With the resurgence of the learning community (SU dabbled in this medium in 1975, with the Shaw Hall “Live-and-Learn Center”), the responsibilities of the residence life staff often cross into academia, and faculty responsibilities cross into the residential arena. The notion of merging academics and student affairs is almost revolutionary in the highly specialized world of the American research university, according to Ronald R. Cavanagh, vice president for undergraduate studies. “There is no tradition for this crossover,” he says. “Specialization is central to the research university, but we want to create a seamless undergraduate experience where faculty and students share in the imaginative integration of our values and messages. We’re all in this together.
      “The learning community finally brings coherence to an otherwise bewildering variety of college experiences,” Cavanagh says. “Students with a common curriculum live together and share classes. The most effective learning occurs when there is significant time spent on a task. Learning communities enable students to put in time without realizing it. They wind up talking about classes and assignments. One student says, ‘I can’t do that,’ and another says, ‘Yes you can, and I can help you.’
      “Good things happen in learning communities,” he concludes. “Students stay longer, have higher GPAs, take more difficult majors, and feel very good about themselves.”
      A learning community is especially appropriate when the curriculum is challenging—as is the case with the School of Management, where freshmen must quickly learn teamwork and tackle a daunting gateway course. Last year, 26 freshmen elected to undertake those challenges, fortified by the school’s learning community. The semester begins with a ropes course, designed to turn the young strangers into partners. “The ropes course is an essential component,” says School of Management professor Sandra Hurd, who serves as faculty coordinator for learning communities at SU. “It forms the initial bond that predisposes this group to be a community.”
      Jamey Van Epps says the course promoted trust among students. “It brought our relationship to a whole new level,” he says. “We had to work together to accomplish something. That team spirit persisted throughout the semester.”
      Proximity is another major advantage of the learning community: “When you’re stumped by an assignment,” adds Kalen Pascal ’03, “you waltz out of your room to the next room and say, ‘I don’t get this.’ That’s a big plus.”
      The learning community also holds classes in the residence hall, improving interaction between professors and students and creating a more relaxed atmosphere. “We had some classes right in our lounge,” Van Epps says. “Students could come in their PJs. It was great.”
      According to Hurd, faculty invest a good deal of time in the learning community. “Teaching is not limited to formal classes,” she says. “There are teaching lunches and brown-bag lunches and informal chats in the residence halls. When there is this degree of interaction, faculty are in sync with students and less likely to take a forced march through the syllabus.”

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