Virginia Tech’s new Morrill living-learning community is designed to engage students around the challenges of sustainability. The program will focus on issues of environmental sustainability and provide students opportunities to be involved in research.

Students are encouraged to apply now for the fall semester. The Morrill community will be located in Pritchard Hall. It is open to first-year students in any field of study who have an interest in learning about sustainability.

“For students who want to make a change in their community, this experience will give them the framework and network to do so,” said Jamie Penven, associate director for academic initiatives in Housing and Residence Life.

Named in honor of Justin Smith Morrill, the Vermont senator who sponsored the Morrill Land-Grant Colleges Act of 1862, the community is closely linked to the land-grant tripartite mission of learning, discovery, and engagement.

“Sustainability is a word that has many connotations and is being explored across campus in a number of different ways,” said Peter Ziegler, research assistant professor in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences office of academic programs. Ziegler is academic director for the Morrill community. “In a sense, the land-grant mission -- to advance social and community development, foster economic competitiveness, and improve the quality of life -- is a sustainability effort.”

The Morrill community will explore sustainability as a framework, engaging students to understand complex systems, negotiate global perspectives, and communicate within interdisciplinary teams. “They will learn to synthesize knowledge from different disciplines towards collaborative problem solving and critical thinking,” said Ziegler.

Susan Sumner, associate dean and director of academic programs in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, was an early supporter of the concept of a living-learning community centered on sustainability.

“From the very beginning, I wanted to build a community that would have meaning and purpose,” Sumner said. “This community clearly aligns with many different initiatives within the college and on campus. That it aligns with the university’s Climate Action Commitment and Sustainability Plan and other sustainability initiatives is an additional bonus. That is what will make it a great community, one that enriches the lives of students and faculty.” 

“Morrill was founded on the idea that sustainability is a shared process across academic disciplines and highly connected to your locale,” said Matt Grimes, assistant director of living-learning programs in Housing and Residence Life. “Students will engage in multidisciplinary and community-centered learning from day one.”  

With the goal of giving students both knowledge and skills, the Morrill community will work with community partners across southwest Virginia to provide students with real world activities and projects being carried out in the region. The Morrill curriculum will also include a common English course aimed at communicating effectively.

The Morrill steering team was brought together to assist and advise the academic director and to contribute to the curricular and co-curricular elements based on their areas of expertise. Grimes and Ziegler co-chair the Morrill steering committee. Other members are

  • Renee Boyer, associate professor of food sciences and technologies;
  • Curt Friedel, assistant professor and undergraduate coordinator, agricultural extension education;
  • Caraline Moholland, residential learning coordinator, Pritchard Hall;
  • Bob Oliver, assistant professor of geography; and
  • Will O’Connor of Bridgeport, Conn., a junior majoring in ocean engineering in the College of Engineering. O’Conner is currently a resident advisor in Pritchard hall and is returning next year to work with the Morrill community.

“I think the key to its success is to be open to collaboration across the university,” said Ziegler.

There are 16 living-learning communities at Virginia Tech. The development of the Morrill living-learning community has been informed by earlier living-learning communities at Virginia Tech, according to Frank Shushok Jr., senior associate vice president for Student Affairs and associate professor of higher education.

“With the growing number of living-learning communities and residential colleges at Virginia Tech, we’re garnering new and helpful feedback that continues to strengthen the impact of these environments,” said Shushok. “Students tell us that these communities have been essential in their transition and success. The Morrill living-learning community will bring with it all our learning from the implementation of previous efforts.”

The first year, 20 first-year students will be selected to participate. The number of participants will grow as the project develops. Interested students can learn more about the Morrill community and can apply online. For more information, contact Pete Ziegler at 540-231-9662 or Matt Grimes at 540-231-6205.



Written by Sandy Broughton.

Share this story