Living Learning Environments Build Community for STEM, Nursing, Honors Students
04/15/2014 

MediaLibrary#7495

The living learning communities (LLC) at The College of New Rochelle provide organized activities, technology and educational resources, and spaces geared toward learning. But the relationships formed with students who share similar academic goals can be just as important to their residents.

"It felt more comfortable," said Jenean Igmat SN'17. "It's hard enough to be in a new environment," she said, which is why the freshman chose to join the dozen or so traditional nursing students in the same wing of Ursula Hall.

Their common experiences foster a bond, said Igmat, who is interested in geriatric care. "We know we have each other."

The nursing LLC includes students from all levels, and Igmat often checks in with upperclassmen to see how they're handling the classes she will soon be taking. "It helps me get a grasp of what I'm getting myself into," she said.

The LLC is designed to encourage that mentorship. It also seeks to introduce students to the culture of nursing.  A faculty representative works with the RA, also a nursing student, to organize activities such as skills workshops and explorations of specialties in the field.

Students majoring in biology, chemistry, math, and environmental studies have their own living learning community. COSMOS, which stands for Creating Opportunities for Success in Math or Science, is in its second year, and is designed to provide students with opportunities to explore their shared academic interests, said  Dr. Faith Kostel-Hughes, Associate Professor of Biology and faculty advisor for the LLC. "Because these are also very demanding majors, we provide some additional support in their residential life to help students achieve in their academics."

Also in Ursula Hall, the COSMOS wing houses 15 to 18 students a semester and includes common rooms designed and furnished to provide knowledge and inspire curiosity.

The study room is a sunny, quiet space with large, comfortable chairs. It will soon be home to a growing reference library, said Kostel-Hughes. The technology room is designed for group work or plain socializing, featuring  a large table, whiteboard, desktop computer, and a printer/scanner. There's a bird identification chart on one wall, near the window that looks out to a feeder, and a life-size articulated skeleton can make its way between the two rooms as necessary – with assistance from the students, of course.

Downstairs in Ursula is the newly renovated lower lounge, which includes a complete kitchen, plasma TV, couches, seating that can be used for classes or meetings, and a digital display board. This space is also open to Honors LLC residents.

There's also a COSMOS resource room, equipped with items students would usually have access to only in teaching labs – microscopes, prepared slides, anatomy and chemistry models, and graphing calculators. The room also plays host to weekly tutoring sessions.

Chinwe Nzeama SAS'16 cites that easy access to tutoring as a major benefit of the COSMOS wing. Informally, she also turns to fellow biology majors for academic help and emotional support.
"I've found not just mentors, but friends who created a family-like atmosphere," Nzeama said. Some of the activities she's enjoyed include preparing meals from food harvested from the College's sustainable garden, and decorating the study room.

Programming has included a coastal clean-up effort at a New Rochelle park, a study skills workshop, and a visit to the Museum of Math.

"It's hard to know the impact so far," said Kostel-Hughes. Like Nzeama, residents appreciate the extra resources and special programs (especially the food-related ones), but it has been a struggle for some students to find time to take full advantage of the program. The College hopes to alleviate this issue by providing support from a grant by Con Edison. Money from this grant also supports many COSMOS programs. Funds provided through the generosity of Patrick and Lillian Brennan Carney also helped equip the COSMOS community.

Based on residents' interests, plans for COSMOS include inviting more guest speakers and alumnae to speak to students, and organizing more field trips and community-building activities, said Kostel-Hughes.

"Our hope is that, working and living together, these students will be more deeply engaged with college life, leading to greater success for them all."

The Honors living learning community is a bit unique, in that it was created by students. Seven years ago, they created a committee which held meetings, brainstormed, and created proposals for the Honors Committee, the dean, and the vice president of student services.

Dr. Amy Bass, Professor of History and faculty advisor, said that's her favorite thing about the Honors LLC. "I think it is an important thing for every resident to know: the space they live in was created for them by students very much like themselves."

Shacelles Bonner SAS'15, majoring in biology and chemistry with plans to go to medical school, has lived in the Honors wing since freshman year. "It seemed like the thing to do," she said. "I love it!"

Living in the same space definitely fosters a sense of community, Bonner said. "We're able to talk with each other about our problems." Some students take the same Honors classes, which means "we're studying, but we're doing it in a way that we're bonding."

The LLC also fosters relationships between students at different stages in their college careers. "It's really nice getting to know freshmen that I wouldn't share classes with," said Bonner, who has transitioned into being a mentor to younger students.

Bass says this sense of community extends beyond the confines of their wing in Ursula, and that's by design. "I am constantly working to ensure that Honors students occupy a special place at the College," she said, "but I also want them to be fully integrated in campus life."

They shine in their Honors seminars, but they also raise the bar for their peers, faculty, and coaches. "I think the LLC exemplifies how hard we work at this: the students have a terrific space to work, share, and live, and yet exists in the midst of Ursula, with a wonderful diversity of students who are not in the Honors Program right down the hall."