Dorm will house only freshmen

Jessica Sasseen

Put away the tent and sleeping bag. Don’t worry about the rain or the cold.

It won’t be necessary to camp out this spring to get a room in the newly-renovated Bates-Runner Hall next semester — it will only be occupied by freshmen participating in a “gateway community” program.

Six groups of selected freshmen will live closely and attend three general education classes together. Peer advisers will work with instructors and students to help them make a smooth transition from high school to college.

“We know that when we link students to the campus in the first four to six weeks, we have a better chance of retention,” said Tom Miles, associate director of Housing and Residence Life. “It helps reach the end goal of helping our students graduate.”

There will be 148 spots available in Bates. The three-story building will be divided into six groups of 22 to 25 students. The groups will reflect Western’s demographics with a 40 to 60 ratio of men to women, Miles said.

Students will pay an additional $75 per semester in housing charges to cover the cost of resources to run the new program.

Participants in the new program will not be chosen on a first come, first serve basis — they will be selected by a committee based on applications submitted beginning in March.

The selection committee members have not been chosen.

Gender and hometowns will be factors in participant selection, Miles said. ACT scores and an essay will also be included in the application. Miles said first-year traditional students are the best fit for the program.

The group will attend three general education classes, or blocks, together. A freshman seminar class is required, along with a choice of two classes from the English, history, psychology and speech departments.

Each group of students will have their own peer advisers who will take on responsibilities different from those of traditional resident assistants. Miles said plans are being considered to hire other staff to cover the Bates’ resident assistants’ desk duty.

The peer advisers will work with instructors in the block classes to assist students. This could mean conducting peer adviser study sessions or having peer advisers actually attend class.

“You can see the linkage if they are in the classroom helping the freshman seminar instructor and then living in the environment to provide insight to what the students are going through,” Miles said.

The classes will be blocked exclusively for the freshman groups.

“We purposefully chose to only block three classes,” Miles said. “We didn’t want to totally isolate the freshmen.”

Cortney Basham, a freshman seminar instructor, said he is excited to see how the program will socially affect students.

“The most important thing is providing the connection to the campus and to each other,” Basham said. “Adding the residence hall component is going to help connect them to campus and to become a more cohesive group.”

Miles said by encouraging involvement in Western programs like intramurals or student organizations, students will be more likely to graduate.

“We want to forge relationships in the residence hall,” he said.

Brochures about the gateway community program are scheduled to be mailed this week.

The program spawns from an “academic initiative” in the HRL job description, Miles said. It has been in the works for a year. HRL staff have been watching similar programs at Ball State University, University of Florida and the University of Missouri at Columbia.

Charles Schroeder, vice president of Student Affairs at UMC, visited Western in January and spoke to HRL, department heads, the division of Student Affairs and others about learning communities. Schroeder is recognized as a national authority on learning communities.

Miles said Schroeder talked about the benefits learning communities could have at Western.

And with a new program comes a newly renovated building.

When the renovation to Bates began last June, the building was stripped down to the exterior walls. The rooms were reconfigured to house only two students and to have a private bathroom. All rooms will have a thermostat along with new beds, desks and dressers.

Project manager Bryan Russell said the building itself will have new windows, a new exterior and a classroom addition. He said construction is on budget and on schedule and should be completed June 27.

Brian Kuster, HRL director, said the renovation of Bates will cost about $4.5 million.

More community learning programs geared toward upper class men are also in the works, Kuster said. These programs could target departments or majors and will be aimed at retaining students.

“When they are living on campus, they graduate at higher rates,” Kuster said. “Students learn better with peer-to-peer contact, that’s why peer tutoring works so well. That’s what the whole program is about, getting students to work together.”

Reach Jessica Sasseen at [email protected]