On a recent Sunday evening, Dr. Marc Cutright prepared sandwiches - grilled cheese and "Elvis" sandwiches of banana, peanut butter and honey on grilled white bread - and served chips and soft drinks to about 70 people.
His dinner guests, however, weren't friends and colleagues that the associate professor was hosting for a football watching party or other festive event. Instead, it was supper for Cutright's fellow residents of West Hall, one of UNT's 13 residence halls.
Cutright, who arrived at UNT in August to direct UNT's Center for Higher Education as well as teach, is the first faculty member at UNT to live in one of the residence halls under the university's new faculty-in-residence program.
The program is designed to connect students' academic development with their personal development by making faculty members more accessible to students outside of the classroom.
Other faculty members don't live in the halls, but are helping to provide programs for UNT's REAL Communities. REAL, or Residents Engaged in Academic Living, Communities bring together students who share the same major to live on the same wings in the residence halls. Faculty members in the departments offering the major receive stipends to help to provide programs related to the major.
This academic year, REAL Communities are being offered in Bruce Hall for jazz studies majors, in Kerr Hall for students in the College of Visual Arts and Design and in Clark Hall for biological sciences majors.
Beginning in the fall of 2008, communities will be added to three other residence halls. One will be set aside for students majoring in radio/television/film and journalism. The others will be thematic wings for students interested in leadership, the environment and recycling, and health and wellness. Students of all majors may apply for these wings, which will house 30 to 40 students.
"Our goal is for the students living in these communities to build interactions with their faculty interactions with professors as a whole," says Jon Bartlett, special assistant for student connections in UNT's Department of Housing and Residence Life. "We are encouraging the faculty advisors to interact with the students on a more social, less intimidating basis. We even gave them meal plans so they can eat in the halls with the students."
The REAL Communities, he says, also provide built-in support systems for students, adding that students majoring in jazz studies, biological sciences and art and design are in "some of the toughest departments on campus for undergraduates."
"The students are there for each other at test time, and the upperclassmen become peer mentors to the younger students," Bartlett says.
He says the REAL Communities are part of Department of Housing and Residence Life's plan to "create a nexus between student development and academic affairs."
"Our RAs are among the best in the region, but our programming in the halls has been focused on the personal aspects of student life," he says. "We're now hiring a new residence life coordinator for academic programs, and, in the future, we want to have our students in REAL Communities enrolled in the same classes."
West Hall doesn't currently have a REAL Community. Cutright, however, says that the "everyday Joe Student" could benefit from casual interaction with a faculty member in the hall as much as a student living in one of the communities.
"My job is to be available to students, and to let them know that professors are open to meeting them. If there is one thing that universities can do for students, it's to make sure that at least one faculty or staff member cares about whether or not they succeed," he says.
Although one of Cutright's areas of research is the first year of college and organizational support for freshmen, he says that his primary role in West Hall is being of service to students. He's available to meet individually with the 533 students who live in the hall, focusing primarily on academic concerns.
"I'm not a member of the hall staff or a counselor, so I think it's more appropriate for the meetings with students to be academically oriented," he says, adding that he's helped students resolve problems with obtaining textbooks for class and provided advice about job searches and writing resumés and cover letters. "But I'll try to help with anything that comes my way."
Cutright describes himself as "in loco uncle" - a variation of the term "in loco parentis," which is applied as a broad provision to allow institutions to act in the best interests of students as they see fit.
"When students don't need their parents, they want them to step aside, but when they do them, they want them there right away," says Cutright, whose two daughters are recent college graduates.
Formerly the coordinator of Ohio University's Higher Education Program, Cutright decided to live in West Hall after he and his wife, who lives in Tennessee, couldn't find an apartment to his liking. He was approached by Dr. Bonita Jacobs, UNT vice president for student development, about becoming the university's first faculty member-in-residence.
"The idea was interesting to me because I have some sense of the first-year experience for students both through my research and through my daughters," Cutright says.
At West, Cutright has a two-room apartment that includes a bathroom and kitchenette, freshly painted before he moved in. He uses one of the hall's community kitchens or his own kitchenette to cook meals for the students once a month, which have included Saturday morning French toast as well as Sunday supper.
"By nature, I'm an introvert - I think many academics are. Living in the hall puts a burden on me to be more active socially, so I chose to cook for the students. It gives me a chance to meet and interact with them, one on one, for a few minutes. It's like cooking for my girls, times 30," he says, adding that each month, at least 50 students have stopped in to eat and chat.
He plans to have representatives for student services offices on campus, such as the Student Money Management Center and the Learning Center, attend future meals so students can meet the staff members.
He may not be the only professor living in one of UNT's residence halls for very long. Honors Hall, which opened in August for students in the Honors College, has a furnished Scholars Apartment for visiting professors.
Cutright says living in a residence hall can be ideal for single faculty members and those in commuter marriages.
"It's fun to see the energy in the hall, and I like the diversity of students. I may live there again next year if it helps the university," he says.
UNT News Service Press Release
Nancy Kolsti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.