Slowly but surely, Lakeview Residence Hall is changing the blueprint of the University of Richmond. And slowly but surely, one committee hopes that it will also change the way students learn on campus.
The new dorm will be considered a Living and Learning community, drawing from similar programs, such as the Civic Engagement House, Outdoor House and Global House. Lakeview will host a variety of themes to be finalized before room selection next semester. Among the proposed projects are a debate heme, a chemistry theme, an accounting theme and a Western Europe theme.
"This is an experience that we hope will link the living experience to the classroom," said Steve Bisese, vice president for student development. "It's complimentary to whatever else you do."
Students participating in themed housing will live in Lakeview, which is being built in pods. Each pod has several suite-style bedrooms, connected by a common living area and will have a designated theme.
The program, called Connections: Living and Learning Communities at UR, will also help the university qualify for accreditation in the spring. Every 10 years the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools visits accredited universities to be sure that the university is delivering what they promise their students. In addition to examining the quality of courses, SACS asks that all schools applying for reaccreditation present a Quality Enhancement Program.
"It's about looking at your school, knowing everything is good but still asking,OEWhat can we do to get better?'" said Rick Mayes, an associate professor of political science, who is also a member of the committee that will implement the program.
SACS requires that each QEP have an academic component, so each theme will also have a professor who will teach a class to students in the program during the fall semester, as well as organize activities throughout the year relative to the theme.
According to Mayes, the professors will have opportunities to offer new courses to students participating in the theme or offer classes that already exists. "This is a big deal for professors," Mayes said. "If there are 10 professors who do this, it becomes an incentive for other professors to participate too. They can look at the program and say OElook at how much students are getting from this I want to do that too.'"
Mayes taught a Global Health and Human Rights class last semester after several students approached him about a book they had read. The class was held on Friday evenings from 6 to 9 p.m., and through the Richmond Quest program the entire class traveled to Peru during spring break to see the clinics they had been learning about all semester.
"It is still my favorite academic experience, and [I] still write and speak to all of those students," Mayes said. "People make groups because being with people is what makes you happy. If we know that this is what works, why not create it?"
Lindsay Victoria, a senior who lived in Global House during her sophomore year and is a member of the university's QEP advisory committee said the themed housing experience was an excellent addition to her life at Richmond. "It's a good way to get to know different types of people," Victoria said.
There is no course specifically attached to the international theme of Global House, but Victoria said that even with the events required by the group's adviser, the requirements did not get in the way of her academic or social life.
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"Especially coming out of freshman year, when students don't have a lot of housing options, themed housing is an excellent way to expand your horizons," Victoria said.
Bisese said that even with the added coursework of the Connections program in Lakeview, it will not keep students from other commitments.
"For some students this will be like an extracurricular activity because it is their passion," he said.
The QEP advisory committee will spend the rest of the semester reviewing proposals and finalizing the project, which is due to SACS at the end of December. Members of the association will then visit campus in February and expect updates during the first years of the project's implementation.
"We will be developing a way to measure what students are taking from the experience," Bisese said. "Are they more engaged, more satisfied with their experience?"
The QEP advisory committee is hoping to phase in 10 programs during the next two years. Mayes said he hopes once students see the program in action they will be more inclined to join and even develop their own programs with themes relative to their own passions.
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