08 Sep 2022

Readying for Residence


by Shona Simkin

Photo courtesy Russ Campbell.

627 housing applications, 864 new pillows, 888 packages shipped to campus, 3,306 completed preventative maintenance tasks. These are but a few of the numbers that give color to the days, weeks, and months before the first students in the Harvard Business School MBA classes of 2023 and 2024 moved into their residence hall rooms in August.

What does it take to get to move-in day? Before students presented their HUIDs and entered a PIN at their door, staff across campus organized, planned, cleaned, and repaired to ready the residence halls. For Meredith Keaney, associate director for campus residences and services, and her team, work for August move-in begins in April with housing application lotteries and planning for summer maintenance projects.

Each year, Keaney’s office manages between 600-800 housing applications for the 492 available rooms. Students are randomly assigned a time slot to log into the housing portal and view their options. Lottery rounds begin in April for students staying in the residence halls their second year, followed by several rounds throughout the spring and summer for incoming students. The housing team works closely with the MBA Program and IT to ensure that all new student data is fed into the housing portal and site, so that students can immediately navigate their options and apply. This year, the residence halls are at 92 percent capacity, nearly back to the pre-pandemic 98 percent.

With most students gone for the summer, it’s all hands on deck for tasks such as carpet replacement, plumbing fixture upgrades, new window shades, or repairs and preventative maintenance to carpentry, electrical, plumbing, and heating and air conditioning systems. Fixes and upgrades are based partly on responses to student surveys sent out in the spring that gather information about their residence hall experience, necessary improvements or fixes, and to solicit recommendations.

student moving into campus
Photo courtesy Russ Campbell.

Timing is essential—all students remaining on campus through the summer must move to Hamilton Hall if they don’t live there already, so that preparations in other buildings can get underway. Throughout the summer, students in various programs such as Summer Venture in Management are also housed in the residence halls—it’s a carefully choreographed dance of closures, openings, room changes, and repair projects

In the last weeks leading up to move-in, Keaney’s team prints out name cards to post outside each room, assigns correct access levels to student ID cards, prepares welcome bags (this year featuring new “welcome home” soaps), and readies listservs for each residence hall so that students can easily inform each other about extra pizza in the lounge or an impromptu watch party. Facilities and housekeeping staff do room checks to make sure all rooms are clean, beds are made with provided linens, and that all fixtures, electric outlets, lighting, HVAC systems, and computer hookups are ready.

Maria Amaya has been a housekeeper at HBS for 27 years. Her favorite time of year is when the new students arrive—she is invigorated by their excitement and happiness and eager to get to know them. She sees her weekly room cleanings as a chance to nurture and care for the students who become like extended family. “I like to make the students feel at home here, and I take care of their rooms like they’re my own kids,” she said.

Built in 1926, the six four-story red brick residence halls are among the 14 buildings from the original campus plans by architects McKim, Mead & White. Equipped with individual bathrooms (except McCulloch), kitchens, lounges, study rooms, and laundry facilities, HBS residence halls also offer 24/7 maintenance and security, and are connected to the extensive tunnel system—a big benefit during Boston winters.

Those tunnels were one of the main reasons Alex Riolo (MBA 2023) decided to live on campus. A San Diego resident for most of his life, he worried about the snow and cold and was reluctant to ship furniture across the country. Once he moved in, he found the social engagements and community events to be welcome complements to individual study sessions. On a particularly blustery February day, he and his dorm sectionmates wore shorts, Hawaiian shirts, and flipflops to class as a “fun dorm flex day.”

Photo courtesy Russ Campbell.

For doctoral student Celia Stafford, the community aspect of dorm living is paramount. Last year she held a homemade pasta dinner for around 30 residents and other MBAs and hosted several game nights. This year, such activities fall under her responsibilities as a dwell ambassador—each building has one, and they’re tasked with fostering a sense of community within the residence halls. She and Riolo, also a dwell ambassador, were trained prior to START on the wide range of campus resources. As the first contact for most residents, they route questions, concerns, and requests to the appropriate contact.

Stafford cites residential life as one of the most important aspects of her educational experience. “One of my favorite things about HBS is how incredible every single person is—they are smart, engaged, driven, and have their own hopes, dreams, and desires. Each person has the potential to change the world and do something cool and crazy and interesting,” she said. “I don’t think they can do that alone—it’s the networks that really make that happen. HBS’s residential dorm experience is unique in that way, making sure that we build networks and get to know people.”

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