Fairfield’s sophomores live and learn together in four new residential colleges

by Virginia Weir

It was a Monday evening in September, the first official gathering of a “mentoring community” of six sophomores from the newly formed Creative Life Residential College. They sat on couches in a circle – students of biology, nursing, music, psychology, and marketing. After a moment of silence, the adult mentor asked the group: “What does ‘creative’ mean to you?”

It was quiet as the students scribbled in their journals. Their answers varied, from “thinking outside the box” and “challenging the normal,” to “finding ways to reflect my inner self.”

Each participant had also brought with them a personal item to discuss, as a way to get to know one another – a family photo, a necklace from Spain, a car key, an iPod, and even a self-composed string quartet.

After an hour and a half, the conversation was flowing freely. Plans were made to meet the following month, when each would talk about “who and what inspires them.”

All across campus, in each of Fairfield’s five residential colleges, similar mentoring communities began meeting this fall to share their experiences, and discuss “big, meaning-of-life” questions.

 

Resident Assistants Lisbeth Reyes-Fondeur ’12 and Amy Tran ’12, on their way to work out at the RecPlex.

To be a sophomore at Fairfield these days is to be a member of a community that lives, laughs, and studies together in a mentored learning environment. These sophomore residential colleges are a critical dimension of the University’s strategic vision for how to best form students during their undergraduate years – helping them form bonds and real relationships – and, as of the fall of 2010, a number of these communities are now firmly in place.

The Ignatian Residential College, established nine years ago with a generous $2 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc., is the successful model that has been the inspiration for all of Fairfield’s four new residential colleges – Service For Justice, Environment, Leadership in the Ignatian Tradition, and Creative Life.

Almost 75 percent of Fairfield’s 850 sophomores live in one of the colleges, each of which offers second-year students a structured way to explore what matters to them, and what their “vocation” might be. The hope is that an intentional community experience will then help each student as they focus their studies in their junior and senior years.

“This is a time when we want students to explore their deepest desires and passions for life, to try on many roles, see themselves more clearly – and have fun doing it! The students really do find questions of vocation meaningful and want to engage in a variety of ways,” said Dr. Joe DeFeo, director of Living and Learning, who oversees the four new colleges.

The newly renovated building for the Creative Life Residential College was a draw for many of the 128 students who submitted their applications to live there last spring. The building, now called “42 Bellarmine,” was formerly St. Ignatius Hall, built in 1977 to house Jesuits on campus, until they moved into the new Jesuit Community Center behind Bellarmine Hall last December. Construction crews worked on the vacant building from January through August 2010, replacing siding, adding pathways, and making the space more conducive to student life.

Most of the accommodations in the three-floor building are two-room suites housing four students. Each suite has a private bathroom. There are two study rooms on the upper floors, an interfaith prayer and meditation room, and a common room with a television, couches, and tables. An additional lounge, which had been the Jesuit community dining room, was recently completed.

“It feels a little new and too-bright right now,” noted Area Coordinator Tara Rupp. “But we’ll be getting some floor lamps and games and create some art for the walls. It’s been great watching the students start to take ownership of the community and help us develop what this residential college will look like going forward.”

Students with different majors were chosen deliberately to create a richer community life.

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