News Article

As New Vassar Street building rises, its community starts to take shape

New Vassar Street Residence Hall

February 13, 2019

As construction advances and a new residence hall rises on Vassar Street, the foundation for another critical part of MIT’s first new undergraduate residential community in nearly two decades is being formed.

This week, Steven R. Hall, professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics, was appointed head of house for the New Vassar Street Residence. Additionally, Naomi Carton, associate dean for graduate support in the Division of Student Life (DSL), was tapped to be the community’s associate head of house. Through her role as a dean, Carton will continue working with dining services and supporting students and their families. Heads of house influence all areas of student development, acting as mentors to their community members and teaming with their house’s student government and DSL staff to foster community.

Heads and associate heads of house in undergraduate communities also work closely with graduate resident tutors to support students and are typically assisted by an area director who helps to develop social and educational programming for the community.

“Though the building will not open until fall 2020, it’s important to start building the community now,” said Suzy Nelson, vice president and dean for student life in DSL. “Both Steve and Naomi bring many years of experience supporting students in-residence, and they are well-suited to the exciting challenge of launching a new undergraduate residential community with a student, faculty, and staff founders’ group.”

Hall holds a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, and Ph.D. from MIT. He joined the faculty in 1985, going on to teach a wide range of subjects in AeroAstro’s Information Sector, including control theory, guidance and navigation, and flight mechanics and control for undergraduates, and modern control theory and optimal control for graduate students. In recognition of his teaching excellence, Hall was named a MacVicar Faculty Fellow in 2002. His service as a department and faculty officer is likewise varied, culminating in a two-year term as chair of the MIT faculty from 2013 to 2015.

But one of his favorite roles at MIT is associate head of house of Simmons Hall, where he also runs the community’s residential scholar program through which visiting scholars develop programming for Simmons students. Hall joined Simmons’s house team in 2008 and has lived in the community among students ever since. He will continue to serve in this role until the New Vassar Street residence hall opens in fall 2020.

“MIT has a history of tapping experienced heads of house to help with the big undertaking of getting a new residential community off the ground. In 2002, when Simmons opened, John and Ellen Essigmann left their positions as heads of house in New House and assumed those roles in Simmons,” Nelson said.

In addition to leading the Simmons Residential Scholar Program, Hall has also worked closely with the Essigmanns to build community among Simmons residents. Carton will similarly support Hall when New Vassar Street opens. After joining MIT in 2012, Carton held various positions in dining and housing. But it was supporting students and their families where she found her niche. She has also lived in the Westgate graduate community since 2012 as house director and advisor to the community with her daughters. She has also helped graduate students and their families who live on campus to navigate MIT and to access services that they need, from cooking classes, to child enrichment programs, to financial literacy courses. And like Hall, she will continue in her current role in Westgate until fall 2020.

“Naomi’s experience complements Steve’s very well,” said Judy Robinson, senior associate dean of residential education, who works closely with the house teams. “Her experience living and working with students will be invaluable to undergraduates as the building opens in 2020.”

In the coming months, Hall and Carton will work with student leaders, DSL staff, and faculty to form a founders’ group for the New Vassar Street community. Nelson and Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart will formally charge the group with different goals and responsibilities for helping to create a new residential community that will have its own identity, governance system, and support network for the undergraduates who will live there beginning in Academic Year 2020-2021.

Image courtesy Michael Maltzan Architecture

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