Spring 1999- Vol. 3. No. 3

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Joseph Baldwin

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The Renaissance of Residential Colleges

An old concept brings classroom education and
life education together under one roof.

Students at Truman State University are seeing a new campus-housing option based on an old concept ‹ residential colleges. While the importance of student learning is inherent in all educational institutions, Truman is taking this mission one step further by offering campus housing that incorporates education into the residence halls. The residential-college program at Truman extends the studentsı learning experience beyond the typical classroom.

In recent years, there has been a revival of interest in residential colleges, one of the oldest concepts in Western higher education. Historically, scholars often gathered with students in social settings to share their knowledge. However, during the twentieth century, mass production became the trend in North America, including mass production of students. Huge auditoriums were built on campuses across the nation to accommodate rapidly growing populations of students, and high-rise dormitories became the norm. At first, this system appeared to work well. That is until colleges began realizing that an important part of the educational experience was beginning to disappear from their campuses ‹ meaningful interaction between the faculty and the students, outside of the classroom, was in danger of becoming obsolete.

As colleges began exploring for ways to avoid this growing dislocation between students and faculty, some rediscovered the almost forgotten concept of residential colleges. These schools recognized that by creating small units within their residence halls and adding educational elements, more opportunity for student-teacher interaction could be produced. They also saw that this type of program offered additional rewards. Most importantly, it would encourage the student to develop both intellectually and personally. At the same time, faculty could develop a deeper level of involvement with students, which in turn would stimulate new teaching methods. The faculty could also receive direct feedback from the students enhancing the facultyıs satisfaction in their role as educators.

One of the Assistant College Professors for the Ryle Residential College, Dr. Chris Gregory (right), has lunch with Hall Director Blake Naughton (center) and student Marcie Brugnara (left).

By tapping into the educational potential of a residence hall, a residential college brings students and faculty together on a more personal level. For example, Truman students that live in a residence hall designated as a residential college can participate in select courses usually offered on the premises of the residence hall. The classes are an opportunity for students to gather with their professors in a setting less formal than the traditional classroom. Unlike the discussion found in a typical classroom, usually limited to the topic at hand, the casual atmosphere in the residential college sets the stage for any topic, whether it be personal or academic, to be discussed. In addition, the students and faculty have a chance to share meals in the cafeterias, work together charting academic course schedules, and jointly plan and participate in co-curricular programs.

Learning outside the classroom
Truman was ahead of the times, implementing its first residential college program 11 years ago. In 1988, two of Trumanıs traditional residence halls, Missouri and Ryle, were restructured to create residential-college environments. Each hall was divided into two residential colleges creating a total of four residential colleges on the Truman campus. Today, these two halls are more than just living quarters ‹ they are also locales for student learning.

One notable change that resulted from the conversion from a mere residence hall to a residential college allows faculty to live in the residential colleges. Johanna Sandrock has an apartment in the Ryle South Residential College and has been a live-in Assistant College Professor for the Residential College for several years. In addition to teaching two sections of German, she advises anywhere from 120 to 140 freshmen students. Sandrock is also responsible for academic programming and invites interesting guests to speak in the Ryle South Residential College. She believes the most important aspect of the residential college concept is the relationship between faculty and students. ³Students learn that professors are not just figureheads at the front of a classroom, arbitrarily handing out grades,² Sandrock says. ³They see us for what we are ‹ well-rounded individuals who have a wealth of knowledge to impart, not just about our narrow field of study, but on all aspects of life.² The students learn from the experiences of their professors, while the faculty members get an up-close and personal look at studentsı lives, including their enthusiasms, as well as their stresses. Sandrock says, ³We usually find that we have a lot more in common with each other than we first expected.² During the week, the residents in Sandrockıs college have an open invitation to drop in for tea each afternoon in her apartment, located in the residence hall.

Assistant College Professor Johanna Sandrock (far left) often invites students to her apartment in the Ryle Residential College for tea in the afternoon. Students shown left to right: Kristen Merters, Bhavini Patel, and Brandi Benz.

This year, an added benefit for students living in a residential college at Truman includes the opportunity to attend select Liberal Sciences Program courses offered at the residential college. The classes usually meet on the premises of the residential college and open up more opportunities for informal conversation between students and faculty. One studentıs assessment of the sections offered in the residential college indicated that the convenience and small size of these non-traditional courses was especially attractive. Another student that had taken a Residential College Section said, ³I felt so connected with my professor, as well as the rest of the class. I was able to speak up freely because of the environment.²

Looking ahead: More is better
Based on the success of Trumanıs current residential college programs, an expanded version is now in the works. The new model calls for the establishment of five residential colleges on the Truman campus. Mary Macmanus Ramsbottom, chair of Trumanıs Residential Task Force says, ³By 2000-2001, all Truman freshmen and most of the upperclassmen in residence at the Truman State University will share in the benefits of the full Residential College Program.²

With the new model, beginning in the fall of this year, a College Rector, generally a tenured member of the Truman faculty, will assume certain academic, instructional, and administrative responsibilities in the residential college. The College Rectors will also recruit Faculty Fellows to teach selected liberal arts and science courses in the residential-college classroom, hold office hours in the residential college, and share an occasional meal with students. Ramsbottom says, ³By sharing their time, talents, and interests as educators with students in these ways, College Rectors and Faculty Fellows will contribute to the liberal arts mission of the University in a special way.² Plans are also being made to include academic support centers in each residential college. These centers will provide a team of professional advisors for all freshmen. In addition, they will provide basic academic planning and support services for all college residents on the premises. Head Residential College Advisors will also work in coordination with the faculty to mentor students. ³The residential colleges will foster faculty-student relationships and provide resources which put student learning and personal development at the center of residence-hall life,² says Ramsbottom.


Dr. Kelrick teaches biology in a classroom in the Ryle Residential College.

The Residential College Program brings the University learning community, its personnel and its resources inside the residential community. The program challenges students to personally engage in their liberal arts education, while developing a taste for learning ‹ a process that will continue throughout their lives.

 

 

 

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