Iowa City Press-Citizen: UI Living-Learning Communities Continue to Grow

Saturday, October 29, 2011

By Emily Schettler
Iowa City Press-Citizen

More than 1,200 first-year students living in residence halls at the University of Iowa are participating in living-learning communities this year, a number school administrators hope will increase in years to come.

Living-learning communities, or LLCs, are designed to extend student learning beyond the classroom and into spaces where they spend a lot of their time — their residence halls, said Linda Varvel, a residence life program coordinator at UI.

“Over the last few years at the University of Iowa, they’ve really become a big part of our residential life program,” Varvel said. “The format and structure of LLCs have evolved due to the changing needs of students, and they are becoming more effective each year.”

At UI, students can join living-learning communities based on their areas of study or on common interests, such as sustainability or political engagement.

UI has 17 LLCs this year and will increase the number of active communities to 20 next year, Varvel said.

About one-quarter of the school’s first-year students participate in the LLC program, and UI administrators want to develop enough communities to allow every student to join an LLC if they choose, said Von Stange, director of UI Housing and Dining Services.

Three of the new communities include pre-med, an honors community for students interested in research in biology and chemistry, and an honors community for students interested in society, economy and environment.

The largest — and one of the oldest — learning communities is the Honors LLC. BizHawks, which is for students interested in business and entrepreneurship, Health Sciences, Men in Engineering and Women in Science and Engineering are among the most popular communities, Varvel said.

As part of living in an LLC, students participate in one common course together and can participate in a number of other academic activities, such as resumé and interview skills workshops.

Andrew Beckett, an assistant dean in the University College, said participating in LLCs helps students engage in ways that help make them feel connected to the university as a whole. University College is a UI program that works to advance academic excellence among undergraduates by promoting and helping students with enrichment opportunities, learning initiatives, outcomes assessment, and educational resources, according to its website.

That engagement likely could contribute to better academic performance and the likelihood students will stay at UI, Beckett said.

“We know there are three types of involvement that are highly beneficial to students, student-student interactions, faculty-student interactions and student involvement in academics — the amount of time they spend on tasks and studying,” Beckett said. “In learning communities, we try to leverage all three.”

Each living-learning community has a resident assistant and a faculty member who serve as members. That gives students a unique opportunity to interact with individual professors early in their college career, which is important, Beckett said.

“For first-year students, that might be just the help we need to break the myth that faculty aren’t approachable,” he said.