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Choosing Community
College houses promise academic support and creative leadership.
By Judith Rodin, CW'66

THIS SPRING, as we take steps to prepare our new college house system for its fall debut, I am reminded of Hill House's "grand opening" as a women's dorm in 1965. As president of the Women's Student Government Association, I participated in the dedication of that impressive structure, and I well remember its impact on campus life at Penn.
   The very architecture of Hill enabled a sense of community. Eero Saarinen, the renowned architect, designed the building on the idea that smaller-than-usual bedrooms would urge residents outward to the generous common rooms -- to the hallways or suites around which groups of rooms are clustered, and to the large, lovely atrium of communal space on the first and second floors.
   It was a very good thing to be encouraged, by the very nature of the dorm as a "house" or "community," to move out from private concerns and solitary studying into a space where students might -- and did -- share personal and academic experiences with others.
   Academic work was deepened and extended by the "Hill experience." Courses were supported and augmented by the residential structure there, and Hill residents learned to integrate all aspects of their intellectual growth -- while enjoying the great fun of simply being students at Penn.
   Penn's new comprehensive college house system takes the fundamentally sound idea of community and expands upon it in important new ways. The 21st century college houses help us take full advantage of what Penn students have been doing for years -- creating and maintaining communities.
   Our old system, before we settled on the model of the college house, could be confusing to navigate. It had four different housing types, several different sets of staff structures and titles, and many separate retention and assignment processes. Some students made their residential choice without knowing exactly what they were getting.
   By September, Penn's undergraduate residential system will be both comprehensive and comprehensible. Each of Penn's current residential facilities, from the Quad to the High Rises, is being turned into one or more college houses. The resulting 12 college houses will offer a unique combination of architectural features and specialized programming, but all 12 houses will provide the same essential advising and support for academic and co-curricular activities.
   Each house will have a full-time house dean, at least one faculty fellow, and a faculty master. There will also be invaluable resident advisers and graduate associates supporting, leading, and mentoring house members. The special services that ease the transition of first-year students into college life will be available throughout the entire system.
   An innovative service called The Wheel Project will provide academic support services, both electronically and "in person," in math, writing, information technology, library research, and other core areas of activity right there "at home." Many services will be available to students 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Students are leading the Wheel Project with strong, stable faculty guidance and administrative support.
   Importantly, the new college house system is built upon choice, not compulsion. Students choose the house in which they want to live each year, and can move, year by year, from one of the college houses to another, or off campus and back on. We expect that many students will choose to remain at least two years in their college house.
   One of the most exciting features of our new system is the leadership opportunities it provides. Like the Wheel Project, many of the activities of the houses will be created and led by student residents and supported by senior staff, including the residential faculty. House councils, which give shape to the sense of each community, enable activities such as tournaments, musical performances, in-house workshops and non-credit seminars, house intramural teams, informal study breaks, faculty teas, and many others.
   Among Penn's students are many talented leaders in the making; with the advent of 12 college houses, we will have created 12 new venues for the exercise of that creative leadership -- opportunities for "local" or project-specific leadership that will nicely augment the more traditional campus-wide leadership roles. And of course, the resident adviser and graduate associate positions, so essential to each house, expand leadership opportunities for both undergraduate and graduate students.
   Nothing was more important in my own Penn undergraduate experience than the leadership development I enjoyed. I am delighted that Penn's new college houses will increase leadership opportunities for students today while offering an equally fundamental experience -- that of living, working, playing, and studying as part of a conscious, collaborative residential community.

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