At Clemson, good professors make good neighbors
From Super Bowl ad-viewing parties to cat cuddling sessions, book club meetings to fresh-baked cookies, college living is characterized by spontaneous experiences and exposure to new perspectives. But at Clemson, students’ enriching, everyday interactions aren’t reserved for their peers – they are shared with professors, too.
The University’s Faculty in Residence program brings Clemson professors and students into the same residential space, replacing traditional campus life with a foundation for community engagement, unexpected relationships and plenty of game nights.
But adding faculty members to the list of Tigers that call Clemson home is more than an act of Southern hospitality — it’s part of a larger academic initiative that shapes the Clemson experience.
“The goal of the program is to provide an opportunity for students and faculty to interact outside of the classroom,” said Suzanne Price, associate director of academic initiatives for Clemson housing. “It’s about blending the academic and out-of-class experience.”
Sarah Winslow, Clemson sociology professor and National Scholars Program Faculty Fellow, is one of the six professors living on campus. While Faculty In Residence positions are offered in many different on-campus communities — including Stadium Suites, the Shoeboxes, the Quad, Lightsey Bridge and Thornhill Village — Winslow found her perfect fit in Holmes, the Calhoun Honors College residence hall.
“I was drawn to the program because it seemed like such a unique idea,” Winslow said. “There were so many exciting things going on in the Honors community that I wanted to be a part of.”
And since moving into a renovated space within the Holmes Hall basement, she certainly has.
“I interact with students all the time,” she said. “Since I teach sociology courses within the honors college, a few of the students who live in Holmes are also in my classes, which has been such a unique experience.”
The door in her Holmes office is always open for these students to drop in and work through tough assignments or to seek guidance about academic advising requirements.
“As a sociologist, a lot of the themes we cover in class are also found in media,” she said. “I love when students will find a new example and stop by to tell me — it’s great to see students take learning outside the classroom.”
While these extended office hours are undoubtedly helpful for her sociology students, Winslow’s Faculty in Residence role extends to all members of the honors community. Since entering the program, Winslow has organized hall game nights (Catch Phrase is a student favorite), exclusive lunches with visiting speakers, a book club focusing on women in underdeveloped nations and a Super Bowl viewing event, which used advertisements to fuel a discussion about messages portrayed in media.
“In providing these natural and fun chances to interact, I’ve seen that, inevitably, academic discussion will come. The program has really created a greater sense of community and allows for mentoring and open communication, without the tension of being graded,” Winslow said.
Eric Zuberi, a freshman honors microbiology major, is a frequent drop-in to Winslow’s open office hours, despite their disciplinary differences.
“You always have someone to talk to, whether it’s related to academics or not,” he said of the program’s strengths.
This comprehensive sense of community is exactly what Dustin Albright, architecture professor and advisor to the CU Design Living Learning Community, works to uphold in the Lightsey Bridge apartment community across campus.
“In freshman halls, students are really close together,” Albright said. “Lightsey is more autonomous, where students are starting to gain more independence and might not know people outside of their apartment building.”
Although the apartment complex is expansive, Albright’s community engagement provides students the opportunity to find that connection. Residents can find Albright and his wife Amy almost anywhere: Eating with students in the dining halls, sitting with students at football games or hosting drop-in events at their apartment — with plenty of milk and cookies, of course.
Henry, Lightsey’s cat-in-residence, is another uniting force.
“He’s really popular with the students who visit,” Albright laughed. To many students’ dismay, Henry cannot leave Albright’s apartment, but homesick residents can find a cuddly cat and an opportunity for peer-mentor interaction only a few steps from their living space.
Academically, Albright’s experience teaching structural engineering for architecture majors makes him a unique mentor for the design majors who make up Lightsey’s design living-learning community (LLC).
“Some of my favorite memories have been taking design field trips to Asheville or Atlanta with my LLC students,” he said. Last year, Albright organized a behind-the-scenes architecture tour at the Biltmore Estate for the design students in Lightsey.
When he’s not busy coordinating design-focused events, Albright’s openness in discussing class projects, internships and portfolios provides valuable insight for his students. But in some ways, Albright has learned just as much from these interactions as his students have.
“This experience has shown me that Clemson students are very active. When I am in the classroom, I have a respect for the things they have going on. Does that mean I assign less homework? No,” he laughed. “But I respect where they come from.”
As Albright’s reflections demonstrate, the Faculty in Residence program’s ability to foster mentoring relationships between students and faculty has ended up altering the college experience for both parties.
“Going in, we wanted students to see faculty outside of the classroom, but the reverse is happening, too,” Price said. “This experience has helped professors see each student is a holistic being, not just someone who comes to class for an hour each day.”