Virginia Tech's second residential college is right on schedule for its first residents to move in for fall 2012. The Residential College at West Ambler Johnston will accommodate students from all majors and classifications, including graduate students, meaning any Virginia Tech student is eligible to apply.
The university’s first residential college, the Honors Residential College at East Ambler Johnston, opened in fall 2011 for University Honors students. According to Associate Vice President for Student Affairs Frank Shushok Jr., the Honors Residential College has been enormously successful and is receiving rave reviews from the students living there. He says he fully anticipates that the success of the residential college model at Virginia Tech will continue with the opening of this second residential college.
“Opening this experience to all Virginia Tech students is an important next step of the project,” he said. “The residential college model of housing is an attractive option for students seeking a unique experience that integrates student and academic life in the context of a rich living community.”
This new community will be housed in a completely renovated West Ambler Johnston Hall, where residents will have access to upgraded facilities, including air-conditioned rooms as well as common spaces including lounges, classrooms, meeting spaces, a theater, a library, and a fitness area. However, students will benefit from far more than the amenities and upgraded living space.
The sense of community fostered between students and faculty from different fields of study is a large part of the attraction of a residential college, said Honors Residential College Co-President Grace Mulholland of Freehold, N.J., a junior double majoring in biological sciences and psychology in the College of Science.
“The students who will get the most out of it are those that are really committed to building a community and who want something more from their residential experience and don’t just want the frills that come with it,” she said.
The idea behind these residential college is that students can reap the advantages of smaller student-centered colleges while in a large research-oriented environment. One unique feature of the residential college model is that many students choose to live on campus for as many as four years, which heightens the sense of connection and community and offers opportunities for relationships and mentoring between students who are in different phases of their college careers.
The environment is designed to be conducive to student curiosity, creating a space where students learn from one another as well as through myriad programs, events, and activities.
Faculty presence in the residential colleges allows for closer and more frequent interactions between students and faculty from different disciplines, allowing students to create a connection between their social and educational experience. This increased faculty interaction is achieved through the efforts of the live-in faculty principal and numerous fellows hailing from departments across the university.
To foster a small-college environment and closer-knit communities within the large residence hall, each of the nearly 800 residents will be assigned to one of four different sub-communities, or houses, within the residential college. This will also create more student leadership opportunities for residents, as each house will have its own student-led governing council.
As a current member of the governing council of the Honors Residential College, Co-President Patrick Goley of Gaithersburg, Md., a junior majoring in electrical engineering in the College of Engineering, said he sees students and professors from across different years and disciplines working together on everything from homework to planning community socials to self-governance. The experience has not only provided him with a leadership opportunity, but also a new perspective on learning.
“We talked a lot about trying to create a nice cross section from across the university, to have as wide an array of different perspectives as possible living under the same roof,” Goley said. “It has the potential to be this huge social learning experience, but you have to help create that learning experience for yourself. You have to be willing to open your door and step outside it.”
Applications for the new residential college are now being accepted. While the majority of campus housing for returning students is assigned through participation in the Housing Application Process in January, students can apply for the Residential College at West Ambler Johnston outside of that process. Students wishing to enter the residential college as first-year students make a two-year residential commitment and sophomores through seniors make a year-by-year commitment once accepted.
The renovation and residential college efforts are being coordinated by the department of Housing and Residence Life within the Division of Student Affairs.