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Changing the Culture of Residential Life

New department promotes more student-faculty engagement in student housing

A new department at Northwestern University is working hard to change expectations about residential life by providing a more seamless academic experience for undergraduate students.

The Office of Residential Academic Initiatives (ORAI) aims to improve academic programming and provide more student-faculty engagement at Northwestern’s residence halls, colleges and communities by bringing academic support and resources to students in their on-campus residential spaces.

Most recently, ORAI began a new initiative called “Coming Soon to a Classroom Near You.” Faculty members at the University went to student residences and dining halls from Nov. 4 to Nov. 15 to discuss different course offerings for Winter Quarter 2014.

“Welcoming faculty into residential settings struck me as a good way to encourage students to hear directly from instructors,” ORAI director Brad Zakarin said, “especially those who might be new to Northwestern or who are offering new courses without teacher evaluation records.”

This quarter, some of the previewed classes included “Plant-People Interactions,” “English Literary Traditions,” and more unique classes such as “The Credible Writer” and “From Stage to Screen and Back.” Even University President Morton Schapiro previewed the popular class he co-teaches with humanities professor Gary Saul Morson, “Alternatives: Modeling Choices Across the Disciplines.”

Zakarin hopes “Coming Soon” will be a quarterly tradition to help students choose their classes.

“This doesn't mean that college should mean school 24/7,” Zakarin said. “Rather, it's more about adding value to the residential experience by making academic resources available on students' turf.”

The department has several other programs in place as well, including math and chemistry tutoring two nights per week in Allison Hall. Another goal is to have the Writing Place offer one-on-one help to students in residential settings.

Zakarin said he wants students to take advantage of all that ORAI has to offer. If freshman and sophomores use these resources now, they are more likely to continue using them as upperclassmen living off-campus, he said.

“The most exciting thing is trying to change the culture of what students expect from their residential experience at Northwestern,” he said.

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