An apartment in a campus residence hall with 317 undergraduate student neighbors is a far cry from the house on 6 1/2 acres Rick Rudd and Donna Westfall-Rudd had been living in.

Rudd was named faculty principal for the Leadership and Social Change Residential College (LSCRC) at Virginia Tech last spring. In the summer, the couple took the leap and relocated to the LSCRC faculty principal residence in O'Shaughnessy Hall.

“We both enjoy interacting with people and get a lot of joy and gratification from helping students find their way and achieve their goals,” said Rudd. “Learning in community — in both formal learning situations and non-formal settings such as fellowship and recreation — offers us an opportunity to grow together and benefit from the collective knowledge and experience we have in the LSCRC.”

With extensive experience in creating communities that connect people from around the world and an internationally recognized love of teaching, Rudd is a natural for the role of faculty principal. Adding Westfall-Rudd’s expertise in teaching and her work in equity, diversity, and inclusion makes a team that will bring a unique perspective to leading, serving, and living among the 279 LSCRC students and 38 Lavender House students who live in O’Shaughnessy Hall.

Rudd is professor in the Department of Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education and the Endowed Chair for Community Viability in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Westfall-Rudd is an associate professor in the Department of Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education and co-advises Students for Cultivating Change, an organization for LGBTQ+ students in agriculture at Virginia Tech. She also works closely with the Native@VT student organization and has leads a U.S. Department of Agriculture-funded project to  support the recruitment and retention of Native American students. Both have been involved with the LSCRC as faculty fellows and contributed to the development of its curriculum and programming over the years.

“The residential college offers a unique opportunity for students to interact with faculty beyond formal settings and engage in experiences that link their career interests and classroom work to real-world challenges,” said Westfall-Rudd. “In the community, students and faculty have the space to explore these potential connections and enhance their college experiences.”

A currently funded project with U.S. Department of Agriculture will teach members of the LSCRC about food security in Appalachia and Senegal. Students learn how the challenges of food security are similar in these contexts. They also learn and teach people to preserve food, which can lead to more food-secure households. Students in the program experience life in a developing country and are able to identify deeply with the people they are teaching.

The 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals are central to intentional learning in the LSCRC. “We emphasize that the 17 goals are relevant in our campus, community, state, region, nation, and around the world. Having speakers, programming, experiences, and traditions that build knowledge and expertise in one or more of the UN Sustainable Development Goals will provide LSCRC community members with unique perspectives to apply in leadership and social change,” said Rudd.

“Working with students where they live helps all involved recognize the individual values and needs at play when learning about other perspectives and addressing major challenges and issues,” said Westfall-Rudd. “At the core of mentoring is helping individuals learn to develop their personal and professional networks to help feel a part of something, draw on others for ideas and inspiration, and discover new opportunities that folks never knew were possible.”

“Leadership, social change, and indeed life itself is about our relationships with others,” said Rudd. “This exceptional opportunity affords us the chance to connect with students on academic, personal, and professional levels. When we can see the many layers of personhood, it is much easier to understand and work with people in good times and in tough situations. Knowing we all have multiple dimensions and honoring that reality can help us see more similarities than differences between people.”

Rudd and Westfall-Rudd said adjusting to life in the residence hall has been pain-free — except for setting off the first two fire alarms of the semester before the detector in their kitchen was replaced.

“Between the two of us, we have six children. They are now all between the ages of 24 and 32. The residential building is quieter than our house when they would have their friends over. We both love teaching, so sharing space with students doesn’t seem that odd,” said Westfall-Rudd.

“We do get some funny looks from time to time. Two seasoned faculty members in the dorm are not the norm, but that gives us an opportunity to introduce ourselves and talk about our role in the community. Of course, Buck and Annie are great ambassadors for the LSCRC and give us an easy ‘in’ with students,” added Rudd, referring to their two dachshunds.

“We started an Instagram account for them [@buckannie_oshag] right before we moved into the building. We hoped it would help us meet students in the building and help the students get to know us. It has been so much fun to share photos of the dogs and see the student response,” said Westfall-Rudd. Students now refer to Buck and Annie as the “Oshag dogs” and there is a waiting list for dog walking opportunities.

The residential college movement started at Virginia Tech in 2011 with the establishment of the first residential college in East Ambler Johnston Hall. There are now 18 living-learning communitiesthree residential colleges, and the Creativity and Innovation District at Virginia Tech, each with its own character and focus.

Living-Learning Programs at Virginia Tech give students a chance to extend their education beyond the classroom in an intentional way that encourages them to take ownership of their experiences. The university has set a strategic goal of increasing the number of undergraduate students in Living-Learning Programs to 60 percent by 2028. Currently, 51 percent of Virginia Tech undergraduate students participate in a Living-Learning Program.

Related links:

Four new Living-Learning Programs for fall 2021

Virginia Tech’s newest faculty principal emphasizes a holistic approach to help students thrive

Tim Baird named faculty principal for the Creativity and Innovation District Living-Learning Community

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