MC pilots a new approach to residence life

Maryville College pilots a new approach to residence life

Nov. 5, 2018

Since returning to Maryville College this fall, several students have been piloting a new approach to residence life. This year, the College introduced three themed living communities that aim to build communities of like-minded students within residence halls.

Dr. Melanie Tucker, vice president and dean of students, helped introduce themed communities at Maryville College this year. She had seen similar programs at other colleges, and with more than 70 percent of Maryville College’s students living on campus, Tucker believed themed communities could enhance residence life.

“Research indicates that themed communities provide another opportunity for students to engage on campus, and student engagement is a key factor in student retention,” Tucker said.

Currently, there are three themed living communities: Fit. Green. Happy.® community engagement and scholar-athlete. The College’s wellness residence, Gibson Hall, adopted Fit. Green. Happy.® in partnership with Mountain Challenge. The campus-wide initiative aims to make strong connections between the Mountain Challenge program, the College’s academic departments and its location.

The community engagement theme is housed in Davis Hall and helps members get involved with the local community through service.

The scholar-athlete community in Gamble Hall is dedicated to helping athletes balance the demands of athletics and academics.

Students were able to choose whether to be a part of a themed living community when applying for housing; however, there is no mandatory component. Students are free to choose when to participate in themed programming and, despite being housed in specific residence halls, any student is welcome to participate in the themed communities’ programming.

 “The themes just mean that staff in the buildings have a theme to speak to for their programming that will engage students in something that seems to be of interest to them,” Tucker explained.

This year’s themes were chosen based on student interest reported in a residence satisfaction survey conducted last spring. Jessica Boor, director of student services, said there was an overwhelmingly positive response from students on the prospect of themed communities. Incoming students also expressed positive interest on their housing surveys. 

So far, feedback from students and staff within the communities has been positive. At the end of the year, they’ll survey students again to ask what new themes they want to see next year. The Fit. Green. Happy.® community is working on a survey that will help them gauge whether participants have changed the way they relate to their environment. Resident assistants also are working with the student clinic to see if there are fewer self-reported illnesses among members of the Fit. Green. Happy.® community.

Tucker and Boor are already looking ahead to the future of themed living at Maryville College. In the future, Boor envisions students creating their own themed living communities.

“I’d like to get to a place where themed living is driven 100 percent by students,” Boor said. “We want students to channel their passion and bring it into their communities.”

Plans are underway to launch a living-learning community next fall that aligns with the new McGill Scholarship Program and its academically high achieving students. While living-learning communities are similar to themed communities, Tucker pointed out an important distinction.    

“Living-learning communities are a bit more formal, and there may be a mandatory component,” she said. “Themed communities are a bit more fluid, meaning as student interest ebbs and flows and we see changes to population, we can more quickly change them out.”

Boor explained that the introduction of themed living communities gives Maryville College a competitive edge and sends a positive message to current and prospective students.

“Themed communities show we want you here, we want you to engage, we want to develop you,” Boor said. “We want you to bring your whole self here.”

Eventually, the College’s staff members hope to see an increase in retention after the introduction of themed living communities, but more importantly, they hope themed communities will help students feel more at home as a student at Maryville College.

“First and foremost, I hope that students will gain a sense of community with their peers,” Tucker said. “Because we do function as a residential campus, we want students to feel this is home and a safe place where they can learn and thrive outside of the classroom.”

Written by Evy Linkous ’17 for Maryville College

Maryville College is ideally situated in Maryville, Tenn., between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Knoxville, the state's third largest city. Founded in 1819, it is the 12th oldest institution of higher learning in the South and maintains an affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Known for offering its students a rigorous and highly personal experience that includes an undergraduate research requirement, Maryville College is a nationally ranked institution of higher learning that successfully joins the liberal arts and professional preparation. Total enrollment for the Fall 2018 semester is 1,154.