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TCU Magazine

Students share hobbies, homework and housing in Living-Learning Communities. Meet six of them here.

By Kathryn Hopper

Students housed on the first floor of Amon G. Carter Residence Hall are the sort who might want to join weekly workouts or check the bulletin board for recipes for homemade salsa and watercress tartines. But these students didn't come together by chance -- they each applied to live in the Heath and Wellness Living-Learning Community, one of several new themed halls designed to nurture common passions and create close bonds.

The floor's Resident Advisor Lilly Frawley develops wellness-related activities like Breast Cancer Bingo to raise funds for breast cancer research or sponsoring a lecture dubbed "Spices of Life" on how spices can improve overall health.

"Ginger's really good for your digestive tract and cinnamon helps regulate blood glucose," said Frawley, a junior nutrition major.

The second floor of Carter Hall is home to the Language and International House, where students trade everyday greetings in Spanish or German and on the third floor, there's Green House, where R.A Chris Alonzo launched a contest to encourage recycling and nurtured a rose bush in the common living area that he jokingly calls the community garden.

"The students here aren't so much about trying change the world, but we want to do what we can to be more aware of the environment and practice sustainability," he said.

Frawley and Alonzo are two of the roughly 600 TCU students living in themed residential communities this year, which includes six Freshmen Interest Groups launched this year. While they are new to TCU, the concept of students living and learning together dates back to the 17th century when England's Oxford and Cambridge universities developed distinct communities designed to build character rather than simply produce scholars.

In what's known as the "Oxbridge" model, faculty typically lived with students, creating a 24-hour learning environment.

"The idea is that faculty and students have an intellectual bond that reaches beyond the classroom," said Don Mills, vice chancellor for student affairs. "Of course faculty also liked getting free housing, which was a perk at the time."

But the model faded in the last century as universities and residence halls grew in size and anti-establishment fervor from the 1960s forced faculty and staff from dorms in favor of student independence. That trend began reversing recently as large schools began to see smaller, themed residential communities as a way to help students find their place in a massive campus.

Craig Allen, director of residential services, lobbied to bring living-communities to TCU after taking the job a few years ago. Allen and his staff wanted to launch the LLCs when Carter and Samuelson Halls opened on the Campus Commons in August 2007.

"We had an opportunity from the beginning to create a history and tradition for those buildings," he said.

And while the concept was new at TCU, it didn't take long to takeoff. Allen said his office is already looking at expanding the offerings, possibly adding communities for business and fine arts majors.
Studies have shown living-learning communities can be a strong addition to academic life, easing the transition for incoming freshmen and transfer students by enhancing involvement and interaction. Students in themed housing also tend to have better grades, particularly when the communities have strong faculty and staff support.

Susan Harris, special projects coordinator and director of the AP Summer Institute with TCU's Office of Extended Education, works with the Women in Science and Health Freshman Interest Group and has organized informal gatherings, including a recent outing for burger's at Dutch's. "We know what's like to have to juggle classes and work, we've been there," she said.

Harris, who formerly worked with students to hone academic skills, said she particularly wanted to work with freshmen because she knows it's a difficult transition.

"It's a tough time," she said. "If they know there's this group of adults, faculty and staff who really care about them, it can make a difference. We can be there to listen."

Mills said TCU's living-learning communities offer a new way for students to find their place not only at TCU, but also in the world at large.

"In a sense these communities are coming around again because students are asking serious questions about their relevance like, 'How do I make a contribution in life'," he said. "This gives us a way for faculty and staff to help them answer those serious questions in these serious times."

Living-Learning Communities

TCU’s 13 Living-Learning Communities, or LLCs, include Freshman Interest Groups or FIGs and Themed Housing for upperclassmen. The six Freshman Interest Groups are located in Milton Daniel, Clark and Foster residence halls and focus on Business, Education, Frog Camp, Honors House, Service and Learning, and Women in Science and Health (WISH). Themed Houses are located in Samuelson and Carter residence halls and serve sophomore, junior and senior students. There are seven groups: Faith and Spirituality, Green House, Health and Wellness, Honors House, Language and International House, Leadership and Strengths, and Social Justice. Students have to apply to participate in TCU’s Living Learning Communities.

Comment at tcumagazine@tcu.edu.