As students returned to Blacksburg earlier this semester, the Virginia Tech Oak Lane community marked the opening of the first house in its Phase IV building project.
The community, which features on-campus fraternity and sorority housing, added the new Sigma Phi Epsilon house to the existing 18 houses on Oak Lane built during Phases I, II, and III.
“The design is very intentional and allows for a lot of space for interaction,” said Kenneth Belcher, senior associate director for housing services. The new house is home to 35 brothers from the Sigma Phi Epsilon chapter and features several study lounges, a conference room, a comfortable living room with a Hokie stone fireplace, and a large kitchen and dining area for shared meals.
Heather Evans, director of fraternity and sorority life, said these common spaces are a gateway to student involvement.
“Virginia Tech has great living and learning environments, and I think this house speaks to our efforts to establish residential spaces where learning complements what goes on in the classroom,” said Evans.
The new house is designed as a residential learning community, based on the philosophy that time spent with faculty outside of the traditional classroom makes a significant difference in the lives of college students.
Chris Fiori, director of professional and academic outreach in the Myers-Lawson School of Construction, a joint venture of the College of Engineering and the College of Architecture and Urban Studies, and Katie Steuer, career advisor at Smith Career Center, are faculty fellows for the house. They serve as mentors and advisors to brothers in the chapter. Fiori and Steuer offer sessions and office hours in the house, with a focus on the importance of academics, leadership, and career preparation.
The house also provides live-in space for Chad Mandala, a residential learning coordinator with the offices of fraternity and sorority life and housing and residence life, and resident scholar Nick Warrington of Wellston, Ohio, a graduate student studying higher education administration in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. Mandala and Warrington work with the faculty fellows to provide various programs to the chapter that range from how to work better as a team to how to dress for interviews and prepare for career fairs.
“I view myself as a brother of Sigma Phi Epsilon who is there to help the chapter succeed academically,” said Warrington who also works with the brothers one-on-one on such topics as time management, test anxiety, study habits, organization, and priorities.
Phase IV marks the beginning of a new funding and construction partnership between the fraternity and sorority community and the university. Virginia Tech’s Sigma Phi Epsilon chapter raised part of the project cost for the house, mainly through alumni donations to the Virginia Tech Foundation. The university committed to the remaining cost. The university owns the new facility, but the joint funding model allowed the fraternity to help design the customized house to meet its organizational needs.
Virginia Tech opened Phase I, three houses of 36 beds each, in the fall of 1983. Phase II followed with seven houses of 36 beds each in the fall of 1990. Phase III opened during the fall of 2001 with eight houses of 32 beds in each.
Phase IV is a continuation of Oak Lane’s original purpose – to strengthen Virginia Tech’s fraternity and sorority community.
“The fraternity and sorority community embarked upon a strategic planning process, and our vision, as well as strategic goal areas, were announced last spring," said Evans. "The vision for the fraternity and sorority community is to inspire lifetime engagement in the spirit of Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), and it is our hope that members of the fraternity and sorority community will remain active with their interfraternal membership through a myriad of opportunities throughout their entire lifetimes."