Residential College Spotlight

What is it?

                A collegiate residential environment in which live in faculty play an integral role in the programming and leadership of the community – Residential College Society

At VT

The mission for residential colleges at VT is to give students a place to belong, learn and give. This is embodied in the philosophy of VT residential colleges “know and be known.” While VT has 3 active residential programs and one more in development, they aren’t well advertised especially for students that enter the community in a non-traditional manner (transfer undergraduate students, non-traditional undergraduate students, or graduate students). I only recently discovered this on campus from an article in the Fall 2019 Virginia Tech Magazine which highlighted the Honors Residential College.

Residential colleges are an old model for university educations, where students live with or near their professors in order to learn from them and to aid professors. Residential colleges provide places for students to live and learn together but are different from “living learning programs” because in residential programs faculty leaders live with students and are responsible for cultivating the community through programs and or scholarly activities.

At VT residential colleges serve multigenerational communities, students at different years in their enrollment at VT. Incoming members of a residential college will sign a 2-year housing contract to give students a sense of roots in the university and helps to develop community. Oftentimes students that have stayed in the community longer serve as mentors to the new students. In addition to older students and the faculty principal, a student life coordinator is attached to the community to help with the community development and management as the university student affairs liaison. In residential colleges with strong scholarly components other faculty at the university can join the community as associated faculty members. These members can deliver guest lectures or host special activities for the community. Other residential programs offer certificates or minors for students to pursue to give students something tangible to show on their resumes or transcripts from their membership in the community.

VT has 3 established residential colleges:

  1. Honors Residential Commons – East Ambler Johnston Hall: serves students in the honors college
  2. The Residential College at West Ambler Johnston Hall: invites students of all academic programs to be together, not the same.
  3. Leadership and Social Change Residential College – O’Shaughnessy Hall: a 2-year academic program leadership studies and development program with 2 required courses; collaborating with the CALS department of agricultural, leadership, and community education

& 1 in development:

  1. The Creativity and Innovation district to be built on the Eastern edge of campus to be affiliated the Studio 72 and Innovate programs on VT’s campus.

What does it mean to be a faculty principal?

Faculty principals are responsible for coordinating educational and social programs to facilitate the development of the individual community. This role requires a principal to have a vision for the community, to build relationships with the members of the community as individuals and as part of the group. Furthermore, faculty principals will have a unique role in students lives as a mentor and advisor. So, what does this entail exactly? Since VT is developing a 4th residential college, they have a job posting for a new faculty principal that consolidates the information for prospective faculty.

  • Responsibilities: Live in the apartment with your family (pets allowed) for 12 months, encourage create of community, stimulate other faculty involvement, lead and work with the community leadership team, Host regular activities, lectures, informal gatherings with residents, participate in recruitment and admissions of new students
  • Benefits: 9 month appointment for 3 years (renewable once), $9,000 administrative stipend ($3,000 with negotiated 3 months of summer work), furnished apartment and partial meal allowance- expectation that meals allowance with be used to facilitate responsibilities, Ability to negotiate a one-course reduction in teaching load, annual programming budget provided
  • Qualifications: Tenured or Tenure-Track faculty member at VT

This still leaves me with the question of how would involvement as a faculty principal impact research productivity? I hate to say this, but it doesn’t seem very feasible for a STEM experimental scientist (mentoring graduate students) to serve as a faculty principal as they would be tied up significantly with community activities.  I also wonder if the faculty principal role could be expanded to include academic tract faculty. I don’t see why an academic faculty member should be excluded from this potential role.

My experiences

During my undergraduate program I was involved with residence education by working as a residential assistant at Michigan State University and during my freshman year I lived in a living learning community. Being a part of a living learning community was a wonderful experience for me I was able to live with people who had common interests, we also registered for most of the same sections in general education classes so we were able to spend a lot of time with each other. The program also had a seminar course every week that all participants were in and the RAs and professors created weekly events to further foster a sense of community. For me this program was essential for my success at college and while ultimately my interests diverged with the program causing me to leave the community but I am forever grateful for the program and am looking for a way to give back to such a program in the future.

My experience with residential life changed once I became a RA because I was involved in the not so fun part. For me I excelled at maintaining security and structure in the building, I struggled with the planning events and activities. I realized that the reason I flourished in the living learning community was because of the common interest or the learning component of the program. I wasn’t able to replicate that in my own RA experience because I couldn’t find a way to connect all my residents. Considering my past interest and understanding my personal life currently, I wouldn’t feel comfortable serving as a Faculty principal in a residential college. I would love to be involved in a residential program or living learning community as an associate faculty (as its known at VT) because I am so grateful for my own experience.

