A New Vision for On-Campus Living
Housing & Residence Life puts focus on one-on-one interactions to help students find success
In 1962, the University of Idaho constructed the Wallace Residence Center. Its four wings and 20 floors have held thousands of Vandals over the years, and as the sons and daughters of alumni came to the university, there was one thing their parents could count on: Wallace looked exactly the same.
But that has changed drastically over the past few years as UI Housing and Residence Life embarked on a multimillion-dollar facelift of the aging facility.
This fall, every student in Wallace is living in a renovated room. And in addition to the physical upgrades, the experience of on-campus living is changing as well.
Housing staff launched the Wallace renovation in 2010, renovating one to two floors per year, as resources allowed. Last year, the Idaho State Board of Education authorized the university to hire an outside contractor to speed up the renovation, and this past summer UI completed renovating 10 of the remaining 12 floors in just 10 weeks.
Housing spent nearly $6 million on construction, giving each room a floor-to-ceiling update — including installing new carpet, replacing lights with more efficient LED bulbs, painting, replacing metal doors with wood, and adding new built-ins, new vanities, new sinks and new seal coats in the bathrooms. Separate from the physical renovation, the residence center is also getting upgraded wireless capabilities to accommodate students’ technology demands, said Dee Dee Kanikkeberg, director of Housing and Residence Life.
The outside of the structure also got a facelift, with a remodeled courtyard.
It’s only the beginning of new things for on-campus living as the university develops a housing master plan and evaluates future needs to accommodate growing enrollment and the changing needs of students.
A Paradigm Shift
It’s not just changing spaces, Kanikkeberg said: Housing & Residence Life has also changed how it interacts with students and expanding its academic support role to help each student have a successful experience at UI.
“There’s truly been a shift in how Housing and Residence Life supports students who live with us,” she said.
Two years ago, Housing opened the Student Success Program in Wallace, which offers academic workshops and study space. The program works with first-year students to help them transition to college and to develop strong academic skills. Housing has added new staff and invested resources in increasing retention and improving the student experience, Kanikkeberg said.
“One of our goals is to keep more students on campus and at the University of Idaho,” she said. “We believe that we contribute to that in many, many ways.”
In the 2014-15 academic year, Housing & Residence Life launched a pilot program that changed how resident advisors (RAs) interact with students. Called the Intentional Interaction Model, the program focuses on building specific one-on-one connections to students through targeted conversations about their transition to college and their academic performance.
The model was tested in Upham Hall, the only all-freshman building in UI’s Living Learning Communities (LLCs). The program has four main elements, said Bart Sonnenberg, assistant director of resident engagement:
- One-on-one interactions between RAs and students to build relationships.
- Weekly events (called “traditions”) chosen and organized by the students living in the house.
- Monthly programs geared specifically to the needs of the students in the hall, such as presentations on homesickness or Seasonal Affective Disorder by Counseling and Testing Center staff.
- Monthly attendance at and support of Student Success Program workshops and activities.
The new model meets the needs of the millennial generation, which is used to more individual attention, Sonnenberg said. RAs do goal setting with students, check in with them frequently and help when students are struggling. The LLCs student staff also meet frequently with Sonnenberg to talk about the issues facing their students and learn about resources available to help.
“We’re having these intentional conversations with students, and we’re showing them that individual support,” he said. “We’re investing in them, so the student knows that ‘I care about you as an individual, and I’m going to invest my time in making sure you’re successful.’”
The results from the first year of using the model were phenomenal, Kanikkeberg said: The students who participated in the program had a 92 percent retention rate, compared to a typical rate in the mid-70s.
This fall, Housing implemented the model for all first-year students living in the residence halls.
“The thing that I’ve been most excited about is how willing students are to share their information, once they feel comfortable with their staff members,” Sonneberg said. “Our students want to talk. They just need assistance finding their path."
Kanikkeberg hopes the Housing & Residence Life master plan will be completed in spring 2017. The plan will give a vision for which facilities are next for upgrades and remodels, and where new housing options could go. As the city of Moscow grows and more off-campus housing becomes available, the demand and expectation for university housing changes.
Over the summer, the university removed three family housing units that had been closed for years, said Brian Johnson, assistant vice president for Facilities. There’s no immediate plan to replace them.
“We have a lot of aging structures in apartment housing that truly don’t meet today’s housing needs and expectations,” Johnson said. The master plan will provide guidance as to what type of housing options could replace those units.
“We collectively are exploring lots of different possibilities for future campus housing projects,” Kanikkeberg said. Housing is a self-sustaining unit, and all projects are funded through bonds and existing funds.
The university also will not bring Targhee Hall back as a housing option, Johnson said. The former house, which served as a non-traditional housing option for fine arts students, was converted to offices during the College of Education’s remodel. The cost for remodeling the aging structure didn’t support reopening it as housing, Johnson said. The building is also isolated from the rest of campus housing, making it inconvenient for students who live there to access resources.
On the top of Kanikkeberg’s priority list for upgrades is remodeling Bob’s Place, the dining hall in Wallace that serves all on-campus housing students.
“It’s our next highest priority in terms of benefits to students,” she said. “The trends we’re seeing in terms of residential dining are fantastic. Dining halls are no longer seen as a place to come in and eat. It’s about developing community in your residential dining spaces.”
“The trend certainly is all about a blend of personal space and the opportunity to connect in public ways.” Housing is also reducing its environmental footprint, such as through the installation of LED lighting and water-conserving fixtures.
But however the university adjusts its housing offerings to meet the needs of future students, Kanikkeberg emphasizes one thing: It’s not just about offering a place to live.
“As the university grows and changes, we will be there to support students,” she said.