took a few hours to fill up, sign-ups for the program’s laser tag outing received so much traffic that the server crashed within three minutes, according to Keil. The website was relaunched several hours later and, within a few minutes, was filled and waitlisted.
The Into the Hub student board has organized a diverse set of activities, ranging from Boston Red Sox and Celtics games to laser tag and trampoline park excursions.
In the largest outing of the year, the Into the Hub program rented a movie theater for a showing of "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them." Approximately 140 students attended, according to Laura Chapman ’20. and the popularity of activity-based outings prompted a shift in the programming for second semester.
Chapman said these activity-based trips have been conducive to meeting new freshmen on the trips themselves, which is more in line with the mission of Into the Hub. Additionally, increased funding this semester has allowed for more frequent outings that provide more consistent social opportunities for freshmen.
“Our leader, Marie Keil… got us some more money this semester, so we’ve been more aggressive about scheduling trips,” Chapman said. “Last semester we were hitting once or twice a month, and this semester it’s been more like three or four times a month.”
With trip sign-ups sometimes closing within minutes and frequent waitlists, Chapman hopes that increased funding will allow Into the Hub to grow in scope in the years to come. “Most of our trips fill up pretty quickly, so there’s clearly a lot of people who want to be doing this,” Chapman said. “With more money and more board members to take the lead on organizing trips, these trips could happen more often.”
Although it is too soon to quantitatively measure the impact of the Into the Hub program on the freshman class, Into the Hub has received positive feedback from student surveys and individual conversations with students.
“It’s still in the early days, but qualitatively all of our board members have reported really positive feedback from their friends, we’ve had a lot of people say ‘I would have been sitting alone in my dorm on Friday night if not for this,’” Keil said.
Gunnar Plunkett ’20 has attended all but two of the Into the Hub trips this year, often organizing with a group of friends beforehand. “Usually they send out an email saying that sign ups are tonight, so then I set a reminder on my phone for about five minutes before the deadline,” Plunkett said. “Then for those whole five minutes I’m basically just refreshing the page.”
Striking a balance between existing friend groups and individual students wanting to meet new friends has quickly become one of the major considerations of the Into the Hub board.
“I think that’s something that we’ve been wrestling with a little bit, of how to get that balance right,” Chapman said. “Are we just entertaining friend groups, or is this really an opportunity to meet new people? Ideally, it would be both.”
Some students view Into the Hub as a means of introducing different friend groups while meeting others on the trip itself.
“I would watch for the emails like a hawk, and recommend it to all my roommates and all my friends,” Victoria Márquez ’20 said. “Oftentimes, you have a lot of different friend groups who don’t know each other, so I think this would be a cool way to get them all together.”
In addition to bringing together different groups, Kevin Gordon ’20 said that the change of scenery encouraged individual students to better connect with the people around them.
“I would suggest it to most of my friends, if not all of them,” he said. “I think, by changing the environment, it helps change the person as well and allow them to grow and get to know the other people around them.”
Asked to sum up his experience with Into the Hub this year, Plunkett said: “I don’t think my first year would be the same if I hadn’t done Into the Hub.”
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