Connection and Community

Student in dorm at desk

The merging of academics and residential life creates a powerful freshman experience

With cerulean blue skies and sea temperatures near 70 degrees, conditions were downright balmy compared to Maddie Kasik’s home in Northern California, but what was more important to her was that the water was clear. She wanted to monitor the sharks milling about just below, counting on their interest staying with the invertebrates on the ocean floor, rather than the college students casting shadows from above.

No worries there. The leopard sharks that congregate seasonally to spawn at La Jolla Shores have no interest in humans. For Kasik, swimming among them marked her introduction to life in her Honors Living Learning Community (LLC).

“My friends convinced me to go swimming and I thought I was out of my mind, but it was actually really fun,” says the San Jose native who is serving as an Honors LLC resident assistant (RA) her sophomore year.

At the University of San Diego, life in a living learning community blends academics and residential life throughout a student’s freshman year. For Kasik, it helped build connections and confidence in her new home. “I was the only one from my high school who went to USD so I felt like a fish out of water,” she says. “My LLC provided a community within the freshman class that was smaller, and that foundational support helped me find my groupings in college life.”

The 2013-14 academic year marks the first year that 100 percent of freshmen will participate in a living learning community at USD. The nine communities are part of an umbrella experience for first-year students, weaving scholarship into everyday life under common themes, including: change; faith and reason; globalization; honors; intersection; natural world; social justice; space, place and sound; and sustainability. Students live among and attend classes with their fellow LLC residents, including a preceptorial — a small core-curriculum course taught by a faculty member who also serves as a mentor. They discover that the intellectual conversation thrives between disciplines and beyond the classroom.

“These living learning communities are a microcosm,” says Noelle Norton, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, who with Margaret Leary, associate dean of students, led the LLC taskforce that launched the program in 2010 with three pilot communities. “They enhance the liberal arts because they help students think about a question with depth from all different disciplines.” — Trisha J. Ratledge