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Week of 12 September 1997

Vol. I, No. 3

Feature Article


Providing academic support -- and making new friends

by Brian Fitzgerald

He practically laughed in her face. When Nancy Morrison, the area director for BU's upper Bay State Road residences, first told Stephen Esposito about Boston University's Faculty-in-Residence Program, he replied that living on campus was out of the question.

"No way," he recalls saying, as visions of Animal House danced in his head. "I did dorms 20 years ago." Granted, campus life at Boston College was great fun when he was an undergraduate. But why would an associate professor of classical studies in the College of Arts and Sciences want to moonlight as a noise meter, telling students to turn down their stereos at 3 a.m.?

"However, I talked with a few people and discovered that the job isn't about being a hallway police officer," he says.

Stephen Esposito Photo: Albert L'Étoile

Stephen Esposito
Photo: Albert L'Étoile

"The purpose of the Faculty-in-Residence Program is to provide a unique means for faculty and students to communicate. It helps make the students' college experience richer intellectually."

Then he spoke with Diane Meuser, an associate math professor at CAS, who has been a faculty-in-residence for the past 17 years. "She sold me on the idea," says Esposito. "Even though all teaching professors at BU have office hours, I believe that it is still a challenge for any of us to provide enough outreach. She told me about going to dinner with students, tutoring them, having coffee with them, and lending an ear when they have problems. I thought, 'What a great way to bridge students' academic life with residential life.' It's really all about helping create a sense of community."

A year ago Esposito left sub-urban Framingham behind for Boston University's West Campus, moving in with 600 students to Sleeper Hall, one of three 13-story towers that house a total of 1,800 people. "It has been fantastic," he laughs, pointing out the window of his living room to Nickerson Field. "In the late fall, after the leaves fall off those trees behind the end zone, I have a perfect view of the football games on Saturday afternoons." He turns to graduate student Heath Hightower (SSW'99), Sleeper Hall's head resident assistant (RA). "Seri-ously," says Esposito, "I think we accomplished a lot last year."

"We really did," says High-tower. "Steve has been extremely helpful in developing cultural and recreational opportunities for students here. The RAs and the residence hall associations, whose leaders are elected by the students, often find it difficult to organize programs and events. Sometimes we'll work hard planning a program and one student shows up. But last year we had a lot of success. For example, Steve proposed that we get a band called Beverage -- which is made up of a handful of astrophysics students -- to put on a concert in the Claflin Hall cafeteria. It happened, and more than 300 students showed up."

"More than 300 on the night of a big home hockey game," Esposito adds. And this year, Carolyn Robinson, SAR clinical assistant professor and neighboring Rich Hall's faculty-in-residence, "is planning to organize several ballroom dance lesssons, and then we're going to have a big ballroom dance."

But Esposito makes it clear that his duties aren't primarily to help provide entertainment to students. "They're here to learn, but often they have this mind-set that learning stops as soon as they're through studying for the day. But in college you are immersed in learning, inside and outside the classroom."

Esposito says he is also part of a support system. "If a freshman wants to change majors, it's not automatic that he or she knows whom to see for advice," he says. "The student just arrived here. We can't assume that he or she will know where to go. And if someone is struggling with a roommate, boyfriend, or girlfriend, or has some kind of emotional problem -- my door is open and I keep everything confidential. Half of all the students in these residence halls are freshmen, and there are a lot of fragile and tender lives here. Believe it or not, even with 600 neighbors, a student at times can feel lonely."

The Faculty-in-Residence Program began in 1974 through the efforts of then President John Silber. Director of Residence Life Jack Weldon says that research on student retention and academic success shows that faculty-student interaction outside the classroom leads to a higher rate of student achievement.

"The program also puts more role models in residence halls," says Weldon. "There are about 9,700 students on campus and 250 resident assistants. The 17 faculty in the residence halls spend 10 to 15 hours a week attending, planning, and sponsoring residence hall programs and interacting with students."

One of the main reasons Esposito applied for the job, "aside from the fact that I can walk to work," he says, "is that one professor told me that he has made many friends who have kept in touch with him after they graduated, and I hope to do the same."