Center for Undergraduate Experience consolidates resources for first year students
Freshmen get better access to information, upperclassmen wait to see changes
The Center for Undergraduate Experience is now the central office for on-campus housing and residence life, a shift from the previous department of Housing and Dining Programs. The Center was announced in a memo released to students in August from the Office of Campus Life, along with the separation of Housing and Dining Services into their own respective departments.
The Center for Undergraduate Experience will serve as the main access point for students’ on-campus needs regarding housing, residence life and academics. These changes include renovations to first year residence halls over the summer, facilitating new living-learning communities and creating more space for academic collaboration outside of the classroom.
The office formally known as Housing and Dining Programs (HDP) is now defunct. In its place is Housing and Residence Life, located inside the Center for Undergraduate Experience on the first floor of Anderson Hall.
“We wanted to inspire a culture change to campus,” said Chris Moody, assistant vice president in the Office of Campus Life. “We shifted the focus around and said ‘What if we to look at resources and support from the student perspective?’”
The Center for Undergraduate Experience is in its pilot year and primarily focuses on improving the freshman experience, Moody said. He said that by ensuring students have a successful first year at AU, they are much more likely to maintain that success through college. Currently, the Center’s main focus is on the concerns of first year students, but will be expanding to all undergraduate students after this pilot year.
Almost 60 percent of all first year students are participating in living-learning communities this
year. Many students participating in an LLC take their classes inside of the renovated spaces in Anderson Hall that are filled with comfortable couches, whiteboards and projectors.
Madelynn Bovasso, a freshman in the School of Public Affairs and a member of the AU Honors program, said that having a network of peers and advisers available to her during the first year at AU has helped her adjust to college.
As a first generation college student, Bovasso was initially worried about the ease of transitioning from high school to college. Having a network of friends in the LLC that live on her floor along with her honors adviser and program assistant have been the key to her success thus far, she said.
“I feel very confident if I need someone to talk to, I have someone to talk so,” Bovasso said.
She mentioned that everyone “wants to be there” in her LLC, which is very motivating for her with a heavy course load.
Bovasso is taking her honors courses inside Anderson Hall, where the renovations made space for more classrooms so students can interact with their professors and peers in a more relaxed, comfortable setting, Moody said.
“Higher faculty engagement in non-traditional classroom settings leads to better retention and graduation rates for students,” Moody said.
This school year marks a shift in campus housing opportunities for all students. Just two years ago, the University offered upperclassmen incentives to move off-campus because there wasn’t enough space to house students. The University now hopes that more students will choose to live on campus after the completion of new residence halls in East Campus, Moody said.
But not everyone’s housing experience on East Campus last semester was what they expected. Sophomores moved into their new rooms this January instead of in the fall, breaking up their housing experience.
“There was a lot of stress and pressure [moving into East Campus] that wasn’t really worth it in the end,” said Anying Guo, a junior in the School of Communication. “In the end, it comes down to the fact that we were promised that the dorms would be ready for my entire sophomore year and I was not able to move in until the second semester.”
Many of the amenities, like the new gym and places to eat on East Campus, were also not completed by the time students moved in last year. Guo said the stress of moving mid-year made her realize there were many freedoms that living off campus would provide her.
“I realized that on-campus housing is so much more hassle than it’s worth,” said Guo. “Even though you have to buy your own furniture and pay your own utilities and everything unlike on-campus, it just wasn’t worth the stress that move put me through.”
Renovations to the south side of Anderson Hall will be completed next summer, along with Letts Hall in 2019, Moody said. There will be no more housing construction on campus until the next University plan is released in 2021.
Another change is that the Anderson-Letts complex is now exclusively freshmen housing, meaning that Centennial Hall will no longer house sophomore students. Upperclassmen now have the opportunity to live in all other campus housing, including the new East Campus, Moody said.
This year’s sophomore class is the first not to have any restrictions on their housing opportunities due to the construction of East Campus. There are no longer caps on the amount of upperclassmen that can apply for University housing during their time at AU, Moody said.
As a part of the RiSE initiative and student feedback from the Campus Climate Survey data, Dining Services has now split off into their own department in order to create a more centralized office, according to the August memo. The OneCard and Dining Services office is located on the first floor of the Mary Graydon Center.
The Center will focus its work to understand the perspective of the student in a “holistic approach,” Moody said. This includes separating dining services from housing so that each have the proper resources to improve, he said.
The Center will receive feedback from first year students at the end of this year to help plan and organize services for all students next year.