Lauren Black, a freshman with long, auburn hair, sits on her elevated bed at Lincoln Hall talking about her experiences in her first year at West Virginia University. The bed sits about four feet off the floor to allow for extra storage space, she explains, moving her bedspread to show the multitudes of supplies underneath.
There are books stacked in the corner and a small desk with a computer by the bed for late-night studying. It is her home away from home, the place where she started her transformation from high school senior to college freshman.
The room she shares with one girl has all the earmarks of a typical dorm roomposters plastered over the walls, a few stuffed animals and lots of WVU paraphernalia. But Lincoln Hall is not your typical residence hall.
Black was among the first group of students to stay in WVU s new residential college. Its a four-story, suite-style hall that houses approximately 320 students and offers 21st century amenities like high-speed Internet connections, a library, study lounges on each floor and a multimedia theater for classes, stage productions and movie screenings.
The amenities are not the only things that set Lincoln Hall apart from residence halls at other universities. There is a live-in professor and his family to help freshmen, like Black, adjust to life away from their families.
Sven Verlinden, a plant and soil sciences professor, and his wife, Lisa, lend support, guidance and out-of-class interaction to students at Lincoln. The residential college concept found at Lincoln is based on WVU s Resident Faculty Leader program, where faculty members and their families live in the residence halls as mentors and neighbors. Its all part of WVU s student-centered philosophy of ceating a small but diverse learning community within the framework of a larger institution.
I see them almost daily around the hall, and I see their kids a lot,Black said.Were like an extended part of their family. Theyre there for us. Their home is always open to us.
Black added that several students have consulted with the Verlindens about homesickness and other personal matters, although she hasnt had time to feel much of that with her classes and extracurricular activities.
Her infectious smile spreads across her freckled face as she describes her experiences to date as a first-year student.
Its been great,she said.Its really nice here at Lincoln. We have a community atmosphere because there are a smaller number of people, and you get to know more people. Its a homey feeling here. Its not a typical dorm.
In her small hometown of Shippensburg, Pa., Black had been in her middle and high school bands and thought joiningThe Pride of West Virginiamarching band was just a natural succession.
At the beginning of the year, I was really overwhelmed to come to such a big place,she said.Being in marching band really helped me to get to know people. We started a week early, and that helped, too. Being in marching band broke the school into a smaller school for me. The upperclassmen showed us the buildings before classes started. Knowing where I was going was a big help to me. I was able to have friends. I had something in common with all of them.
Black said she overwhelmed by her first WVU home football game.
It was a crazy experience,she recalled.I will never forget the feeling, the crowd of gold shirts and the noise. It was so loud.
Black also got to follow the football team to the Gator Bowl over Christmas break and document her experiences through a blog on the Universitys Web site (http://bowl.blogs.wvu.edu/). She is one of several students who share their experiences online. Check out WVU sBlogging from Abroadsite (http://fromabroad.blogs.wvu.edu/) that follows studentsstudy abroad experiences in Hong Kong, Ireland and Italy.
However loud Mountaineer Stadium was on game day, multiply that by 10, and thats how loud it was at the Gator Bowl. It was awesome,she added.Blogging was so much fun for me. People who were stuck at home got to see what was happening. I got a lot of positive feedback.
With marching band over, Black now participates in the concert band.During the first semester, I only went home once,she said.But now that I have the time, I go home about once a month.
In addition to blogging, she participates in the Student Video Diaries project, which shows the real-life experiences of WVU students through their own eyes. Selected students are given a video camera, instruction on how to use it and feedback on their creations.
In her diaries, Black talks about her experiences coming to WVU and moving into Lincoln Hall and walks viewers through her experiences at the Gator Bowl Fan Center and the bowl game. The student diaries can be accessed athttp://studentdiaries.wvu.edu/.
Both video diaries and the blogging projects are joint ventures of various departments in University Advancement and Marketing.
Its pretty cool because I get to show people what life is like through my eyes,she said.I think it gives more of an inside look. I get to meet neat people while Im filming it. Im just excited to be a part of it.
In addition to her extracurricular activities, Black has to make time for academics. A geology major, Black says her favorite classes are geology and chemistry.
Its a lot tougher than high school,she said.Calculus is giving me a hard time, but the professors help. When Im having a hard time, I go to their office hours. They give you any help you need to succeed.
After graduation, Black hopes to work for a petroleum company. She would like to study rocks to decide if there is any oil underneath them.
At 19, Black has learned that life is about starting over. She has managed not only
to survive her first year of college, but thrive from it.
She offers this advice to incoming freshmen:Definitely get involved with some activity. Thats how you make friends. Join some sort of group, sports intramurals, band or whatever.
She also suggested incoming students participate in Adventure West Virginia, an outdoor orientation program for first-year students at WVU .
Its really neat. You get to see whats close in West Virginia, the mountains and rivers,said Black, adding that the people she met there were her first friends before she met people in the band.
WVU is a great place,she said.You should just put yourself out there, make friends and have fun.
* WVU �€~Foundationsfor success*
WVU is currently undergoing a self-assessment project in conjunction with its First-Year Experience, a package of programming and servicesUniversity 101 orientation course, Academic Resource Centers with free tutoring, Resident Faculty Leader program, New Student Convocation, Welcome Week activities and much moreaimed at helping students find success at WVU .
Foundations of Excellence is a project dedicated to revitalizing the approach to a students first year in college. WVU was selected to participate in the 2006-07 select cohort of institutions engaging in a thorough self-study and improvement process that focuses on student learning, success and persistence.
The process uses local campus expertisemore than 70 members of the WVU community have dedicated their time to make this study a success.
The following dimensions of the First-Year Experience are being explored: philosophy, organization, learning, faculty, transitions, students, diversity, role and purposes and improvement.
Schools in earlier cohorts report that their involvement has led to enrollment and retention gain, increased campus awareness of the importance of the first year and more faculty buy-in for first-year efforts.