When Clemson University began plans to redevelop the center of campus, faculty and administration prioritized the creation of a dynamic complex to support housing, academics, dining, and student life. Since opening in fall 2016, the Core Campus Complex has lived up to its potential to foster a vibrant cross-section of campus life that captures the physical manifestation of the Clemson experience. The Complex’s living-learning program in particular has transformed the collegiate experience for Clemson’s highly-ranked Calhoun Honors College.
As part of the complex, three VMDO-designed residence halls consist of 700 beds of suite-style housing. One of the three residence halls houses the Calhoun Honors College. While Honors enrichment activities take place across campus, the Honors Center at Core Campus serves as a central hub for the Honors community. The adjacencies between bedrooms and collaborative spaces were intentionally designed to enrich students’ residential and academic experiences. Many Honors courses are taught in the Center, Honors College staff host drop-in advising hours, and all Honors students have 24/7 access to spaces on the lower level of the Center. By promoting intellectual engagement through formal and informal interactions with other Clemson students and with Clemson staff and faculty, the Honors College creates a personalized living-learning experience that emphasizes academic development as a central tenant.
Previously, Honors College students lived in nearby Holmes Hall. The small space limited their programming and presence on campus. Moving to the new Honors College located in Core Campus provides greater visibility to the growing program of over 1500 academically high performing student leaders. The new facility has also strengthened faculty-student mentorship and advising opportunities— offering students a sense of belonging, purpose, and rigor that reinforces the academic mission of Clemson University and the Honors College’ growing prominence as a Top 10 program.
With its new home serving as an asset for recruitment and retention, the Honors College has received an influx of applications from incoming freshmen. In addition, the yield rate for Honors College students choosing to attend Clemson increased by 30% while the rest of the university did not see such an increase.
Currently, a mix of 400 freshmen through seniors live at the Calhoun Honors College. They live in suite-style rooms and enjoy public community spaces that include lounge areas, study rooms, a library, a Great Hall for informal and formal gathering, and two active classrooms. Dr. Bill Lasser, the Executive Director of the Honors College and its Faculty Member-in-Residence, helps plan and implement educational, recreational, social, and cultural programs while serving as a role model, mentor, adviser, teacher, and leader in the residential community.
Dr. Lasser recently reflected about his experience living at Core Campus: “My wife, Sue, and I are really enjoying our faculty-in-residence experience. We love the chance to have informal conversations with the students and plan events for and with them (especially entertaining them in our Core Campus home). We also like the chance to live on campus!” Sue Lasser works with PEER (Programs for Educational Enrichment and Retention) and WISE (Women in Science and Engineering). The couple lives in a two-bedroom apartment on the first floor and enjoys the frequent interactions with students that come with living on-site.
The variety of new spaces, including the Great Hall’s flexible public forum, allow faculty, staff, and students to hold numerous events for the entire Honors College community, not just for those in residence. Honors College administrative staff and faculty offices are located at the center of the College and offer opportunities for students to connect with faculty and staff easily and naturally. This access to faculty has increased mentorship and deepened relationships between students and faculty. As cited by various studies, including a foundational report by the National Survey of Student Engagement: “students report higher levels of engagement and learning at institutions where faculty members use active and collaborative learning techniques, engage students in experiences … interact with students, challenge students academically, and value enriching educational experiences.”1
Members of the Honors College staff have observed a variety of changes in student behavior since the relocation. For instance, the new open kitchen has become a favorite social spot—offering spontaneous social encounters along a well-used corridor outside the Great Hall connecting Honors College classrooms to study rooms. While students had access to a shared kitchen in Holmes Hall, the space was small, closed off, and did not encourage interaction. Staff members have also noticed an increased sense of ownership since the move. Students have been more willing to help set up for events and clean up afterwards, as well as program their own activities. They are also utilizing the public spaces when staff members are not around and showing responsibility in putting everything back in order after-hours.
While the physical improvements of the new Honors College are clear, pre- and post-occupancy evaluations are helping to determine how these spaces have influenced students’ experiences related to resident identity, sense of belonging, and engagement. Students were surveyed before and after the Honors College was relocated to the Core Campus Complex and asked about the impact of the building’s key design features. Initial results collected in spring 2016 and spring 2017 demonstrate a greater sense of engagement with Honors College administrative staff and faculty-in-residence in the Core Campus location. Students shared that the layout of faculty, staff, and student spaces as well as the location and design of faculty apartments contributed to increased interaction and participation in the life of the building and the Honors program. When asked about sense of belonging, one student replied, “There is a sense of belonging because Clemson University, through the building and architecture, says they care about what I am doing outside sleeping and eating.”
This research will continue in 2018 as the Honors College students complete their second academic year at the Core Campus Complex.