In an effort to build stronger connections and spark up conversation between faculty and new students, this semester two professors will serve as Faculty Fellows for the Nicolson dorms as part of a three-year pilot program developed last year by Vice President of Student Affairs Mike Whaley.
“It was striking to me that our peer institutions, especially many of our NESCAC [New England Small College Athletic Conference] peers, have variations of this type of program, where you have faculty members who are working to establish a relationship with the residents living in a particular area,” Whaley said.
Professors of Psychology Andrea Patalano and Charles Sanislow will serve as the Faculty Fellows in the pilot program’s first year. Both professors were involved in similar programs when they were undergraduates and were eager to help start this one at the University.
“I knew that they had a special interest in trying to engage with students outside of the classroom,” Whaley said. “So I asked them if they would be interested in working with me on this pilot program and they said they would be thrilled to try it out.”
“We live in a house on-campus near Nicolson, which presented a natural opportunity for a test run of this program,” Sanislow said.
By choosing Nicolson for the program, Whaley hopes to aid the transition for those freshmen.
“We also thought it might be nice to do something special for the freshmen living there,” he said.
The Fellows attend events organized by the Office of Residential Life (ResLife), such as a recent Ice Cream Social and a dinner at Dean Whaley’s house for Nicolson and Fauver residents.
The Faculty Fellows have also started “Conversation Hours” or fireside chats, to encourage stimulating conversation beyond the classroom. Through this program, Patalano and Sanislow invite students to their house to meet and talk with interesting people in a non-lecture environment. Death row attorney James Pultz spoke at the first fireside chat.
“The conversation was intimate and students shared their own experiences working with those suffering from mental illness,” Patalano said. “There was a nice informal learning process that went on that was very interactive and a nice complement to learning experiences in the classroom.”
Patalano and Sanislow plan to continue these fireside chats throughout the year and hope to set up collegiate fieldtrip program of sorts.
“We’re also looking into other possibilities and hope to explore opportunities in the community and take advantage of Connecticut’s environmental and artistic resources,” Patalano said.
Although some Nicolson residents have not gotten to know the Fellows yet, those who have seemed pleased with the program.
“They seem invested in offering opportunities to residents who want them,” wrote Nicolson Residential Advisor Jillian Moreno ’12 in an e-mail to The Argus. “I have high hopes for how the program will progress. I think it will grow and find its niche in campus life.”
Whaley is currently looking to expand the pilot program to additional residences in coming years.
“We’re in the process of requesting funding so we can expand the program for year two and year three, and to have more Faculty Fellows running,” he said. “We could look for two other faculty members, probably for freshmen areas. We might look at other areas in Foss where there are a blend of freshmen and sophomores, or other areas where it’s not only freshmen, like in the Butterfields.”
Sanislow expressed a similar commitment to a successful program.
“This is a pilot program,” Sanislow said. “So we’re looking to develop and test activities that engage students, other faculty, and people from the community. If it goes well, our hope is that the program will be expanded in the future.”
The future of the Faculty Fellows Program depends on how successful it is in encouraging students to interact with their professors.
“We want to look at surveys of students living in the Faculty Fellow areas and see if there is a difference between what they report in terms of faculty interaction versus what students who haven’t lived in those areas report,” Whaley said. “I think it’s really exciting, and I think the faculty members we have involved in the program are really excited to play this role, and as enthusiasm is half the battle, it will be interesting to see what happens.”