Jane Collins, PhD, has been an associate professor in the department of writing and cultural studies for almost 30 years, and through Pace’s Faculty in Residence program, she’s spent the last three years immersed in what life is like for her students living on the Westchester Campus.
“The residence halls are a space that faculty don’t often go into,” Collins says. “There’s this whole idea of the classroom as the professor’s space that students come into, but what happens when it’s reversed, and the professors are coming into the students’ space?”
Collins has long been interested in how students learn outside the classroom and how they create community. Her desire is for students to not only consider what they want to do after graduation, but how they want to live their lives. Before she stepped into the role of Faculty in Residence, she created the Dyson Scholars in Residence, where students would take courses, live in suites, and complete service projects together as part of a “living learning community.”
There’s something really powerful about having faculty live on campus, and it’s considered a best practice in education.
The Faculty in Residence program felt like a natural next step. As part of the program, faculty move into an apartment in a residence hall on the Westchester Campus where they are tasked with creating residential life programming and heading up initiatives aimed at enriching the student life experience. For the past three years Collins has organized hiking trips, knitting clubs, letter writing events, and more with the students living in Alumni Hall. According to Collins, the Faculty in Residence program at Pace is unique in the agency it grants faculty to create programming based on their own interests and the needs of the students.
Looking forward to the opportunity to bring his own spin to the program is Ramón Emilio Fernández, PhD, associate professor of mathematics. Like Collins, he has a background in student life (he was a resident assistant and later worked in student life as an undergraduate) and is now taking up the mantle as Pace’s new Faculty in Residence.
Fernández is thrilled at the opportunity to make the position his own. “The name of the game is to have a big picture with flexibility,” he explains. “I like that the program at Pace doesn’t have an agenda; it’s fairly open. My goal is to have faculty and students write the agenda. I have a wealth of experience in student life, and I want to leverage that experience by implementing the ideas of my colleagues who do not have the same experience.”
“The name of the game is to have a big picture with flexibility."
Admittedly, Fernández has a million ideas, from cooking nights featuring Dominican cuisine and hosting end-of-the-year celebrations, to establishing dedicated space and attention for commuter and transfer students. But first and foremost, his hope is to connect faculty and staff to students. “During my time at Pace, several of my colleagues have told me they want to know more about student life,” says Fernández. “I think part of why that hasn’t happened is they don’t have a personal relationship with someone that is embedded is student life. So, I’m hoping to do that on a personal level.”
Both Collins and Fernández believe in the importance of bridging the gap between faculty and students. “There’s something really powerful about having faculty live on campus, and it’s considered a best practice in education,” says Collins. “Having that personal one-on-one relationship with a faculty member can offer the student access to information they might otherwise be hesitant to ask for. Students can be nervous about talking to a faculty member because they’re connected to their grade, or success, but it’s easier to ask someone who is just sitting next to you. It can be empowering for students.”
Fernández believes getting faculty, staff, and students to all meet each other halfway has an incalculable effect. “The research is clear. When we start to talk, when we intermingle, everyone’s relationships become healthier,” he states. “I know people like to talk about the bottom line, I like to think of the bottom line as the result of doing great things. Student retention and graduation rates increase. Faculty community commitment increases. Faculty and staff morale, when they feel they belong to something, increases.” As Fernández describes it, when a faculty member has a hand in student events, staff and faculty feel more empowered to get involved and be engaged.
As Collins is finishing her last few months in Alumni Hall and Fernández is busy at work brainstorming even more ideas, Pace students can rest assured they have a faculty who care and want to connect. Collins summed it up simply: “We really have fantastic students and that makes the job a real pleasure.”