One of the most exciting aspects of the Wesleyan experience—spending senior year in a University-owned wood frame house—is also one of the most cumbersome. Every April, groups of anywhere between two and six students sift through the housing offerings and select their favorites, hoping the lottery works in their favor.
Though an exciting process, the time and effort required to compile all information relevant to students’ wants and needs complicate the process. Luckily, enterprising student Avi Stein ’17 took the time to streamline the process for future cohorts.
Stein launched a website last week that provides rising seniors with a profile of each wood frame housing option on campus. Using the website, students can select their preferences and then view all available houses that meet their specifications.
“We decided a tool to help them research information about the different houses would be most helpful,” said Director of Residential Life, Frances Koerting. “Avi talked to a lot of students to find out what criteria are most important to them. He put a lot of time into creating the database of information as well as writing the program.”
Stein’s competitive edge gave him the motivation to dive into the project.
“I had to do housing selection myself, and fortunately I got pulled into a four-person group, so we knew how many people we wanted, and there’s a long list of web pages and you have to go and click on each of them, and [I started] thinking, ‘I can beat this system,’” Stein said. “I can just go through and compile all of this data. And I did…but that was just for me, just for my house.”
Realizing that everyone goes through a similar process, Stein wanted to save others the trouble.
“We did the whole housing selection thing, we had our priorities, but I felt like everyone did [that much research], and it seemed like a waste of time for [everyone] to go through and compile all those data,” he said. “So my motivation was to make sure that other people didn’t have to do that and to make it very easy and accessible And hopefully include some things that people wouldn’t necessarily think of.”
Students also often neglect features of senior housing like the walking distance to Olin and the gym, the capacity of the house (not included in the standard web page on each house), and handicap accessibility (ADA compliance).
“I tried to ask as many people as possible what’s important to you when you’re picking houses, and tried to compile as much stuff as possible and jam it into one giant spreadsheet,” Stein said.
Features not currently included may appear in future iterations of the website or were not included to avoid redundancy. For example, the decision to exclude Exley Science Center from the distance information stems from the fact that the distance from most houses to Exley is only marginally different from the distance to Olin.
Though it was a slow process, one of the reasons Stein was able to compile so much data is that it is all easily searchable. The overarching problem emanated from the fact that the data were scattered throughout the University and Reslife’s websites, rather than the availability of the information itself.
“The thing that I really liked, is that the data set is pretty much there,” Stein said. “It’s pretty available and not hard to track down, but each of the houses had little quirks to them, and I was going to do some crazy text-mining, web-scraping thing and just pull all the information out, but it was actually really frustrating to do that, and I took it upon myself as sort of a zen task to go through [it all].”
Through this platform, prospective residents can learn about the idiosyncrasies of available houses–amusing and otherwise–a feature that would have been helpful to Stein in the selection process.
“All of the houses are slightly quirky,” he said. “The house I’m living in right now, the second floor has a top ceiling of 6’2” and it sort of slopes down from there. I’m 6’1”, for context, so that doesn’t really work out for me. My room actually has 10-foot ceilings; it’s weird. So, it was interesting finding all of these quirky things about the houses and trying to compile them into one giant database.”
For the moment, nearly all houses are listed on the website for consideration. However, as students move forward in the selection process, already-chosen houses will be “switched off” by Reslife in order to avoid unnecessary confusion and disappointment. When Posse veterans, for example, select their 2017-2018 housing–they are among the first to do so–the houses will no longer show up as available to students participating in regularly scheduled selection nights.
So far, reception of the website has been positive. Stein, who is graduating this year, hopes that the website continues to improve in the hands of a younger student willing to take on the project.
“We are extremely grateful to him for everything he has done,” Koerting said.
Even now, though, the site seems to serve its target audience. Hanna Elszaz ‘18 pored over the website with her four-person housing group this weekend to sort through their options.
“I thought it was useful in helping us prepare for any situation,” she said. “It prioritized my priorities.”