Not many children can say they grew up in a residential college, eating at dining halls, attending on-campus festivals and listening to top-notch speakers.
For professors like Laura Kohn-Wood and her family, this is just another day in the life.
The Residential Faculty Program was instituted to bridge the gap between what students learn in the classroom and how to incorporate that into their everyday lives.
The chance to engage with students on a deeper level drew Kohn-Wood, faculty master at Pearson Residential College, her husband and their son to this position.
“I’m excited to have a different kind of role with undergraduates,” said Kohn-Wood, professor in the Department of Educational and Psychological Studies. “You really do get to know students in a different way. There’s another side of student’s lives that are outside of the classroom, and it has been a really great learning experience for me, as well, getting to know them.”
The faculty master at Hecht Residential College, Michelle Maldonado, has been living on campus for five years with her husband, their two sons and their dog, Molly.
As a residential faculty member, she follows three guidelines: build a bridge between the classroom and other university experiences, foster an intentional intellectual community, and be a facilitator between students and professors.
“I think that students at UM rarely encounter professors who aren’t grading them, so there’s always that dimension of their relationship that this person’s giving me a grade, this person’s somehow judging me,” said Maldonado, associate professor in the Department of Religious Studies. “And to have a faculty member they can turn to, work with, talk with about any issue they’re having, I think is really important.”
Although raising children in a college environment may concern some parents, Scot Evans, faculty master in Eaton Residential College, was never worried about living with his wife and their daughter and son on campus because the other families formed a community and assured him of the benefits.
He also found that the Residential Assistants (RAs) played a positive role.
“The RAs that I work with are really good role models and mentors, even sometimes babysitters for my kids, so they have a lot of older support,” said Evans, assistant professor in the Department of Educational and Psychological Studies. “And time will tell, as for them being at a university environment, where everyone is interested in learning new things, and there’s lots of different people, different cultural events and things going on. I think that can only be a positive.”
Students also benefit from living among faculty because they see faculty as normal, regular people, according to Kohn-Wood.
“To some extent, if they can relate with me on a more human level, then hopefully that will transfer to connecting with other professors they have,” she said.
The interactions with students take on many forms, and Kohn-Wood encourages the different types of programming put on by the RAs or other student residents who suggest ideas.
Programs include open houses, guest speakers, trips to various Miami locations and transition programs for freshmen.
Kohn-Wood places emphasis on diversity-focused programs.
She is initiating an independent study that encourages students with different world views and perspectives to hold conversations with the purpose of learning from each other.
In addition to helping students adjust to campus life and handle academic struggles, the faculty provide a sense of community meant to foster success, for both students and professors.
“It probably did take me a while to adjust, and now I’m so used to it that when I have friends come over and they see eight girls making cookies in my kitchen, they ask ‘Is this normal?’ and I say, ‘Yeah this is actually normal for us,’” Maldonado said. “I think now it’s life, and I really love doing it, and I’m really passionate about it.”