Iowa State University

Inside Iowa State
April 4, 1997

On the cutting edge of common sense

by Steve Sullivan
When Doug Gruenewald is around, say nice things about the Towers.

Gruenewald (pronounced "Green-wald"), who recently became assistant director for academic services for the residence system, spent nearly 12 years at the suitcase-shaped student dwellings that have earned an unfair reputation for being filled with wild freshmen.

"It really is a great place," said Gruenewald, who served as coordinator of residence life during the first half of his Towers tenure and complex manager during the second. "We did a huge survey of 900 students and the results were very positive. The majority of students think it is a great community and they like the staff. They like the location because it is somewhat removed from the rest of campus, which makes the Towers feel more like a special community."

In his new position-- the result of residence director Randy Alexander's reorganization of the department -- Gruenewald will try to make all Iowa State undergraduate residence halls special communities academically.

Yes, the residence halls still are where students eat in dining halls and sleep in lofts. But more and more they also are where students do homework in computer labs, take classes and join learning communities, which is a major trend at ISU and universities across the country.

The effort, said Gruenewald, is creating "living/learning culture" in the residence halls.

"There is a lot of emphasis around the country for residence programs to connect and support their universities' academic missions. Residence life personnel always have seen themselves as educators and felt an integral part of the university's mission, but we didn't always do enough intentional programming, enough reaching out to the academic side," Gruenewald said. "We had to do a better job and be more innovative and change the institution in ways that would help students."

Managing this transition means creating an academic culture in the residence halls and this has been happening gradually over the past several years, Gruenewald said.

"We're on the cutting edge of common sense," said Gruenewald, describing the residence system's efforts.

Over the past several years, six 24-hour computer labs have opened in ISU residence halls. More than 60 sections of freshman English are taught in the labs.

Some residence halls offer quiet floors for more studious students, substance-free floors where no alcohol or smoking is allowed, and other special interest living areas, such as a cross-cultural hall where American students room with international students.

Iowa State's learning team program brings together groups of students with the same majors who take courses together and, in many cases, live on the same residence hall floor. Last year, there were about 40 learning teams in the residence halls and the number is growing.

Among the learning team communities are BEST (Biology Education Success Teams), Women in Science and Engineering, Honors Program clusters and teams of business students. Next year, engineering's LEAD (Leadership through Engineering Academic Diversity) program is planning a learning cluster in the Union Drive residence complex with 10 male and 10 female minority engineering students. The College of Design is planning a cluster of 25 male and 25 female students in Helser Hall, where a maintenance area will be remodeled into studio space.

Gruenewald, a self-described "big fan" of BEST, was complex director at the Towers when the biology program started in 1995.

"Getting new students to connect with the institution can be difficult. But the BEST students connected very quickly to the institution, the residence hall and their floor," Gruenewald said. "They studied together a lot and appeared to have a positive impact on the floor's non-BEST students' studying habits. The social bonding going on was strong, too."

Gruenewald also can praise the BEST program with hard numbers.

"We had 36 BEST students at the Towers. All 36 of them returned to ISU and 86 percent of them stayed in the residence hall system. Those numbers can't get much better," he said. "It really motivated some of us as staff members because it was what we've wanted to do, which is help students succeed any way we could. This gave us the structure to do it in."

A long-range planning study of the department of residence is under way and will result in major renovation of the residence halls, including academic space for classes and studying. There also are plans to create a peer mentor program that will put upperclassmen in residence halls with high concentrations of freshmen. The peer mentors will provide academic assistance and make referrals to university resources.

"Residence halls still are going to be social places and fun places to be, but we think students can do a pretty good job of organizing that themselves," Gruenewald said. "At the same time, we are not turning them into libraries, where it's all quiet and studying.

"Residence halls continue to become more comprehensive communities for our students so they will succeed academically, socially and personally," he said.

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