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Assistant Professor Torunn Haaland, third from left, and Jessica Vanderwood, second from right, visit with students in the main Coughlin lobby.

Living, learning becomes a two-way street in Coughlin Hall

Story from Spirit Newsletter for Gonzaga Faculty & Staff, December 2011, Volume 13, Issue 4

Gonzaga's traditions and ideals are all about building community. But keeping those traditions alive sometimes calls for new approaches. Coughlin Hall, Gonzaga's newest residence hall, is home to a new concept for building relationships between students and faculty.

Matt Lamsma, senior associate director of housing and residence life, believes that many faculty would like to engage in out-of-class relationships with students, but aren't sure where to start. To create a place where this kind of engagement is normal, he helped develop Coughlin as a living-learning community.

"Coughlin was built with living and learning in mind," Lamsma said. "We had the idea of allowing our students to interact with our faculty and Jesuits where they live. I would love to see Coughlin become a place where students want to be and engage in that extra part of a living-and-learning community."

Fr. Michael Maher, S.J, professor of history, is the live-in chaplain in Coughlin; he and Torunn Haaland, professor of Italian in the department of modern languages and faculty-in-residence, live and work alongside students – an essential part of the living and learning concept.

Coughlin houses four living-learning communities, the Sophomore Year Experience, Global Engagement, Service & Leadership and Mind, Body, Spirit, with 325 students involved. A third of the students attend classes together. Students also have the opportunity to engage in special programming and reflection around the program theme. When Fr. Greg Boyle, S. J., visited Gonzaga, for instance, he and the former gang members he works with held a discussion with the Service and Leadership Community.

Jessica Vanderwood, area coordinator for housing and residence life, was hired in support of this program. She lives in a Coughlin apartment and develops initiatives to get students learning outside of the classroom. Vanderwood is working toward a more academically rigorous Coughlin, with an academic component in every living community and with students taking a class together with the other residents on their floor.

Students find learning outside the classroom very rewarding," Vanderwood said.

Haaland agrees. She has lived on the fifth floor of Coughlin since August 2010 and holds weekly office hours in Coughlin's coffee shop, where her students gather for help. She also holds study nights in her apartment. "I have found that students take interest in my courses if I show interest in what is important to them." Haaland says.

"It has changed how I relate to students," she added. I'm much better at meeting students where they are, appreciating them even if they aren't brilliant in my subject and taking interest in their everyday lives."

Sophomore Molly Martin lives in Coughlin and is enrolled in Haaland's Italian 201 course. "At first I was nervous about living with my professor," she said. "But it's been really helpful to have her there. I feel more of a relationship with her now."

The students see that Haaland is not infallible and become less intimidated about asking her for help by living in community with students, Haaland has learned that most of what the students do reinforces their academic and personal well-being.

Father Maher, on the other hand, has lived with students for many years. "It's great to work with the staff and students, and to be with the students," he said. Even though at times they knock on my door at 11:30 at night and ask me if I know anything about Plato – which I do, but not at 11:30 at night. I enjoy it very much. As always, if there are problems the students might have with family matters or with their studies, I'm happy to help."

Vanderwood, with the assistance of Dr. Haaland, organize community dinners for which faculty and staff are invited to engage in reflection with students. Next semester, she will start faculty "house calls" in Coughlin, a chance for faculty to come into Coughlin and talk with students "on their turf." Both initiatives allow students to see faculty beyond the lectern, as a person rather than as a lecturer. Vanderwood encourages any interested faculty to contact her at Vanderwood@gonzaga.edu.