While Residential Revival construction rumbles on, it is becoming evident that the project is more than bricks and mortar. The end results afford study lounges, conference rooms, multipurpose rooms, and resource rooms that facilitate out-of-classroom learning experiences. Each suite-style building becomes a focal point for broad-based learning themes, hosting residents and nonresidents as they participate in activities that involve faculty-to-student and student-to-student interaction.

While grouping students with similar academic interests in residence halls is not new at IUP, the new residential suite-style offerings are providing a refocus on such opportunities in the form of living-learning communities.

“Several decades of research provide strong supporting evidence that student academic success is tied to how involved or engaged students are with their learning environment. We know that learning does not stop when students leave the classroom and that residence halls provide an ideal, yet often underutilized, setting for learning,” said Jack Makara, assistant director for Assessment and Academic Initiatives, who cochairs the Living-Learning Planning Team with faculty member Jackie Beck of the College of Health and Human Services. “Most on-campus students spend more collective hours in their living environment than any other location on campus, including the classroom.”

Next academic year, twenty-two communities will occupy the Suites on Grant, Suites on Maple, and Northern Suites. Students are now choosing from a wide range of options that include Women in Math, Science, and Technology; Spanish; Wellness; Fine Arts; and Asian Studies.

“By offering communities like these, we purposefully and intentionally design an environment in which students can participate in learning activities and experiences specifically themed to their academic college, major, or area of interest. The idea is to provide an academically supportive residential community that promotes informal interaction and collaboration with faculty and staff and offers a connection to others who share a similar academic program or interest,” Makara said.

In addition to the experience of living together, the students in the community have access to a faculty liaison who serves as a resource for the residents and residence life staff members. The liaison might provide ideas and suggestions for learning resources and activities for the community, or volunteer to present information in the form of tutoring, mentoring, or making presentations.

Living-learning community residents also now have access to a fund for mini-grants. Rhonda Luckey, vice president for Student Affairs, has set aside $19,000 in State System performance enhancement funds to provide grants to communities that, through a process Makara and Beck oversee, might ask for funding for special speakers, field trips, appropriate concert tickets, and other activities that complement the community's interest. The grants also may be applied toward faculty research and scholarly activity directly benefiting the development and growth of living-learning at IUP or may be used as seed money to develop and establish a new and innovative living-learning initiative.

“We think of this as the 360-degree approach,” Makara said. “We know that students learn in a holistic fashion, often using multiple connections and frames of reference. The new suite-style housing provides the best possible environment for bringing the educational process full circle—from residential environment to classroom or lab, then back to the resident environment.”

Find more information about Living-Learning at IUP.