Lehigh University
Lehigh University


Specialty housing options flourish on campus

Students paint the Green House, which opened in 2008.

Just a few years ago, undergraduate students at Lehigh who wanted to experience life beyond the typical residence hall had two options: Move off campus or go Greek.

Now students can choose themed houses where they share quarters with like-minded students who are interested in healthy living, green living, music, substance-free living, science and technology, and global citizenship.

Today, nearly 140 students live in specialty housing at Lehigh. Another 33 have registered for the new Lehigh University Technology in Society (LUTIS) community, which occupied the former Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity house at the start of the Fall 2009 semester.

“The success of the programs already established proves that these dedicated communities are contributing greatly to the culture of the campus,” says Tom Dubreuil, associate dean of students. “These initiatives, which are student-led and student-driven, also create greater opportunities for learning outside the classroom. They’re a terrific addition to Lehigh.”

Jennifer Scaia, director of residence life, notes that the students in dedicated communities benefit from the strong bonds they form with each other.

“These communities tend to be very cohesive,” she says. “We’ve found that there are very few interpersonal conflicts, problems with roommates, or even problems with our office. The students take great care of the homes, too. They see them as their own, both in the physical sense and in the sense of a shared community.”

Dubreuil, Scaia, and their counterparts in residential services have worked closely with the students who champion specialty housing options. The program – collectively called Live Lehigh! – provides sophomores, juniors and seniors the option to live and learn in a self-initiated themed residential community that enhances their university experience.

“Our office values these student opportunities and believes that this is a time for students to reflect thoughtfully on the past, actively engage in the present, and intentionally plan for the future,” Dubreuil says. “This gives students a chance to take control of their Lehigh experience.”

An astronaut as adviser

Themed housing options were introduced to campus during the 2006-07 academic year, under an organizational umbrella program titled Upper Class Experience Residential Communities (UCERC). Early themed houses were devoted to global citizenship and substance-free lifestyles.

Other colleges and universities offer some sort of themed living and learning experiences, but they are frequently limited to first-year students, Scaia says.

“This extends the shared experience by putting students in close proximity to others who share the same interests, and who are opting for something beyond the traditional,” she says.

Two years ago, the students who helped organize the “Sub-Free” House were recognized with the national Excellence in Student Leadership Award from Outside the Classroom, which developed the online alcohol abuse prevention program AlcoholEdu.

That award honored Nicholas A. Gava ’09, Anthony Bisconti III ’09, Glenn Laverty ’09, and Paul Berruti ’09. The students were described as “incredibly committed, organized and ready to take action” by Maddy Eadline, director of special projects at Lehigh and Sub-Free’s adviser.

The new LUTIS community will be advised by former NASA astronaut Terry Hart ‘68, who is a professor of practice in the mechanical engineering and mechanics department, and Chris Mulvihill, assistant dean of students.

It became a reality largely due to the efforts of Seth Blumenthal ’12, who describes LUTIS as a “a niche for people who would like to use either skill or passion, for or with technology, to make Lehigh a better place to live.”

Blumenthal and his group will most likely work on projects such as building computers and robots, and hosting discussions and seminars on topics related to technology and society. Rather than meeting only occasionally, fellow students can work on projects that interest them as much as they would like.

Blumenthal is effusive in his praise for the Lehigh administrators who helped make the program a reality.

“Groups like Live Lehigh! and residential services have been amazing in making things happen incredibly quickly,” he says. “The red tape has been minimal, and we have wonderful advisers in Prof. Hart and Dean Mulvihill.”

--Linda Harbrecht

Posted on Thursday, August 27, 2009

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