Every year, MIT holds a “campus preview weekend” (CPW) for the prefrosh to come see MIT and hopefully be enticed to come here next fall. Of course, this means that all the student groups and living groups busily scramble to throw awesome events, and hopefully recruit some of the prefrosh. So, as Chair of SIPB, I was nominally in charge of making sure all these events for SIPB happened, and I’m happy to say that I think they went really well!

First, we had the traditional fsck and inode block party (haha, get it? It’s a block party, as in blocks in a filesystem!). SIPB has had this event for who knows how long, and it’s always on the Friday of CPW. Prefrosh come, eat pizza we buy for them, and meet SIPB folks and learn what we do and why they might want to join SIPB. We also gave tours of our machine room. About 20 prefrosh showed up over the course of the party, and there were several who seemed very interested. I would say our one error here was that we bought about 9 pizzas too many.

Then on Saturday was the activities midway, which is also traditional for SIPB (and every other student group ever) to be at. Basically, your group gets a booth, you put shiny things on it to attract the prefrosh, and when they wander over, tell them about your group – who you are, what you do, and why they might be interested in joining. This year, instead of having people write their names down on a sheet of paper, we had them fill out a form on our website. I’m not convinced we got as many signups as we normally do – I think perhaps people didn’t immediately notice that that’s where they were supposed to put their name and email. In the fall, we should do a better job of making it obvious that they should fill out the form – I’m not in favor of going back to handwritten signups, since people’s handwriting is often very difficult to decipher.

Usually, the midway is the last thing that SIPB does for CPW. This year, however, we held two more events after the midway: the Malware Aquarium, and Everything You Wanted To Know About Computers But Were Afraid To Ask. I am really happy that we decided to have more events, because I think it gave prefrosh an excuse and/or chance to come back to SIPB, hang out with us some more, and really feel like they want to come back and join us in the fall. I remember that there were several awesome prefrosh at the block party last year, but we forgot to write down their names, and I’m pretty sure that none of them ended up back at SIPB in the fall. Not only did we correctly take names this time, but we gave the prefrosh a chance to come back and solidify their impressions and relationship with SIPB before they went back home.

We advertised Aquarium and EYWTKAC at the midway pretty heavily, and even had the comic which inspired Aquarium (xkcd #350) up on one of the screens for people to read. Many of my conversations went something like this:

prefrosh: reads comic, laughs me: So, we actually built that! prefrosh: Wait, seriously? That’s awesome! me: I know! You should come check it out! We’re displaying it from 5-7pm in our office. prefrosh: Cool! I’ll totally be there!

In the past, I haven’t seen this sort of enthusiasm/attraction to SIPB, so I think that having some sort of event that most people can relate to is a good idea. The aquarium actually ended up being not quite finished – and was actually difficult to build, because apparently malware is hard to breed in a sterile environment (major props to Quentin Smith, Evan Broder, and Jiawen Chen, who worked really hard to get something together for the event). SIPB should definitely try to have a similar sort of event during the Fall rush and at future CPWs. If we can make people say “wow, that’s really cool!”, then I think we’ve succeeded, at the very least, in giving our organization a better name and promoting awareness that we exist.

Finally, our last event was Everything You Wanted To Know About Computers But Were Afraid To Ask (EYWTKAC) on Saturday evening. This “question and answer session” was Karen Sittig’s idea, and she did pretty much all the work in organizing it (including having a test run about a week ago with just SIPB people) – she really did an awesome job! I think that the prefrosh who came to this event were mostly ones who had also come to the party on Friday (plus a few from the midway), who obviously found SIPB interesting and wanted to see what some of our members could teach them. We had several panelists who answered the prefrosh’s questions, which tended to be very thoughtful. The panelists seemed to do a good job at explaining the topics in a way that could be understood without a lot of background, but the topics were not trivial – I learned some new things like, for example, what sort of dirty tricks modern processors to do run instructions faster. I think this worked really well in showing that we have a lot of information at our disposal, and are eager and willing to share it with those who get involved with SIPB – someday, too, you might be one of those panelists! I would definitely be in favor of running this event again.

Another thing we did differently this year was to have SIPB “business cards”. Someone on zephyr suggested doing this, and I thought it sounded like a great idea. I spent an hour or two before the party on Friday fighting with LaTeX to make some pretty cards, and eventually got them to work. I even left a space right beneath “SIPB” for SIPB people to write their name and email if they so chose (Karen’s idea), to add a personal touch when giving them out to prefrosh they’d been talking to. I think this worked well, because now the prefrosh can remember who that SIPB person was they spent an hour discussing things with, and how to get back in touch with SIPB/that person in the fall when they return to MIT.

Anyway, in summary, things I’ve learned from this CPW:

  • hold more than one event – one before the midway, and at least one after the midway
  • have events that make the prefrosh go “wow, that’s cool!”
  • be willing to spend time with the prefrosh outside of the official events, talking with them and showing them how awesome MIT (and SIPB) is
  • have cards (or something similar) to hand out, that have a short description of who we are and other contact information