RLCs provide connections and engaging opportunities for students

  • View larger image

    Hannah Washburn of Greensboro with fellow members of the Living Green RLC.

Hannah Washburn of Greensboro is a freshman this year at Appalachian State University. Instead of living in a traditional residence hall, she chose to join a Residential Learning Community (RLC) with a high school friend. "My friend asked if I was interested in living in one of the communities, so we looked into them together and they looked like they would be a lot of fun," she said. The Living Green RLC interested them the most, as they both wanted to learn more about living more sustainably.

The RLC has made it much easier to form friendships with all the group activities and the community's required course called Contemporary Green Living First Year Seminar, Washburn said.

Group trips so far have included a tour of Appalachian's Sustainable Development Teaching and Research Farm, and a hike around Hebron Rock Colony. They have also participated in Recycle at the Rock, Appalachian's football game day recycling program, as part of the First Year Seminar. They also organized a "Walk-tober" activity for the hall, in which residents avoided using motorized transportation during the month of October.

"I think it's better than just living on a random hall," said Washburn. "Everyone on the hall chose to live there, so they are all interested in meeting each other and forming friendships. Everyone has a common interest."

Among the nation's best

Appalachian offers 20 different RLCs for freshman and continuing students each fall semester.

The university was chosen as a 2010 Best College for Learning Communities according to U.S. News and World Report. Freshmen Living Communities were also awarded the Retention Excellence award from Noel-Levitz. The award honors retention achievements of postsecondary institutions around the United States and Canada.

In a RLC students live with 35-40 other students who share similar interests or who are in the same major. They generally live on the same hall and must enroll in linked courses, including a First Year Seminar.

"Many of the RLCs are linked to a First Year Seminar course that has a corresponding topic related to the RLC," said Corinne Smith, coordinator of Residence Life and Learning Communities. "For example, the Art Haus Residential Learning Community, which is in its first year at Appalachian, has four sections of First Year Seminar that the students in the community can choose from and they are all focused on an arts theme, such as art and the creative process. In addition, these courses are reserved for only the students who are in the community."

RLCs also provide students an opportunity to engage in learning experiences outside of the classroom. These enhance interaction with faculty and staff and increase grade point averages and retention rates.

A growing trend

RLCs started with just five communities: Community of Science Interests, Outdoor, Service & Leadership, Wellness, and Language & Culture. "So far we are very pleased with the response," said Smith. "We hope the students continue to be interested in this great opportunity."

Currently, the most popular communities are Outdoor, Living Green and Future Educators.

The focus of each RLC is chosen through a proposal process that involves students, faculty and staff.

This year's RLCs are:

Seventeen of these are based in University Housing, enrolling about 500 students. Watauga Global Community, Teaching Fellows and the Honors College are based in other campus areas and enroll several hundred more. Students wishing to be in the Honors, Watauga Global and Teaching Fellows communities must first apply and be accepted into the respective program before enrolling in the RLC.