May 5, 2021
Dr. Julie Leventhal, principal lecturer in the Honors College, has enjoyed a very short commute for the last three years. When it was time to head home from her office in Sage Hall, she could just walk over to her room in Rawlins Hall, the freshman Honors residence hall, where she began her Faculty in Residence work in July 2018. Now that her time in the FIR program has come to an end, she shared with us some of the benefits of living with students — Waffle Wednesdays were high on the list — and how her dogs Blinkin and Deckard liked dorm life. (She and the dogs are pictured with her husband, Eric Thiemann). Read the Q&A.
What made you want to be in the Faculty in Residence program?
I was actually interested in it years ago when I first saw an email about it, but I figured “surely you can't live in the halls with a dog!” so I never gave it any serious thought. However, a few years ago I learned that dogs were ok (I know, a weird catalyst) and was looking for a transition of sorts. I was looking for a way to be more involved at the university level as I already had been doing a lot for my program and department. So when this opportunity came around and it was a chance to get involved with more students, the Honors College, and Housing and Residence Life, I was ready to jump on that! Also, I had been living in Denton for a few years but felt ready to move out of the apartments I was in while still staying in town. It was kind of like all the pieces just came together at the same time.
What sort of interactions did you have with the residents? Did you have visiting hours or offer programming, or was it more casual than that?
Because of who I am, a lot of the interactions were more casual and informal. I did run more “formal” programs, but even those were pretty laid back. I had office hours in the hall, random times where I let residents know my dogs were out in the lobby or out back, scheduled Waffle Wednesdays and other programming related to college life, and then I usually connected with our RAs as well and popped into their programs at times. I've been known to have quite a few conversations first thing in the morning when residents — or sometimes even their parents pre-COVID — would catch me walking the dogs!
Were your dogs a big hit with the students?
Absolutely! I think residents might have enjoyed them more than what I could even contribute! We had residents who just needed a little pick-me-up and the dogs were there. Or there were others who missed their pets at home and the dogs were able to fill a void. Other times, they just enjoyed the surprise of finding out there were dogs when they walked into the hall and saw them sitting there waiting for attention. Since we were in the lobby a bit less this past year due to COVID, we tried to hang around on our front patio more so residents were still able to see and pet them through the gate as they walked to and from the building.
What would you want other faculty and staff to know about our students based on what you learned living there? Have you learned some things that surprised you?
In my previous academic program, I worked with a fairly diverse, nontraditional student population (i.e., older students, commuters). Serving as the FIR reminded me what it was like to work with our more traditional student population (i.e., first time in college, just graduated high school, first time away from parents). These students have so many stories and experiences to share; while they're just starting out in college, they may not yet have the social network to support that, so I got to provide that role during events some. Residents would fill me in on their classes and what was going on in their lives; all of that only serves to better inform me as a faculty member and a UNT community member as to how I can better support students in a more holistic way.
What would you say was the biggest difference during the pandemic from “normal” years, other than obvious things like mask wearing and social distancing?
It's been … weird. For instance, it was difficult to just meet residents because not as many were out and about, and for the ones I met and interacted with, it was harder to identify them sometimes given the mask. Last fall there were a lot of students who didn't even know we had dogs in the hall until like two months in because they moved in later or hadn't seen us around since we hadn't been around the public spaces as much. Everyone was really trying to keep their distance for the most part. In the spring we were able to have more activities in person, and when we lost power due to the snow in February, we were definitely out in the common spaces a bit more. It was warmer there and we had access to lights.
Would you recommend the FIR program to other faculty?
Most definitely. It's a fantastic way to get to know and connect with our students on so many different levels. I learned so much about who they are outside of the classroom environment. It was also really neat to see all of their different majors and the work they did for their classes (when they would be working in the lobby or would share what they were doing with me in conversation). Finally, it's fun! Not only do you get to plan and participate in the awesome events and connect with residents, but you also get to connect with the Resident Assistants and be engaged in what they're doing. There was an ongoing joke that I slowly converted half of the RAs over to my major (human development and family studies), which definitely did happen with a few of them! That was because we got to have really amazing conversations about professional goals and life, and it was just one of the many ways I got to further support our students in this context.
What will you miss most now that your FIR experience has ended?
Connecting with students in this informal sense. It's a really cool experience to just be sitting out on the patio and catch up with a resident walking by. Or to be walking in from a class and just plop down in the lobby for a few minutes to touch base with a resident. Also, before COVID, Waffle Wednesdays were kind of our thing in the hall. We would serve 100 to 150 residents every other Wednesday or so with waffles in the lobby kitchen. So many residents would come out, they would all eat together and sometimes we'd have music going or crazy toppings to add, and it was all just a perfect way to connect everyone. It was the best!
What's next for you?
We are now working on renovating a house we bought a few months back and will be moving in by the end of May even though we'll still be doing work on it. And I'm hoping my Fulbright trip to Romania (from a 2020 Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program award she received) will happen next spring. I'll be teaching and conducting research there through the University of Bucharest.
You only have to look at Leventhal's email signature to find some great parting advice for young students and, really, anyone:
"Promise me that you'll always remember: You're braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think." — A. A. Milne