Live and learn

Students study in the Fine Arts and Design Living and Learning Community at URI's Hillside Hall

Much as first-year students are champing at the bit to get to college, collegiate life can still be a challenge for them.

The flurry of activity, the new surroundings, the lack of all that is familiar can be overwhelming and elicit anxiety, said Isobel McCullough ’20, resident academic mentor at the new Fine Arts and Design Living and Learning Community at Hillside Hall. “As a freshman, everything is so new and unfamiliar,” she said. “You think, If I go to a dining hall alone, are people going to judge me? No one goes anywhere without 12 people.”

One way the University is fostering first-year students’ assimilation into collegiate culture is through living and learning communities. LLCs, as they are known, are meant to facilitate easier integration into college while also promoting academic success, institutional engagement and personal growth. In an LLC, students with the same or complementary majors live together in the same residential hall.

Hillside, which also houses LLCs for nursing, pharmacy, the Harrington School of Communication and Media, and Chinese Flagship students, boasts more than 600 first-year students. About a tenth of those students — art and art history, landscape architecture, music and theater majors — composes the new Fine Arts and Design LLC.

“The LLC is helping students connect, find their place, find their friends and achieve their goals.” Isobel McCullough

LLCs offer programming, too, such as opportunities to meet with academic advisors, deans and faculty members; guest lectures by young alums working in fields related to students’ majors; and events tailored to students’ interests. This year, each student in the Fine Arts and Design LLC received a pass for free admission to all music department concerts and theatre department shows for this academic year. An improv workshop, a tour of Newport and a visit from The Tenderloin Opera Company, a Providence-based group of homeless vocal artists, are also planned.

The Inside Scoop

McCullough characterizes the LLC experience as delivering the University’s “hidden curriculum,” basically the insider information that isn’t necessarily addressed in orientation or URI 101, an introductory seminar for incoming students, also intended to assist in the transition to college.

“I asked friends what they would’ve wanted to know as freshmen,” McCullough said. And she planned from there.

Feeling connected and in the know can make a big difference in a first-year student’s initial months on campus. Students in LLCs report feeling a stronger sense of identity, increased involvement in college, more interaction with faculty, less stress, stronger friendships and greater academic success, among other benefits, said McCullough and Deb Bergner, coordinator of educational programs. Bergner, along with Peggy Frazier, senior lecturer, advisor and teacher in the Music Department; and Michael Lapointe, Hillside Hall director, coordinate the Fine Arts and Design LLC.

Student retention is one of the greatest benefits of participating in an LLC, its proponents argue. Study groups, peer and professional academic advising and strategies for effective time management — all are part of the LLC experience for students looking for support.

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