With a record number of students set to live on campus at the University of Arkansas, 630 beds have been added between two dorms and there is more dining than ever before. Hear from Andrew Washington, a resident assistant, Florence Johnson, the executive director of housing and Lynne Williams, the director of business services for student affairs, about what to expect with housing, dining and other on-campus experiences.
Founders Hall and Hotz Hall Added for Housing
The University of Arkansas has undergone tremendous growth in the past five years, specifically with increased enrollment and multiple construction projects.
The growth has forced on-campus housing to put more buildings on small amounts of land, thrust older buildings, such as Hotz Hall, that were being used for offices and other things into a housing role and added a brand new dormitory, Founders Hall, into the heart of campus. Florence Johnson, the executive director of housing at the University of Arkansas, said Hotz Hall will have 416 students living in it and will be the new home of the Honors College.
“We have been working for over two years now to bring that project to a close,” she said. “We’ve done it very hand-in-hand to make sure that that environment is really welcoming and fulfills the achievement that the Honors College is trying to do.
“We’ve done a lot of things. The lobby area has a computer area, weight room, kitchen, theater room, music room, meeting rooms, so it will be really exciting to offer our students that option. That’s really what we try to do with all of our facilities, is offer different options so our students can pick where they will feel most comfortable to live. But having that space will be wonderful and being able to connect it with the Honors College will be really great for our students.”
Many students have not had the opportunity to walk in Hotz Hall, but before the renovations, the dorm that was built in the 1960s had that very look, much like Humphreys and Yocum do. Now, the dormitory has undergone much-needed upgrades with a brand new interior design, however.
“We actually took rooms off line to bring in more natural light to it,” Johnson said. “Every floor has a study area, it has two large lounge areas and two small lounge areas and has totally reconfigured bathrooms that are more like a spotlight bathroom where you can walk in and have your own private, fully equipped bathroom.”
With Hotz being renovated, the newest addition for housing is Founders Hall.
“Founders Hall is a little bit different in that it is a brand new building,” Johnson said. “It’s smaller, it will house 214 students, but it’s really exciting because it’s connected with Brough Commons, so we’ll also be able to expand the seating capacity, which we all know needed to happen in Brough. So the seating capacity is going to expand by about 230 and it will be a direct connection from the dining side from the Brough.”
Andrew Washington, a resident assistant at the U of A, said he has not gotten to go into the dorms yet, but he thinks both residence halls will benefit the campus.
“I’ve seen the outlines and the blueprints online and they look like amazing buildings,” Washington said. “I think they’re both community style, so that’s going to be very good for the residents. They’re going to have a community where doors are always open, where they are going to be hanging out with one another and flooding the halls to hang out with one another.”
Increased Variety of Dining Options
When it comes to gaining weight in the first year of college, Washington said “the freshman 15 was real” for him and it is for many other college students.
The University of Arkansas is striving to give students more options for dining on campus, while staying as healthy as possible, however.
“We have a very robust dining program that basically was created around the meal plans for the students,” said Lynne Williams, the director of business services for student affairs. “Meal plans come in all different varieties and accommodate students in all different ways.
“We try to fill the need of what students, faculty and staff are asking for and we try to put in healthy options wherever it is possible.”
With the 2013-2014 academic year set to begin August 26, the U of A will be filled with more freshman students than ever before and they will have to decide which meal plan will put the right amount of food on their plate. Williams said the most common meal plan for incoming freshman is the 15-meal plan plus, which gives students 15 meals per week at dining halls, or in a meal trade format, and includes 160 flex dollars. She said It gives students enough meals while also allowing them the flexibility of trying out the other dining options on campus.
“The 15 meals a week is quite a few meals, but then you can still eat a meal or two off campus or in your room so you don’t feel compelled to eat every meal in the dining hall,” Williams said. “And you don’t run out, but they have the flex dollars and can buy sodas in the convenient store, buy a friend a meal or go to the food court at lunch, so students really like the flex dollars.”
Since eating in the campus dining areas such as the Quads, Brough Commons and the cafeteria in Pomfret, can get a bit redundant, Williams said the university tries to offer several other options that can satisfy college students.