References

Residential College Society. (n.d.). Definition. Retrieved from https://residentialcollegesociety.org/definition/

Residential Colleges at Virginia Tech. Retrieved from https://llc.vt.edu/residential_colleges.html

Barlow, M. (2019). Living, Learning, and Loving It. Virginia Tech Magazine Fall 2019. Vol 42, No 1. p:42-46

Integrating active learning with multiple perspectives helps students to succeed

I have had a variety of great higher education learning experiences that have guided me on my path to pursuing my PhD in Animal science at VT now. I had the opportunity to attend on full scholarship the 2 summer semester program of the Midwest poultry consortium where I earned a certificate in poultry science and decided to go to graduate school. These classes were great, not only because they were tailored to exactly what we all wanted to learn about- poultry science- but also because they also used integrated learning experiences with multiple expert professionals working together. In my first summer semester we had afternoon labs in avian physiology: where we worked with quail, took EKGs of chickens, and fed food coloring to laying hens to see how it impacted the yolk color of their eggs; and poultry processing and food science: where we learned about the slaughter process by following the entire process with our own bird, we then learned how products were created and ate a lot of great turkey. The next summer our afternoons were filled with simulated research in nutrition, and doing diagnostic necropsies with real submissions under the supervision of the diagnostic lab staff. All of these activities served to reinforce the morning lecture contents and to provide a new environment that is reflective of the real world in poultry science. I hope to bring this style of teaching to my own classroom and to hopefully impact a student the same way I was impacted. I know it is extremely challenging to successfully integrate such lab and lectures so I am trying to adopt a course coordinator approach to teaching the introductory courses to expose students to many experts and opportunities at the university. Ideally this approach would set students up for identifying areas of interest and forming connections to get involved in research or other opportunities related to those interests. As an instructor I would never be able to accomplish this for students alone.

Diverse experiences with culturally responsive teaching

After thoughtful group discussion of our personal experiences with culturally responsive teaching, we’ve come to the agreement that there is no one way to be culturally responsive. These inclusive practices occur across multiple domains (e.g., within the course content, through instruction, in relationships with students). They also look different across different disciplines. Here are a few of our experiences from our disciplines of psychology, architecture, animal science, and engineering. 

Alexis: Topics of culture and diversity are often naturally interwoven in psychology course content. At the same time, much of the existing literature in psychological science is based on very white, middle-class, westernized groups of people. Thus, it can require some extra effort in order to include ethnic and cultural diversity in my classes. I have increasingly tried to be conscious of whose work I am highlighting during class, and to share the work of psychologists from underrepresented backgrounds. However, it can also be difficult to do this in a way that isn’t tokenism. I often wonder how to appropriately approach these issues in the classroom and how to achieve culturally responsive teaching strategies in a thoughtful and meaningful way.

Mahnaz: When it comes to some fields of study such as architecture, differences can become influential and reduce performance. For instance, the different unit system that is used in the United States is completely different from what is used in many other countries. Although it is possible to complete a project with the metric system and change it to English Units at the end, it is not always accepted. Converting the units, which can be a simple issue, can become a huge hindrance even to understanding the scale of your project and know what you are designing. Overall, it can negatively influence a student’s performance.

Mohammed: Saudi Arabia has less diversity in its education system than the United States. However, in Saudi Arabian higher education, most students prefer to work as a group in class discussions and projects to get multiple different experiences and take different viewpoints. Moreover, hands-on experience in engineering colleges in Saudi Arabia has increased in the last ten years. This yields to develop culture education in a class. The integration between hands-on experience and group discussion in a class can be considered as a good teaching strategy in higher education.   

Sara: Integrating individual life experiences is essential to the learning process. When teachers embrace this fact they are likely to be more successful. I try to embrace this in my own classroom, where I attempt to teach 150 new students the basics of Animal Science. The biggest challenge I face is that within my population of students exists individuals that grew up around livestock and then I have others that have only ever had a pet cat. This wide range requires me to make sure that all students get the opportunity to ask questions when they are lost in the material and to keep the advanced students engaged while helping out the other students. Trying to treat all of my students like blank slates in this class would alienate half of my students from the material that I am so passionate about; alternatively, taking the approach that all students are ready to dive into a discussion about species management strategies will alienate the other half. There is no right way to teach this class, my only goal for the class is to have every student ready for the next level of Animal Science classes within the department. 

The “cultural” component of culturally responsive teaching is more than just considering the ethnic or racial background of students within our class. Our experiences highlight this fact and we all feel better having had this conversation.

