A faculty member will be moving into Wessel Hall alongside the first-year students this summer when the newest residence hall opens at Abilene Christian University in the Fall of 2023.
ACU’s faculty-in-residence program, allowing faculty to live alongside students in a unique residential community, is already underway in Bullock Hall this year, and another faculty will join the program in Wessel Hall, with a group of students from the Honors College.
Although it’s not the first time professors have lived on campus among students, the new residence halls, Bullock and Wessel, were intentionally designed to support learning communities for freshmen. Having a faculty member living in the hall allows for the creation of unique relationships between faculty and students outside of the normal class setting.
“It provides the students who live in that building with a different type of access to faculty and a different type of relational connection than they might find in a classroom,” said Shannon Kaczmarek, dean of community living and wellness. “I really believe from all the research and from what we’ve seen take place at other universities that it is very meaningful for the student experience. Faculty don’t have to only interact with students in the classroom. That has a profound impact on the way that we philosophically approach student relationships.”
In the recent U.S. News and World Report rankings, ACU ranked ninth in the nation in Learning Communities. The Honors Program is one example of such communities, and Honors students in Wessel will have a large classroom in the hall to further their academic pursuits and build relationships with the faculty in residence. Kaczmarek and others see an opportunity to improve retention numbers for freshmen, and the faculty member benefits as well, with free housing and utilities and more proximity to students.
Dr. Trey Shirley, associate dean of ACU’s Honors College, believes in the diversity of learning in community.
“We’ve had a lot of interest in the position,” Shirley said. “We have a number of faculty on campus that have had experience living with students, whether it’s on study abroad trips or in other areas, and I think many see the benefits, the relationships that are formed as a result of that.”
In Bullock, the space created for faculty is designed to offer some privacy with partial crossover into the public spaces of the residence hall but also a separate entrance for the faculty apartment.
“We know it’s important when students make deep connections with faculty,” Morris said. “When you place them in a living environment together, it just creates more opportunity for those deep connections, those engagements to happen over the course of a full academic year.”
Dr. Suzie Macaluso, associate professor in the Department of Communication and Sociology and director of the Pruett Gerontology Center, is the faculty in residence in Bullock Hall. Her family studied abroad in Germany in Spring 2022 with 14 students and shortly after, her family transitioned from a three-bedroom house to a two-bedroom apartment in Bullock Hall on July 1.
Now Macaluso’s life routines include spending at least 10 or more hours each week connecting with students in a more informal setting. Her two kids under the ages of 10 have found joy in university life through frequent visits with students.
One of the key benefits for Macaluso has been able to experience is a better understanding of how to advocate for students within and outside of the classroom.
“I hope students are learning that ACU faculty are unique and genuinely care about them and their life,” Macaluso said. “I try to listen to their worries and struggles and encourage them to talk to their professors and get to know them. I think for some of the students, who miss their families, my kids have become their little brother and sister, making them feel like Bullock Hall is home, and the community in the hall is their Abilene family.”
Macaluso is committed to serving in Bullock for one year with an option to extend to a second year. She says it’s been a fruitful experience creating relationships with first-year students in a new way. She’s done so through Christmas decorating in the hall, movie nights on the lawn, a book club, baking cookies, having students over for meals and other activities.
“This experience has really helped me to better understand our students and the student life side of the ACU experience,” Macaluso said. “I’m really proud of the way that our residence life staff operates and genuinely cares for each and every student. That’s been such a joy to witness firsthand.”
Morris and Shirley have been affirmed in their vision for learning communities with six faculty members having applied for the role in Wessel once it opens in the fall of 2023.
“We are starting off small with a vision to be able to really evaluate where we can do this well on our campus,” Kazcmarek said. “We want to be able to implement it well in both Bullock and Wessel and feel like we’re able to do so successfully for a couple of years. Then, we can start exploring the possibility of using some other spaces.”
The construction of Wessel Hall marks the start of Phase Two for the Freshman Village plan, set to be complete by 2030. Phase One of the plan is underway with the construction of Bullock Hall and future renovation of Sewell Theatre into a Residence Hall Hub where students can gather and student organizations can meet. By 2030, all freshman halls will be grouped along East North 16th Street.
— Connor Mullins
Feb. 8, 2023