Sunday, September 12, 2010

Matchmaking at Harvard, the roommate problem

The Crimson reports, In Choosing Roommates, Deans Become Matchmakers.

"The day is June 10, and Resident Dean of Freshmen Sue Brown embarks upon what will be a five-week quest: sorting 398 first-years into rooms in Grays, Matthews, and Weld Halls.

"Much of this task remains the same as it has been in years past. She sorts freshmen largely by hand, thoroughly reading incoming freshmen’s responses to roommate questionnaires. During the process, her floor is covered with a mass of paper that is eventually divided into nine distinct piles—one of the early steps in the lengthy matchmaking process.

"But in the midst of that process, technology rears its head. In Adobe Acrobat, Brown categorizes freshmen, using colors to sort the incoming students by geography and stamping the freshmen’s rooming surveys with various logos made in Photoshop. A cartoon of a chess piece marks a chess player. A compass is reserved for the “curious and adventurous” freshman, Brown says.

"Emblazoned with colors and cartoons, the surveys are printed out and scattered on a floor in Brown’s residence in Weld Hall. From there, she divides the students into three categories based on students’ self-reported levels of sociability.

"Social tendencies are one of the most important factors in determining roommate compatibility “because it’s going to be something that comes between roommates before they even meet each other,” she says.

"But other factors matter as well, Brown adds. From the sleeping habits freshmen keep and the sports they play, to the neatness they maintain and the number of roommates they want, the resident deans take into account a slew of determinants of each first-year’s personality.

"Some factors, like musical tastes, are often stronger predictors of compatibility than others, according to Brown.
"Resident deans often try to place local freshmen with those from outside the area, especially international students for whom going home during vacations is more difficult, according to Dean of Freshmen Thomas A. Dingman ’67.
"Every year, a small margin of freshmen—”about half a dozen”—are switched out of their original suites after approaching the FDO, Dingman says. Many more choose to block with and live with others in future years.

"After organizing the rooms, the deans turn to assembling the entryways.
“You want it to be a dIverse group, a microcosm of the freshman class,” Brown says.
But at the same time, the entryway can’t be so diverse that a student feels isolated. For example, the FDO tries to avoid placing only one international student in any entryway, Brown says. She also avoids putting two students from the same varsity sport or the same high school in a single entryway."

No comments: