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New residence hall designed to focus on living learning communities

BY NICHOLAS MILLER | JUNE 14, 2012 6:30 AM

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The more people with common interests who live together, the better chance they'll stick around.

At least that's the theory behind the focus of creating a new residence hall in which living-learning communities are the norm — not the exception.

The new dorm, on which construction is scheduled to begin this fall on the west side of the river, will be ready for students in the spring of 2015. With a budget of more than $53 million, the space will provide housing for 501 freshmen and returning students on 10 floors.

But what are some UI officials most excited about? The hall will feature community and study spaces, and food service on an open-floor plan, all in an effort to promote community.

"We know that the sooner freshmen make connections with other students and becomes friends with other students, the easier it is for them to adapt to life away from home, life away from family," said University of Iowa President Sally Mason in a Daily Iowan interview on Wednesday.

Such communities, she said, make it easier for the UI to ensure positive retention rates after freshman year.

While the university has embraced active living-learning communities on campus for almost 20 years, the communities did not become a school initiative until the renewal of the Iowa Promise in 2010 — an initiative that outlines the university's mission and goals for the next four years.

Andrew Beckett — an assistant dean in the Provost's Office who works on retention issues — says that the beauty of living-learning communities is they address both social and academic issues for new students.

"When referring to retention, the first year is crucial if determining whether a student will stay," he said.

The UI has attempted to promote freshman communication through one-credit-hour seminars but has found them to be minimally effective, Beckett said.

Instead, the university is expanding a system in which freshman students select an academic focus, and from that focus, they are automatically put into three classes with the same group of people.

"When students see the same people in their residence halls and classes, they will open up more," he said. "[Living-learning communities] create conditions that promote success."

UI junior Mike Greeby felt encouraged to get to know a more diverse group of people during his involvement in the Career Leadership Academy Living-Learning Community his freshman year, which was located in Stanley Hall.

"I found some of my best friends," he said. "It creates a bigger network. People not in [living-learning communities] do not have the same access," he said.

Living-learning community ideas are submitted by faculty members for groups they feel would benefit from a community. Incoming students are then able to select a particular group on their residence hall applications.

Von Stange, the director of UI Housing and Dining, said officials have not decided if the new residence hall will be made up only of living-learning communities and if existing communities will be moved there.

However, the structure was designed to accommodate fully functioning living-learning communities with 80 to 90 members, as well as smaller groups of 26, he said.

"You can be as involved as you want to be," said Greeby, a strong believer in the communities. "You get as much out of it as you put into it."


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