Three students talk at a table.Dr. Mick Reynolds looks out his office window onto Wingate University’s Quad, the academic heart of the 400-acre campus. It’s where students spend much of their class time, but is it where most of their learning takes place?

Not necessarily, says the dean of campus life.

Outside observers might see a day at the University as broken up into study time versus social time or time spent in academic buildings and the library vs. time spent in residence halls and the cafeteria. But in actuality, Reynolds says, the lines are already blurred and will be getting more so, thanks to a Residential Life Experience Plan now in the works.

“Students are going to class, then they’re on the way to the dining hall continuing conversations that may have started in class, then going to a Lyceum, sometimes with members of that class, and then, back at their residence hall, writing a paper on what’ve they’ve discussed,” Reynolds says. “Students are more dynamic than ever. They might be part of a group of 300, 30, three or just by themselves all in a matter of a short time, while learning about a subject. Their having the ability to do that and making that easy for them is part of what our challenge is.”

In fact, pushing Wingate toward a seamless learning environment is a goal of the plan being created with the help of Credo, a higher-education consulting firm that has led three workshops with students, faculty members and other Wingate stakeholders over the past year and is back on campus this month for further discussions before the plan is put into final form in early 2018.

Brandy Shott, associate dean for residence life and involvement, says students are looking for community spaces in their residence halls where they can hang out, have a study session or meet with an advisor without going to another building.

“Some of the barriers we have put up, students are keen on breaking down,” Reynolds says.

The two say breaking them down is equal parts programming and architectural design, which is why what stakeholders share in meetings is making its way to the University’s campus master plan.

Residential requirement

A girl sits on her bed in a dorm room.Wingate calls itself “a four-year residential community” and requires unmarried students to live on campus unless they’re 23 or older or commute from their parents’ home. Admissions counsellors say potential students are sometimes surprised to hear that about 80 percent of students live on campus all four years.

“We are one of a few schools that have a residential requirement, which means we have to think deeply about what kind of experience we want students to have,” Reynolds says. “If it’s going to be a signature experience, something that stands out from what they might have at other institutions, then that’s going to inform what our residential buildings look like and how we want the experience to build from the first year to the senior year, so it doesn’t look the same for every student year after year.”

Credo’s vice president for student success, Michelle Samuels-Jones, says students have different needs developmentally as they progress through college and that the residential environment is an ideal opportunity to help them succeed at each level. She said that in addition to organic ways that learning opportunities present themselves in residence halls, there is also a need for intentionality.

“There has been great interest, for example, to bring experiences like academic support services (tutoring, supplemental instruction, advising, etc.), study/computer lounges, classrooms and other similar spaces to residence halls,” Samuels-Jones says. “Students have discussed how cool it would be to have lab spaces in the residence halls that allowed them to work with faculty, other students in residence and also commuter students in a completely different setting.”

She said another need is the creation of more common spaces and “third spaces” that enable students to gather outside of their rooms but still in or close to their buildings, all considerations as Wingate builds two new residence halls to handle record enrollment growth.

Learning communities

Seven students walk on a university campus.The University has already made strides in developing an integrated learning environment by offering tutoring in Hilltop, JM Smith and CM Black halls and by housing students based, in part, on their major. The move toward setting up “learning communities” began with students enrolled in BIOS, Wingate’s Biology Intensive Orientation Seminar, and has broadened as more summer bridge programs have been added.

“These students are sometimes involved in taking common courses and, back in their residence halls, may develop programs that tie to what they are learning or experiencing in class,” Samuels-Jones says of the concept. “The programs may be about a particular project students are working on, could focus on career exploration for those majors or could result in doing service learning projects together.”

Shott says advising sessions and educational programs are also taking place in residence halls.

“It’s a shifting environment from just seeing beds to seeing learning environments,” she says, adding that the shift in the culture is reflected even in the terminology. Buildings once referred to as dormitories, from the Latin word for “sleep,” are now about where the broader “residing” takes place.

“The residential experience, living on campus with easy access to the resources, blending together what’s going on in the classroom and in the residence hall, has a transformative effect,” Reynolds says. “At Wingate, we talk about community a lot. This is one of the ways we demonstrate it.”

Dec. 13, 2017