Living to learn

The men and women’s swimming and diving team participated in the WIAC Conference meet this weekend at McPhee. The women’s team took third overall with a team score of 104. The women were lead by their 200-yard freestyle relay team, which placed second with a time of 1 minute, 41.

Story by Anna Soldner

For years, UW-Eau Claire honors students have been joined by advanced-level courses and high levels of motivation.

As of fall 2011, many are now bonded by something different — bunk beds.

The university’s Honors Program created their own living learning community in an attempt to generate growth and foster a sense of community within the program, according to Honors Program Director Jeff Vahlbusch.

“Students live together and they also take classes together,” Vahlbusch said, “and in honors courses, since every student in the community has to take an honors course each semester, what we’ve developed are these little tiny learning communities.”

Located on the first floor of Bridgman Hall, the learning community is comprised of 30 students who chose to live, study and explore topics of interest together.

The Honors LLC is the most recent addition to the five living communities on campus.

Although Vahlbusch organized, researched and proposed the idea, he said the students are the reason for its continued success.

“It’s really been student-driven,” he said. “They’re really creating the wonderful program and the feeling of community that living learning communities need to prosper.”

Women’s resident assistant Jackie Lee said the Honors LCC currently has 30 students but is expected to double by next year, forcing them to expand to Bridgman’s second floor.

She said one reason behind the tremendous growth is the degree of commonality.

“I think it’s enticing to be living with people who have the same goals in life and same dedication to academics,” Lee said.

Freshman English major Bailey Hoffman said being a member of the Honors LLC helped ease the transition to college life.

“When we moved in, I think it was really nice because we already had a group of people to get to know and we made friends right away,” Hoffman said. “It feels kind of like home because we live with all these people and we do things together, and I think that made for a really great experience.”

The LLC website says students must be accepted into the University Honors Program prior to application. Once accepted, community members are required to enroll in a minimum of three honors course credits per semester and in the University Honors program.

Sophomore accounting and English major Brady Krien, the men’s LLC RA, said the community plans monthly events such as special dinners, game nights and water park field trips.

However, Krien emphasized that the Honors LLC also focuses heavily on the academic resources available to students.

“We try to focus on intentional learning and making your learning count — not just now, but for internships and for after graduation,” he said.

For many students, the community’s emphasis on learning is attractive.

Freshman biology major Becky Hinz said the Bridgman community offers an environment conducive to studying.

“I think everybody has it as a priority, so a lot of times people are studying on the weekends or during the week,” Hinz said. “It’s pretty quiet around here and easy to study.”

Despite being an academically distinguished community, Vahlbusch said it isn’t elitist and will accept non-honors students in honors courses if space permits.

“We’re really trying hard to expand beyond the boundaries of what honors traditionally is,” he said. “We were very, very careful to not say this is a bunch of nerds imprisoned in this dormitory, but rather a bunch of people who are motivated, have some academic talent and have a desire to live together to make those improvements.”

The Honors Living Learning Community will enter its second year this fall.

Vahlbusch said that as a whole, the LLCs have proven so successful that the university has approved plans to add two more for fall 2012: Outdoor Adventure and Hmong Cultural Communities, both located in Towers North.

“Our numbers are really good in the Honors LLC for next year, and growth is happening, people are getting excited,” he said. “It’s my hope that we can really continue that and meld with the community to everybody’s benefit.”