Welcome to Sidney-Pacific! Whether you just arrived in town or have been living here many years, we hope you feel welcome and at home here. After all, you have access to a huge variety of resources (computing, common spaces, the gym, the music practice room, and more) -- all for free --, an extensive inventory of items you can check out (movies, games, sports equipment, vacuums, even bikes, and much more) -- almost all for free --, and convenient repairs when anything breaks -- also for free!
Hopefully, you'll be able to put these resources to good use while you're here -- whether for a year or (we hope) several to come. Resources are just a small part of what you can get out of S-P, however. Hopefully, you'll get more! Here's how.
On the way out the door each day, you probably see S-P event notices posted in elevators and on the lobby TV. You see ads for Wednesday night coffee hours, monthly Sunday brunches, and all sorts of other activities from art excursions and hikes to barbeques and dance parties -- once again, all for free. Join in! Enjoy a free meal or dessert, and at the same time, enjoy the company of your fellow residents.
As a graduate student, it's easy to center your life around your lab and be essentially anonymous back here at S-P, keeping to your room and not bothering to make many friends or get to know neighbors. While we respect residents who opt not to participate, we highly encourage making the effort to step beyond borders -- and S-P events are our best effort to make that easier. The graduate community at S-P is quite possibly the most diverse and fascinating group of people -- coming from all over the world and bringing all kinds of special talents and unique personalities -- that you'll ever reside with. We invite you to make the most of the opportunity to interact with them!
The bottom line is that S-P can be just a place to sleep or it can be a place to live: the choice is yours. Hopefully, you'll choose the latter and come to events once in a while -- and have a great time when you do. Still, participating in events is just the beginning of what you can get from the S-P experience. Hopefully, you'll get even more! Here's how.
Reading over the above lists of resources and activities, you may have wondered: How can all of this possibly be available for free? The answer may be a bit surprising, but it certainly is fitting.
The computers work because our IT committee maintains them -- for free. The rental bikes stay operational because our bikes committee repairs them -- for free. The plants stay alive because our plants committee waters them -- for free. The DVD library continues to expand because our inventory committee solicits suggestions and sends in orders -- for free.
Then, of course, there are our events. Coffee hour happens every week because our coffee hour committee shops, chops, slices, and dices -- for free. Brunch happens every month because our brunch committee whips up hundreds of eggs and pancakes, fruits and drinks -- for free. Dance parties and dorm-wide barbeques happen because our social committee and dozens of volunteers plan, decorate, and grill -- for free.
In order to get the word out about these events, our publicity committee designs and posts flyers on bulletin boards, TVs, and our website -- for free. Our website itself -- including the database system that manages inventory checkouts, package logs, room moves, email lists, house finances, and much more -- was built through years of effort by S-P residents -- all for free.
While it's nice to be able to benefit from free things, an old adage advises that there is more happiness in giving than in receiving, and our volunteers have discovered the truth in this statement. Consuming makes you a participant; contributing makes you a citizen and gives you a sense of belonging: this is your place and your home; you keep it running and you help make it better. At the end of the day, you celebrate its successes with the satisfaction that they are yours too.
Along the way, we all discover that while we do these things for free, that doesn't mean there are no benefits -- far from it. The greatest reward by far is the chance to develop skills and friendships, harnessing hidden talents alongside other motivated volunteers and having a blast doing it. We're a hardworking, fun-loving bunch and we take pride in the fruits of our labor. We like to get things done and do them in style, and ultimately, we like to make our residents happy: two, twenty, or two hundred at a time. We're always looking for more help, and we'd love for you to join in. Not long ago, we were new faces -- perhaps not unlike you -- and we never guessed what ride we were about to take.
Ready to get more out of S-P?
The ways in which you can help out at S-P truly run the gamut in all respects: skills required, size and scope, and time commitment. To begin with, just being a responsible resident is already a step in the right direction.
Get Started: Be a Responsible Resident
The next time you print to a printer that's out of paper, try walking down the hall and getting a refill from the front desk instead of sending your job to the next one. Likewise, if you know how to fix paper jams, fix them. Don't wait for "the IT guys" to do it -- be one of them.
If you notice damaged or malfunctioning equipment around the building, report it. We have plenty of officers and maintenance staff who are happy to fix problems, but they need to know what to fix. File a repair request, contact the appropriate officer, or email our house manager. The same goes for "fixing" our programs. We try very hard to plan events and establish policies that work for the good of all, but we need your feedback in order to make informed decisions. Respond to surveys, make suggestions, and post on the S-P forums when you have opinions. Another place where you can provide feedback to our officers are SPEC weekly Office Hour, which take place in the lobby. You can -- and should -- take ownership of this place, whether it's through the printers you fix, problems you report, or policies you shape.
