Summer 2022 marked the revival of The University of Tulsa’s Faculty in Residence (FiR) program. In June, I (Dr. Emily Contois, Assistant Professor of Media Studies, see CV here) moved into LaFortune House with my husband, Chris, and our dog, Raven, as the first TU FiR family in more than a decade.
TU’s FiR program is a living-learning community that provides both formal and informal interactions between students and professors that form a bridge between the classroom and student life, with the goal of enriching students’ daily lives and overall college experience.
In our first year, we’ve hosted hundreds of students in our home, created from scratch new FiR programming and traditions, and worked to increase program awareness with students, faculty, administrators, and staff all across campus. Our first year’s efforts lay a foundation for the program’s growth and success in the coming years.
FiR Program Elements
Building from the higher ed literature on effective FiR programs, we seek to facilitate sustained interactions with students that are a combination of academic and social, as well as providing opportunities for “deeper life” conversations once solid professor-student relationships have been cultivated.
Standing FiR Events
During the 2022-2023 academic year, we held the following events on a regular basis to offer both academic and social support to students, especially those in their first year of college.
A Pup & PJs Office Hour took place one night every week from 8-9 pm in the Faculty Study adjacent to our FiR apartment. They quickly became one of our favorite FiR traditions, as students gathered to pet Raven in her cute PJs, while we talked about classes, the joys and struggles of student life, internships, jobs, and so much more.
A LaFortune Lobby Office Hour took place one afternoon every week. These provided opportunities for students in my classes, LaFortune residents, as well as any and all TU students to stop by for academic and social help, advice, support, or just to chat and pet Raven.
Daily Campus Walks: Raven and I walk every morning (and often in the afternoon and evening, too), making every effort to say hello and engage with TU students and our entire TU community.
A Weekly Tag Along schedule is posted on my Instagram (@emilycontois) every Sunday or Monday, listing campus events that I plan to attend that week, in an effort to model university citizenship and engagement. Students are always welcome to tag along with me, so they can explore and engage all that TU offers without having to do so alone. We’ve attended TU Symphony Orchestra concerts, student organization events, student athletic events, fitness classes at the Collins Fitness Center, and numerous talks and symposia hosted by the Oklahoma Center for the Humanities.
Dinners at Pat Case Dining Center provide Chris and I the opportunity to interact with residents and students multiple times a week, as we enjoy dinner and conversation together, too.
FiR Apartment Dinners were possible thanks to the wonderful support of TU Catering. We hosted 3 dinners in our home each semester, dining with LaFortune residents, LaFortune RAs, and recent alumni around our table.
RA Meetings are hosted in my home once per month, so I can work closely with the student leaders in LaFortune House, who work hard every day (and many nights!) caring for our residents.
Monthly (or more) Residential Events are opportunities for Chris, Raven, and I to be part of the building community by attending the events that RAs and Hall Government plan, including game nights, parties, dinners, and other creative, fun gatherings.
Semesterly Class Visits were an opportunity for me to host all of my classes (including my FYE section) at my home in the FiR apartment at least once per semester with the goal of fostering a special learning environment grounded in nurturing hospitality, while also raising awareness about the FiR program.
My Media Studies Senior Project class in spring 2023 was small enough that we were able to have class in the FiR apartment around my dining room table nearly every meeting, which provided an intimate and socially supportive environment for these students as they embarked upon the challenge of conducting original research and writing top quality 20-page papers.
Tulsa School of Arts and Sciences students visited the FiR apartment in September 2022 as part of their Contemporary Studies class, taught by Jennifer Lamkin, to discuss my food and identity research and publications.
Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar Dr. Kathryn Lofton of Yale University visited TU in October 2022, and students were able to meet her over breakfast in my home.
Halloween Office Hours were a fun way to welcome to students into our home for costumes, treats, and to check in about how the semester was going.
