Fitting in: It's what's inside that counts

Virginia Tech's theme housing programs engage students and give them tools for success

Finding a place where you fit in can be tough at a large university, but Virginia Tech’s Residence Life theme housing programs facilitate the process. Theme housing — part of the Division of Student Affairs office of  Student Programs — provides an opportunity for students with shared interests to live together in a residence hall community.

    Students walking toward a residence hall.

Whether students are interested in meeting people from different backgrounds, honing leadership skills, or jump-starting a career in engineering, Virginia Tech has a community built on their interests.

Why theme housing?

Nearly 30 percent of Virginia Tech’s 9,125 on-campus residents live in a theme housing community. These communities combine interest-related activities and academic course work with a residential environment to make it easier for students to connect with faculty members, work together in groups, and integrate learning with extracurricular experiences.

First-year student and Farmville, Va., native Martha Carter, who is majoring in natural resources conservation, explains: “It’s a smaller network of people within the large Virginia Tech community, and that really makes life less stressful and much more fun.” Carter is a member of the Wing program, designed to provide first-year students with the tools and resources they need to be successful in the university environment.

   

A group of university Honors students Samir Abboud (second from right) and other University Honors students gathered in Hillcrest Hall.

Each theme housing community is led by a faculty advisor who oversees the administration of the program and appoints resident advisors with special training to work with the community. The programs work collaboratively with academic departments at Virginia Tech to support the curriculum and encourage more frequent and significant interactions with faculty.

“The resources available are superb. Since everyone is taking basically the same courses, there is always someone going through exactly what you are, as well as someone who can help,” said Jazmin Doss, Hypatia women’s engineering community resident and freshman electrical engineering major from Mitchellville, Md.

Programs offered at Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech hosts theme housing communities for students interested in engineering, the University Honors program, multiculturalism and diversity, leadership development, health and wellness, first-year transitions, biological and life sciences, and other topics that are important to students living on campus.

   

MOSAIC students staff a table for VT-ENGAGE. MOSAIC students staff a table for VT-ENGAGE.

Students in these communities take theme-related courses with their hallmates, engage in group projects and community service, and participate in field trips related to their community’s theme.

All of the communities have been shown to ease the transition to college for first-year students.

“One student just wrote that the BSLC is the ‘perfect step between high school and college’ and I would definitely have to agree,” said Alyson Lancaster, a student teaching assistant for the Biological and Life Sciences Learning Community and a graduate student studying secondary science education. “Virginia Tech is a large school and campus, but offers so many unique opportunities.”

   

NerdFest ultimate frisbee competitors Students who live in the Main Campbell and Hillcrest honors communities have an ongoing, friendly competition they call NerdFest. Above, students prepare for NerdFest Ultimate Frisbee.

Research on Virginia Tech’s communities

Virginia Tech’s theme housing programs participated in the 2007 National Study of Living-Learning Programs (NSLLP), a survey of students in residential learning programs at 52 colleges and universities across the United States.

   

Hillel Jewish Student Group with laptop Members of the Hillel at Virginia Tech student organization working collaboratively.

The study, which began in 2004, was conducted by researchers from the universities of Maryland and Wisconsin and is sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the Association of College and University Housing Officers International, College Student Educators International, and Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education.

According to survey results, students who participate in theme housing at Virginia Tech are more likely to have a higher cumulative grade point average and indicate a lower chance of dropping out of school than on-campus students who are not enrolled in the programs.

Virginia Tech students who live in a theme housing community also report more frequent interactions with peers and professors, higher rates of class attendance, and increased participation in faculty mentorship programs than their non-theme housing peers.

The NSLLP is designed to examine the impact of living-learning communities on student outcomes. The surveys were conducted online and included a group of 374 living-learning students and a comparison group of 273 students not involved in a theme housing program.

  • For more information on this topic, e-mail Katie Gehrt, or call (540) 231-8068.

Types of theme housing

Academic-based communities focus on block course scheduling and encourage study groups and peer support with course projects.

The honors communities bring together students seeking a degree with the University Honors program and sponsor academic, intellectual, and social events.

The special interest communities center on topics like diversity and health and wellness to connect students who share these interests and promote learning about them through a linked academic component.

The first-year student transition program is designed to help students acclimate to the university environment and to introduce them to the many resources offered on campus.

Learn more from inside the community

   

A WELL student with HokieBird. A student from The WELL community with HokieBird at the community's kick-off event.

Theme housing provides opportunities to students with common interests to live and grow in a residence hall community.

Read about students' experiences from the students themselves.

How to apply

New students must fill out an application by May 1 and select the theme housing option when they submit their housing and dining contract for the following academic year.

Returning students who wish to apply should e-mail the Theme Housing Programs Office, or call (540) 231-2203.

Nationwide trends

Living-learning programs focus on incorporating socially oriented activities with academic pursuits.

  • Students who perceive a residence hall environment as engaging and supportive demonstrate smoother transitions from high school to college and report a higher level of confidence in their college success.
    (NSLLP, Inkelas & Weisman 2003)
  • Students who participate in living-learning communities report gaining more from their college experience overall.

Living-learning communities are on the rise as part of a national trend toward integrated learning initiatives.

  • Studies show that college students who live in learning communities study more and have better problem-solving skills than those who live in traditional residential communities.
    (Kuh 2007, Inkelas & Weisman 2003)
  • They also have more interactions with peers and professors, habits that have long been attributed to success in college and beyond.
    (Kuh 2007)

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