March 2, 2000
Vol. 19 No. 11

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    Students’ academic and residential life linked through programming underway at Woodward

    By Jennifer Leovy
    News Office

    A solid roof, a sturdy foundation and a world-class design are requisite for the University’s new residence halls, and for Cheryl Gutman, Director of the University House System, excellence should extend to innovative programming in residential life at Chicago.

    “When we provide housing, we provide community development,” said Gutman. “So when we consider changes, we start with the biggest question, ‘What does it mean to create a residential student life?’”

    Some of the answers to that [smart tours] by lloyd degranequestion are being found in academic residential programming, which was introduced this year in Woodward Court. “We are opening up our residential life to explore academic programs that will increase direct support for students, when they most need it––their first year,” said Gutman.

    A language commons, funded by a Mellon Foundation grant, and on-site tutoring are the precursors for services that will find a home in the new residence halls. Gutman said Woodward Court is ideal for exploring additional programs because its concentration of first- and second-year students parallels the demographic for the new residence halls.

    First-year students experience greater academic workloads as compared to high school students, said Mike Sosulski, Resident Assistant Director of Student Housing. Providing academic services where students live will likely smooth that transition.

    “We want to enhance students’ academic experiences by taking the best of residential social life and linking it to the best of academic services,” said Sosulski, who is overseeing the new programs––most of which are offered on site at Woodward Court.

    A little-used lounge in the building’s basement has been converted into an academic tutoring center, where three evenings a week, students hone their math, chemistry and writing skills in groups or one-on-one with College Core Tutors. On alternating Wednesdays, a drop-in service for academic coaching is sponsored by the Academic Skills Assessment Program, part of the Student Counseling & Resource Service.

    “No one really knew about this space. It’s quiet and off the beaten path,” said Sosulski, who noted that its location makes it an excellent study space that students now use regularly.

    Laura Doto, Educational Counselor, has presented workshops on class discussion skills and time management for the quarter system, while College advisers have facilitated a faculty panel to address students’ anxieties about contacting and talking to instructors.

    Academic advisers, who guide students in coursework planning, are now more accessible to residents of Woodward Court. A new, on-site advising office offers these students an alternative to scheduled appointments.

    Sosulski emphasized that he and his colleagues can implement the richest possible programming by listening to students’ responses. This has been most evident in the language commons, where residents regularly suggest improvements or request materials when talking with student monitors.

    First-year Jennifer Kramer, one of three students who work in the language commons, said student input ranges from requests for foreign magazines to volunteers who want to host foreign language evenings. Kramer, who is studying Spanish, will teach an evening of salsa dancing in that language this quarter.

    “The language commons is designed for students to have fun while learning a different language, and here it is a tactile experience,” said Eric Rosenberg, Language Commons Coordinator and Lecturer in Spanish. Using a variety of tools, students study six different languages––Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Russian and Spanish. From international satellite television (cooking shows in Japanese and docudramas in Russian) to computer software that actually corrects pronunciation, students can acquire, at their leisure, lessons in grammar, comprehension and oral skills. A reference section of atlases, dictionaries and Web sites is available as well.

    “Learning a language in the lounge is unlike learning in the classroom. You can learn about ‘real’ culture from watching Spanish music videos in a way different from reading a Spanish textbook,” said Kramer.

    Sosulski said the housing office will evaluate new programming through surveys, discussions with residential staff and student focus groups during the year. Later this summer, he expects to refine the most successful services and develop a schedule for incorporating them into other residence halls.

    Ted Cook, Resident Master of Woodward Court and Associate Professor in History, said, “We’re still working toward what is most effective for students, and we’re beginning to see the promise in these new programs.

    “This is a rigorous campus life, and we are enriching it by making it more convenient and more obvious to younger students to plug into academic services.”