Living and learning
percent of Northern Arizona University’s students are the first in their family
to attend college. For these and other first-year students, adjusting to life
on campus can be a difficult transition. Thanks to the Residential Learning
Communities program, however, it’s not one that they have to experience alone.
Learning Communities initiative pairs freshmen students living in the campus
residence halls, grouping students together by major or interest, such as
business or sustainability. This means that from their first day on campus, students
are meeting and interacting with others who share their same career interests.
percent of our freshmen live with us here on campus,” says Sue Belatti, the Assistant
Director for the program. “The two biggest fears that they have are 'will I handle
my college classes' and 'will I make friends.’ I really think the residential
learning communities help that because the students move into a residence hall and
are immediately there with other brand-new students who share their interest
area or major.”
in the program meet regularly with another student—an older mentor, usually a
junior or a senior, in their major group. This student acts as an academic
guide, helping hand, and confidante. Holly Krueger, a senior majoring in
accounting and serving as an RLC mentor, says the students see her as someone
they can talk to.
questions about everything,” Krueger says. “It's funny, because you forget how
much you've learned yourself until someone asks you those questions.”
Messina, another RLC mentor and a senior majoring in English, says meeting with
the students one-on-one is incredibly meaningful.
one-on-one sessions are my favorite interactions with students,” Messina says.
“You really get to know them.”
Setting up for success
Krueger says the opportunity for students to work in a group
with their peers provides them the confidence to take on leadership roles at an
early stage of their university careers.
“We do academic and social events that are very student
driven,” Krueger says. “That’s really nice because the students get to decide
how they want their community to be.”
The first-year students are not the only ones who benefit
from participating in the initiative: Krueger says working with her Learning
Community has helped her develop skills that are both beneficial in her classes
and will help her in her career after graduation.
“This is my second year working with my learning community,
and the experience has definitely given me a sense of personal responsibility
and time management,” Krueger explains.
Belatti says the Learning Community program has been so
successful and popular amongst first-year students that a non-residential version
will soon be available for sophomore and beyond and will focus on major
exploration, service learning, and progression toward graduation. After all,
she says, the benefits of being a part of a community go beyond just adjusting
“The idea is to have students working together in and outside
the classroom with faculty and peer mentors who will collaborate with them in
the curricular and co-curricular learning experience,” Belatti says.
The Learning Community environment
is a unique mix of meeting friends, adjusting to life at the university, and
pursuing one’s interests. Belatti says the main goal of the program, however,
is to make sure students know that they’re valued as individuals.
“We want to do anything we can to help students feel that
they're not just a face in a crowd,” Belatti says.