Once a month, the community kitchen in the Kalapuya Ilihi residence hall fills with students as political science associate professor Debra Thompson and her partner Jack Byrne host a pancake breakfast for students.
Students living in KI can drink coffee, eat pancakes and get to know a faculty member on a deeper level in their residence hall.
The University of Oregon has embedded faculty members into UO’s residential communities through a program called Faculty in Residence. These faculty members live in apartments within the residence halls and serve as a resource for first-year students.
The faculty in residence program is intended to help students forge relationships with faculty members outside of the classroom during their first year on campus, said Kevin Hatfield, the director of academic residential and research initiatives.
“It’s a way to help students feel more connected and less alienated at a big institution. They can really have relationships [with faculty] by their first year,” Hatfield said.
Hatfield said that faculty in residence is a common resource at other universities.
“We’re new to it here, but other places have had it for a long time. Some places have 20 to 30 faculty in residence,” Hatfield said.
There are two faculty in residence at the UO: Thompson who lives in KI, and Matthias Vogel who lives in Global Scholars Hall. The program is expanding — there will be faculty in residence in Bean East once it reopens after the renovation project.
Thompson joined UO in fall 2017 and moved into KI as a faculty in residence. She lives with her partner Jack and their two children in the residence halls.
“I knew the position was about building relationships, but I underestimated the strength of those relationships and how they would be long lasting and really quite robust for much longer than the students time in residence halls,” Thompson said.
She said two students in particular have become very close with her and her family and are her “emergency” babysitters.
As a faculty in residence, the professor does not pay rent and is given a meal plan to share with their family. With the meal plan, the faculty member can interact with students in the dining halls in an informal setting.
The faculty in residence is given approximately $3,000 a year to go toward hosting community events or field trips, Hatfield said. Additionally, the faculty member’s apartment includes a space for hosting small groups of students for guest lectures or events with other faculty as well.
Thompson started a blog called College 101 to answer students’ questions anonymously. The blog is posted to OrgSync for residents to access. Thompson said she hopes the blog gives students the opportunity to ask questions in a space that’s comfortable for them.
“Students in Kalapuya will email me questions, and I will post those questions anonymously,” Thompson said. “I’ll answer it for everyone. It’s a cross between a newsletter, a blog post and an advice column.”
For example, one student emailed her a question about what to do when they think a professor had miscalculated their final grade for the course.
Thompson responded in her blog post, offering an example of how to email your professor in that situation, as well as steps to take when you think the teacher assessed your work incorrectly, such as contacting the chair of the department or the office of academic advising.
Thompson said that helping students came as a sort of calling for her.
“I was a first generation student, I’m a black person. Universities were not designed for people like me to succeed,” Thompson said. “When I became a professor, I was very interested in finding ways to help freshmen.”