Structure of residential staff has built strong housing system
One strength that stands out in the University's housing system is its residential staff. University faculty or senior staff serve as resident masters while living in apartments within the residence halls, working closely with resident heads and assistants. They all work together to enhance the quality of life for student residents.
Five residence halls-Pierce Tower, Snell Hitchcock, Shoreland, Burton-Judson and Woodward Court-have resident masters living under the same roof as students and other residence staff. One residence hall, Broadview, has masters who work with the students there but live nearby.
The University's newest resident masters have made moves that promise new challenges ahead. After 11 years as masters for Broadview, Ted and Lee Cook are the new resident masters for Woodward Court. Michael and Lee Behnke have succeeded the Cooks as masters at Broadview.
Michael Behnke, who is also Vice President and Associate Dean of the College for Enrollment, said he and his wife, Lee, a Lecturer in Classics, Humanities Collegiate Division, expect to learn a good deal about the community that develops through shared housing. "We're both looking forward to having conversations with our students about all the ways they are experiencing life here."
Because the Cooks lived in an apartment outside of Broadview, as the Behnkes now do, they liked the idea of living in closer proximity to the students with whom they would share meals and go on cultural outings in the city of Chicago. Woodward Court offered that opportunity. "We always were curious about what it would be like to do it the other way," said Ted Cook, Associate Professor in History. "It was the right time for a new challenge," he added.
Cook said proximity plays a big role in the change he and his wife have made as resident masters. "In some ways it will simply be easier. We'll be bumping into them (students) more often in the dining area," he said. Cook explained that one student recently wanted to meet with him to discuss a senior paper for his bachelor's degree. The two realized they did not need to arrange a time to meet during Cook's office hours. "I told him, 'Why don't you just ring my bell Sunday night!'" said Cook.
Behnke believes Chicago has a rich housing program. "Other housing programs I'm familiar with don't have the level of support staff that Chicago has," said Behnke. "Elsewhere, resident assistants are common, but a structure including resident heads and resident masters is rare. The richness of our structure is complemented with activities that create a sense of community, like boating trips or group outings to the theater."
While Behnke plans to do a lot of listening this year, his primary message to his student residents is "get involved."
"Students at Chicago rightfully immerse themselves in their academic pursuits," said Behnke. "I want them to join the dorm activities as well, so they don't miss out on learning from the interesting people around them and from all the activities Chicago has to offer."
Like all of the resident masters, the Cooks and Behnkes began the year with opening day receptions for students and their parents. Throughout the year, resident masters host study breaks and lunches, invite faculty and other visitors to residence hall events and plan special trips to museums, sporting events, the symphony and the opera.
Cook said many students are experiencing major cultural events for the first time when they get involved in the outings planned by resident masters. Their reaction to attending the opera might be, "I've never done this, but this really is wonderful to be doing this," he said. "Other students are more sophisticated and probably know more about the music we're listening to than I do," Cook said.
For the Cooks, the Behnkes and all the other resident masters in the housing program, adding the city of Chicago's culture to the academic richness of the University's classes and programs makes being resident masters a rewarding experience. "We enjoy working with students; we enjoy contributing to students' education," said Cook.
"Having lived at several universities, we know housing can really make a difference in the life of a student," said Lee Behnke.
Spending time with students will help reinforce the message Michael Behnke would like to send to candidates for the College. He noted that understanding what speaks to Chicago students does not end with admissions.
"Enrollment is also concerned with retention, and particularly, with the level of satisfaction students have with the College while they live here."