Next fall, 11 faculty members will move into newly renovated apartments in residence halls in hopes of increasing student engagement and creating a family atmosphere.
The faculty, including four who have already moved in, will bring with them their spouses and children ranging from two to 14, said Jeff Grim, assistant director of Resident Life for Academic Initiatives.
The goal of the program is to get “students to see faculty members not just as instructors, but as community members with passions, aspirations, families, pets and hobbies,” Grim said. Similar programs exist at Harvard, Vanderbilt and Rice. The SMU website said similar programs contribute to higher retention rates and more satisfied students.
Will Powers, SMU Meadows Artist-in-Residence, will move in with his wife, Marla Teyolia, who also works on campus, and their six-year-old twins, Omar-Sol and Sophia. Powers said their move was a family decision and he is excited for his children to grow up interacting with young college age students. “My children will be able to have and take their university experiences and those expectations as normal,” Powers said.
Grim believes moving families into the dorms “will help SMU students feel like they are part of a literal family.”
Powers agreed having his children in the dorm would help contribute to a family atmosphere. He said students have always reacted with enthusiasm to being back around children. Powers also thinks it’s important students remember they are role models and hopes “it will remind them of how they are also acting as an inspiration for younger kids.”
However, not all students agree this will feel like a family. SMU sophomore Lauren Marmolejo said having a child in the dorm might make her uncomfortable, especially with some of the wild first-year behavior that happens in the dorms.
Arin McGovern, a member of the Residential Commons Leadership Board, will live in the commons next year and is helping to develop the student experience with staff and the FiR. McGovern, along with other student leaders and administrators, wants to make sure the FiR stay as mentors. “The faculty positions within the residence halls do not serve as disciplinary positions,” McGovern said.
Professor of Music Thomas Tunks will move into the commons next year with his wife, Jeanne, and they aren’t looking to re-parent anyone. “I think it would antithetical to the whole thing if we were mentors and advisors and police at the same time,” Tunks said. “I’ve already had to do that as a parent.”
Mary Kate Tadie, current sophomore Virginia-Snider resident, has experienced two different FiR. She said she hasn’t felt like the FiR are patrolling the halls or monitoring students’ behavior.
This family away from home might face another obstacle next year. Students who have been invited to the apartments of faculty members are grabbing food, but they aren’t staying to engage. “I never went besides to steal a muffin and run away,” Sophomore student and Virginia-Snider resident Michelle Vogler said. Tadie and Marmolejo made similar statements.
Going forward, the FiRs are looking for more engaging programming. Tunks, who houses four boats at the White Rock Boat Club, said he is planning on inviting students to spend a day on the lake with them.
His wife, who loves to cook, is also looking forward to hosting cooking demonstrations and game nights in their apartments.
Power, who is an award-winning playwright and performer from New York, is planning to sponsor movie nights and discussions in his apartment along with “Theater Thursdays” encouraging students to try new things. He and his wife are eager to set up a garden as well as hosting “Smoothie Sundays.”
He hopes these events and normal daily interactions will help bridge the gap between students and professors who come from different backgrounds.
The Faculty in Residences are excited to get started and learn what has worked or failed from their colleagues. “I can learn this year from them about the things they’re doing that are effective and successful and the things they say that was a flop. Life’s that way; not everything works every time,” Tunks said.