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MIT student blogger Natnael G. '15

21 Reasons to Join ESG by Natnael G. '15

A Look at MIT's Freshman Learning Communities

Freshman Learning Communities

Your first year at MIT is all about choices that come in the form of Freshman Learning Communities. Because most Freshman will be taking their General Institute Requirements (GIR), Freshman Learning Communities were created to allow you to branch out in these classes and learn in an environment that better suits your style. The problem with required classes is that, well, they’re required. GIR is synonymous with large lectures, numerous recitations, and shared suffering (I joke, I joke). Freshman Learning Communities, each with their own spin, allow you to avoid the negative sides of GIRs and go through your whole MIT career learning in small class sizes and with a personal connection to your professors. I found myself in ESG (Experimental Study Group) for just these reasons and here I thought I would give you a brief description of each FLC and 21 Reasons YOU should join ESG!

(Source for all FLC information)

Concourse “is a small learning community that offers an innovative and intellectually rich approach by integrating humanities into the traditional first-year curriculum.” The GIRs that are offered in Concourse meet both the Physics (Mechanics & E&M) and Math (Single & Multi-variable Calculus) requirements. There are also two humanities classes that are offered that meet a few of the HASS requirements.

Terrascope is a bit different from the rest of the FLCs in that what they offer is less about completing GIRs and more about offering a project class that works to make a dent in one of the World’s many problems. In their own description, “Terrascope is a learning community with curricula designed to give you the tools to address important complex problems that require integrative multidisciplinary solutions.” Terrascope is also different in that they allow you to do Terrascope alongside one of the other three FLCs. Check out Ana V.’s Blog Post for more information.

Media Arts and Sciences (MAS) is similar to Concourse in that what they look at is an intersection, the “intersection between technology and communication/expression.” It is also similar to Terrascope in that their focus isn’t GIRs (although they do offer recitations for 3.091 and a seminar for 8.01/8.02/3.091 that provides talks about UROPs by researchers and edible applications to the class! (Thanks to Marianne ’15 for clarifying)) but rather Computer Science and the workings of the Media Lab through seminars and preparation for UROPs (Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program). Offering classes on the “Fundamentals of Computational Media Design” and “Introduction to Doing Research in Media Arts and Sciences” one of the unique aspects of MAS is the guaranteed Spring UROP and Computer Science slant to life.

Experimental Study Group (ESG) “provides a personalized program for 50 first-year students who wish to take a more active role in their MIT education.” The oldest FLC, ESG has been around for over 50 years offering alternative 5-12 people classes for all of the GIRs. ESG can be as much or as little as you make it. With the only requirement being you have to take 2 classes in ESG to stay in the program, ESG can be only about taking classes or it can grow into a community of people that define your Freshman Year.

21 Reasons YOU Should Join ESG!

1. Dave Custer’s amazing cookies for stressed out freshman. Every Tuesday Dave bakes the best cookies known to mankind for those of us attending office hours. It always makes late night psets that much better.

2. Comfortable seating options in the lounge that includes a few couches, a giant beanbag chair and a standing hammock.

3. CLICKER QUESTIONS! (In Dr. Patti Christie’s 5.111 class)

4. TA’s who hold a ridiculous amount of office hours and are always willing to help with all of our little freshman problems. For example, 18.02 has Office Hours Sunday through Wednesday, for at least 3 hours a day. This forces you to get into the habit of attending Office Hours(the cookies also help).

5. Friday Lunches! Every week a group of ESGers come together to make lunch for the freshman, TAs and teachers. For a ridiculously cheap 2$ you get home a made meal and an hour to relax with your fellow classmates. As a bonus, with the large International contingency that ESG has, you also get meals from across the world.

6. Smaller Classes! The ESG rule is that no class has above twelve students at any given time. What this means for you is that if a topic didn’t make sense or you don’t completely understand what the teacher just said, you can just ask right there and then.

7. Dave Custer’s Lab where one can bake a cake by running a current through batter.

8. Dr. Patti Christie’s “Pre Test Panic”! The day before any 5.111 or 5.112 test includes open office hours where you can ask any last minute questions. The best part though is “exam bread” where Patti brings us all types of breads and donuts to make life a little bit better.

9. Personal Mail Boxes! Personal mail boxes are a great storage place for in between classes and the secondary method of communication in ESG. It’s always nice to get a little snail mail.

10. ESG schedules their classes around you! Before registration day, ESG asks all of its freshman what classes they’re taking mainstream and what classes they’re taking through ESG. With this information they create class schedules that minimize conflicts.

11. ESG classes meet more often! Rather than the every other day mainstream schedule, ESG classes meet Monday-Thursday (and sometimes Friday).  What this extra hour or so of class allows you to do is truly internalize the subjects at hand.

12. Multiple lectures for the same class! For example, 5.111 meets at both 9am and 3pm while 18.02 meets at 10am, 11am and 1pm. With the large number of classes offered, you’re then allowed to mix and match the schedule that fits best for you. Not a morning person? Next semester I only have to be up before 11am two days a week, thanks ESG!

