Developing Well-Rounded Students Through the Residential Learning Model

Student and her RA chatting in lobby
Published On: January 21, 2019

The feat of navigating a professor’s syllabus pales in comparison to developing one’s self. Students coming to live on campus at Michigan State University come with the expectation of being challenged in the classroom, but they might not have expected being pushed just as hard to self-learn and reflect from right within their residence hall.

Because academic learning correlates directly with improvement of students, the Residential Learning Model (RLM) was created to assist residential staff in strategically facilitating growth and learning for those living on campus and thus enhancing the living-learning relationship. Exposure to targeted learning goals begins for students as soon as they lug their belongings into their residence hall. They walk past bulletin boards and posters and unknowingly take in material strategically placed to promote student growth.

Inspired by university guidelines and values, the RLM promotes the university’s mission and strategic plan, Bolder by Design, as well as the RHS mission. The RLM curriculum is centered around the concept that by living and learning on campus, MSU students will become leaders who positively impact the world.

The model serves as a co-curricular pact between Residence Education and Housing Services team members and the students so that, by result of living on campus, they will grow in individual development, community development, and inclusive living and learning. Each of these goals has three additional learning outcomes comprising multiple levels of proficiency for students to work through.

Though there are a lot of parts, they all fit together perfectly as a puzzle.

A team comprised of all levels of REHS staff, including community directors (CDs), assistant community directors (ACDs) and resident assistants (RAs), determines what content they think is best for students to be exposed to on a regular basis, which originates from personal experience and data-based research.

“We hope that, by living with us, students have the opportunity to learn in many different facets,” says Associate Director of REHS for Academic Initiatives, Student Behavior and Leadership Dr. Mackenzie Fritz. “Through this model, students learn about themselves and what it means to live in community through an inclusive living and learning lens. The Residential Learning Model is our commitment to our residents: We will provide opportunities for you to grow in these three areas.”

Though it sounds relatively particular and specific, the model’s goals contain flexibility and the uniqueness to be met by any number of approaches.

“Having a structured model for our staff not only gives them event suggestions and options for their residents, but we’re also intentional about those suggestions and options,” Assistant Director of Residence Education Dr. Qiana Green says.

Goals over the course of the year are pinpointed by paying attention to relevant conversations and other data that pops up either local to MSU or nationally. Topics like alcohol consumption, mental health awareness and financial planning are just some of the many areas covered.

But the CD gets to decide how that looks, sounds and gets presented based on the data regarding the population of students living in their halls. They are the ones who see, day in and day out, the demographic of their residents and what issues need to be addressed.

“What I appreciate is we share some topics that a community has to hit during a particular month, like Women’s History, but each CD has the flexibility and creativity to decide in what ways they want to educate their residents about the topic,” Green says.

This results in a combination of passive and active strategies. Based on the needs of the area, the CD in Wilson Hall, for example, may elect an active strategy such as organizing study groups for a first-year engineering class, while the CD in Shaw Hall may have a guest speaker on strategies for being accepted into a particular program. Both of these events meet the needs of the specific area’s residents but are implemented in different ways.

Other CDs may choose a passive strategy to this learning outcome, such as creating bulletin boards on academic resources or posting a series of student skills articles on the hall’s Facebook page.

“Students don’t always realize they are learning within these specific fields, but having conversations with them later on shines light on the growth that was done in each outcome,” Fritz explains.

In addition, RAs engage in one-on-one conversations with each resident. During these scripted interactions, students are asked about academic goals. All strategies are then assessed to provide more information about future needs for the learning outcome.

Student growth is the primary objective for many CDs, including Sara Bartles. Thankfully, the RLM helps her to see success within students.

“My personal goal for the residents is that by the time they leave the university, they are prepared not only for their professional life, but they are equipped to be leaders in the world,” she says. “Having an education gives you power and privilege, and my hope is residents know what their values are, understand how they impact others, and know how to listen and learn from others.”

Fritz defines the model as the floor — and certainly not the ceiling — of vital information examined on campus.

Though neighborhoods are required to touch on specific subjects at a certain time, it is encouraged team members employ outside-of-the-box thinking and expand on the structure being provided to them.

“While the residence halls are sometimes similar, the material covered is very dependent on what the culture of that building is,” says Fritz.

CD Brittnie Daughtery aids in crafting lesson plans for the model. She emphasizes how important it is to bring information to students and let them know residential staff is here for their benefit.

“It’s harder to overcome these challenges when students have to go find solutions themselves,” says Daughtery. “Students are so busy; it’s really about helping bridge that gap.”

With such a large university like MSU, it can be easy for a living experience to vary across the campus. But the RLM works arduously to ensure unity.

“It creates continuity to make sure our students are having the same experience whether they live in Holmes Hall or in the apartments or in Bailey Hall,” Daughtery explains. “We need to make sure the quality of the programming is equitable to the quantity of programming happening across the campus.”

Throughout their time living on campus, students will develop and progress with the hands-on assistance of their RAs as well as behind-the-scenes work they may never become aware of. And as those students learn the RLM’s desired learning outcomes, then live these outcomes, they’ll become prepared to leave MSU and finally lead in these outcomes.