Students live, learn together at UW-Whitewater
Officials and students say learning communities help freshmen feel comfortable emotionally, socially and academically as they start college.
“It just helps you get better acclimated to campus,” said Hannah Aho, a freshman public relations major from Seymour, who is part of the “Stars of Tomorrow” community.
A learning community is a group of about 25 students who share a few of the same classes and live on the same floor of a residence hall, said Diana Rogers-Adkinson, director of university learning communities. They also participate in field trips, community service work and faculty dinners, she said.
Learning communities are offered in a number of majors, career paths and interest groups, Rogers-Adkinson said. There are communities for business, communication and education majors. There are communities for students who want to be lawyers, social workers or scientists. And there are communities for students who are in honors classes, who are athletes or who enjoy hip-hop.
The number of learning communities at UW-Whitewater has ballooned from one in 2004-05 to almost 20 in 2009-10, Rogers-Adkinson said. One fourth of the freshman class, or more than 450 students, is enrolled in learning communities, she said.
“This has just floored us,” she said. “Word of mouth as much as what we do to market our learning communities has really helped them grow.”
Students often enroll in a learning community after hearing about a good experience from siblings and friends, Rogers-Adkinson said.
Ben Buehler, a freshman business major from Rice Lake, joined the “Conscious Capitalists” community the day he registered for classes. He was one of only three people from his high school coming to the university, and he was looking to make friends.
“They were the first people I met when I got here,” he said. “And I’ve just gotten to know them all pretty well. It’s cool.”
Landon Meske, a freshman business major from Waunakee, who also joined the “Conscious Capitalists” community, said he likes having a constant group of friends with which to study and hang out.
“It’s really fun, actually,” he said. “I know everyone (in my classes and on my residence hall floor). It’s nice to have a lot of people you know around you.”
Rogers-Adkinson said learning communities are designed to link freshmen to their general education classes by centering them on a topic or career path in which they are interested—and that’s the reason a majority of freshmen succeed in school.
More than 80 percent of students enrolled in a learning community return to school the following year rather than transferring or dropping out, Rogers-Adkinson said. Students in learning communities tend to have about a 3.0 grade-point average and have enough credits for sophomore status after their first year of college. They also tend to be leaders on campus, she said.
Liz Zemlicka, a senior elementary education teacher, who participated in the “Live & Learn” community as a freshman, said the community got her college career started on the right foot.
“It really sets the pace,” she said. “I loved it. I have friends I made through my learning community who I still talk to now … and we constantly are saying, ‘Oh, remember when …’”