Going to college can be an overwhelming and even isolating experience. Until students find their people, it can be easy to feel homesick. At the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, the College of Arts and Sciences is working to make students feel more at home from the start.
The College of Arts and Sciences launched five new residential learning communities (RLCs) in fall 2022. These are living/learning communities made up of students with similar interests or areas of study. The goal is to speed up the process of forging a community while away at college.
Dr. Nikolasa Tejero, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, is largely responsible for the creation and organization of the College’s RLCs. She said she believes the residential college can “carve a niche for students to experiment, explore and feel safe.” The RLCs do this by “creating a sense of belonging in and out of the classroom” resulting in a tight-knit community that achieves a “high-impact student success experience.”
Each RLC is built around a particular set of interests and hosts events throughout the semester to engage the residents and deepen a sense of togetherness. For example, the Life Out Loud RLC is a collaboration between the Modern & Classical Languages & Literatures department and the English department. It’s aimed at students with an interest in literature of all kinds including that associated films, music and, of course, books. Some of Life Out Loud’s events include a book club, movie nights and trips to the Hunter Museum of American Art. This year’s cohort is enrolling in a film class together: World Cinema.
Another RLC is PHASES, which stands for politically, socially and historically engaged students. Sponsored by the Department of Political Science and Public Service, this learning community works to immerse students in Chattanooga’s politics and history. By engaging with various local organizations, PHASES hopes to provide its members with a more tangible link to their political environment.
Prospective Biology, Geology and Environmental Science majors should look into the Sustainable Mocs learning community. This community shows students how their major relates to the field of sustainability. Students will bond over their interdisciplinary link to sustainability. In the fall of 2022, the Sustainable Mocs took a trip to the Tennessee Aquarium and got some hands-on sustainability experience when they helped clean up Chattanooga’s Riverwalk.
Music Row is described as a particularly lively RLC. Sponsored by the Department of Performing Arts, this RLC is for any student with a love of music. A student with any major can join this community; the only requirement is that participating students are a part of one of the musical ensembles at UTC. Recently, Music Row RLC students attended a night at the Chattanooga Symphony and a screening of “Songbirds: A Documentary.” The Emmy Award-winning documentary was directed by Dagan Beckett, a UTC alum. At the screening, Beckett announced a scholarship for UTC students.
At the end of the semester, Music Row hosted “Moc-A-Palooza,” a holiday party where students decorated cookies while watching Polar Express. The students also had a chance to repay their professors for all the assignments and exams they were given; they got to pie their professors in the face. The proceeds from the pieing went toward the Howard School’s choir program.
The fifth RLC is CAS General. CAS General is for students whose interests or majors don’t align exactly with the other residential learning communities. Specifically, the program is for students in the College of Arts and Sciences pursuing programs without a designated RLC: Art, Chemistry, Physics, Communication, Mathematics, Philosophy, Religion, Psychology, Theatre, Anthropology, Criminal Justice and Sociology. The RLC is also open to undeclared students with an interest in any of these fields.
In fall 2023, the College of Arts and Sciences will launch three more RLCs toward further representing the diverse interests of the student body. The Communications Department will be sponsoring Content Creator. This RLC will collaborate with faculty and peers to delve into the creative process. They will explore creating a variety of content across multiple platforms and mediums.
Data ChAMPs (Chemistry, Analytics, Math and Physics) is all about the numbers. Students will gain insight into the professional world of data analytics and learn how each of their fields of study overlap in the real world.
Finally, MEDIC RLC (Medical Dental Interests Company Residential Learning Community) will connect freshman pre-medical and pre-dental students around their programs at UTC. MEDIC RLC students will also gain experience by volunteering at the Erlanger Baroness hospital.
While the College of Arts and Sciences works to craft communities for its students, there is also work to connect each of its RLCs to create a grander sense of community across campus. They host various events that all campus RLCs are invited to, and they recently announced an opportunity open to members of any RLC. Over Spring Break 2023, students from the College’s RLCs and from others on campus will travel to Mexico to take in cultural experiences.
While the RLC students are experiencing unique and tailored college activities, they are experiencing and building community—the whole point of the RLCs. As Jordan Hicks, program coordinator for Music Row, put it, “[RLCs] build relationships and get people out of their shells. They help students realize that the stranger next to them is a friend waiting to be made.”