By Cassy Cochrun ’10
Drury promises students a beautiful campus, first-rate academics, award-winning programs, and – arguably a decision-making factor when a student is choosing a college or university – an amazing quality of life while in school. Drury delivers on these promises, in part, by making sure a student has every opportunity to engage while at school and effectively take charge of what the next four or five years of life will look like.
Living and Learning Communities (LLCs) are an important part of the university’s commitment to delivering integrated and engaged learning experiences. “We want students as engaged as possible,” says Dr. Tijuana Julian, the vice president for student affairs. “The more students are on campus, the more vibrant our community becomes.” Drury’s goal is to grow the number of students who live on campus in order to ensure that the campus remains active and dynamic. Projects like the new University Suites, the Core curriculum, and programs that encourage student involvement, both on and beyond campus, seek to advance that mission as well.
“Engaged learning is one of the many features that makes a Drury education distinctive,” Dr. Julian states, “It gives students deep and meaningful learning experiences.” The overarching goal of encouraging students to engage in their community, their studies, and their own college experience is to foster an environment in which students contribute and serve.
Living & Learning
Prospective students may first appreciate Drury’s location, smaller classes, academic programs or majors, athletic programs or scholarships. However, once they decide to become Drury students, they play a vital role in creating a dynamic and diverse on-campus environment. Currently, 55% of Drury students live on campus. Options for campus living range from traditional residence halls to independent apartment-style housing. Dr. Julian cites national data, including a study by the University of Missouri-Kansas City, which suggests that retention and graduation rates are better at schools with a higher percentage of students who live on campus.
Monica Rivera, a University Suites resident, was excited about the opportunity to live in this new, unique housing complex in the heart of Drury’s campus. Rivera, a senior who has lived on campus throughout her four years at Drury, says, “Not only is University Suites located at a midpoint between class and other campus facilities, but it has been great to have my own room, my own bathroom, and a spacious living room, kitchen and laundry system.” In addition to University Suites’ convenient layout, the complex was built to LEED Platinum standards and includes numerous sustainable features such as water conserving appliances and a single stream recycling collection bin.
But effective campus involvement doesn’t stop with more students living on campus. Drury also recently introduced a new general education curriculum called The Drury Core: Engaging Our World, which combines the sciences, social sciences and humanities, as well as required engaged learning experiences. Deeply invested in the idea of living and learning at Drury, Dr. Julian nicknames Core 101, the required first year class, a “nuts and bolts course” that shows students how to be successful at Drury. The course features an overarching theme, like, “Rock and Roll: The History of Pop Culture,” but first-year students might also find themselves discussing financial aid, housing plans for their sophomore year, or what their resumés might look like in four years. Even emergency planning is covered.
Kelsey Pressnall, a new student in an LLC, values the group of students and advisors, which stays the same during the first two semesters in Core. “I appreciate having them to refer to in case I have an academic issue,” she says. Pressnall finds the experience of being immersed in an LLC beneficial. “I have enjoyed getting to know the people I live with. Several of those people are now some of my best friends. I feel that taking the class together as well as living together created an indelible bond within our group. This helped us all adjust to college life.” As a result of the Core program, Pressnall says, “I feel more connected to the university and less afraid to ask for help or advice. Through this class I was able to learn about my resources on campus, find an academic advisor, and look into study abroad programs.”
Core 101 – and the Core curriculum as a whole – weaves student affairs through the entire general education curriculum at Drury, so that living and learning inside and outside of the classroom have a more symbiotic relationship.
Getting (and Staying) Involved
While student involvement is not a new phenomenon for Drury, the new student affairs vision of an engaged, dynamic and active campus advances this mission by incentivizing students to stay involved throughout their college careers. Two new programs this year – F.A.M.ily and Panther Passport – help ensure that each student has the opportunity to find a cause and get involved at Drury.
When a new student enrolls, the student is placed in a group with about nine other students, and that group is connected to a staff member at Drury. The groups, called F.A.M.ily groups, get together at least once a semester. They might attend a Drury athletics event or eat lunch together. The staff mentor is there to answer any questions the students may have and to serve as one more point of contact for the first-year student.
Student Avery Smith feels the program has been beneficial. “Within the first couple of weeks of school I was tasked with reserving Drury’s stadium for a ONE Drury soccer tournament, and it turned out my F.A.M.ily advisor was just the person I needed to talk to. He was helpful with organizing the details.” Where academic advisors, residential advisors, coaches and professors could be intimidating to a first-year student, the F.A.M.ily mentor is there to answer a broad range of questions. A first-year student who is comfortable and familiar with faculty and staff in the Drury community is more likely to become involved and stay involved. This, in turn, improves retention and student satisfaction.
If F.A.M.ily helps students engage on campus, the new Panther Passport program takes involvement one step further by encouraging students to be active in a wide variety of events, both on and off campus. Panther Passport provides monetary incentives for students to attend events on campus and in the Springfield community. To earn the rewards, students must check into and out of (to prove that they stayed for the duration of the event) multiple types of events. On-campus events include: sporting events, convocation, music, theater, art and campus group events. Off-campus events include festivals, alternative fall or spring break trips, professional development workshops or seminars, networking events, career fairs and internships or job shadowing.
Traditionally, students who are involved in the Drury community may not be as involved with the surrounding Springfield community and vice versa. Panther Passport helps move students toward Drury’s goal of being deeply connected with Springfield by encouraging broader community participation.
The monetary incentive that comes with Panther Passport originated with the idea of offering scholarships based on high school involvement. “Students who were very involved in high school may or may not be very involved once they get to college,” says Dr. Julian, “so providing a scholarship just because a high school student was involved doesn’t make much sense. We wanted to reward students who would commit to being involved in meaningful ways at Drury.”
Tying it All Together
To deliver the best quality education to students, Drury aligns its unique brand of education with modern expectations. According to the New Media Consortium 2012 Horizon Report, key trends in collegiate expectations include increasingly collaborative work and new emphasis in the classroom on more challenge-based and active learning. These are more than trends in the traditional sense; they are new standards for work, education and life in a global and increasingly connected society. Students are more motivated than ever to use their talents and abilities to effect positive change in the world.
Drury is committed to producing students who will have learned to be responsible community citizens not only in the classroom, but more important, in the real world. Being involved in Drury and Springfield communities is an excellent way to practice being an effective citizen of the world.
This new generation of students demands to be involved in activities that will change us for the better. Drury’s role in education helps shape the types of citizens we will ultimately offer the world.