13. You really get to know your teachers on a more personal level! While in most freshman lectures there’s too many people for all the students to have time with their teachers, ESG makes it easy to have sit downs with these teachers and discuss progress or receive help. For example, I’m looking to self-study 18.06(Linear Algebra) over IAP and Dr. Gabrielle Stoy (my 18.02 teacher) has agreed to sit down with me a few times a week during IAP and help cement my understanding.

14. In ESG, your freshman advisors are your teachers! After Chemistry I’ll just ask Patti how I should handle taking 6.01 next semester and get an answer right there and then. This also adds to the connection you have with your teachers.

15. Gabrielle’s Test Candy! Every one of Gabrielle’s (18.01-03) tests is accompanied with plates of chocolates to make the process a little bit more bearable. Never was a 3 hour final sweeter.

16. It’s all about the freshman. One of the best parts of ESG and freshman learning communities in general is how much care goes into making the first year at MIT an amazing one. With lecturers whose sole purpose at MIT is to teach you, you can’t help but feel loved. And the fact stands that the teacher’s truly care about how you do in the class. If they notice a decline in performance or class attendance they’ll make an effort to reach out to you and find out what’s going on.

17. You can come back and become a paid TA. If you find out you love ESG to the point that a year is not enough, you can come back for the next three years and TA. This is a unique opportunity in that it lets you exercise your teaching abilities for Grad School while also letting you solidify material that would otherwise become rusty.

18.MIT Tech TV

19.  ESGers know how to make a Halloween costume.

20. Weekend Adventures! Once in a while ESG funds Weekend Adventures to various places including the Boston Harbor Islands, and New Hampshire for hiking and camping.  If you think of a place to go, ESG is always willing to take suggestions.

21. Teaching Afternoon! Want to know what it’s like to be an ESG TA? Every year ESG holds a Teaching Afternoon for their freshman allowing them to teach a class on whatever subject they choose (imagine a small scale Splash) to their fellow freshman! It’s a great experience to get to know your fellow ESGers and to see if teaching is for you!

And with that I wrap up 21 reasons you should join ESG! Each of the Freshman Learning Communities have something special to bring to the table and it’s important you go to all of their open houses during CPW/Orientation to get a good feel for what works for you But if large class sizes and lack of personal attention is a worry for you, I hope you look to ESG as the solution!

Special thanks to Jennifer R., Yin Fu C., Jonathan A., Sarah F., Graham R. for help with the list!

9 responses to “21 Reasons to Join ESG”

  1. Barbara says:

    One of the best post I’ve seen here! Just a little question: do the classes of ESG cover all of GIR we need and we don’t need anymore to go to GIR lectures?

  2. Marianne '15 says:

    To clarify, for MAS there isn’t really an extra lecture perse for 8.01/8.02 – it’s a weekly one hour seminar-ish thing (with free donuts!) that either involves a research group from the Media Lab talking about it’s research and recruiting UROPs or an edible application of physics and/ or chem. That being said, MAS is awesome! Especially if you want to be in the best CIH and HASS-A class MIT has to offer smile

  3. Marianne '15 says:

    *its not it’s – whoops

  4. Natnael G. '15 says:

    Thanks Barbara! The classes in ESG do meet all of the GIR requirements, the problem is that they do not offer all of the classes that can meet this requirement. For example, 3.091 (Solid State Chemistry) can fulfill your Chemistry requirement but ESG only offers 5.111 (General Chem) and 5.112 (Advanced General Chem) to fulfill your Chemistry requirement. If you want to take 3.091 you have to take the mainstream lecture and attend ESG recitations.

    The same goes with the Biology requirement, ESG only offers 7.013 (Intro to Bio (Molecular Slant)) and only offers it in the Spring. If you want to take 7.012 (Intro to Bio (Genetics Slant) ) or 7.014 ( Intro to Biology (Evolution Slant)) you have to take them Mainstream.

    Does that make sense? ESG has a class to meet all of the GIR requirements but it may not always be the class you want.

    @Marianne, Thanks! I edited the post, tell me if you have a better way of putting it!

  5. Christi says:

    #7 got me hooked. AHHH.

  6. Anton Älgmyr says:

    If you add making ice cream with liquid nitrogen to the list, then I’m all yours!

    If I manage to get in, that is… raspberry

  7. Dustin '12 says:

    Also, in the first semester of TAing at ESG, you take a weekly teaching seminar, which allows you to discuss personal experiences/challenges in the classroom while learning general teaching tips.

    In addition to the GIR curriculum, there are also a bunch of specialized ESG electives. I’ve seen classes offered in e.g. Mathematical Physics, Kitchen Chemistry, and the Philosophy of Love. There are usually new classes offered each term.

    #19 shoutout to 8.022 ESG Fall 2011 smile

  8. Luisa says:

    Sounds like a good time! I have a couple questions.

    So, you can mix mainstream classes with ESG recitations if the mainstream is closer to what you’re interested in studying? If so, did you take all ESG classes or did you take some mainstream courses as well?

  9. Natnael G. '15 says:

    @Luisa, sorry for the late comment. Yes you can mix classes, the only rule is that you have to take 2 classes in ESG to stay a member.

    I took 8.01 and my hass mainstream
    and I took 5.111, and 18.02 in ESG.