Erik Snowberg, professor of economics and political science, has been appointed as Caltech's new master of student houses, or "MOSH."
Following Caltech tradition, the MOSH is a professorial faculty member who focuses on promoting a positive overall experience for Caltech undergraduates and acts as a liaison between students and faculty. To that end, the MOSH invites students over for meals and movies, hosts events throughout the year designed to foster interactions between faculty and students outside the classroom, and organizes trips to the opera, theater, and symphony, among other activities.
"My goal is to increase student-faculty interaction, but more on the students' terms," says Snowberg. "I hope to get more faculty into the houses, and more students into the faculty's homes."
Snowberg has been at Caltech since he received his PhD in business administration from Stanford in 2008. He holds bachelor's degrees in physics and mathematics (with a minor in economics) from MIT. "I am where I am in part thanks to my undergraduate professors," he says. "I can't really pay them back—they're all rich and famous—so I have to pay it forward."
Snowberg is taking over from Geoff Blake, professor of cosmochemistry and planetary sciences and professor of chemistry, who has served as MOSH since 2009. "Erik's experience as Faculty in Residence in Avery House over the last few years will be an enormous asset as he takes on the responsibilities of MOSH," says Anneila Sargent, vice president for student affairs and Ira S. Bowen Professor of Astronomy. "He has a strong sense of the challenges as well as the opportunities that lie ahead, coupled with infectious enthusiasm."
Snowberg and his family are already living among the undergraduates, so the new position won't require a physical move. "We've been in Avery for four years, and it is awesome," he says. "Our son was born a year and a half ago and he has known no other home. It was something I wanted to do from the get-go, but my wife was skeptical. I thought my job would just be to tell students that if they were going to light something on fire, they should make sure to have an extinguisher handy. My wife was worried she would never sleep well again. We were both wrong."
Because the MOSH position is a half-time administrative appointment, it can impact a faculty member's research. This holds true for Snowberg in a somewhat surprising way. He explains: "Part of my research is understanding how economic traits and behaviors evolve over time. I'm particularly interested in the Caltech Cohort Study, which aims to follow at least two classes through their entire time at Caltech and figure out how their experience affects their economic traits and behaviors. I believe more frequent interaction with the students will help me to come up with interesting and novel hypotheses to test."