Get Moving: Be a Volunteer
Of course, we hope you'll take a slightly bigger step and actively volunteer. Volunteering doesn't need to be a huge commitment: if you'd just like to be an occasional extra hand in the kitchen, then look no further than the brunch, coffee hour, or social committee; they'll all welcome your help. In turn, hopefully you'll find that you enjoy helping. It may seem strange to claim that spending an hour cutting strawberries or flipping burgers can enrich your life, but you just might be surprised -- there's something about the camaraderie that comes with working in a team that brings people together and makes fast friends. You can join the low-volume sp-helpers email list to receive notifications from committee chairs when help is needed by editing your information here.
The sp-helpers list keeps everyone posted about large-scale volunteer opportunities, but if you prefer to help out with event-planning or cooking on a smaller scale, try getting in touch with your hall councilor. He or she will hold an event for you and your neighbors once a month -- often involving food -- and will certainly appreciate your help if you volunteer it.
If the kitchen isn't your domain, no problem -- there's lots more to do. If you care about causes such as community service or sustainability, talk to the appropriate officers. If you're a web whiz, music mix master, or design demon, S-P can use your technical skills. Always remember that we are a resident-run community: if you see something you can make better, let us know -- and help us make it better!
Also, keep in mind that even in skill positions, you don't need to be an expert to help out. Many of our current aces picked up much of their knowledge on the job -- in fact, dabbling in a new area may well be the funniest part of volunteering here. Sidney-Pacific can be your playground, workshop, or studio -- with free tools and materials to experiment with, galleries (virtual or physical) to exhibit your work, and a captive audience to enjoy your creations, be they artistic or edible.
Develop a new talent under the wing of one of our masters! Don't be afraid to try out something completely new. You came to MIT to learn, didn't you? ;) We're confident you can do it. After all, we were in your shoes not so long ago -- and we did.
Don't see a match to your hobby of choice? That's unlikely, but even then, there's still room to get involved while doing what you love: lead an S-P interest group! This new initiative seeks to bring together residents with shared interests -- from running to sword dancing -- and while we have the funding and web infrastructure in place, we urgently need motivated leaders to make the program fly. Contact sp-interestgroups-chair for more information.
Another way to get involved and create new initiatives is contacting SPEC and they'll make sure that your feedback is heard and possibly instituted as a new SP event or initiative.
Now that you've read this far, think you might be interested in taking a bigger step and getting much more?
Get Airborne: Become an Officer
Becoming an officer basically amounts to making a more formal commitment to service at S-P, typically an average of a few hours per week. You'll be given more responsibilities and granted more tools (and a budget) to achieve them, but aside from that, typical duties and motivation are the same as those discussed above for volunteers. Naturally, leadership and communication skills are particularly important for officers to have, but having said that, key skills vary greatly from position to position: for some offices a good php hacker is a far better fit than a leadership guru. Also, on the flip side, becoming an officer can be an excellent opportunity to develop those same leadership skills. The one critically important attribute officers must possess is a genuine desire to serve the S-P community: with this, all else follows.
While officers, like volunteers, get little in the way of explicit rewards, we do give our officers a few benefits in appreciation of their service. First, officers are guaranteed housing in S-P during their tenure: for details, see the S-P housing flow chart. Officers also get a bonus in priority if they choose to change rooms in the May internal lottery.
This small handful of perks is really not the point of officership, however -- our officers do what they do because they enjoy it and because they care about the community. The real rewards are friendships made, skills developed, and the feeling of having made a difference.
Still interested? If not, or if you're unsure, that's okay -- you can still volunteer, and we hope you will. If you are still interested, great! The house government turns over every April so it may be a while until you can become an officer, but for now, here's an overview of how you can make that happen (details will be available here when the time comes).
In brief, our house government consists of 40-45 committee chairs, thirteen hall councilors, and five SPEC (executive council) members. The procedure for
selecting each is slightly different.
How to Become a Committee Chair
Committee chairs are appointed by SPEC every year in April after submitting a written application and completing an in-person interview. Committee chair applications are somewhat competitive, with the more popular positions attracting several applicants. The single most important factor is the applicant's previous level of involvement in the community. It's never too early or too late to volunteer.
How to Become a Hall Councilor
The residents of each hall elect their hall councilor for the upcoming year each April. In recent years, around 15-20 candidates have run for the thirteen hall councilor positions. (Most candidates usually run in a few halls, as there are no limitations on which or how many halls you can run on.) As with committee chairs, successful candidates are usually those who have demonstrated commitment to the S-P community. Regularly attending hall events -- and better yet, helping out with them -- is especially beneficial since it lets you get to know other residents of your hall.
How to Become a SPEC Member
It's wise to first become an officer and then talk with current or previous SPEC members before making the leap to SPEC, but for completeness, SPEC candidates are nominated in March and voted on by the house council in early April. Being on SPEC is a significant time commitment, but naturally, that also makes it a significantly rewarding experience. Join the government, and who knows -- you might just wind up on SPEC one day. :)
That's all. Come join the fun -- and start getting more from S-P!