Stairwell of Positivity was a project I created for students over Thanksgiving break, filling one wall with positive affirmations to support them through the stresses of final exams.
Late Night Breakfast is a fun TU tradition where faculty and staff serve a free meal at Pat Case Dining Center to students as they embark upon finals. You can tell from my smiling way too hard in this photo that I had a lot of fun working a shift in December 2022 alongside Dean of Students, Michael McClendon.
Raven’s Birthday sounds a little silly but it was one of our funnest events all year. We invited the entire campus community to our home to celebrate our sweet old dog’s 12th birthday with costumes, decorations, sweet treats, a party play list from her birth year, and goodie bags for all the students. We’ll definitely keep this annual tradition as long as we can.
Family Dinner for 40 guests welcomed students in March 2023 for a family-style taco and nacho dinner in the LaFortune Lobby. We plan to make this a tradition and host one large family dinner early on in both the fall and spring semester to foster community building and engagement.
FiR Field Trip to Philbrook to see Art in Bloom, followed by a taco lunch, got students off campus, whether to visit the museum again or for the first time.
Handwritten notes of support for final exams were something that I wrote and posted on every suite door and throughout LaFortune in April 2023 to provide social support from a faculty source through the stresses of finals.
Communications to Raise Program Awareness
Since the FiR program was new and unfamiliar to all TU students and many faculty and staff, I led and/or supported the following communications in an effort to raise awareness of the program’s existence, how to collaborate with us, and to help students understand how and why to interact with us:
- Social media provided a space for me to post all about the FiR program—from us moving in to our weekly events—using the hashtag #utulsafir on Instagram and sometimes on Twitter, too.
- FiR program webpage launched on the TU website in August 2022.
- FiR program TU news story launched online in August 2022.
- LaFortune House welcome email in August 2022 included all of our building’s fantastic RAs, as well as mention of the FiR family.
- FiR business cards explained the program’s purpose and listed the times for standing events. These were distributed at the LaFortune House welcome hall meeting in August 2022 (with extras available all year in the Lobby) as well as to all the students I taught in fall 2022.
- FiR flyers were posted throughout LaFortune in August 2022 and refreshed in January 2023.
- Welcome Back notes were handwritten and posted by me on every LaFortune suite door as students moved back into the building at the start of the spring 2023 semester.
- Admitted student emails went out signed by me in spring/summer 2022 and 2023 to welcome all students to TU and preview the student-centered experience and personalized attention they can expect and that the FiR program exemplifies.
- @utulsa Magazine story and video in the forthcoming spring 2023 issue reflected upon my first year as FiR with stories from students who’ve been part of the program.
Event & Meeting Participation to Raise Program Awareness
Beyond print and digital communications, I also attended the following events and meetings to help raise awareness and garner support for the FiR program:
- FiR Program presentation to the TU Board of Trustees in June 2022
- FiR Apartment visits were hosted for more than a dozen TU administrators, leaders, and staff from July through September 2022
- FiR Program presentation to TU Admissions staff in August 2022
- Move In Day in August 2022 was an opportunity for Raven and I to meet students and their families as they moved into LaFortune House
- New Student Orientation in August 2022 provided a few minutes for Raven and I to speak about the FiR program at the back-to-back “Here4U@TU” sessions so that we could meet all new students
- Tulsa Time panel presentations and receptions in November 2022 and February 2023 provided opportunities for me to share the FiR program with prospective student parents
- Discussion with TU Success Coaches in March 2023
- Presentation to TU Alumni Association Tulsa Chapter Board Members in March 2023
Faculty in Residence Apartment
I also spent summer 2022 restoring and intentionally designing the Faculty in Residence apartment into a space for students to feel welcome and engaged for events, classes, and meals.
Before: June 1, 2022
After: July 20, 2022
Our first year’s efforts lay a foundation for the TU FiR program’s growth and success in the coming years. Chris, Raven, and I sincerely hope that we’re positively influencing the TU student experience and campus culture.