After nearly 30 years in academia, Dr. JoAnne Banks has practically seen it all.
But Banks, the Bertha L. Shelton Endowed Professor of Research at Winston-Salem State University, will be embarking on a new adventure next month, when she joins the university’s Faculty-in-Residence (FIR) program.
Banks, who grew up in Chicago, is one of two faculty members who have signed on to live alongside their students in dorms as part of the program, which the university is offering for the first time in its 100 year history. Abeer Mustafa, the director of Housing Residence Life at WSSU, led the charge to pilot the program, joining the ranks of Appalachian State University, UNC Greensboro and a growing number of other universities nationwide. Mustafa had overseen FIR programs at two universities prior to coming to WSSU last year.
“I’ve seen the benefits and I’ve seen what the program can do, so I’m ready to see the excitement here,” said the Jeddah, a Saudi Arabia native. “I’m ready to see how the students respond when their faculty members interact with them.”
Faculty in Residence programs have been shown to increase students’ engagement in campus life outside of the classroom and increase their comfort levels when it comes to interacting with professors, Mustafa reported. Mustafa said she and her team surveyed students last year about the possibility of launching the FIR program, and received an overwhelmingly positive response.
“There’s a lot of benefits for the students in having the faculty around,” she said.
Faculty members had a similar reaction, Mustafa said. Her office received a dozen applications for the program, prompting them to double the number of faculty members who are set to live in two of the school’s nine residence halls. “…This is a great, great program, and I’m really excited for the students,” Mustafa said. “If this all goes well, we’ll look at getting some (faculty) into some of the upperclassmen dorms. As we grow and build new residence halls, our goal is going to be to put in a new faculty resident apartment.”
Banks, 55, said she applied for the FIR program because it presents a prime opportunity for her to connect with the younger generation on a deeper level.
“I think that students, particularly undergrads, they’re the next generation, so the more that we can understand who they are and be able to assist them, the better they can do what they need to do when they become the elders,” said the mother of one. “…I think that in a fully functioning society, we need to be connected to our youth and our elders.”
As Faculty in Residence, Banks and Dr. Jack Monell, an assistant professor of Justice Studies, will be responsible for implementing programming that engages student residents beyond the realm of classroom experience. In his application for the post, Monell, who is traveling abroad this month, said FIR would allow him to embrace a more “holistic” approach to teaching and guiding students.
“In reviewing the requirements for the FIR, outside of living on campus, it covers areas that I have attempted to incorporate in the way I engage students. In my years of academic instruction, I have been afforded various opportunities to work with students inside and outside of the classroom,” wrote the Walden University alumnus, who will be housed in Wilson Residence Hall. “I’ve found that such interaction is not only critical in students’ academic achievement, but the data continues to present how such environments prove favorable results for students; particularly those who are first generation attendees.”
Banks, who is in her fifth year on the WSSU faculty, said she plans to meet with each of the students in the Foundation Heights building where she’ll be staying at least once a semester, and hopes to expand their horizons by exposing them to new experiences and opportunities both on and off the campus.
“One of the things that I see is that a lot of times, students don’t really either have the comfort level or the skill to really just talk to professors in ways that will be most beneficial to them,” she observed. “Students don’t share what their goals and dreams are, and so (my hope is) to really help students understand that the more they develop that relationship with faculty, the more they can really go where they want to go.”
Banks said she is hopeful that the faculty members’ presence in residence halls will shed some light on how the school can help its students complete their degrees and do so in a timely fashion.
“That’s a big concern for universities all over the place and I know that our school, like all schools, has some challenges in that area,” she remarked. “I think that getting closer to the young people themselves and looking through their eyes could really help us to develop some strategies to help them.”
Ironically, when Banks moves into her apartment in Foundation Heights next month, it will be her first taste of on-campus living.
“It’s really interesting in that I’ve never lived in a dorm, even when I was a student,” related the Purdue University alumna. “…Now here I am, being a full professor and having a residential life experience.”
In addition to FIR, the university is also launching Living/Learning Communities (LLC), where students studying similar disciplines will live and study together; Theme Housing, where students who share similar interests or hobbies are placed together; and the FIRE program for first generation/first year students. Though diverse in offerings, the school’s new programs have similar goals of enhancing the on-campus experience and boosting student performance, Mustafa said.
“We’re really, really excited to see the impact and that’s the reason why we have these programs, to create communities within communities,” she stated. “It’s going to be a phenomenal year.”