With four new halls opening this fall and a 15-year master plan to renovate or rebuild the existing halls, residential life at MU is undergoing rapid change. However, the blending of student affairs and academics — which has made MU’s program a model for other institutions — will continue to remain the focus of the department.
“Residence Halls exist to help students succeed academically and personally ... we’re very much a part of the educational experience for students,” said Frankie Minor, director of Residential Life at MU.
Minor said that during the past 10 years, the mission of Residential Life has expanded from working to provide safe and secure housing to helping students learn and develop. Freshman Interest Groups, or FIGs, and Sponsored Learning Communities help meet this new focus.
FIGs are made up of about 20 students who share the same major, live on the same floor and take three classes and a one-hour seminar together as freshmen during their first semester. The groups are led by student staff members called peer advisers.
MU’s Web site states that higher retention rates, higher grade point averages and increased satisfaction with college are benefits of FIG participation. Andrew Beckett, FIGS program director, said it helps students make the most of the MU experience.
Beckett said the program accomplishes this by bringing together students with similar interests and giving them motivation to attend and participate in class.
Beckett said the FIGs program is innovative and requires large-scale cooperation among academic units and faculty on campus to succeed. Access to resources on campus and connections to staff members are other benefits to the program, he said.
MU’s program began after when faculty observed a similar program at the University of Washington. MU’s program was implemented in 1995, but unlike the one at Washington, was residentially-based.
Starting with 21 FIGs and 225 students, it has since expanded to 89 groups with about 1,400 students. The list of FIGs for 2004-2005 includes Exploring Business, Tomorrow’s Teachers and Women in Journalism.
FIGs fit in under a broader Residential Life program called Sponsored Learning Communities. Each of the 24 communities focuses on an academic major or interest area.
The difference between FIGs and learning communities is that the communities consist of an entire floor or hall and students do not take classes together. There are often several FIGs within a single community.
Becki Suthers, a 2004-05 student coordinator for the FIGs program, said FIGs and learning communities work hand-in-hand because they bring a large group of people with similar interests together. She said the communities give opportunities for upperclassmen living in the residence halls to become leaders and role models to freshmen.
Kari Taylor, a recent MU graduate and still a student coordinator for the FIGs program, said she learned teamwork skills from working with academic units and advisers in coordination with Residential Life. As a result, Taylor has decided to go on to graduate school at Miami University in Ohio for its College Student Personnel Program, with the goal of working in Student Affairs.
Minor wants students to know that living on campus requires communication and cooperation to understand and appreciate the diverse student body.
“Coming away to college is all about change.” he said. “Part of that is embracing that change and being ready for it.”