FiR Tunks awaits ‘adventure’ with students outside classroom

Editors’ note: In August 2014 SMU will debut the Residential Commons on-campus living model. Eleven Faculty-in-Residence were selected to live among students. This is part 10 of 11 FiR profiles.

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Professor Tom Tunks

 

While interim provost during the 2006-2007 school year, Tom Tunks, SMU music professor, appointed a task force on honors programming that found the potential of enhancing a sense of campus community through a Faculty-in-Residence program.

As time went on, the idea was brought up in other committees and task forces until the university eventually decided to implement the program. Although Tunks was supportive of the idea, he never imagined himself actually participating in the program.

“I was part of the group that established and defined the residential communities that we sent up. I knew the FiR was going to be a part of that,” Tunks said.

“I wasn’t envisioning myself but as we got closer and closer and somebody said, ‘don’t you want to do this?’ and I talked to my wife and I said ‘what would you think about that?’ and she was really excited about the idea.”

Tunks’ wife, Jeanne, is also a college professor and teaches at the University of North Texas. The couple, who have spent the majority of their careers teaching, enjoyS being around college-age students, which is one reason why they think living in the dorms will be fun.

“Both of our sons are grown and in their thirties and have moved away and we thought this would really be fun, what a great adventure,” Tunks said.

In addition to being a great adventure, Tunks and his wife both believe in the importance of knowing students outside of the classroom, which is an opportunity they will have by living in the residences. The couple regularly goes on alternative breaks with students for the same reason.

“You get to know students in a much deeper way than you can in a classroom setting where you’re limited to 50 minutes, three times a week or an hour and 20 minutes twice a week and it’s not just the individual students that you get to know, but you have a good feel of what people between the ages of 18-22 are thinking about and I think you’re a much better teacher if you get to know that and besides that, it’s fun,” Tunks said.

Not only does he think FiR and the residential commons are beneficial for the faculty but for the students as well. He hopes that the new residential commons will provide students with a sense of belonging they might not otherwise find available. According to Tunks, certain majors and the Greek system provide a tight-knit community but the residential commons can provide one for students that don’t have either.

“It provides a different dimension of college life from the dimensions we’ve had for a long time. It’s a sense of belonging. If we set these up right and if we do them right, people will feel a sense of affiliation to whatever residential community they’re in. There will be an additional option of just some way to feel a sense of belonging to something smaller than the university at large,” said Tunks.

Like many of the FiR, Tunks has a few ideas of activities he would want to try with the residents but said he and his wife are more concerned with what the students will think is fun.

“The main thing about college students is, if you know you have a racehorse the best thing to do is to get out of its way,” Tunks said. “You make something available and if people want to stop by and visit with you and come and spend an evening cooking whatever type of food, playing board games or watching some event whether it’s a sporting event or a concert and talking about it, they can do that and if they don’t want to that’s fine because one size never fits all.”

“We both feel very strongly that it’s important for students to be in the leadership of all this stuff, not us. It’s not our ideas that really count it’s what the students would think would be fun to do-up to and including never seeing the old geezers.”

The student’s leadership has been key throughout the entire process of the residential commons for Tunks. Having the program be a collective effort is one thing Tunks is really proud of.

“It’s important not to forget the staff in residence and the student leadership that’s helping plan this right now,” Tunks said. “That’s one of the cool things about it. It’s shared planning, shared governance, shared implementation and that’s part of the spirit of the whole thing. We are all working together on this and we all own it.”

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