At bigger campuses, finding like-minded students can be a problem. Many universities have used living-learning communities—clusters of students who share academic or social and cultural interests—to create more intimate residence hall groups
Students form such groups more easily at small colleges such as Mount Holyoke. But to enhance the sense of belonging among students, the College is piloting the living-learning community approach this year.
“Larger schools have been doing this for a long time because they want to emulate communities like ours,” says Dean of Students Marcella Hall, who supports the plan developed by Melanie Lawson, interim director of residential life; Luigi Solla, first-year class advisor; and their teams. “We’re creating a smaller area within the community so that it will be even more intimate,” Hall says.
According to Lawson, research shows that living-learning communities in residence halls foster a smoother transition to college, greater rates of retention, a stronger sense of belonging, higher levels of academic self-confidence, and increased involvement in volunteerism and service learning, among other benefits.
Two living-learning communities will debut this fall. One is a focused program for first-year students. The other is for seniors and is dubbed Women Inspiring Leadership Development (WILD). SGA President Casey Accardi ’15 had the idea for the senior leaders group to mentor the first-year group.
First-Year Focus Community
The First-Year Focus Community will include 50 students living in the two Rockefeller Halls, and will emphasize fostering academic success, getting adjusted to college life, and other topics that the students will choose. Discussion topics might include: hopes and fears, working through homesickness, learning about extracurricular offerings, academic advising, MHC traditions, and opportunities for a social life.
Hall says that activities such as round-table discussions for first-years will be especially important in winter, when cold weather might make it harder for students to socialize and maintain relationships.
The “Rockies” were chosen because many first-years live there. Assignments to the group were given to the first 50 students to indicate interest on their housing application.
Four Lyon Academic Fellows—upperclasswomen living with the first-year-focus group—will serve as peer advisors, while two student community advisors will plan events and programs and help build a sense of community.
Women Inspiring Leadership Development Community
The WILD group consists of 12 seniors, including Casey Accardi. All are involved in leadership roles on campus, and will mentor the first-years in the First-Year-Focus Community. The seniors’ group will be housed in Pearsons Annex.
Accardi and her fellow seniors are looking forward to kicking off the semester with “Popsicles with Pearsons Annex,” an open house where they will explain what WILD will be doing this year. They will offer sessions designed to help first-years make the most of their Mount Holyoke experience. At one such activity—Org Fair 101—they will tell first-years what to expect at the early fall Org Fair, at which members of MHC’s more than 150 student organizations share information about their groups.
Through assigned mentoring relationships and scheduled activities, the seniors hope to build strong leaders on campus.
“Being a new student can be overwhelming,” Accardi says. “We were lucky to get to know upperclasswomen who took us under their wings. We want to do the same thing to help incoming students adjust.”
—By Ronni Gordon