Three New Fulbright College Living Learning Communities Launch

by | Feb 14, 2019 | Features, Guest Writers, Student Success

Creativity and Collaboration Drive Hall Programming

Like all music majors, Samantha Ellis auditioned in high school for a place in the university’s Department of Music.

She did great. Ellis earned a spot playing the clarinet in the Razorback Marching Band. During that audition, Janet Knighton, a music education instructor, first pitched the idea of a music living learning community to the incoming freshman from Canton, Texas and her parents.

Ellis signed up at the encouragement of her parents. Two years later, her best friend is the roommate she met through the Living Learning Communities (LLC) program and she serves as the Music LLCs peer ambassador.

She is now a sophomore and works with music faculty and University Housing staff to coordinate academic and social events with a musical emphasis for about 20 freshman who live together in a residence hall.

Music LLC members get enhanced time with faculty and attend special presentations on topics like performance anxiety, the best way to practice your instrument, and maintaining wellness during stressful academic times.

“They are a really close-knit group, Ellis said about the LLC members she mentors. “They do stuff like throw birthday parties together.”

Participation is free to incoming freshman who apply to join these communities. There are 12 LLCs planned for the 2019-2020 academic year.

Each LLCs is a collaboration between University Housing and an academic unit on campus. These communities share the common goal of helping students succeed as they adjust to life at the university their first year.

“The educational benefits of the LLC are hyped, and it’s great. But for me, the biggest part was the friends I made,” Ellis said.

Expanding the Experience

Five LLCs are coming to the Stadium Drive Residence Halls.

The new 708-bed residence hall, which is open to all students regardless of LLC participation, will open this fall on the south end of campus.

Structurally it’s unique, featuring the country’s largest use of cross-laminated timber. The architecture is designed to give the building an airy, organic feel with large windows and a wooden exterior.

Community life will also be unique. Three of the five new LLCs are based in Fulbright College. These new LLCs have access to spaces and facilities designed for creative collaboration with an emphasis on the arts and innovation.

For example, there will be performance spaces inside and outside the buildings. Students can access practice rooms and a maker space with crafting tools like a sewing machine and a 3D printer. There will also be a media studio and a student-led fine art gallery.

“All of this is meant to foster a community where students interact and showcase their creative ideas,” said Stephanie Adams, associate director for academic engagement for University Housing.

Central to the community are the five LLCs. However, much of the event programming and creative amenities at the hall will be available to the entire community.

The Stadium Drive Residence Hall LLCs include:

  • Architecture and Design
  • Art
  • Entrepreneurship and Innovation
  • Music
  • Theatre

In addition to the Fulbright College-based LLCs, University Housing is also working with the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design to offer the Architecture and Design LLC. Participation in this LLC offers a chance to explore careers in architecture, landscape architecture and interior design.

The Entrepreneurship and Innovation LLC brings the Sam M. Walton College of Business’s expertise to freshman who want to develop an innovation mindset. It’s a community of change makers and dreamers with a passion for finding new solutions to challenges.

All five communities in the new hall will collaborate together to create interdisciplinary experiences that compliment the classroom.

The creative cross-pollination that the LLCs will make possible is what excites Department of Theatre chair Michael Riha, author of Starting Your Career as a Theatrical Designer: Insights and Advice from Leading Broadway Designers.

The department will pilot a Theatre LLC this fall in the new hall.

“Maybe one of the music students will help out a theater student who is doing an audition for a play. They work up a piece together and a creative relationship begins,” he said.

Imagining the Unknown

The first few years of the Music LLC’s existence were difficult, said Knighten, who heads up group.

“We struggled with it. We didn’t know exactly what we were doing,” she said. Knighten was a public school music teacher for 30 years and said she knew that support was needed for incoming freshman beyond the classroom.

Time and trial and error brought forth a template that is now highly successful for music major freshmen. Crucial to that success is creating the kind of community where new students feel they have a place and a community that supports them.

The Music LLC built exactly that kind of community among its incoming freshmen.

Now the School of Art and theatre department want to replicate the Music LLC’s success at the new hall and see all the communities work together in unique ways.

“There’s no better time than now to pioneer a student community that emphasizes the role of innovation and creativity,” said Matthew McConnell, interim director for of the School of Art.

“The idea of what the artist is and what it can be and what an artist contributes to society is in flux,” he said. “Corporate culture now acknowledges that creative ideas belong in the boardroom.”

Blending the fine arts with an innovation mentality will make students more successful during their college years and beyond, he said.

Artist as Entrepreneur

The community will also help turn artists into problem solvers, McConnell said.

This sort of cross-disciplinary curriculum can create thinkers who devise less typical solutions to problems – innovative solutions previously unseen, he said.

Many of the fine arts disciplines already have an entrepreneurial dimension.

“The theatre department is actually a practical lab where students start a business several times a year by performing a play. They deliver an actual product. They work with budgets,” Riha said.

The programming for the new Stadium Drive Residence Halls would deepen those skills and create more opportunities for the residents to interact.

Likewise, the Brewer Family Entrepreneurship Hub will bring programming into the space that deals with business innovation and startup dynamics. Those programs and the focus on fine arts will hopefully spark conversations and interactions among students living in the hall.

Those sparks come out of what students are learning in class and should lead to further discussion after class. It’s a much-needed extension of in-class learning, said Lissette Szwydky-Davis, who serves as Faculty-in-Residence for the Department of English.

“Faculty and staff increasingly feel that students see their academic experience in a very singular way. They think, ’I go to class, I take my exams and I get my grade and that’s the end of the learning,’” she said.

LLCs expand learning past the formal space of the classroom. They get students to connect the dots within their own living community when classroom discussions can continue.

“Intellectual curiosity is important to student success, and living and learning communities are a good place to foster that sense of connectedness and curiosity,” Szwydky-Davis said.

The idea of a space where not only music majors, but other fine arts majors can work together and showcase their work sounds “amazing,” Ellis said.

“You don’t have to have music alone. You can collaborate like that. I’d expect much more open-mindedness,” Ellis said.

Visit the Stadium Drive Residence Halls website to learn more – the residences are open to all U of A students, not just those participating in LLCs.

Christopher Spencer

Assistant Director for Marketing and Strategic Communications for University Housing

479-575-4535 // cjspence@uark.edu