Academically-focused living-learning programs provide students with a unique opportunity to live among peers with similar scholastic interests and goals. These programs encourage increased frequency and meaningfulness of student-to-student interactions (Wawrzynski, M. & Jessup-Anger, J., 2010), higher student satisfaction with the college experience, and can have a positive impact on retention of first-year students. In 2004, the School of Engineering and Computer Science at Baylor University opened its first living-learning program in response to conversation among students who expressed a desire to live with others embarking on a similar academic journey. Since then, the program has evolved into Teal Residential College and now serves 350 students through the residential college model.
One core tenant of the residential college model is to engage students at each level of their academic experience, freshman through senior year. At Teal, mixing classifications of students within the residential experience allows younger students to form mentoring relationships with upper-division students in both structured and organic ways. These connections can form through formal roommate arrangements, as some first year students live with upperclassmen, or through more informal contact - living on the same floor, meeting at a hall program, or sharing a common space. These mentorships, whether formal or informal, are critical for first-year students as they transition so that they are able to see a model of academic expectation which can set them up success for the future.
A unique element of the residential college model is an opportunity for students to engage with a faculty member, known as the Faculty Steward, who lives and works among students in the residence hall. The Faculty Steward at Teal crafted a vision to guide community, and this vision is used as the basis for a six-week programming model that begins the first week of class. With at least one program taking place each week, the programs introduce students to one or multiple of the following tenants: relationship with God, relationship with others, relationship with self (or self-understanding), and relationship with creation. Examples of previous programs include, but are not limited to, community garden kick-off, discipline-specific study skills session, community dinner, worship and chapel, and various social programs. Through these programs, students begin to form relationships with each other and with the Faculty Steward.
In addition to peer mentorship, interaction with faculty, and a shared vision, Teal offers opportunities for first-year students to be leaders in the community. Students can apply to participate in Teal College Council, the student governing body of the living-learning program, as a Freshman Representative. This opportunity is granted to a number of first-year students each year, depending on interest, and provides these students with immediate leadership opportunities and informal mentoring from the upper-division College Council members. College Council members plan and facilitate a calendar of holistic programming as well as address concerns brought forth by residents. Engaging first-year students in these meaningful ways provides enhanced opportunities for connection within the academic experience.
Wawrzynski, M. R., & Jessup-Anger, J. E. (2010). From expectations to experiences: Using a structural typology to understand first-year student outcomes in academically-based living-learning environments. Journal of College Student Development, 51, 2. 201-217.
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