Living and learning

Residential Learning Communities enable first-year students to live and work together.

Over forty 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.

The Residential 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.

“Over 90 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.”

The students 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.

"I get questions about everything,” Krueger says. “It's funny, because you forget how much you've learned yourself until someone asks you those questions.”

Alex Messina, another RLC mentor and a senior majoring in English, says meeting with the students one-on-one is incredibly meaningful.

“The 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.

Unique experiences

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 to campus.

“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.