Learning outside the classroom

03/21/2011
Living Education
CORY DUGAN and ELISA C. MARUS

Oftentimes, the learning experiences that change the lives of students happen outside the classroom. Across the nation, colleges and universities are developing and embracing living learning programs as an opportunity to engage students more fully in the college experience. Studies show that students who participate in living learning programs develop better critical thinking skills, are more likely to explore service-learning or volunteer activities, and make a smoother transition to college life. Most importantly, these students know that lessons don’t stay in the classroom; they eagerly bring knowledge gained in one setting to a variety of others.

Even beyond participating in living learning programs, today’s students seek an environment that facilitates numerous kinds of interactions and is uniquely designed to enhance and continue learning outside the classroom. If you think about traditional campus buildings, they all have a single purpose. Academic buildings house classrooms, laboratories and lecture halls for the formal side of teaching. Student centers serve as casual gathering places. Libraries offer a quiet space for studying and research. In most cases, residence halls are far removed from the heart of academic life.

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To provide this distinctive learning experience, Christian Brothers University (CBU) is bringing students together in a new way as we open the doors to our Living Learning Center in Fall 2011. This new, multi-purpose Center includes 21 private (eight of them ADA-accessible) and 70 semi-private, premium residence hall accommodations, public spaces (commons) on each floor for both formal and informal gatherings, a fully-equipped serving kitchen, a multi-purpose classroom on the main floor, an exterior patio, quiet study space, game and video areas, and laundry and recycling facilities on each floor.

In partnership with Fleming/Associates/Architects and Montgomery Martin Contractors, the Center has been designed with “CBU Green” features, and the construction of the building is also being utilized as a learning lab for CBU engineering students. As the project has progressed, this unique partnership has allowed CBU engineering students to use the construction site as their laboratory for class enrichment activities and has provided them first-hand experience with the green aspects of engineering.

 The “CBU Green” design aspects of the Center further the university’s commitment to sustainability. In this past year, CBU became a member the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) to enhance its campus efforts toward building a healthy and just world. With this membership, the university receives support in advancing its sustainability initiatives throughout the campus and in the community, and integrating sustainability across the curriculum.

Specific to the center, the green features include electric car charging stations, recycled and bioregional construction materials, alternate lighting to avoid light pollution, occupancy sensors, lowflow toilet fixtures, and mechanical system sensors. Additional exciting features make use of energy efficient components such as white roofing and water efficiency measures, including a 67-gallon rain barrel to collect rain for use in the irrigation of nearby planting, to name just a few.

With the opening of the center, students will have a facility that promotes and encourages learning to continue outside the classroom. But just as important, they will now have the opportunity to select from four living learning communities (LLCs). For the freshman who is uncertain as to what they want to be when they leave college or even what they want to major in, there is the Freshman Experience LLC. Students will use a process called the “Who Am I? What Do I Stand for? Why Am I Here? Method of Self Discovery© (WWW) to walk through a series of exercises, assessments and activities to determine their career interests. The WWW process, created and led by a CBU professor, takes an inside-out approach to personal growth by discovering, celebrating and developing the uniqueness of each student.

This freshmen experience is based upon two proven theories of human behavior. First, each student possesses an innate, unique combination of strengths and talents that, if utilized to full potential, results in an engaged and meaningful life; and second, students excel when they develop their strengths rather than focus on overcoming weaknesses. During the fall semester, through personality assessments, strength profiles and reflective activities, students will be encouraged to recognize and develop their natural talents and abilities. In the spring semester, students meet in individual sessions with a CBU professor to develop a “This I Believe” essay, personal mission statement and an action plan to move forward on a life path.

Honors LLC

Students who are members of the CBU Honors Program, regardless of their major, have the option of becoming part of the Honors LLC, in which they take classes, participate in extracurricular activities and live with other Honors students. In the Honors LLC, students will develop strong friendships with fellow Honors students while enjoying an academically, socially and culturally enriching living environment.

Science and Engineering LLC

A third option is the Science and Engineering LLC, which is composed of upperclassmen and freshman students majoring in the sciences or engineering. Freshmen can participate in tutor-facilitated study sessions for chemistry, calculus, pre-calculus and beginning physics courses. “Everyone knows that freshmen often have difficulty adjusting from high school to college,” says Father Paul Watkins, director of learning communities and assistant professor of marketing at CBU. “We want to make sure that they have good study habits and learn to really do their homework.”

Furthermore, notes Watkins, “We want the freshmen to have some really good role models. The tutors are some of our more successful students who have learned to balance the social aspect of university life with the academic side — and are succeeding at both. I view it as a healthy peer-pressure, competitive kind of relationship. The upperclassmen are there to say, ‘Well, I could do it, what’s wrong with you?’ And they will say that, because I’ve instructed them to.”

Sustainability LLC

A final option, the Sustainability LLC, is a two-year program designed for students who wish to have an enriched academic experience and identify rewarding career opportunities that involve making a positive impact on their communities. Sustainability in this context has a number of connotations, ranging from energy conservation and environmental protection to the promotion of cultural heritage and smart economic development. Students in the Sustainability LLC will explore these meanings as a way of fulfilling CBU’s Lasallian mission: they will study and live together to support the goals of creating a just society, ensuring a clean and biologically rich environment, pursuing meaningful careers and enjoying a life of service. They will learn from and work with local businesses (such as FedEx, International Paper and Memphis Light Gas and Water), community organizers and CBU faculty who make sustainability a focus of their professional and civic activities. Students who complete the LLC experience will know how to make a real difference today for CBU, Memphis, and our national and global communities.

Throughout the first year, students in the Sustainability LLC will participate in a number of program activities that include canoeing, hiking and biking trips, local festivals, movies, community lunches, book club meetings, special events and performances designed to build personal relationships while introducing them to the local community. In the second year, they will work on a service project or in an internship. Throughout the year they will participate in program activities while continuing to reside in the Living Learning Center and being involved with the Sustainability community.

As students continue to “push the envelope” and expect to have seamless educational experiences as they prepare for a constantly changing world, CBU is committed to providing an environment uniquely designed to nurture this expectation that education happens everywhere. The university plans to carry this concept further and to take a holistic approach to all of its residence facilities, eventually reconfiguring them — physically and conceptually — into part of a unified academic whole, where education is fully blended into the living environment. As citizens of a community where learning is a basic and integral part of life, our graduates will hopefully be encouraged to pursue a lifelong quest for knowledge. By creating a home for today’s students that comfortably and creatively fosters their innovations, we’re building tomorrow’s leaders.

Cory Dugan is Communications and Marketing Director of Publications for Christian Brothers University. Elisa C. Marus is Executive Director of Communications and Marketing for Christian Brothers University. For more information visit www.cbu.edu.
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