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More Observations from The Unexpected Neighbor

A new budgeting procedure and fiscal discipline have boosted the bottom line at Florida's Nova Southeastern University.
University Business, Sep 2006

The decision has given her a sneak peek at the way students are experiencing the new facility, a 31,000-square-foot space that includes 18 suites. Each suite has four bedrooms, a shared living space, a kitchenette, and bathroom. The dorm is designed to give students a sense of autonomy while still living together on campus.

In her second journal entry, Sister Diana shares her insights into the daily life of the new residence hall. She notes that while suite-style living helps students feel independent and adult-like, it also allows for less interaction. (Her first journal entry for the UB Web Exclusives section gives more background on the new residence hall and her reasons for wanting to live among the students.)

Connecting with students and making herself accessible to them continues to be a goal for Sister Diana. Many of the hall's residents are becoming more comfortable in her presence, sharing in late-night snacks and even a recent evening of bowling. Yet despite the good times, class work and jobs outside school rule.

Life in the residence hall has settled into a routine for all of us. The students are enjoying their new sense of adulthood and independence and thankfully, I have become just another resident.

The building remains quiet, with students spending most of their time in their suites. They tell me that having a private bedroom is a real plus because they can come and go as they please without worrying about waking up a roommate. They are also enjoying sometimes staying in their rooms where they can eat alone or simply watch T.V. With such a fondness for their newfound privacy, I try not to interfere.

The common areas do get used, but not on a regular basis. Occasionally, I will see one or two students watching a TV program, preparing food (since it has the only full kitchen), but most often I see them using the computer room. Since some of them do not have their own personal computers, they will use the computers in the residence hall to do their work.

While I was away visiting alumnae in Florida, I allowed a recent graduate and former resident assistant stay in my suite. Having experienced the traditional residence hall, she was amazed at how quiet the building was and how little interaction she had with the residents.

Having spent some time living in a more traditional residence hall in the 1980s, I have been surprised by how little interaction occurs in our new hall. All of us are so busy we are lucky to acknowledge each others' presence and enjoy a brief chat. Since the college's theme for residence life is "building community," I am becoming aware of the need to find new ways in which to create community within suite-style living. Students feel that their new community is their suite, and, in some cases, have determined their own division of labor. They are quite content but some do try to reach out to others by attending other campus events. Actually, I went cosmic bowling with some of the residents along with other students. It turned out to be a very enjoyable experience.

I continue to reach out to students and make myself accessible to them. Whenever I see a student, I acknowledge her and attempt to make "small talk," always being careful not to be too intrusive. Most of our students come to Ursuline College because of our programs and academic reputation; however, once they are here, many appreciate the woman-focused environment. Actually, last evening I spoke with a student who was a history education major but has decided to pursue pure history and focus on women, especially women of color, in history. Her new goal is to get a degree in Higher Education Administration and work at the college level beginning in possibly multicultural affairs but ultimately to become a college president.

I have attempted to reach out on the topic of spirituality by offering a 15-minute scripture reflection once a week. Thus far, no one has accepted my offer. This is something I need to think about and investigate further.

At midterm break, a few students stayed on campus primarily because of work commitments. The majority of students went home. When the students returned, I had planned a late-night Sloppy Joe and chili snack for them. I even made fliers to let them know about the gathering and posted the notes throughout the residence hall. A number of students stopped by. It was interesting to see how many of them have become so comfortable in my presence, sitting with legs dangling over the arm of the chair and conversing in a very comfortable manner. There were still a few students who seemed shy, but finally, the students carried on conversations almost as if I wasn't present.

I still get up early and walk to the convent each morning to pray with the sisters. I'm amazed that I see a few lights on at 5:45 a.m. when I leave the residence hall for the convent, and again when I return about 6:30 a.m. My guess is that our nursing students are up because they often leave early for their clinical sites.

I'm always touched when students come to my door to ask for something (although this does not happen frequently, even though my door is always open when I am there). I'm pleased that some students do feel comfortable doing this, though. Recently, a student stopped by and asked for a small screw driver to repair her cell phone. On another occasion, a couple of students baked cookies and delivered a batch to me in my suite. On St. Patrick's Day, I ran into two students who where going out and they asked me if I had any suggestions on where the fun was. I got a kick out of the fact that they thought I'd know where to send them.

A few weeks ago, the college hosted an overnight for prospective students. Two suites in the new residence hall that I reside in were used along with the other residence halls. This provided me with an unusual opportunity to greet the visitors and welcome them to the college. I'm sure they were surprised to see that the President was going to be their sleepover neighbor.

I continue to be amazed that there is still so much interest in my new living situation from both inside and outside of the college. Even as I travel outside of the state, I'm constantly asked, "How's life in the dorm?" Of course, I tell them the truth--that it has been quite enjoyable.

Students eat healthier than I expected. They seem to enjoy having their own small kitchens to use. Unfortunately, I seem to be the only one eating all of the chocolate candy, chips, and ice cream that I buy for them.

Interest in my life in the residence hall is still a topic of conversation and curiosity both on and off campus as well as in the media.

Life has settled into a very quiet routine.

Since the hall houses only juniors and seniors there is a seriousness about the end of the semester. Seniors are contemplating leaving college and finding a job and moving on to an even greater level of independence. Some are a little anxious about leaving the college environment.

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