Horror stories of mismatched lifestyles living in tiny shared spaces are deeply rooted in the college experience. Every student who chooses to live on campus pauses to think about the uncomfortable situations they could possibly encounter. But this year, students across the country are entering their residence halls to find neighbors they would not anticipate in their wildest dreams: their professors.
"During the start of the year, people don't know who I am and wonder who the really old freshman is living down the hall," says Dr. Alexei Vranich, an adjunct professor of anthropology and archeology at UCLA who lives in a residence hall with 900 undergraduate students.
Placing college professors to live among undergraduates is part of an effort by universities across the country to make student housing more comfortable, inviting and supportive. No longer do students live in "dorms;" they live in "residence halls." Professors living in residence halls, or "Faculty-in-Residence" as they are officially called, reflect this movement toward homier, community-driven living environments.
Professors who live in student residence halls are expected to mentor and support undergraduate students living on campus, in addition to their teaching responsibilities. In exchange, professors receive a place to live and other learning amenities like Internet access and campus phone use. Schools across the country including UCLA, Duke, and Cornell have Faculty-in-Residence programs. UCLA has 16 professors from a variety of departments living in student residence halls in addition to the regular residence life staff.
While it might seem that an undergraduate residence hall would be the last place a studious adult would feel comfortable living, many Faculty-in-Residence feel right at home.
"I love my Faculty-in-Residence position," says Dr. Angela Hudson, an assistant professor in the School of Nursing at UCLA, who has lived in student housing for four years. She now lives in a faculty apartment with student housing located on the floors above, but spent her first years living on the same floor as undergraduates. "Residents were very respectful," says Hudson, "No blaring music after 10 p.m., no loud partying."
Professor Vranich has also noticed perks to living among students in residence halls. "It energizes me to be around such young, bright people, "says Vranich whose living space is the equivalent of three student rooms.
The on-campus perk Vranich appreciates the most, aside from access to the dining hall, is the ability to keep his door open and have students stop by informally. "I really enjoy ... the community aspect of the university," says Vranich who finds living among students to be so enjoyable that he lives with them all year round. He spends the school year as a Faculty-in-Residence at UCLA and then during the summer he leads field courses in Peru where he lives with students taking the course.
Professors-in-Residence find that they can play an important role in developing a sense of community in the residence hall. Vranich recalls one student who had been assigned community service hours as a punishment. Vranich decided to assign the student the task of cooking a meal for the hall. "It worked great," he said. "It helped to form a social group down the hall."
Hudson's "Pet a Pet" program covers students who miss their furry friends at home. Students are able to pet and play with staff pets, who this year include an orange tabby named Gryffindor, a brown Chihuahua named Draco and Hudson's own cat named Chai. "It's really a well-loved program," says Hudson," because many of our students miss their own pets so much."
When you are paying the school thousands of dollars to learn from these experts, it is a great extra perk to have access to professors on a personal level outside of the lecture hall. Campuses that offer students this opportunity encourage students to get to know the people who help develop their undergraduate education.
"Its not like office hours," says Vranich, "I am able to take a great deal more time to listen and connect with students."
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