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Honors students enjoy new living-learning community

March 5, 2012
 Honors LLC
Several members of the Honors Living-Learning Community take a break from helping freshmen move into Bridgman Hall at the start of the fall semester. Pictured (from left) are Hannah Zidon, Tiffany Christner, Bailey Lieck and Alexis Wong.
EAU CLAIRE — Last fall, a large group of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire students walked to the Farmers Market in Phoenix Park to find some locally grown cuisine. Later that night, the students crammed into Bridgman Hall's kitchen, used what they found at the market to prepare a stir-fry and shared the meal together.

"It was a great way for everyone to interact and work as a team, with a delicious result," senior Laurelyn Wieseman said of the outing and dinner, which was enjoyed by students who are part of a UW-Eau Claire Honors Program Living-Learning Community.

The university's Honors Program created its own living-learning community in an effort to expand the program's reach and to increase students' sense of connection to the program. The new community began in fall 2011, with Wieseman, a Latin American studies major from Lake Geneva, serving as the community's first resident assistant.

A living-learning community is composed of like-minded students who choose to live, learn, study and explore topics of interest together. The honors community can include up to 30 male and 30 female students, all of whom are members of the Honors Program.

Freshman Lillian Forsman, a Spanish education major from Watertown, said she felt welcomed in the living-learning community right from the start.

"On move-in day, students in the living-learning community bonded over a ropes course and played board games," Forsman said. "We had dinner together several times. Those first few days were filled with nervous energy and raw excitement, and they built a foundation for the wonderful community we have become."

The process of creating the community took nearly two years and a great deal of work, said Quincy Chapman, assistant director of Housing and Residence Life. It was worth the effort given how quickly the program has taken off, he said, noting that it's already so popular that it will be moved to a larger area in the residence halls so it can accommodate more students.

"To get started, we had to answer a number of questions, such as where it should be located, how many students should be invited to participate, what kinds of activities should be created, how students should be recruited and when, how the community should be staffed, and what it's going to cost," Chapman said. "We had to create new systems of communicating between two departments — Honors Program and Housing and Residence Life — that, up to this point, had not had a lot of interaction."

Bailey Ringold, honors living-learning community program coordinator, was charged with showing new students how enjoyable residence life can be. In her position, Ringold, a senior biology major from Eagan, Minn., plans major events for the honors community.

"I figured that it was a good opportunity for me to develop leadership skills and work with others to create a positive experience for residents," Ringold said of the experience.

"These events can range from Honors Chaos (a trip to Chaos Water Park), to Peer Diversity Educators giving a presentation about learning styles, to Career Services presenting about creating a resume," Ringold said.

The most beneficial part of the living-learning community has been the support from the students living in such a close-knit family, said Brady Krien, a junior accounting and English major from Lake Geneva, who is the current resident assistant for the men's honors community.

"Our goal at the start of the year was to create a community where everyone felt welcome and included," Krien said. "We wanted everyone in the community to feel like they'd found their own place at UW-Eau Claire. The residents in the living-learning community did a fantastic job of carving out their own space and making their own community."

Students must be accepted into the University Honors Program to be part of the Honors Living-Learning Community.

For more information about the Honors Living-Learning Community, contact Dr. Jeff Vahlbusch, director of the University Honors Program, at 715-836-4490 or vahlbujb@uwec.edu. For updates from the students or to view photos of the community, see the community's Facebook page.

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