Living is Learning
A conversation with Victor Arcelus, assistant dean of College Life and Director of Residence Life.
From In The Loop, Fall 2009
As a residential liberal arts college, ninety percent of Gettysburg College's students live on campus, and for good reason-the College's residence life program is intentionally designed with specific learning goals and emphases for each of the four years.
"Citizenship, integrity, inclusiveness, and emotional intelligence are building blocks for leadership that students will find reflected throughout the College's co-curricular programs," Victor Arcelus, assistant dean of College Life and Director of Residence Life, said. "The residential setting contributes to learning in two ways: through the experiences of day-to-day living as part of a community and through purposeful dialogue that helps students integrate their academic and co-curricular experiences and focus on what they want out of college."
This work depends upon developing a sense of personal and community connection among students. Especially in the first two years, life in the residence halls is geared toward building friendships, understanding individual and community rights and responsibilities, encouraging reflection and self-awareness, and supporting academic and personal success. The focus in the junior and senior years shifts more to independent living in preparation for life after Gettysburg.
The student staff comprises residence coordinators (RCs), resident assistants (RAs), community assistants (CAs), and community leaders (CLs). They take part in extensive training that goes beyond the baseline (policies and standards, problem solving, and conducting programs) to emphasize the tools for relationship and community building.
Everybody benefits from the involvement of student staff. The student staff has the opportunity to gain professional leadership experience-a benefit wherever the future takes them. The residents have the assistance and ready ear of a knowledgeable, accessible peer. There are group activities tied to each year's learning goaland opportunities for meaningful personal connection with each student.
GChats are one-on-one conversations between student staff and residents, held at critical times in the course of the year-prior to the Thanksgiving and spring breaks and end-of-year finals. The staff listens and can suggest resources to help students identify options and future plans. Each GChat sets the tone for the next; three are held each year.
"GChats are informal, but carefully designed to ensure that students reflect on their academics, campus involvement, career development, residential living experience, and future plans," Arcelus said. "These opportunities to assess the past and plan for the future can help students make the most of their Gettysburg Experience," he added.
Why does Gettysburg College place such emphasis on an educational approach to residence life? To support the College's promise to prepare students to be active participants and leaders-on campus and as alumni. Parents can help by recognizing that a part of their student's education is being responsible for themselves, learning how to gather information and make decisions, and learning to live with people they don't know.
FYE: First-Year Experience
Student Activities and First-Year Programs, in conjunction with Residence Life, host FYE to help students as they adjust to their role and find their place within the College community. A series of programs introduces first-year students to a wide range of topics and provides opportunities for student to connect with people across campus. In a combination of large, small, and one-on-one sessions, first-year students participate in programs that address campus safety, the honor codes and point system, time management, academic life, and dialogues about diversity.
SYE: Sophomore Year Experience
Academic Advising, Career Development, and Residence Life joined together to create SYE and empower students to take ownership of their Gettysburg Experience by learning how to shape their futures intellectually, socially, and from a career preparation perspective. The program provides opportunities for sophomores to become more aware of themselves and the world around them; develop relationships with faculty, staff, advisors and peers; make informed and thoughtful decisions about their future; and be aware of and use resources for academic and personal growth.
Community Advisors (CAs) help students make better connections with their faculty advisors, teach them about the tools in the PeopleSoft academic planning resource, encourage them to take advantage of Career Development resources, and help to connect struggling students to appropriate resources. SYE programs include the Sophomore Class Dinner, Academic Planning Fair, and opportunities such as job shadowing, externships, and internships offered through the Center for Career Development.