PfoHo House Masters – Nicholas & Erika Christakis

By Bonnie Cao

You remember that scene in My Big Fat Greek Wedding when John Corbett rolls up to the tiki torch-lit Portokalos house with his parents, and they’re all introduced by Toula’s father – mid-roasting a pig on a spit – to everyone and everyone’s second cousin, followed by a half-tackle, half-bear hug of pure, welcoming, exuberant Greek love? Stepping into the Christakis household is not far off – and not just because spanakopita was involved.

Those of us living in Pforzheimer Househave already seen our fabulous House Masters in action, from baklava in their backyard, to ownage of Currier in IM soccer. We know how lucky we are, and now it’s time to make you all embrace the jealousy you secretly feel inside.

Nicholas and Erika Christakis took on their roles as House Masters for Pforzheimer House this past fall, moving in with their three children, Sebastian, Lysander, and Eleni, who have all become a fixture of PfoHo life, frequenting both the dining hall and Grille alike. Rounding out the family are two adorable, rambunctious, furry puppies—Rudy and Elsa.

The residential housing system is nothing new to Erika, who spent her undergraduate years here at Harvard College studying Anthropology. She went on to earn a Masters in Communications at the University of Pennsylvania, and continued on to pursue a career in public health, first at Johns Hopkins University, followed by a period of work in international health. She then became the director of a progressive preschool, where her experiences showed her the “certain parallels between college students and preschool students.”

Christakis goes on to highlight the fact that both preschool and college mark developmental milestones for both students and parents alike as the students are essentially launched into the real world of playgrounds and dorm living. Glancing over at his wife as she elaborates on this analogy, Nicholas states plainly, “She’s one of the most broadly educated people I know.”

Before his inclusion in Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in 2010, Nicholas Christakis trained as a physician and a social scientist, working originally as a hospice doctor. As he researched how to improve the care of the dying, he soon became interested in what was known as the “Widower Effect,” which delineates the phenomenon that when one person dies, the risk of the spouse dying goes up in what he terms a “non-biological spread of disease.” He now does research on health and social networks – how they form, how they operate, and what they ultimately mean.

Nicholas reassures that there were and would not be any sort of Big Brother-esque social experiments conducted within PfoHo. However, his work has affected him in his new role as House Master in different ways. He says that he become “more mindful of the effect of our behaviors and feelings, and how they spread through networks…and impact each other.”

The Christakises’ decision to become House Masters stems from a simple idea: “It really fits our lifestyle.” Their passion for people and life is evidenced through the constant bustle of their household and the constant excitement with which they treat each and every PfoHo resident. Their key goal as House Masters is to “signal to the whole community that we’re interested in them, [wanting] every student to feel connected and interested at every level.”

So if you walk over to the PfoHo House Masters’ home down Linnaean Drive, you will not see tiki torches.  Nor will you see pigs on a spit. You will, however, see lightboxes. You will see two small balls of fur hurtling towards you. And you will see the pflove.

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