Expanding student access to CHEP at VT

This week I attended the 12th annual Conference on Higher Education Pedagogy (CHEP) put on by the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at VT. I am very appreciative to have had the opportunity to attend the conference- as my registration was arranged and paid by the graduate teaching scholars program that I am involved in. This conference gave me the opportunity to meet and interact with faculty members of other institutions that shared a common interest- higher education teaching. It was also notable to me that most of the attendees were faculty with primarily teaching roles and many from non-research institutions. I have only ever attended land grant research institutions, so this was a valuable opportunity for me. Additionally, this was the conference I have attended that was outside my discipline.

I am privileged to get the opportunity to attend this conference because 1) I was made aware of this conference and 2) my $50 registration fee was covered. I noticed that the only other students I met (who weren’t presenting at the conference) were those in my program. I worry that this conference is missing out on having students attend and giving them opportunities to attend. I think developing a student-oriented activity or session would enhance the conference. They could invite graduate students involved in higher education programs at VT (such as the GTS program I’m involved in, those enrolled in the future professoriate certificate programs, the Engineering Ed department, and programs in the school of education) and other Virginia universities. To enable more students to attend I would ask that the conference lowers the registration price for students- by targeting more students and creating programing for them specifically I think you would be able to offset the cost of lowering registration. If the conference is still concerned, they could make one of the student activities at a separate lunch time activity and offer a simpler lunch (like pizza or sandwiches)- I’m guessing here that the nice buffet lunch was one of the largest expense to justify the registration cost. I would love to see the conference add a networking & careers program for students because there is so much that a graduate student misses in learning about careers in higher education while siloed at their own institution. Also providing graduate students a place to interact with peers that share a common interest in higher education is an invaluable experience.

Altogether I appreciate the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at VT for putting on the annual Conference on Higher Education Pedagogy and am hoping to continue attending in the future- even though I have ideas for expansion.

-SE

Semester in Retrospect

Three big takeaways from the semester:

      1. Comfort in conversations surrounding diversity and inclusion

      2. Expansion of ideas around identity

      3. Acceptance of my privileged status

Comfort in conversations surrounding diversity and inclusion

After spending the semester reading about and discussing a variety of issues surrounding diversity and inclusion with a roomful of mostly strangers I can confidently say that my comfort in engaging with such conversations has grown tremendously. At the same time as this class I have started in the Graduate Teaching Scholars program through CALS at VT and have spent the semester alongside this class talking about the challenges of university teaching today. Many times I would connect points from our diversity class discussion to my teaching seminar, and start similar discussions with those classmates. Getting practice doing this all semester has planted a desire to work such discussions into my coursework in the future.

Expansion of ideas around identity

Prior to this class I had not really thought about what makes up an identity. When asked to consider my identity I would list my race, gender, sexuality, maybe age. Dr. Grimes really pushed us to consider other aspects that make up your identity in ways akin to a background story. This really hit me when I started listening to Michigan radio’s new podcast Same Same Different, because at the beginning of the show the host invites all of the guests to take 10 seconds to list all of their different identities. The first couple are usually race and gender but they guests broaden to add things like: son, aunt, artist, dreamer, etc. I have come to realize that identity is more than what is skin deep, it is your history and because your identity is individual to you. This view was reinforced when we talked about intersectionality and stereotypes in class, because we discussed how individuals fit into multiple boxes and as a result have different experiences. I also feel that as result of this that one can always find commonalities with someone as long as they try (more of my thoughts). I appreciate the expansion to my idea of identity because now I can see ways to connect with those trying to divide us.

Acceptance of my privileged status

In addition to expanding my idea of identity, this semester I have leaned into the fact that I come from a very privileged background. In most aspects of my life I have dominant group identities: I am white, grew up in the upper middle class as a practicing Christian, I am well educated and so are my parents, I have no student loan debt, I own my own car, and I have traveled to different countries in the world. Before this class it was uncomfortable for me to accept that I have had a very privileged life. I used to justify my status by saying “I worked really hard for all of this” or “I earned this” which is true but I was also born into a life where I am encourage and supported to succeed. I felt it was degrading to accept the privilege that my identities afforded me but I have come to realize that it is actually enabling. It humbles me and reminds me to stop and reflect on what I am doing and how can I better use my identities to advocate for things that I believe in. As uncomfortable for me as it still is to accept that I am privileged, I appreciate this class for challenging me to embrace that side of my life and I hope to continue learning how to utilize this new identity as privileged.

Good-Bye

This has been a busy semester for me, I have been a bit overextended with my research, teaching, and extracurricular activities. But as busy as it has been I have appreciated coming to the graduate school every Tuesday evening to spend immersed in discussions around identity and inclusion in the setting of higher education. I am not sad to see the semester end ( I really need a break) but I am sad to lose this set time to come and talk about these issues with all of you. I hope to see all of you around campus or run into you somewhere else in the future. Have one last chicken for the road.