Beginning in fall 2011, Virginia Tech will offer a new residential college initiative to enhance the college experience. The renovated East Ambler Johnston Hall will house 325 University Honors students. West Ambler Johnston, which will be renovated during the 2011-2012 academic year, will re-open as a residential college for fall 2012 with another 800 spaces for interested students from any discipline.

The two residential colleges, the first planned for the Virginia Tech campus, will provide a new type of housing environment, where students can actively participate in their education by engaging with peers and faculty members inside the residence hall. While well established at smaller liberal arts and Ivy League colleges, residential colleges will provide new opportunities for learning engagement at Virginia Tech, which serves the largest full-time student population in Virginia.

“The residential college reflects all aspects of student learning,” said Frank Shushok, associate vice president for student affairs. “It touches intellectual life, social life, and contemplative life. It gives students a space they can govern themselves, in collaboration with faculty and student affairs personnel.”

While many living-learning communities are primarily for freshmen, the residential college model emphasizes a living arrangement where freshmen, sophomores, juniors, seniors, and graduate students live under the same roof. As a result, students who return to the community, often for multiple years, play an important mentoring and leadership role in the environment.

“The multi-generational/multi-disciplinary nature of a residential college is a really important component,” said Shushok. “Students reside together and mentor each other; there is a greater sense of connection to the place. It becomes a home, and you teach the people who follow you how your home operates.”

The residential colleges will feature refurbished, air-conditioned student rooms, including traditional-style rooms and suite-style rooms. Two 1,700-square-foot apartments for live-in student affairs staff and seven offices for faculty will also be included in the residential college, allowing more frequent interactions with students.

Two 2,300-square-foot faculty apartments will also be part of the residential colleges, one in West Ambler Johnston and one in East Ambler Johnston. Each will feature three bedrooms, 2.5 bathrooms, and a large living room-kitchen area where resident faculty can share meals and entertain groups of students. The resident faculty members will play an instrumental role in the culture of the residential college and provide guidance in the academic aspects of student life. Hosting events for students in their homes is an important part of the role.

“One advantage of a residential college is that it can be very intentional and very intense with how it encourages students to grow and broaden,” said Terry Papillon, director of the University Honors Program and professor of classics in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. “Our academic departments are charged with turning students into successful engineers and architects — here, a diverse group of faculty can concentrate on turning students into engaged citizens.”

“Architecture and environment shape experience, and they foster education,” said Rachel Holloway, associate dean of undergraduate academic affairs in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences and associate professor of communication.

The renovated space will provide many new places for residents to engage with peers and faculty members, including living rooms, classrooms, meeting spaces, a theater, a library, and a fitness area. It will cost approximately $75 million to renovate both East and West Ambler Johnston Hall, built in 1969. The project, which uses money set aside from a capital building fund, is currently running 10 to 15 percent under budget.

The renovation and residential college project is coordinated by Housing and Dining Services and Residence Life, both departments within the Division of Student Affairs. Any Virginia Tech faculty members who are interested in getting involved in the residential colleges should e-mail James Penven.



Dedicated to its motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), Virginia Tech takes a hands-on, engaging approach to education, preparing scholars to be leaders in their fields and communities. As the commonwealth’s most comprehensive university and its leading research institution, Virginia Tech offers 240 undergraduate and graduate degree programs to more than 31,000 students and manages a research portfolio of $513 million. The university fulfills its land-grant mission of transforming knowledge to practice through technological leadership and by fueling economic growth and job creation locally, regionally, and across Virginia.

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