Four years ago, staff members in University Housing and Dining's Residence Life unit realized that undergraduates, especially first-year students, weren't connecting with faculty members in a meaningful way. As a result, the Call for Involvement initiative was born.
Call for Involvement was designed to connect undergraduate students living in the residence halls with faculty members outside of the traditional classroom setting. For students, it is an opportunity to get to know professors on a more personal level and in a more relaxed setting. For faculty, it is a volunteer opportunity with minimal time commitment that offers direct, informal, and personal interactions with students.
"First-year college students are often intimidated by university professors," says Kate Fitzgerald, assistant director of University Housing and Dining. "Having faculty in the residence halls interacting with students on the students' turf makes faculty more approachable. This enables students to visit faculty more readily during office hours to ask for the help they need in a class, thus making students more successful."
During 2009–10, 96 faculty members were involved in 103 Call for Involvement programs, attended by 2,659 undergraduates. Mark Holbrook, a biology and aging studies lecturer in the College of Liberal Art and Sciences, has taken part in several programs. He has helped with test review sessions, judged cake-decorating contests, made peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches, and participated in faculty meetings about residence hall food services. He says he wishes more faculty would participate.
"The students get to see the faculty as people who care about them and hopefully they feel more comfortable approaching us when they have trouble in class or at school in general," Holbrook says. "The faculty interact with students in a fun atmosphere and get to know the students on a more personal level."
Brian Tu, a resident assistant in Rienow Hall for the past two years, invited an art professor he found especially inspiring to teach an art class to a small group of interested residents. Tu says many of the students got a taste for art and the professor got to share her passion with a set of eager students.
Tu, a fifth-year pre-med student majoring in biology, says he thinks the program is beneficial, especially for first-year students who may still be deciding what academic area they'd like to pursue.
"Such a program can introduce first-year students to a professor in a field that they aren't aware of, which could lead them to choose a path that interests them and is more beneficial to them," says Tu, of Des Moines. "They have the opportunity to see what professors are like and what they can do outside the classroom."