Living life in the (residential) village
Nov. 13, 2015
SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Ask freshman Luke Fabisiak, an exploratory student from Pittsburgh, why he chose to attend Slippery Rock University and you'll hear the usual responses - the University offers a variety of majors, is in a great location and the people are friendly. But what really sealed the deal for him were the residential suites.
"Overall, the room quality is excellent," he said. "Having the ability to choose different room layout styles depending on personal preference is a great benefit. I really do feel like I'm in a home away from home."
Gone are the cinder block and fluorescent-lit dorms of yore, where students largely fended for themselves. Today's halls provide residents with convenience, safety, technology and a plethora of resources for academic and life success.
In addition to amenities such as wireless connectivity, study labs, smart boards, semi-private bathrooms and 24-7 security, close to 70 community-adviser mentors, graduate assistants and full-time staff promote a living-learning environment that supports each student's educational, social and personal development.
"It's not just your friends you are relying on," said Daniel Brown, SRU director of housing. "We have professional staff and community advisers and desk attendants who are trained to be caring resources."
While SRU's halls offer many advantages, an unusual aspect is class-rank unity. SRU does not separate first-year students from upperclassmen, enabling freshmen to tap into all resources from the day they arrive.
"There is no, "this is where freshman live, and this is where upper-class students live,'" Brown said. "Freshmen have all our options that are open to all students."
The residential village includes six suite-style buildings, the first of which opened in 2006 University Housing also includes the R.O.C.K. Apartments that offer upper-class and graduate housing, and North and Rhoads halls that offer a traditional living experience.
The suites include air conditioning, different room configurations and options such as private rooms and living rooms.
"Even though it may seem trivial, some Big 10 schools don't have air conditioning, and students want AC," Brown said.
The halls, with 100 percent wireless access, support independent learning with spaces designated for an art studio, music practice room and education labs with computers.
"The suites are sought after," Brown said. "A majority of students are coming for the suites, because they have a fridge and microwave included, and they offer a home-like apartment feel. You don't have to haul in a fridge like you did years ago. You don't have haul in a microwave. Those are all included. They're carpeted and have semi-private bathrooms."
Even the "little things" like laundry are accounted for in the suites. Students no longer have to make multiple trips to check on the status of their laundry. Technology now alerts students when a washer is available and sends a text when the spin cycle stops.
Another key component is peer support. Each of the buildings has a student House Council. The Association of Residence Hall Students group helps empower students to become leaders through programs and relationship building.
"My personal goal is to enhance the living environment for students who reside on campus," said Rebecca Weintraub, a resort and recreation management major from Downingtown and president of The Association of Residents Hall Students. "I want the 'home away from home' feel to become a reality for all students."
Weintraub said she listens to students about their concerns, aiming to help them become more prepared for the future.
"As president, I have many roles," she said. "I always need to be available for students. I have to oversee other students and help them grow towards our organizational goals. I also work with professional staff to help our organization reach our goals as well. I try to grow relationships with other groups on campus also to help achieve my goals stated above."
Weintraub said SRU's residence life provides many benefits. Classroom buildings, Bailey Library and the dining halls are within walking distance; student community assistants provide a wealth of knowledge and the living-learning floor concept places students in the same academic fields in the same hall.
SRU offers single, double and triples occupancy rooms.
"They really try to accommodate everyone," Weintraub said. "Living in the residence halls, you foster a community with other students. To me that is such a wonderful asset. Students help each other with classes and feel less homesick when they are a part of something."
Safety features and a commitment to sustainability - energy dashboards track utility usage - are standard.
"The way that all the halls have swipe access and a desk attendant to keep track of who is in the building is a comfort that the residence halls provide," Weintraub said. " The personal swipe access/ key access is another safety precaution that makes it easier to adjust and feel safe in a new home."
Rooms certainly look like home. Common décor includes throw rugs, wall posters, pictures with friends and Fathead Stickers. Common areas include paintings and brightly colored furniture that provides a contemporary flavor.
"Things are always changing," she said. " I love this because it makes it feel as though students come first and that ResLife is always trying to update and make things better for the students."
Fabisiak said residence hall connections have reinforced his commitment to learning.
"I have been pleasantly surprised by how much time students who live in the halls spend studying together," he said. "It has made me realize that I am here to succeed academically first and foremost. As an exploratory major, working with students who have already declared (a major) has opened my eyes to what is out there and helped me discover some new interests."
Fabisiak said students enjoy the suites because they provide a place to come together with others and a place to take time for themselves as well. The suite style layout makes the room feel more like a small apartment rather than a dormitory, adding comfort to the college experience.
"The people in your residence hall are some of the first you get to know after arriving on campus," he said. "Living amongst these people all year creates a natural bond. There have been several instances where we have come together to help each other through tough times. We all have our differences and imperfections, but ultimately, we want to see each other be happy and succeed and will help in any way we can to make that happen."
The atmosphere contributed to an "ah ha" moment for Fabisiak.
"I have begun to discover what truly matters to me in this life and also what I would like to change to make myself a better person," Fabisiak said. "I would not have had this realization without living in the residence halls with a group of people I had not known prior to coming to Slippery Rock University."
Brown said SRU's 24-hour-a day desk coverage is a very important safety feature that students and parents appreciate. Other safety elements include training all CA's to be ready to respond to any emergency should the need arise, and providing transport to SRU's 24/7 health center if necessary.
The Living-Learning Community halls promote synergy between like-minded students and are equipped with specialized equipment and spaces to promote their learning. For example, keyboard pianos for the music LLC, a dance lab for the dance LLC and a new anatomy mannequin lab for exercise science.
"Because we're an academic institution, residence halls are not just about having fun," Brown said. "You're learning, and you're not doing it on your own. Housing and residence life is not a landlord in the typical sense. We help with that problem. We work with students. The program here is deliberate."
Brown, an SRU graduate, said he remembers moving into the now-demolished Bard Hall in 1997, when Ethernet connection was a big deal.
"In today's world, very few plug into an Ethernet jack," Brown said. "On our Wi-Fi, you can have 20 devices on your wireless system. We have found that students have up to five or 10 wireless devices they need to toggle between."
Each residence hall has unique features, such as a coffee shop in Watson, and an outdoor fireplace in Building F. Building B caters to out-of-state and international students. Building A houses many exercise science students.
Each building has a student House Council to involve students in shared governance and to insure their needs are met..
The traditional halls, with their iconic appearance, still appeal to many students because of their affordability and vintage footprint, Brown said.
"They offer a unique experience with a close community that appeals to many students, and also have many of the same features as the suites," Brown said.
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