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Over-the-Rhine residency program leaves lasting impact

By Rachel Duncan, For The Miami Student

Miami University's Over-the-Rhine residency program provides students an invaluable experience throughout a semester in downtown Cincinnati.

Open to all Miami students, the program has historically included majors in philosophy, architecture, interior design, education and social work.

In addition to earning 15 credit hours, students come out of the program with new perspectives and a better understanding of themselves and others. Each week, the students participate in reflection, write journal entries and poetry.

The students live in university-provided housing on 14th street, in a 19th century townhouse located in the heart of Over-the-Rhine and right next to Music Hall.

According to Cincinnati Center Development Corporation, Over-the-Rhine is, "One of the most economically distressed areas in the country with a poverty rate of 58 percent, an unemployment rate of just over 25 percent and a median household annual income of less than $10,000."

In 2006, the residency program was created because students wanted to spend more time in the community. Previously, professors had driven to Over-the-Rhine three times a week and only spent about three hours at the site. This meant, on average, they were only getting in about nine hours a week, which they said wasn't enough.

The program takes place during the fall semester. During the semester, the team works on designing, building and carrying out plans for housing developments in the community.

In the spring term, students work in architecture and design firms downtown, usually on community projects under professional guidance.

Thomas Dutton, the director for the Center for Community Engagement in Miami's

Over-the-Rhine program, emphasized that each student works with organizations that correspond to his or her majors so they can most effectively serve the underserved.

This program allows 15 students to get hands-on experience in the fields of their interest while immersing themselves in a culture with a different class and race. Throughout the term, six hours are earned for participating in the program and working with organizations. The remaining nine credits are earned through three different classes. The courses are in service learning, American cities since the 1940s and designing and writing for social change.

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"You cross a class boarder and a racial boarder, and in that effort to learn from life on the other side, life is impacted," Dutton said.

Halley Novak, a senior architecture major, participated in the program during the 2013 fall semester. She said she took away many positive things from her experience.

"I feel that the true gift of the Over the Rhine Residency Program actually lies in its ability to make indifference difficult," Novak said.

Novak said one of her favorite parts of the program is the community dinners held every Sunday. The students make a potluck dinner and invite community members to come join in discussion. It allows the students interactive time with community members.

Although Novak's major doesn't involve social justice directly, she said she discovered she could make an impact on social issues. This program gave her a more personal connection to all the issues she heard about in school and made her think more about what she wanted for her future.

"It affects how you view issues," Novak said. "When you think about your career, all that starts to play a role."