Creating Community — See how Clemson is helping students find their place
By Angela S. Nixon
’99, M ’01
College can be a scary place, especially for new students adjusting to navigating class schedules, meeting new people, working with advisers and managing their time, all while making good grades.
Clemson Housing provides students with support networks to help with these issues by creating communities within residence halls where students with similar interests or academic pursuits live together with access to advisers, resources and special activities.
Known as Living-Learning Communities (LLCs), these communities benefit students both academically and socially.
“Clemson has invested in our living-learning programs because we feel that they represent a best practice in residential learning,” said Kathy Hobgood, director of residential life. “LLCs connect students to their academics in a way that makes college life more seamless by bringing what they learn in the classroom into their living environments with discussions, resources and staff – including faculty. This allows for deeper learning, stronger ties to the University and overall greater student success.”
Clemson opened its first LLC in 2001 with the First Class program for business and engineering majors. There are now 18 LLCs on campus; the goal is to add or enhance two new ones each year through 2020. This year, 1,446 students live in an LLC – that’s approximately 23 percent of students who live on campus.
According to the National Study of Living-Learning Programs, more than 60 colleges and universities have living-learning programs. That study, as well as U.S.News & World Report, named Clemson’s among the nation’s best.
Perhaps the best indicator of the effectiveness of LLCs comes from the students who live in them.
Shauna Young – Clemson Business Experience
Junior, management, North Charleston
Shauna Young is convinced that the Clemson Business Experience (CBE) community in Benet Hall is the best place to live on campus. Now in her third year living in the community, she serves as a resident liaison, coordinating activities with the RAs and advisers. Last year, she served as an RA.
“I help plan programs, socials, whatever students might need to help them have a better experience,” said Young.
Young has helped plan a field day, a “Cake Boss” contest, movie nights and more for her fellow residents. She said these kinds of events help bring everyone on the hall closer together.
“I’ve heard from multiple people that Benet Hall is like one big family,” she said. “It’s different. Students just click with one another.”
Young actually had her choice between four different LLCs to live in this year. As a member of Air Force ROTC, she could have lived in that community, and as a CONNECTIONS peer mentor, she could have lived in the new CONNECTIONS LLC as a mentor for freshman minority students. She is also in the Calhoun Honors College, so she could have chosen to live in that community in Holmes Hall. But the sense of family drew her back to Benet for her third year.
“I like working with people and having a positive impact,” said Young. “I see my residents from last year, and I know I helped make their experience better than it might have been. That’s the reason I came back this year.”
Mike DesJardin – Army ROTC LLC
Junior, financial management, Merritt Island, Fla.
Mike DesJardin always knew he wanted to join the Army. The son of an Army officer, he was drawn to Clemson by the University’s strong ROTC program and military heritage. When the Army ROTC LLC was created this semester, he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to live among his fellow cadets, but it wasn’t his first time living in an LLC. His first two years were spent in the Clemson Business Experience (CBE) community for students in business majors.
DesJardin said living in the CBE was particularly helpful when he decided to change his major from political science to financial management in the middle of his freshman year. In his second year living in the CBE, DesJardin became an RA; he is now an RA in the Army ROTC community.
“Because I had worked in the CBE LLC before, I felt like I would be able to bring my experience from that into the new ROTC community,” he said. “I wanted to make an impact and help make the ROTC LLC better for future cadets.”
DesJardin said the camaraderie on the hall is strong, especially for the new cadets, and that it helps to live with someone who is sharing the same experiences.
“Having to get up at 5 a.m. is easier when your roommate is doing it too,” he said.
Michael LaDue – Cultural Exchange Community
Senior, civil engineering, Simpsonville
Michael LaDue was looking for a way to get outside his comfort zone and learn about other cultures, so he chose to live in the Cultural Exchange Community (CEC) his sophomore year. The community partners American students with international students, something that LaDue feels is mutually beneficial.
“One of my roommates that year was from India, and it was his first time in America,” LaDue said. “He had a lot of preconceived notions about America, so I served as a facilitator for him, in a way, to help him separate facts from myths about America. I would also ask him a lot of questions about his culture and religious beliefs, so we learned from each other.”
That same year, LaDue also lived with an Australian and a Belgian. He says the experience helped him prepare for his next big step, a yearlong internship in Haiti with Clemson Engineers for Developing Countries.
“Being in the CEC helped me get a picture of different cultures,” he said. “When you visit another country, you compare and contrast it with your own culture. Being among lots of different people from different countries, you are able to compare lots of cultures. It helped prepare me to be ready to step outside my own culture and adapt to someone else’s.”
LaDue said being in Haiti was an eye-opening experience.
“It was interesting for me to be the foreigner in a country,” said LaDue. “Being the person who’s the alien, who’s out of place, you get to see your own culture from a different perspective. Coming back, I had some reverse culture-shock. I had gotten so used to being in Haiti.”
After returning from Haiti, LaDue chose to live his final semester at Clemson back in the CEC. This semester, he’s living with roommates from Germany and Brazil and Ethiopia.
“Being at a university like Clemson is one of the few times in your life when you can be immersed in a multitude of cultures all at once. Your peers are from all over the world,” he said.
Brooke Reed – Health, Education and Human Development LLC
Sophomore, science teaching (chemistry), Chattanooga, Tenn.
“I loved the idea of living with people who were in similar majors. It was a good opportunity to meet people who I knew I would have something in common with,” said Reed.
Reed lived in the HEHD community her freshman year and said she met some of her best friends there. She also enjoyed the easy access to advisers and special workshops, which she said helped her make the adjustment to college life.
“Being the first person in my family to attend college, there’s a lot of pressure,” she said. “We had lots of meetings and workshops about college life, and our advisers were always available to us.”
Reed said living in the community also gave her the occasion to interact with administrators, including HEHD Dean Larry Allen, something that not every student gets to do.
“He may not remember my name after one meeting, but he remembers my face,” she said. “It was a great opportunity.”
The facts back up the stories
It’s clear not only from the stories, but from the facts that living-learning communities at Clemson are beneficial. The freshmen in living-learning communities have a higher grade-point average and higher freshman-to-sophomore retention rates than their peers in other campus housing or living off campus.
For more information and a complete list of all the living-learning options at Clemson, go to clemson.edu/housing/living-learning.html.