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  May 15, 2000

Freshmen Housing to Open This Fall

"Going to camp" will mean something a little different this summer for a group of new UConn students. More than 800 freshmen will come to campus a day before the rest of their peers, to take part in Camp Northwest, an introduction to the newly renovated Northwest residence halls, the programs that will be offered there, and their fellow residents.

Northwest Campus is being transformed, through physical renovations and new programming, into freshman housing - the first time in many years UConn has offered separate housing to first-year students.

The " Northwest Experience" is the residential equivalent of the First Year Experience classes introduced a few years ago: it's about developing the skills, knowledge and personal connections to ensure a successful first year at the University.

"The literature shows these communities enhance first-year connections to the institution," says John Sears, coordinator for academic programs in the Department of Residential Life. "They are good for recruitment, enrollment and retention."

Camp Northwest will offer an extra day of orientation for students who will live in the renovated residence hall. The orientation will include a short version of the Meyers-Briggs Personality Indicator, an inventory designed to help people understand personality traits, and improve their ability to live together. The extra day is designed to build community between roommates, floor mates and the entire residence hall.

In addition to freshmen, the remaining rooms in the 1,000-bed residence hall will house returning students who have offered their services as mentors. Mentors will complement the work of resident assistants, whose responsibilities include fostering a sense of community. The mentors' chief task will be to serve as role models, advising freshmen and putting them in touch with campus resources.

"We are trying to create connections for students right away," says John Lucas, community director, South Campus, and a member of the committee that designed the Northwest Experience.

"Many prospective students have been asking if we have freshmen housing, and we need to offer it to remain competitive, but at the same time, many people say older students help a lot. That's why we've introduced mentors."

In addition, Northwest will have theme floors. One is designated for engineering students, others for students interested in leadership and in community service. Other options may be offered in the future. Because the residence hall will have a turnover each year, programs can be readily adapted to growing or waning interests.

There will be other academic connections, too. Some First Year Experience sections, for example, will be offered in Northwest for residents.

"We hope students living together will take a number of classes together," says Sears. "Being able to talk about class after hours could provide a more in-depth experience for students."

And the ACES advising program for undecided students will use space in the residence hall to offer advising to residents and others, including some evening hours.

"Because there will be such a high concentration of first-year students in Northwest and so many first-year students are advised by us, it's a natural fit," says Steve Jarvi, director of the ACES program. More than 2,000 of the incoming class are expected to receive their advising through ACES.

Staff of the Department of Residential Life are hoping that Northwest will lend itself to connections with individual faculty members, too, to offer a program on an academic or extracurricular interest, for example, or perhaps to hold office hours in the residence hall.

"We hope to create connections with faculty through the residence halls, as distinct from the classroom," says Lucas, a UConn alumnus. "Professors carry a lot of prestige, and people are often a bit nervous around them. We hope to make it easier for students to approach faculty."

The contributing departments hope the Northwest Experience will minimize the difficulties students often experience in their freshman year and increase the likelihood they will ultimately graduate.

"Students from Northwest will go out to the rest of campus as sophomores," says Lucas, "with a lot of skills and having had a positive experience."

Elizabeth Omara-Otunnu