Report: Residential facilities should connect and engage students
A presidential task force on residential life is calling for a U-M community of the future that co-locates living space, classrooms and public gathering spaces across campus to create neighborhoods built on the premise that learning and discovery occur everywhere.
In the report of the Presidential Task Force on Residential Life and Learning: Building on Michigan Tradition (RLL), members developed a vision of residential life that "fully and imaginatively" connects academic and residential life, encourages personal and intellectual development, and promotes engagement in the broader community. The report builds on the vision of the University as a "good city," developed in 2001 by the President's Commission on the Undergraduate Experience.
"We can envision residential neighborhoods in our 'city' that will facilitate the development of citizens who are intellectually engaged and cultured; who care about one another; who are good neighbors; who can successfully resolve conflicts; who take ownership in their community; and who want to live and learn together," states the RLL report drafted by a 21-member group drawn from students, faculty and staff.
Some of the RLL's recommendations for all halls include:
• Spaces within residence halls that develop the whole person, such as music practice rooms, informal performance spaces, small group collaboration rooms, gallery/presentation areas, and recreation or exercise workout rooms;
• Spaces for residence governance and hall organizations;
• Flexible, multipurpose, un-programmed spaces for spontaneous use;
• As renovation permits, the creation of public spaces that are accessible to the University communityi.e., outside the controlled access of the residence halls in which they are placed;
• The latest in technology and communications in all residence halls and dining facilities, including wireless Internet access in common areas and dining spaces and at least one state-of-the-art smart classrooma high-tech facility that offers computer-based projection and video conferencing;
• A convenience store or kiosk for snacks and grab-and-go food for each hall as the University moves to a centralized dining concept.
"The University of Michigan is poised to create something truly new, to create a Michigan Difference in residential living," says task force co-chair Robert E. Megginson, LSA associate dean, undergraduate and graduate education, and professor of mathematics. "We have the opportunity to create residential spaces that will help transform student life and enrich Michigan's ability to attract the most intellectually engaged students."
In addition to suggesting changes to all halls, the RLL report includes specific recommendations for upcoming projects, including the North Quad Residence and Academic Complex (North Quad) and the Hill renovation.
North Quad Residence and Academic Complex
The North Quad project, approved by the Board of Regents in January, calls for approximately 500 suite-style living spaces, dining facilities, and about 190,000 gross square feet of academic and support space. Academic units housed in the complex are expected to include the School of Information and the LSA units of Communication Studies and Film and Video.
A preliminary proposal for the academic area of North Quad calls for classrooms, labs, technology-enriched collaborative spaces, rehearsal rooms and performance venues (including a TV studio), and film editing labs and viewing rooms. It also will include the Language Resource Center (LRC), a program to support the instruction of foreign language, culture and literature, and the Sweetland Writing Center (SWC), a program that enhances the instruction of writing.
The RLL report offers a number of program concepts for the new facility, including an annual theme selected by a faculty-staff-student governance committee. One program concept the committee proposes is "Communication in a Global World," which would incorporate local and global communication concepts.
Locally, North Quad could fulfill its mission as a gateway to the community by expanding existing service projects to improve communication and understanding between town and gown, the report states. Globally, programming could include developing first-year seminars and other courses that focus on international/cross-cultural communication.
Another proposed concept for the hall would be an incubator space for one or more academic programs that would serve the entire community. The selection of the program would be highly competitive and periodically reviewed to ensure relevance. After five years, incubator programs could be relocated to an appropriate college or eliminated if another program could make better use of the space or be more effective in enriching the student experience. The connection between the incubator space and residence hall would allow after-hours access while maintaining resident privacy and security, and would contain high-tech reconfigurable classrooms, according to the report.
Also recommended by the task force is a concept that would dedicate part of North Quad to the development of what is being called the sophomore experience. The sophomore year can be one of transition for many students, during which they may experience for the first time the more subjective grading of higher-level courses, and have less social support. The Commission on the Undergraduate Experience recommended a sophomore year initiative with program components that could include leadership development, career exploration and increased advising.
"A key element of the residential experience and an outcome of our renovations and new construction will be the enhancement of the campus community and the overall undergraduate experience," says Carole S. Henry, assistant vice president for student affairs and director of University Housing. "The design of our facilities will impact the quality of life for students, facilitate positive interactions with other students, faculty and staff, and connect and engage them in the life of the institution."
Other programming initiatives for North Quad suggested in the report include:
• VIP suite and exhibition space for visiting scholars, artists and practitioners who could be in residence, spend time in classes, dine with students and exhibit their work;
• A "Last Lecture Series" in which faculty members share their research with students outside the classroom setting;
• Stipends for faculty associates who sponsor Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program projects;
• A Hopwood-like competition for student projects in conjunction with the theme of the year.
The task force suggests the physical design of the facility should include a video wall and video conferencing capability for distance learning and connecting globally; reconfigurable classrooms for multiple uses; a multicultural lounge; a community learning center; and rooms for music practice, performance, informal gathering, fitness and recreation.
In the near future the University will announce whether Mosher-Jordan or Stockwell will be the first residence hall to be renovated. It is expected that the chosen hall will incorporate a new centralized dining facility for the entire Hill area.
The report states the vacated dining space in the other Hill area residence halls should be used for existing University Housing and living-learning programs, Residence Halls Association and housing-related student organizations, music practice rooms, community development spaces, small group collaboration spaces, small classrooms for up to 25 students, and an adjacent Undergraduate LRC that could offer programming and services to include:
• Smaller but integrated versions of the Science Learning Center, SWC, Math Lab and LRC, as well as other support services for students;
• Computer facilities with wireless or Ethernet connections to accommodate tutoring, group study sessions or other collaborative learning that is becoming increasingly reliant on connectivity;
• 'Roomlets' with white boards, tables and conference-style seating for peer and tutor-led group study;
• Space for academic advising units from all colleges;
• Offices for advisors and faculty to share while participating in various residence hall activities, such as the Michigan Learning Communities;
• Residence hall and student government space to include a large chamber suitable for meetings and events, and office space for leaders.
The RLL task force is one of four that President Mary Sue Coleman convened in the fall to further four presidential initiatives. The RLL charge was to address the renovation, reconnection and expansion of residential life on campus.
In addition to using the 2001 President's Commission on the Undergraduate Experience and the resulting "Major Guiding Principles for Residence Halls" to create a set of principles for enhancing connections between residential and academic life, the group drew upon information provided in the Residential Life Initiatives and the National Study of Living-Learning Programs.
The RLL report acknowledges that accomplishing the deep renewal and revitalization of residence life facilities on campus will require considerable resources. In addition to possible realignment of current resources, the report suggests looking for support from alumni, corporate sponsors and external grants.
To guide the detailed planning of the project, the task force recommended forming a new group comprised of representatives of the program areas to be represented in North Quad. The RLL also suggested working with the President's Task Force on Ethics in the Public Life to determine if there are joint efforts that would lend themselves to the residence life experience.