“We have three full-service dining halls, but we also have the food court in the union, the Au Bon Pain and the Freshens and we are going to open a Slim Chicken’s, a new Papa John’s and what is called the Innovation Cafe on the south side of campus,” Williams said. “No matter where you eat, we are continuing to switch up menus in the dining halls, but still, you’re going into the same venue day after day, depending on where you might be living, and this gives them a chance to get out.
“We’ve noticed in the food court, in the evening, it turns more into a social place. People can meet and greet across campus, rather than going to one dorm. We also try to rotate the menu in the food court, but it gives them a chance to get out.”
The new housing addition on campus, Founder’s Hall, will add dining hall seating with a connection to Brough Commons. Williams said Brough is expected to be more efficient and useful for all students with the new seating.
“We’re going to have 250 seats on the second level at Brough and there will be a new food concept over there,” Williams said. “It’s very much needed and it will be really, really nice. This past year, the overcrowding was really hard on everybody. Students had so little time to get through.”
As much as the dining services administration tries to accommodate students, Williams said it can get tricky when it comes to offering healthy options for students.
“You can go into one of the dining halls and put out grilled chicken next to fried chicken, the fried chicken is always going to get eaten a lot faster. But we infuse it, we try to see what the demand is and we are constantly working with menus and trying new options,” Williams said.
Williams said that setting habits early is key when establishing a pattern of going to eat at the dining halls instead of fast food restaurants. After all, she said eating on campus is the easiest, least time consuming and most economical way to eat as a freshman at the U of A.
Transitioning from High School to College
Perhaps the biggest change students have to make when going from high school to college is making their own decisions.
In addition to making eating choices on their own likely for the first time in their lives, students can more selectively choose whether or not to go to class. Johnson said for students to have academic success, it is important to get into a habit of going to class early in the semester, so as to not get behind.
“Go to class,” said Johnson, in reference to advice that she would give to students. “And I know that is not part of the housing experience, but it is because it’s all academic. Go to class. If you can set that pattern the first three weeks of going to class, you’re going to have a higher rate of success, so go to class.”
Students also have a choice to make on how they engage in the community and build relationships. Washington, who has been living in Buchanan-Droke Hall this summer, said that can be a struggle at his usual dorm, Maple Hill, but it is necessary for an enjoyable collegiate experience.
“The college life is a lot different because, especially from me, I’m from Virginia, so I didn’t really know anyone at the U of A,” Washington said. “In high school, I didn’t choose my friends. It was more about ‘I’m a football player or I’m whatever’ and that’s how everybody was grouped up. But in college, you can choose your different group of people. You can hang out with anyone you want to and they’re all accepting.
“One thing about living on campus that I like better than living off campus is actually the community that it creates, because you’re living with the people that you work with and go to school with.
“Freshmen should take away from their first year, living in a dorm to really seize creating a community with the people you live with. You can pass that opportunity up. I know my freshman year, a lot of people passed that opportunity up, especially living in Maple Hill, where your door is shut right behind you. But you make your freshman year what you make it and being in that community and being with people that live right next door to you, you can really create such a great bond with them.”
Johnson also said an emphasis should be placed on socializing within the on-campus community and getting to know various types of people, including faculty and staff members.
“If it’s not something directly related to the residence community, get involved in something on campus so you get connections and begin to build that network,” Johnson said. “But really, get to know people and if you have a problem, let someone know. There’s a wealth of resources on campus and we are all here to assist and help you navigate things, but it’s kind of difficult when it comes up in November and you haven’t told anyone. And that’s discouraging because we could have helped. You may not have had to struggle with something because we could have helped you.”
She also said resident assistants, such as Washington, can assist on-campus dwellers in the early portion of their college careers.
“Resident Assistants are really important and are often taken for granted, but they can really serve as that peer mentor,” Johnson said. “They go through extensive training and not only initial training in August, but they’ll go through continual training. They really know the resources on campus, they really know how to navigate and they also know about the community at large. If you’re looking to get your car fixed, they’re not going to recommend you go to x, y, or z, but they sure can help you navigate the community if you haven’t lived here. They can also tell you the neat places to go, eat and that type of thing.
“They’re really there as that connection piece, really trying to get people connected. It all comes back to meeting people, being comfortable with the people you are around and living with, and going to class and making those connections. So the RAs serve a very important role in that.”