When Madelon Boyer first arrived at The University of Iowa, she didn’t know anyone—only one other person from her hometown of Reinbeck, Iowa, had enrolled at Iowa.
But that quickly changed. Within a week Boyer was part of a new family: the International Crossroads Community, a coed residential learning community in Hillcrest Residence Hall that houses students interested in languages, cultures, and international issues.
There were the study sessions in the common space that often evolved into late-night discussions. There were the Sunday evening group outings to various ethnic restaurants in Iowa City. There was the older student down the hall who offered help with homework questions and advised on class selection.
It all added up to an experience that was so enjoyable that Boyer, now a junior majoring in German and international studies, served as the community’s programming coordinator during her sophomore year and currently is its resident assistant (RA).
“The best thing about living in a learning community is having a sense of being at home,” she explains. “We’re very supportive of each other; we’re like brothers and sisters. It’s an amazing place to live.”
Approximately 750 students live in nine theme-based learning communities on campus: Business and Entrepreneurship, Health Sciences, Honors, International Crossroads, Iowa Writers, Men in Engineering, Performing Arts, Transfer Honors, and Women in Science and Engineering. A new one, Multicultural Studies and Leadership, will be added next year.
The learning communities offer special programming tailored to the academic and social interests of the residents. For example, students in the Iowa Writers Learning Community can take in weekly readings given by faculty and students from the UI Writers’ Workshop, while students in the Leadership Community in Business and Entrepreneurship can gain insight from corporate leaders and successful entrepreneurs during informal presentations. The Health Sciences Learning Community regularly schedules laboratory tours and panel discussions on health care topics.
The focus of the learning communities is on incoming first-year students, but some welcome returning students as residents and/or RAs, says Sean Hesler, manager of residence life programs in the UI Department of Residence Services.
“We want students who are eager to make a connection and take an active role in their own education, those who want to get more out of college than the average college student,” he says.
Jim McGurran, a sophomore biomedical engineering major from Vadnais Heights, Minn., was a bit skeptical about living in the Men in Engineering Learning Community during his first year at Iowa—“I thought the floor would be very nerdy and not very social,” he explains—and ultimately it did help him focus on academics. Living in close proximity with many of his engineering classmates meant built-in study partners were just across the hall. When it was time to put away the books, however, McGurran and his floormates always found fun things to do together, from playing music and competing in video-game tournaments, to participating in intramural sports and cheering on Hawkeye athletics.
“We looked out for each other both academically and socially,” says McGurran, who decided to return to the learning community for his sophomore year and would like to be an RA next year.
Returning to the International Crossroads Community was a no-brainer for Boyer.
“All my friends were there, and most came back,” she says. “When I got the RA job, I was thrilled. I feel good helping new students. It makes me realize how far I’ve come since high school.”
by Sara Epstein Moninger