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Miami offers four new living learning communities 2015-16 school year

By Krista Savage, For The Miami Student

The Office of Resident Life (ORL) is making several changes to the Living Learning Communities (LLCs) in Miami University residence halls for the 2015-16 school year. The changes are being made in an effort to improve student interest in on-campus activities and increase involvement among students.

The original LLCs were designed with a focus on first-year students. They served as a way to extend student-involvement beyond the walls of the classroom, improve academic performance and establish a network of friends with similar interests.

However, academic advisers began to collect student feedback and notice a lack of interest. The solution: minimize broad communities to achieve a more intimate connection among students.

Tresa Barlage, associate director for Academic Advising and LLCs, saw the need for change within the LLCs and outlined a set of initiatives to be implemented in fall 2015.

"We are eliminating [the LLC] Explore Miami. It's one of our larger ones that is very broad and general. We have found that students feel the most disconnected in this community," Barlage said. "It's unnecessary because every student is exploring Miami, whether in this community or not."

In the 2014-15 school year, students had 32 different LLC themes from which to choose. Seventeen of these communities are involved with special interests, like Celebrate the Arts and Outdoor Leadership. The other 15 communities are associated with career exploration and the student's academic goals, like Health Related Professions and Pre-Law and Public Policy.

In 2015-16, four new communities will be available to Miami students: Early Career Exploration, Engineering and Computing Service Scholars, Entrepreneurship and Pop Culture. In these communities, students will partake in relevant activities throughout the year in their residence halls. For example, in Pop Culture, students will explore social media as well as familiarize themselves with consumerism.

Also in the works for next school year, several new tracks will be established within Redhawk Traditions: Redhawk Fan Zone, Redhawk Love and Honor, Redhawk Health and Well-Being and Redhawk Gaming. Each track is designed to target a more specific topic, as an attempt to focus this broad community.

"We will give students a chance to explore each of these options when they declare Redhawk Traditions," Barlage said. "It gives us the chance to really individualize and customize different parts of this community, still keeping it directed at the traditions of Miami."

Jayne Brownell, vice president for Student Affairs, designed a task force to isolate the problems within communities and generate fresh ideas. She formed a committee, made up of students and administrators. As a team, they explored ways to encourage students to seek out specific learning communities, rather than default in a broad community.

"I encourage students to pursue an interesting LLC because it doesn't lock you in to a major," Brownell said. "If you have a passion for something, why not find other people who share that common interest? Being brave and putting yourself out there is a very enriching experience."

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One of the new ideas from the task force was the implementation of the UNV101 course for first-year students. This course was piloted through Redhawk Traditions as a course designed to provide small connections in a large community between students and faculty.

In the 2014-2015 school year, 414 students in Redhawk Traditions took the UNV101 course. Next year, this course will expand to include more students across academic divisions; eventually every first-year student will be required to take the course.

"I give the advice to new students to choose their LLC first, rather than dorm location or roommate," Brownell said. "You're going to be living all year with these other students and it's important to develop a friendship based on similar interests."

Students also have opinions about LLC involvement. First-year Lucy Thomas lives in Clawson Hall and is currently in the LLC Global Connections.

"I definitely thought that my LLC was beneficial, but my hall is smaller and more involved than most other learning communities on campus," Thomas said. "We get global buddies, host activities for international students and celebrate holidays together."

Despite these changes, the goals of the ORL remain the same: to connect students with similar interests, help them seek out new opportunities and create ways for new students to feel like they are involved and knowledgeable about campus events.